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The Buckdancer. An Onomatological Banjo.

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Aug 10, 2020 - 3:22:28 PM
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7775 posts since 1/7/2005

Here is my latest banjo. I mostly played/built bluegrass, resonator banjos, but this time I wanted to make a dedicated frailing banjo. ( as opposed to clawhammer banjos). Where I was growing up, in Southern California, most frailers didn't use the drop thumb technioque. Or did very rarely. Frailing banjos didn't sport thumb scoops, or nylon strings. Old timey players these days play more sophisticated pieces, and masters of the instrument seem to get younger and younger. 

I occasionally get visits from one of my old picking buddies, and they are often accompanied by young musicians--often classical violin, guitar--and they rarely have had opportunity to play a decent banjo, and they seem to enjoy the heck out of it.  So this one I built for the musician who is casually being introduced to the instrument. I went with a slightly shorter scale length, to lower the string tension a bit, and to make some of the stretches easier. I went with a Whyte Laydie tone ring from StewMac. Compared to the Tubaphone style banjo I made using a ring from Bill Rickard, the sound is bright, but not as bright as the Tubby--nor as loud. But it has a pleasing sound, and I intend to use it for old timey tunes.

Here is the Buckdancer banjo hot off the press. I haven't finished doing a proper setup on it as I only finished assembling it yesterday. 

Things seem to have been fairly slow on the forum recently, so in the interest of entertainment, I'll be posting a number of photos with descriptive copy. To avoid long download times, I'll be posting two separate threads. The second thread will have the same title and will include more pictures as well as a sound file. (for those who enjoy being tortured by out of practice old banjo pickers.)

Here's a dramatic shot of the front:

I designed this banjo to look like a cross in style between Victorian, with a little steam punk thrown in for laughs. The banjo plays on the concept of names of parts that are loosely illustrated by the design of the part. There are several of these visual "puns" in both threads. Some are kind of clever and some should elicit groans. I had fun with it in either case.

Here's the back side of the banjo. My banjos tend to be understated on the front and fancy on the back--where the audience will never see it. I like fingerboards to be uncluttered and not like a plate of MOP spaghetti. I find it awkward to play on a tree of life, so most of my fretboard inlays are pretty simple in looks, but time consuming in design when you look closely. However pegheads and back sides are open game for me, since they can't harm playability in those areas. 

Nothing is prettier to my eye than nice curly maple, and I look around and pay the price for the nice stuff. Well worth the trouble. Of course nature makes it so I can't take credit for the beauty of the wood. 

The peghead face is made of some variety of European olive wood. Probably Spanish or Italian. I found a nice piece of it in the form of a cutting board at Marshalls dept store. I bound the peghead with maple veneer and tortoise celluloid. The process on a slanted peghead is tricky and time consuming. But I've got lots of time. The inlay is some particularly nice mother of pearl I got from Rescue Pearl. She will hand pick pieces of pearl to suit your request, and I've never been disappointed with her material. 

The peghead inlay with my name I cut out of a piece of sheet bronze and deeply acid etched it with the scroll art. The nut is made from bleached bone I picked up at a pet shop. 

The inlay shape of the "flower" is one I have developed over a few years, getting closer each time to what seems to work. The area that crosses over to the fretboard is the latest iteration. 

The back of the peghead is laminated with black dyed hardwood over maple veneer. The peghead shape I've used in modified form on almost all of the banjos I've built. Haven't gotten tired of it yet. 

The face on the back side is copied from an early roman mask. I call it the "Pegs' Head" It's cut from sheet nickel silver and acid etched. I've not made it flush, but have inlaid it to half it's depth to add a little dimension. Peg's eyes light up like this when the banjo is held just right, near window light. And no--her eyes don't follow you around the room. 

The neck on this banjo is highly polished varnish. The back and front of the peghead, and the inside of the rim I rubbed out with pumice powder and water to cut back the gloss. The combination of lusters is very attractive. 

The inlay on the fifth fret I cut from sheet bronze and acid etched with a bee. It's inlaid flush with the fretboard. The male bee is called a "Drone". So it seemed fitting to inlay the drone on the fifth fret, next to the 'drone string.'

The fretboard is made of Arizona Desert Ironwood, which is one of the most stable woods in the world. Plus it's a bit harder than ebony. Perfect for a fingerboard. The frets are EVO gold fret wire. 

Here's a shot of the rim. 

