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May 29, 2020 - 1:09:31 PM
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39 posts since 2/25/2017

Hello everyone, got a crazy idea whilst cooped up at home.

I've seen wood topped banjos, but has anyone had experience with one that has a glued down bridge like a guitar?

I wanna try and build one (probably x braced, closed pot), but just wondering if anyone had had experience with something like this before and could say yay or nay

May 29, 2020 - 2:12:29 PM
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13018 posts since 6/29/2005

It depends on what you mean by a "wood topped banjo". 

This is one of my favorite kind of instrument—I make instruments called "banjo Lutes", which go back to the 1800s 

They are exactly the same size as a banjo, have a banjo neck, fit in a banjo case, but have a wooden top like a guitar.  The only difference is that the sides sweep up to meet the neck instead of being a complete circle. The neck is bolted on like a banjo.

 

Also, as you see, they have a glued-down bridge like a guitar, as opposed to a tailpiece and movable bridge like a banjo or mandolin.


I really like them a lot—they don't sound like a banjo, and they are a lot of fun to play—hammered dulcimer-ike with lots of sustain.

I have been making these for a long time, having made the first one around 1965, and that one had a tailpiece and a fiberglass body like Ovation guitars.  I did a lot of research about how to make them sound louder and made some improved ones about 4 years ago that had scalloped X-bracing like a flat top guitar.

4 years later and more research, I am using techniques developed by classical guitar builder Greg Smallman, which consist of a VERY RIGID BODY, not unlike a banjo rim, heavily braced and a very thin top, allowed to vibrate, not unlike a banjo head.

Here you can see how thin the vibrating part of the top is.

It's not a standard construction by any means, but has the volume and punch I was hoping for.

Here's a video showing some of the steps in construction as well as what it sounds like:

Enjoy your project!!  You will wind up with a great instrument.


Edited by - Ken LeVan on 05/29/2020 14:21:09

May 29, 2020 - 2:44:33 PM
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39 posts since 2/25/2017

That is an amazing instrument! What a beaut! Almost reminds me of an Irish bouzouki.

I haven't really thought about bent sides, but I think I might do something like that. I got some black walnut I've been itching to get into.

If you don't mind me asking, what range for side depth would you recommend for an instrument like that? And would it be feasible as a long neck?

Thank you for sharing!

May 30, 2020 - 8:01:09 AM
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3132 posts since 5/29/2011

I don't claim to be the luthier that Ken LeVan is but I have made several wood topped banjos over the years. Some were made from cheese boxes and some from hand drums. A friend gave me some spruce guitar tops several years ago and I have experimented with them. My top bracing is a lot more basic than Ken's picture shows but it works. However, I have always used a tailpiece and a banjo bridge.
If you want to try using a fixed bridge then study Ken's pictures carefully. A fixed bridge puts more tension on the top and will require better bracing than I use. As long as the bridge is placed properly then it should work. Ken's pictures are proof of that.

May 30, 2020 - 11:17:37 AM
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261 posts since 4/27/2020

I've simply got to stop reading Ken LeVan's posts. Almost every time I do I end up at his website, and suffer from one of the seven deadly sins - lust. And his shop is only a few hours drive from here...

May 30, 2020 - 1:46:29 PM
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13018 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by bass-swimmer

That is an amazing instrument! What a beaut! Almost reminds me of an Irish bouzouki.

I haven't really thought about bent sides, but I think I might do something like that. I got some black walnut I've been itching to get into.

If you don't mind me asking, what range for side depth would you recommend for an instrument like that? And would it be feasible as a long neck?

Thank you for sharing!


Thanks!

Irish bouzoukis are definitely similar, and I actually made a 9-string version 4 years ago with paired strings on 1,2,3 & 4, and a single 5th.  If you're interested I'll show pictures and sounds.

My earlier ones had shallower bodies, but as I was trying to increase the volume on the new version, I made the body as deep as a resonator banjo—I wanted it to be as deep as possible for the bass, but still be able to fit in a standard case. 

