Creating a Deering "Oldtime"
My first banjo was a Christmas present and got me started with this fantastic musical tradition. I did a lot of research and ultimately decided that a Deering Goodtime was the best choice in terms of quality for price and holding its value for resale. I was unsure if I wanted to play bluegrass or clawhammer style banjo at that point, but I knew that the Goodtime would be fine for either one as a starter banjo.
Since then I have acquired an Enoch Tradesman which has become my day to day banjo, putting my Goodtime into the role of travel banjo. When I attended my first OTM festivals and conventions I realized that people were very nice, but they tended to assume I was a beginner only because I was playing my Goodtime.
This was confirmed by my banjo teacher, that if I took my Enoch with me to festivals I would be taken more seriously and might gain access to jams or groups with other "serious" (in the sense that they are in OTM for the long haul and are willing to spend a nice chunk on an instrument) players. Part of the issue was that I was living in two places and kept a banjo at each one, so I did not always have access to my Enoch when I was going places.
Around that time I started thinking about banjo construction, to build my own dream banjo, and realized that modifying my Goodtime would be a great place to start. I knew that I wanted it to look like my vision of an "Old time" Banjo so my main goal was to stain it brown to make it less blond, get rid of the giant "Goodtime" logo on the peg head, and dress it up a bit with some simple inlay. I also invested in a noknot tail piece and a Remo Fiberskyn head to make it easier to tune up and give it a little softer sound.
I started by looking at some of the threads on here discussing this topic, but most of them dealt with modifications to the earlier Goodtime models which were more intense than I wanted, or felt I needed to do with my more recent model. The early Goodtimes came with the bizarre gumby style peg head, low end tuners, and some sort of plastic inlay for the fingerboard. These early models had the logo burned/branded into the peg head in some way which left scorch marks on the edges and made the writing somewhat unclear.
The mods of these banjos involved cutting out a more traditional peg head shape, adding a fingerboard veneer and new inlay, sanding the logo off the peg head, and scooping the neck, along with upgrading much of the hard wear. I liked some features of these mods, but I did not see the need for anything quite so ambitious since Deering had improved a lot on the original design and some of the steps would be unnecessary. with this in mind I systematically went through the Stewmac site and ordered what I needed.
Materials (what I actually used for this project)
StewMac- 1 rosewood peg head overlay veneer, 1 abalone diamond inlay 14.5mm, 9 abalone dots 4mm, 1 banjo 5th string nut, 1 NoKnot tail piece, 1 Fiberskyn head (high crown 11")
trackofthewolf.com- 1 bottle Laurel Mountain Forge stain reducer, 1 bottle Laurel Mountain Forge Antique Wood Stain "Lancaster Maple," 1 bottle Tru-Oil gunstock finish.
1. Take the entire thing apart (carefully!)
2. I sanded down the whole body with 220 followed by 320 sandpaper, avoiding the fingerboard.
3. I very carefully sanded down the fingerboard between the frets by wraping the paper around a small flat file, this process was somewhat labor intensive and was not as effective as removing the frets and then sanding, but was much less labor intensive.
4. I also altered the outline of the peg head a bit, rounding off a few of the peaks with a dremel tool.
5. Applied one coat of stain to the entire body and neck of the banjo. I used Laurel Mountain Forge gun stock stain in "Lancaster Maple" color. I mixed the stain with the companies reducer so that it was 1:2 (stain:reducer). Many people use the instrument stains from StewMac or other such places, but I really wanted a non-grain raising brown stain that would show the wood grain and was designed to resist lots of hand contact so based on some recommendations from some of the threads here I decided to try the gun stock stain. This particular brand of stain is an "antique wood stain" designed to make old looking guns, or to make new parts look old for repairing antique guns. I really liked this feature for an "old time" banjo.
6. I was finished with the pot at that point so I wend ahead and applied 3 separate coats of Tru-Oil (another gun stock product) allowing each coat to fully dry between and buffing the surface with 0000 steel wool between coats.
7. Next I glued a rose wood peg head overlay onto the peg head. I just rough cut it and glued/viced it overnight.
8. The next day I sanded down the exact outline of the peg head. I used an oscillating drum sander to get in the curves and dips. By placing the neck, fingerboard down on a thin piece of wood and keeping this flat on the sander table, I was able to exactly match the cut angle of the original peg head. Because I knew I would need to touch up with the stain after, I went ahead and sanded the sides of the entire peg head down just past the stain, so the touch up would look even, or more like a deliberate decorative feature.
