Banjo Construction

Home Inlay Material Preparation Cutting Pattern Cutting Technique FB and PH Inlaying Inlaying Fingerboard Sanding PH and FB Neck Construction Binding Installation Shaping Neck Drilling Operations Final Sanding Finishing Assembly Cost Spreadsheet Completed Banjo

 

INTRODUCTION

It has been over 32 years since I built a banjo neck and/or completed banjo based on the Gibson pre-war Mastertone design.  I plan to use an inlay pattern of mine titled "Flaming Claw" that I used in the mid 1970's.  I have cut and inlaid only 14 of the Porter Flaming Claw inlay patterns of which most were traded off and/or sold and several ones had other banjo makers Logos and/or Gibson re-inlaid into the peghead overlay; not done by yours truly!  The only other original design part I will be using is a plate that I made as a pattern in the mid 1970s which has a unique tone hole pattern of my own copyrighted design of which was destined to go on my own banjo with a logo I used and the trademark PREWARTONE.  The word PREWARTONE is certainly not too original but I though it had some merit and potential when I had it copyrighted/trademarked, however it has taken on an ambiguous set of values open to interpretation.   This banjo with the special tone holes in the flange will be one of a kind,  serial number 001FC.

Most of what I will be doing will no doubt be done the hard way and figuring out a few simple fixtures and jigs as I progress along and will be by no means the only way to accomplish that particular element of the banjo construction process and probably not the best way to do it either but I plan to use what materials I have at hand as much as possible without trying to re-invent the wheel.  My goal will be to keep Safety paramount because hand and power tools can do serious bodily harm and death if not used properly, therefore these pages are solely for entertainment purposes only from a personal liability standpoint.  Please read the Legal Stuff page for additional information concerning liability issues before going any further.       

I did custom inlays for individuals after I sold my mail order music business in 1979 up until around 1995 and built a resophonic guitar, square neck in 2000 using my Flaming Claw inlay pattern.  Other than a few custom patterns for my turkey calls, that has been the extent of my musical instrument making and inlaying since 2000.

I will start this project without the benefit of my earlier specialized tooling, fixtures and jigs and will have to rely on some prefabricated parts; e.g.,  resonator, wood rim and of course the metal parts sans the plate for the tube and plate flange mentioned earlier.   I do have a few templates left over and hopefully will be enough.  I have "pooled" the resources  from several  BHO members and they have graciously given sound advice.  Decades ago, it was myself in the "drivers seat" but I certainly don't mind asking for help and information when needed. 

The Porter method of cutting and inlaying pegheads and fingerboards while in the "raw state" worked extremely well for me in a semi-production environment before the advent of CNC routers driven by the personal computer.

I have accumulated most of the major parts to build a Masterclone type banjo based on the Gibson Mastertone design of construction and believe it is still the best set-up for Bluegrass picking.  "To copy someone is one of the greatest forms of flattery" and I respect the talented Gibson craftsmen of years gone by of which I equate the period 1925 to 1930 as their Renaissance Period.   I am going with the tube and plate flange against the main stream and do not mind being a renegade at all, so let's begin. 

Without an accurate motorized custom made fret saw and fixture of which I have owned two, I obtained a pre-slotted and profiled ebony fingerboard and ebony peghead to inlay.  The technique I use for cutting and inlaying mother of pearl is based on the pre-war Gibson style of cutting and inlaying which in a nut shell has the mother of pearl glued to a substrate material which in my case will be 1/4 inch thick x 3 x 8 inch lengths of balsa wood which has enough strength to support the mother of pearl material while it is being cut.  Gibson in pre-war days used a 1/10 inch thick rotary cut poplar veneer as a substrate material and a few examples of Honduras mahogany has been observed on a few fingerboard inlays which is rare.   Gibson used mother of pearl blanks that were around .040 inches thick and were much thinner after the fingerboard and pegheads were sanded down and on some you could actually see the backing substrate.  I will be using .050 thick mother of pearl material which is a little harder to cut and also mother of pearl that is very rich in rainbow colors without any "fisheye" material of which I classify "fisheye" as seconds for my usage.   Gibson used large motorized marquetry saws that were made in Germany based on a jigsaw type design with the blade running vertical and featured a much longer stroke length because the blade was secured into a movable arm that looked like a long giant tuning fork similar to the cheap hobby type scroll saws of late. 

