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Crescent City Canjo Co. 002

Monday, August 24, 2015 @12:44:17 PM


I just wrapped up construction of a new canjo for a friend out in the Pacific Northwest. Before I get to the build, though, I want to re-introduce my quasi-cottage industry: Crescent City Canjo Company (CCCC). I've probably made a dozen canjo-esque instruments so far, but only recently have a I felt like I could produce them with any reliability or consistency. I took particular pains with this instrument to document the measurements, steps, etc. to allow reproduction. It turned out pretty good if I do say so myself.

CCCC produces functional folk art. All instruments are handmade, and the only power tool used is a drill. Below is an image of all the materials and tools used in this particular build (DISCLAIMER: I may have used one or two additional hand tools not pictured here e.g. a larger saw, a different hammer).

Tools & materials

Here's my design sketch, including the steps in the process.


I'll let the photos speak for themselves at this point. For step 1, pick whatever headstock angle you fancy.

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Step 2, match the face cut with one on the back that leaves enough material to seat the pegs in the headstock.

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Step 3, cut segments into the back of the neck and get friendly with a wood chisel.

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Step 4, decide on a heel shape and roughly cut out the shape.


Step 5, cut the tail end of the neck blank into a "dowel" using the same method for removing material as was used in step 3. Alternatively, a good rip saw can be used (I did two sides with the chisel and two sides with the rip saw).

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Step 6, drill (and ream) the 5th string peg hole. I do this now so that I don't accidentally end up with too thin of a neck after I shape it.

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Step 7, shape and sand the neck. I do the bulk of this with a rasp, and I leave a lot of the tool marks (it is, after all, functional folk art). You can sand it to however smooth you want.

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Step 8, drill the headstock for your other 4 tuning pegs. Apparently this is the only step I didn't document by checking off on my design sketch. I'll make it up to you in step 10. The key here is to put something like another block of wood behind the headstock when drilling. It reduces the risk of tear out.


Step 9, cut can to accommodate the neck. This requires some careful management and inventive tool use. Once you've marked the hole for the dowel, punch the outlines of the hole with a nail, then use wire cutters to snip the piece of the can top off.

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Step 10, make the hole for the tailpiece. Oh wait, where's the tailpiece?! Step 10b, make the tailpiece. Told you I'd make it up to you.

IMG_9464 IMG_9460IMG_9474IMG_9467   IMG_9468IMG_9469IMG_9470

Step 11, adjust the neck angle roughly. This is where you make sure that the neck lines up, the action doesn't seem too high, etc. You can also make sure your dowel is trimmed for a tight fit in the can.

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Step 12, whittle the pegs. I start by cutting out little rectangular blanks then using a pocket knife for the fine work. The fit doesn't need to be as close as you'd imagine, but of course, the closer the fit, the smoother they'll work. Once you set them in the neck, mark a spot to drill holes for the strings.

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Step 13, cut the nut. I used a small piece of persimmon set on a very shallow notch above the playing surface of the neck.

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Step 14, make the bridge. I happened to have a standard banjo bridge lying around, so I used that instead.


Step 15, string the 3rd string and check the alignment once more. That being done, you can string the whole thing up. I added some tung oil to finish the neck as well as some woodburning for decoration. Voilà!

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Here's a quick test for sound:




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