I laminated the rim from five layers of maple. Flat sawn on the interior, and curly maple where it shows. 

A while back we had a discussion on the forum about whether a steam bent rim was stronger than a block rim. A question was posed about whether either rim could survive a two story drop on to cement. Well, I was working on this rim and had set it on a 3' high work table. I bumped the table and the rim--wearing all it's hardware--slid off the table and landed on it's side on a concrete floor. It bounced ab out a foot high after it hit. Ouch. Anyway, I examined it carefully and could find no sign of damage. Finally I rubbed my fingers around the tension hoop, and could feel a tiny patch of roughness in one spot. That was it. Polished it smooth. No big deal. :->

 

So--What in the heck is this?  Go to the next installment of this two part series to find out

Aug 10, 2020 - 3:36:16 PM

1251 posts since 2/9/2007

A heel for tap dancing. And a "whale" of a tail-"peace".

nice. is the inlay at the scoop a "tempus fugit"?

Aug 10, 2020 - 3:45:47 PM

2045 posts since 1/21/2003

Another exquisite build Dan. Kudos. That heel looks like it was built to last. Has a nice sound in your mp3.

 

BTW, how does Onomatalogical fit in? And thanks for the expansion of my vocabulary, although I'll probably forget it soon enough :>(

Edited by - rickhayes on 08/10/2020 15:52:14

Aug 10, 2020 - 4:08:42 PM

Banjov1

USA

2911 posts since 2/19/2008

wow... that's just beautiful... and very creative

love it

Aug 10, 2020 - 4:40:42 PM

beegee

USA

21825 posts since 7/6/2005

Wow. Just wow!

Aug 10, 2020 - 4:52:43 PM

453 posts since 10/17/2006

I love the heel - got a nice laugh from it. Of course everything is gorgeous!

Aug 10, 2020 - 5:12:21 PM

2123 posts since 2/7/2008

Finally! A heel that looks like a heel!

Nice work as always Dan!

Aug 10, 2020 - 5:29:29 PM
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13140 posts since 6/29/2005

WOW Dan,  You have outdone yourself, even though I would have thought that impossible in light of the other banjos you have done.  There are so many great and unusual things about this, it's hard to know what to pick out.

I think my favorite detail has to be the "heel", and the tap cleat is unbelievable—did you make that?  The tailpiece which is a tail of a whale with a peace sign is a doubly good fun, and I'll admit that the peace sign was a sleeper, and when it hit me, I realized that the perfect design of the tailpiece was no fluke.

The drone is pretty great as well—it would have taken me a while if you hadn't given it away. Do Peg's eyes light up by reflection?

The finish on the maple and the rim cap are the details of craftsmanship we have all come to expect with your banjos, as well as the metal etchings, which are a great touch.  I love the softly relieved edges of the peg head.

The understated elegance of the bindings on the neck and peg head are top of the line—the fingerboard inlay is also wonderfully understated, but very dramatic at the juncture of the peg head and fingerboard

I notice no armrest—is that to follow?

It's impossible to take this in all at once, and as I write, I keep going back to the photos, but there is so much to see.

I will be making more comments as I digest the whole thing better and see your next photos.

Still can't get over the heel.

It's absolutely wonderful.

Ken

Aug 10, 2020 - 6:50:57 PM

762 posts since 11/27/2005
Online Now

To pile on: That "heel" heel with the heel plate is the best!
I'm looking around for my Chukka Boots from the early 60s!

Aug 10, 2020 - 7:18:59 PM

55376 posts since 12/14/2005

I like a good pun, I love a bad pun, but a VISUAL pun is by far my favorite!
And there you are, making a PLAYABLE amalgam of several!
 

Aug 11, 2020 - 5:48:11 AM

wtalley

USA

257 posts since 7/2/2010

Nice work, Dan! It's always a treat seeing your projects!

Aug 11, 2020 - 12:10:37 PM

7775 posts since 1/7/2005

quote:
Originally posted by rickhayes

BTW, how does Onomatalogical fit in? And thanks for the expansion of my vocabulary, although I'll probably forget it soon enough :>(

Hi Rick. It's all about the names.


Aug 11, 2020 - 12:16:52 PM

7775 posts since 1/7/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

I think my favorite detail has to be the "heel", and the tap cleat is unbelievable—did you make that? 

Hi Ken,

I cut the tap from sheet nickel silver. It's not inlaid, but is epoxied to the surface of the heel. I drilled three holes and tapped in bronze boat nails and cut off the heads so they looked like rivets. 

