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Cookie tin banjo finished - almost

Posted by vintagewells on Sunday, April 15, 2007

I'll be posting photos when i finish this blog. I

I was unhappy with the way the fretboard and couldn't understand why. The frets didnt set properly, even with glue. And they seemed to get worse over time. So I took a chisel and hammer to the dang thing, because if I wasn't happy with it now, it would only get worse and sooner or later  I would be redoing it. I started removing it with a hammer and chisel. It was obvious what the problem was.

I am so embarassed.... the core of the plywood I used as a base was not wood, as i thought, but fiberboard. I guess I should have worn my glasses when I looked at the plywood. Anyway, evidently, the fiberboard was absorbing moisture along the fret slots and swelling, not much, but it doesn't take much to throw the frets off.  Big learning opportunity here. I hope you're laughing or at least chuckling at my mess up. Has to be good for something.

I sanded down a mahogany drawer side for the new fretboard, even though it was 1/4 inch short. To make it longer, I carved out a decorative insert out of the padua. (See photo). Of course, in removing, resanding the neck, I managed to kinda mess up the base of the peghead. Another insert out of the padua, fixed that.

With the new fretboard it was easy to cut the fret slots and install the frets. The job went smoothly, and the results were very good.

I used six coats of tung oil to finish the neck.  For pegs I took a set of vintage friction pegs that had been on my Slingerland 4-string. They had been slipping badly and I replaced them with geared pegs. But I thought that with nylon strings, they might work out ok. And they do. The 5th string peg is from one of my aluminum rim banjos which I am replacing with a geared tuner.

The peghead 'inlay' is a piece of beading I did years ago. i just glued it in with wood glue and sealed it with a coat of Tung oil.

 Last night I put it together.

I strung it up with nylon strings and found a bridge. I had to shim the bridge up quite a bit. I tuned it up. Awful, just awful. No tone, nothing, just a dull plunk, it that. I went to bed at that point.

This morning I looked at it closely and worked on the neck angle, the neck to heel fit and general set up. I made a proper bridge of maple. And tuned it up again. This time it sounds something like a banjo. It is not loud, but has a pleasant mix of mellow with tinny overtones. The bass is stronger than the treble, and i plan to experiment with different bridges - maybe thinner - as this one is rather fat. I also have to do some work on securing the rim to the neck and have worked out a brass L-bracket that should do the job.

I'll update on the tinkering with the set-up as I make progress.

Was it worth it? Yes, as a learning experience, I'd say so. I have a good, playable banjo, that is light weight, if somewhat quiet. It is fun and easy to play. Looks cool too.

3 comments on “Cookie tin banjo finished - almost”

garfield55 Says:
Friday, June 22, 2007 @4:49:39 PM


I think you are quite an innovative person with a lot of patience.  To create something from scratch the way you did is very impressive.  Good job!  I am anxious to hear how it sounds once you make further adjustments.

TheBoog Says:
Saturday, July 7, 2007 @11:52:53 AM

Lorna!!!!!!! Don't try to make it sound better ... install a pickup!!!! WOOHOOOOOO!

BanjoBilbo Says:
Tuesday, July 31, 2007 @4:28:17 PM

I wonder what you could do with an old maple head board!

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