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The Bicycle Cello Banjo Becomes Reality

Posted by Yopparai on Tuesday, September 18, 2007

After the last cello update, the Arkansas summer settled in. The early summer was mild and unusually wet. I should have known better but it lulled me into thinking maybe this season would be tolerable. Silly me. Weeks of 100+ highs, high humidity, and a solid month without rain. Not a conducive environment for banjo building in the garage. Over the last couple of weeks things have started to let up and I found myself thinking cello thoughts again.

The plan to use part of the bike frame as a dowel rod fell through. All the tubing on the bike was too thick for my Yopptanium rim. With that settled I opted to fore go the dowel and fall back to my one-piece neck/stick configuration. I like the rock solid feel it gives me, and of course the convenient handle it provides. I look at a lot of the work that other banjo builders do. Many of these guys are making beautiful, professional instruments with glossy finishes and shiny parts that are actually meant to be part of a banjo. One thing I have always thought was really nice is the skunk stripe down the neck. The effect is achieved by laminating different kinds of wood together and then cutting the neck blank from the resulting hunk of wood. Traditionally they use woods like maple with a strip of walnut sandwiched in between. I used all my maple in the construction of the block rim, and my only source of walnut is the uncut logs I have had outside for the last three years. I just know that someday a traveling wood miller is going to pull up in my driveway with his band saw wood mill and cut those logs into wonderful boards for me. Until that day arrives, my option is to fire up the chainsaw and risk my hands and feet in hopes of getting a usable chunk of wood. Not a good bet with an ante that is too rich for my taste.

 Click to Enlarge So it was off to the garage to see what my pack-rat nature had stored up for winter. Lots of pine, lots of plywood. There were some strips of cedar, probably from when they built my log house, but they had too much sap wood to be attractive. Then I found a few oak boards that I had purchased years ago to build a lamp with. Who needs another lamp? So I had pine and oak. What I really wanted was a nice dark brown wood. I remembered the thin rosewood veneer I bought to use on my finger boards. Perfect! I resawed the oak to make two thinner boards, sandwiched a piece of the rose wood betwist those, and then pine on the outside of that. It looked pretty good, and the oak would add some extra strength to the final neck.
 Click to Enlarge  Cutting the holes in the rim was probably the scariest part of this whole build. Its one of the places where precision matters, both in the size and shape of the holes, and in their placement. Make em too big and the neck is going to play and wobble. Line 'em up wrong and the whole thing can end up unplayable. There is considerable discussion about proper neck/heel angles which I pretty much ignore. I run my necks parallel with the head.  The math and wood working skill required to cut a 0 degree angle is just so much easier to me. The fear over this part of the project ended up being unfounded. I successfully cut two rectangular holes of the proper size and location and only cracked the rim twice. Just along a glue joint, nothing too b

4 comments on “The Bicycle Cello Banjo Becomes Reality”

beniah Says:
Tuesday, September 18, 2007 @3:44:27 PM

Wow Yopparai- that is an incredible instrument! And it looks a lot more portable than a cello! It would be cool if you could attach a leg or stand so that you could sit it upright in a jam or something.

Congrats on a beautiful instrument- someday I'll have to bug you about making a rim for a banjo :)

Great work.

brokenstrings Says:
Thursday, September 20, 2007 @12:56:39 AM

It has quite a tone--too bad you opted for only four strings.

Bone Says:
Tuesday, October 9, 2007 @6:39:39 PM

Yopp, what is the scale length?  Nice banjo and nice playing, btw!


Yopparai Says:
Tuesday, October 9, 2007 @9:26:35 PM

Yeah, I don't actually remember opting for 4 strings. I was getting ready to cut the nut when I realized I had made the neck one string's worth too skinny.

The scale is 29". Being fretless, you could move it back to 30" or shorten it as much as maybe 27".

Beniah, maybe next time I will build in one of those extendable rods on the stick. That would be kind of cool.

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