They are  3 3/4" deep.

One of the problems with my earlier ones was that they were so light that they were top-heavy and you had to use a strap attached to the peg head to play one, even sitting down—looking at old pictures, this was common even in 1890.

 

By building the heavily braced body, a certain amount of weight was added to it, which rebalanced the instrument and made it much easier to play.

Here you see my wife playing one with no strap and the balance is perfect—you also get a sense of the depth of the body from these pictures—deeper than an openback banjo, and you can see the difference in the size of mine vs the old picture

SO, I think a longneck would be very possible, and a GREAT idea, but you might need a strap for that.  If you look closely at the picture above you see that there is an endpin where you could attach a strap if needed.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 05/30/2020 13:50:42

Jun 12, 2020 - 1:41:27 PM

MrMoe

USA

34 posts since 5/18/2019

bass-swimmer

I have made two of these. Ken Levan has had helpful insight on both of them. The first has a fixed bridge. I think there may be a thread in the archive here at BHO. I was pleased to get some positive feedback on my 2nd one last month.
banjohangout.org/topic/364274/#4626234

Edited by - MrMoe on 06/12/2020 13:55:43

Jun 12, 2020 - 5:03:33 PM
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39 posts since 2/25/2017

Thanks for all the replies! I plan on making something like Ken LeVan's banjo lute w/ a long neck at some point (I have a habit of starting 100 projects and actually finishing 1).

Jun 12, 2020 - 5:07:16 PM

39 posts since 2/25/2017

quote:
Originally posted by MrMoe

bass-swimmer

I have made two of these. Ken Levan has had helpful insight on both of them. The first has a fixed bridge. I think there may be a thread in the archive here at BHO. I was pleased to get some positive feedback on my 2nd one last month.
banjohangout.org/topic/364274/#4626234


The banjo in the sound clips sounds really good! 

Jun 12, 2020 - 5:17:22 PM

MrMoe

USA

34 posts since 5/18/2019

I really appreciate that the banjo community is open to this type of instrument. I posted on Mandolin Cafe and got a bit of a scolding.
mandolincafe.com/forum/threads...jo-Tuning

Jun 23, 2020 - 7:04:02 AM

MrMoe

USA

34 posts since 5/18/2019

Here is a link to Girth Tiles I think it may be referencing the North African origin of the Banjo. This is a wood top with a pin bridge.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Li67N5Oe6RU



banjohangout.org/forum/attachm...eID=36946

Edited by - MrMoe on 06/23/2020 07:06:15

Jun 25, 2020 - 2:29:11 PM

54874 posts since 12/14/2005

quote:
Originally posted by bass-swimmer

Thanks for all the replies! I plan on making something like Ken LeVan's banjo lute w/ a long neck at some point (I have a habit of starting 100 projects and actually finishing 1).


I had no idea my disease was so contagious!

 Years ago, I would post that  "the Wuzgoona and the Diddit are natural enemies, seldom found to exist in the same environment."

Jun 25, 2020 - 5:04:26 PM

195 posts since 7/2/2012

Ken, beautiful work, and great video. Thanks as always for sharing your knowledge here!

I have a Gold Tone, and agree with the head-heavy issue. I’ve considered a strap. I have a long neck Gibson, and a long neck Gretsch/Bacon, both 1960s. The Bacon is a bit of a beater, so I copied Pete Seeger, but I used a small footman’s loop, attached partway up the neck. Strap clips on there, balances great. Considering similar idea for GT Banjola.

Questions, Ken, if you don’t mind:
1) What is the brown glue used during lamination in your video?
2) Is the only vibrating portion of the top the lower half of soundboard? It looks like the upper half around sound hole area is rigidly glued to the thick brace. Or am I missing something?

Thanks!

Jun 27, 2020 - 4:38:52 PM
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MrMoe

USA

34 posts since 5/18/2019

I am thinking about trying a ballasted strap. My thought is to make a pocket on the pot end of the strap, put in some lead shot and sew it closed. Silly?

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