9. Next I drilled out the tuner holes in the overlay, I just used a brad bit in a drill press and made them the same size as the original holes.
10. Next I added some inlay to the fingerboard. Because Deering has started using real wood decorative inlay, I wanted to leave these in, however with the dark brown stain I was unsure that these would still be obvious, so I decided to add some small abalone dots to help accent the pre-existing inlays. I ordered 10 of these from StewMac in the 4mm size (the smallest option). I only needed 9 but I ended up loosing one on my workshop floor so it worked out well. I added the inlays with a matching size brad drill point. I had to eyeball the locations since I wanted them in the center of the wood inlays, but the wood inlays were not centered on the fret spaces. I marked the locations for the center of each dot with a scribe and used this to place the drill. I actually used a shooting bag to cradle the neck while drilling and used a bubble level to ensure a flat surface. From there it was just a matter of getting the right depth and checking the fit of each dot.
11. From here I glued the dots in, with a small dot of clear drying glue directly in the bottom center of each hole and put the dots in. I used small wood circles over the dots and clamped each one down, to ensure even pressure and avoid marking the fingerboard.
12. Once these dried (an hour or so was enough) I removed the small spike that served in place of a 5th string nut, drilled out a hole in this spot and added an actual 5th sting nut. I did not glue this until after I partially strung up the banjo and filed the grove for the string. At that point I just used a bit of super glue (since thats what I had around.)
13. I wanted to add some sort of inlay to the peg head overlay, but did not have the tools for anything to fancy. I eventually settled on a basic diamond design in abalone from StewMac. I got the largest size they had, which still ended up being fairly small, and bought 2 (ended up breaking one so that was good). I scribed the outline and location for the inlay and drilled out the bulk of the shape with a press. From here I used some small chisels and gravers to even it out and finalize the shape. The end result was a hole that was not very attractive, but fit the inlay well and was the right depth. Next I mixed some quick dry epoxy with rosewood dust (sanded from the overlay scrap) and used it to glue the diamond in. I spread it on thick (completely covered the diamond at first). I clamped it for a little while, but it was forcing the epoxy out of the filler spots, so I just let it dry free from there.
14. The next day I scraped off the excess epoxy, and then sanded the entire overlay until the rosewood was nice and smooth.
15. Finally I stained the sides of the peg head where I had sanded off the original stain, and after this dried I treated the entire neck with 3 coats of TruOil, once agin buffing with steel wool between coats.
16. The last step was to reassemble the whole banjo with the new noKnot and fiberskyn head.
The end result was a very attractive (if I do say so myself) Old time style banjo with a more mellow old timey sound and a vintage look. My banjo teacher did not realize it was the same banjo.
Take a look at my before/after pics and see for yourself.
Overall I feel that the changes I made make the banjo more "old time" but I was careful not to irreversibly alter the banjos structure or style. IE if I sell it, it wont be to hard for someone to make it into a bluegrass sounding banjo. This is why I did not add a scoop (also without a true fingerboard I think the scoop looks a bit odd with the big gap between the neck and pot.) I chose not to change the tuners because the guitar style ones it came with work quite well, and are fairly attractive, so I didn't think the monetary cost of planetary tuners would be worth it at that time.
I hope you have enjoyed this, and maybe gotten a few ideas for personal mods. If you are interested in replicating my process on your own goodtime I would be glad to provide more details.
Thanks for listening
~Beringei Banjos~2 comments
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Deering Goodtime openback with modifications
Enoch Tradesman (12" pot, cherry neck)
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Anything old time or folk, with some bluegrass on the side
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Last Visit 5/2/2013
I fell in love with the banjo in college and have been playing ever since. Selecting clawhammer was more by chance, since the only person I could find to help me learn the basics played claw in an old time band, but I now know that this was the best choice for my musical goals. Recently I have started experimenting with building, and have gotten pretty serious about it. Modifying my Deering Goodtime got me started, taking a good quality starter banjo and making it look and sound more like an old time banjo. It turned out great and the rest is history.
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