Do Peg's eyes light up by reflection?

Yup. They really glow with the right light and position

 

Aug 11, 2020 - 12:19:01 PM
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7775 posts since 1/7/2005

Thanks to all for the thoughtful comments. Much appreciated and glad you enjoyed it.

DD

Edited by - Dan Drabek on 08/11/2020 12:24:10

Aug 11, 2020 - 1:40:17 PM
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13140 posts since 6/29/2005

Each one of your banjos has its own set of distinctive features— you are not doing variations on a theme, are not repetitive, and are certainly not derivative or copying other banjos—much to the contrary, your references to historic banjos is homage, often with a sense of humor (I still remember the man-in-the-moon with the nightcap), and your practice has evolved as you have gone along.

It would really be interesting to all of us, if at some point when you get a chance, you would produce a thread with pictures of all of them—a nice full shot and some details, along with a description of each one.  Your photographs are top-notch.

I think of these as a one-man show in an art gallery, which I'm sure some gallery or museum would be more than happy to stage.

Surely a lot of people on this forum would benefit by seeing a retrospective of your work—many may have never seen some of the earlier ones.

Ken

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 08/11/2020 13:43:02

Aug 11, 2020 - 2:07:23 PM
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7775 posts since 1/7/2005

Hi Ken. That sounds like a fun little project. My early work I either sold, gifted or traded. But I do still have six banjos I've produced since 2010, when I retired, joined the Hangout and got back into designing and building banjos in my spare time. I may not have a lot of banjos to show for my efforts, but I certainly have a lot more tools. :->

I'll give that some thought. Thanks for asking.

DD

Aug 12, 2020 - 3:51:53 PM

7775 posts since 1/7/2005

I'm adding another shot of the heel--in an straight-on angle that makes it easier to see it's shape.

 

Edited by - Dan Drabek on 08/12/2020 15:52:37

Aug 12, 2020 - 4:18:33 PM
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7775 posts since 1/7/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Dan Drabek


Edited by - Dan Drabek on 08/12/2020 16:21:13

Aug 14, 2020 - 6:11:29 AM

1364 posts since 1/24/2014

Wonderful banjo...fit and finish look amazing. Bet it sounds great!

Aug 15, 2020 - 4:54:15 AM

294 posts since 4/27/2020

quote:

Originally posted by Dan Drabek



That's just too cool for school.

Aug 15, 2020 - 5:06:09 PM

13140 posts since 6/29/2005

Dan,

As I recall, you have made a flathead type, an archtop type , a Tubaphone one and now this Whyte Laydie  I think I am missing one or two.

Ken

Aug 15, 2020 - 11:41:56 PM

7775 posts since 1/7/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

Dan,

As I recall, you have made a flathead type, an archtop type , a Tubaphone one and now this Whyte Laydie  I think I am missing one or two.

Ken


Hi Ken, There were two flatheads, an archtop, a Tubaphone a Whyte Laydie and two Ludwig conversions--since I joined the forum. 

DD

Aug 16, 2020 - 4:38:52 AM

13140 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Dan Drabek
quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

Dan,

As I recall, you have made a flathead type, an archtop type , a Tubaphone one and now this Whyte Laydie  I think I am missing one or two.

Ken


Hi Ken, There were two flatheads, an archtop, a Tubaphone a Whyte Laydie and two Ludwig conversions--since I joined the forum. 

DD

 


I've said this before, but it would be great to see a retrospective of all of them

Ken

Aug 16, 2020 - 1:00:07 PM

2457 posts since 6/19/2008

I LOVE it!

Aug 16, 2020 - 6:33:28 PM

1520 posts since 1/13/2006

Hi Dan, Well, you got me back on the Hangout with this one. Awesome job, wonderful sense of fun, yet still a classic masterwork with special and unique touches throughout just like your other banjos, I love it, and glad you are still at it. Glenn

Aug 16, 2020 - 7:17:35 PM

7775 posts since 1/7/2005

Thanks Glenn, and Welcome back to the forum. I hope you can hang with us for a while. And you MUST, under penalty of death, post some images of the new banjo you're working on. It's probably the most exciting and creative inlay work and scoop design I've seen. I'm sure there will be the sound of many jaws hitting the floor. I would shamelessly copy it if I could, but I don't have the chops.

Jealously yours,

DD

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