According to Joe Spann, Research Library Director and author of SPANN'S GUIDE TO GIBSON 1902-1941, Gibson subcontracted most of their pre-war inlays out to two different sources which are listed in his excellent informative book.  I have owned three (3) Rockwell/Delta motorized scroll saws that have about a 24 inch throat depth and made a few modifications to them by using self-centering upper and lower chucks that hold the blade and increased the standard speed of the machine.  However, my current machine doesn't have the self-centering upper chuck, only the lower chuck is self-centering.  It allows for smoother cuts, easier turns and cut backs but it does reduce jewelers saw blade life, especially with the current manufactured jewelers saw blades.  In the late 60's and 70's, I used Vigor brand jewelers saw blades only until they were no longer available; they were simply the best for high speed operation.  I will take a digital image at each stage along the way and explain in detail what I am doing.

I started to break this project up into several different pages but the antiquated program I am using to create this website of which my web hosting service doesn't allow the extensions anymore from this program to upload changes and having to use an auxiliary ftp program and manually selecting the required files and upload each file which is time consuming.  I expect when this thing crashes, I will upgrade to a more modern web creating program!  I have Dreamweaver website creating program but it has a steep learning curve and I certainly don't entertain the thoughts of writing code either .  Heck, the motherboard in this pc is only 10 years old.....grin if you must!

After thinking about the download time for this page even with the thumbnail pixs, I elected to break this project up into a separate page at each stage of the process and so far it is working ok; a good many more mouse clicks on my part as the webmaster but it should be worth it.  I will start with a materials and equipment list and add to the list at each stage of the construction process.

MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT LIST:

          1 to 2 oz. .050 large colored mother of pearl shell blanks
          2 pcs. 1/4 x 3 x 8" Balsa wood
          Titebond Original glue
          Scotch brand clear 1" wide double stick tape
          2 Vice-Grip SP11 "C" clamps and 12 would be much better 
          3 Aluminum plates 3 x 8 x 3/16" or equivalent material
          1 Aluminum plate 3/16" thick same size as fingerboard profile plus 1" length each end
          Inlay pattern
          Masking tape, 2" and 1" width
          Scissors
          X-Acto knife
          3" utility knife or paring knife
          Jewelers saw blades size 6 and size 4; several dozen of each size
          Scroll saw with 24" depth Rockwell/Delta or equivalent
          Dust Mask, dual canister type
          Opti-Visors if needed
          Drill Press and/or hand drill
          1/16" dia. drill bit
          Needle files (assorted shapes)
          Dremel Tool with 1/8" collet
          1" Abrasive disc with 1/8" arbor
          Belt sander 1" width x 42" length with 80 grit aluminum oxide sanding belt
          Palm sander 4" Porter Cable or Rockwell type
          Aluminum oxide and automotive sheets sanding paper for above palm sander to 400 grit
          Ebony peghead overlay .060 to .090 thick x 3 x 7"
          Ebony slotted fingerboard
          Epoxy 330 or equivalent
          Mohawk Blendal coloring powder (ebony or rosewood)
          Router table and router
          Belt sander 4 inch or larger width
          1/4 inch diameter square end solid carbide router bit or equivalent to match your truss rod
          Band saw with 1/4 inch wood cutting blade
          Table Saw 10" or larger
          Drill Press and assorted drill bits
          Jointer
          Planer
          Assorted wood files, rasp
          Templates and   plans                                                                                                                                                                                     

SUPPLIERS:

           Stewart MacDonald
          
First Quality Musical Supply
          
Custom Pearl Inlay
          
Luthiers Mercantile International
          
Cox Banjos
          
Rio Grande
          
Woodcraft Supply
          
Harbor Freight
          
Lowe's or Local Hardware Store

 

HYPERLINKS TO EACH PAGE BELOW:

     1)  INLAY MATERIAL PREPARATION

     2)  CUTTING PATTERN TO MOTHER OF PEARL

     3)  PORTER INLAY CUTTING TECHNIQUE

     4)  FINGERBOARD AND PEGHEAD PATTERN TRANSFER AND INLAYING

     5)  CUTTING FINGERBOARD AND INLAYING MOTHER OF PEARL

     6)  SANDING PEGHEAD AND FINGERBOARD

     7)  NECK CONSTRUCTION

     8)  BINDING INSTALLATION

       9)  SHAPING NECK

    10) DRILLING OPERATIONS

    11) FINAL SANDING

    12) FINISHING

    13) ASSEMBLY

    14) COST SPREADSHEET

    15) COMPLETED BANJO

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