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John Herrington

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Gourd Banjos, and other odds and ends.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Well things are getting back to normal in the Herrington household, after over a year and a half of health problems, and I ought to do a new blog entry.

My interests have focused lately on building a couple of gourd banjos. I have the materials on hand and am about halfway on the first one. It will end up with an 8 inch calf skin head. The gourd is about 10 inches maximum width and measures 5 inches in height after the top is cut out of it. It is one of several I purchased from the Welburn Gourd Farm in CA. (Incidentally, I highly recommend any potential banjo builders to contact them, look over their very interesting internet catalog and buy your gourds soon. You may just Google Welburn Gourd Farm and go from there.)

 I use the canteen gourd they produce, though they have many more shapes and sizes. My personal banjo(see my pictures) is a 12 inch gourd and produces a very deep mellow sound which I like. The others in the pictures are around the size of the one I am building. I have learned that this size produces a sharper sound while still maintaining much of the larger gourd's depth.

I use various woods for the neck, preferring curly maple. I build them with various shapes of peg head and heel. The one I am building at the present is made of cherry and has a Dobson style heel. Its peg head is one of a modified Sweeney style.

I only build fret free banjos, some with fingerboards of iron wood, which is very beautiful and hard. My own has no fret board and works fine. A gourd banjo ought always to be strung with genuine gut strings. I use Purr'll Gut brand provided for me by Bob Thornburg, owner of Sierra View Acoustic Music, in Bishop, CA. You can find him under this listing on Google.

Let's see, now, I use fiddle ebony tuners for my banjos. One can make his own, however of Rosewood or Iron wood, or whatever suits your taste.

When I install the head, I soak the skin about 30 minutes in water, drape it over the gourd's open top and use a Dremel tool to drill a hole through the wet skin and gourd at 12 o'clock  just a little smaller than the uphostlery tacks I will use. Then I push the tack through the skin and gourd. I proceed to do the same at 6 o'clock followed by tacks at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock. Be careful not to stretch the skin between the tacks! Only remove the wrinkles...no more.

I then half the distance between each tack and follow the same procedure, drilling and installing the tack nearest you and then the one fartherest from you until they are no more than one inch apart on a line around the top of the banjo about 3/4 of an inch below the top edge of the banjo. I repeat, do not stretch the skin as you install it. It is wet rawhide and when it dries it might crack your gourd! It will be extremely tight within 12 hours. Another thing to remember is, resist the urge to test the tightness by pressing down on the head, that depression may be permanent if you do it until it has set over night.

My, but this has been a long blog. My apologies but let me conclude with a couple of three remarks. Fit the neck to the banjo before you install the head. It is formed either with an extension that shall go through the banjo and stick out about 3 inches. It ought to be installed with a drop of between 2 and 3 degrees from the horizontal line of the top of the head to the nut .  If the wood of your banjo neck is not long enough to do this, you will have to carefully drill a hole in the heel and install a dowel stick with glue in this hole and then proceed as above.

Remember there are many ways to skin a cat...and to build a gourd banjo. Hope this helps some of your who have asked for help. Write me about that which your don't understand. Paul Roberts on the Hang out did an interview on Banjo Crazy .com. If you are interested Google that in and move down to Interviews and scroll down to my name.

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Genre: Folk
Playing Style: Clawhammer and Old-Time

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Playing Style: Clawhammer and Old-Time

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Playing Since: 2007
Experience Level: Purty Good

Interests:
[Helping]

Occupation: minister

Gender: Male
Age: 84

My Instruments:
WL250 Goldtone (love this frailing banjo!),
FB54 Fender,
Home made mountain banjo, Prust ministrel banjo, and large gourd banjo that I made.
Most recently, an old restored Buckby and an Enoch Tradesman

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
Jim Conner(played frailing banjo with the New Kingston Trio and John Denver)

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Created 2/2/2008
Last Visit 3/28/2013

Been playing the banjo since 2007, advanced beginner, clawhammer style, and a little 2 finger picking. Played the guitar most of my life as well as the fiddle. The banjo utterly fascinates me. I am starting to build gourd banjos (for sale). Muzzle loading rifle building is a rather advanced hobby, completing rifle # 63 this week. sell them on order. I first went the route of old worn out tenor banjos and just couldn't get very excited about them. Finally after listening to a man play a little on a 5 string Fender banjo and seeing the excitement on his face, decided this is for me. I went back in a couple of weeks and bought my first 5 string, a FB54 Fender with case. I walked out of that store and the journey had begun. 'Course a lot of folks told me the thing was an "Asian banjo," leaving me a little ashamed for ownging an inferior foreign product. But I kept on playing this fine "inferior" banjo, or should I say learning to play it. I moved up to the Gold Tone WL250 after a while, and have really enjoyed it. Strange, though I dropped the Fender down to "E" tuning and it really sounded fine. Makes a man wonder how much politics enters the world of banjo, doesn't it?

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