This banjo is finished. I need to spend some time getting used to it and some time to fix up the small setup issues, but other than that, the work is done.
To the left is a photo of me with the banjo. The gourd is huge. I don't think I have ever seen a gourd banjo with a pot that is that big. It gives the banjo a substantial low end. The bass string really resonates. It could be a bit louder, but I will have to wait and see what the Winter weather will do to it in that regard. The skin head is still a bit slack because the humidity is still fairly high. When Winter heating season kicks in, and the humidity drops down to 20%, the head will tighten up and the bass line should boom.
The strings do not buzz, and the note separation is clean and crisp.
I have found that this banjo is easier to hold than the ones I built previously. The gourd is large and flat, and it nestles in my lap like a guitar. You can see in the photo where my hand naturally falls when playing it; right up by the edge of the gourd. It is easy to move my hand up a bit into the frailing scoop or back toward the bridge a bit over the head. Playing over the frailing scoop allows me to get a more mellow sound and the "chuck" sound which is fun to mess around with. I have read that the chuck comes out best when played around the 17th fret.
The wood has some nice figure in it. There is curl in the neck and an almost satin figure in the finger board. The stain brings out the figure nicely, and I am sure that the effect will be enhanced as the wood darkens with age. I am glad I saved the warped finger board last Spring. It is a beauty.
I did not make as many mistakes on this banjo as I did on the previous banjos. That would make sense since I had some practice with the other two before I made this one. The fact that the 5th string peg is too close to the center of the finger board still bothers me, but that is just an eccentricity that I will have to get used to. Later on I can make a new nut that will mostly fix the problem.
I designed the peghead to put more distance between the peg buttons for easier tuning. That has worked out well, and I do not feel like my fingers are bumping into the other pegs when I tune the strings. The pegs themselves work smoothly.
The cracks in the gourd that I fixed early on do not seem to present any problems. You can see in the photo where the gourd thins out right at the bottom. That is where the cracks are. The fix seems to be holding up fine under the tension of the head.
The tailpiece is working as designed, and there is no string tension being placed on the gourd. It is all going through the tailpiece and onto the dowel stick. This is important for the longevity of the gourd since it would be slowly crushed under the string tension had I stretched the strings directly across the edge of the gourd.
Because of the size of the gourd and the position of the bridge, the fret positions are farther down the neck than they are on my other banjos. The 5th fret position on this banjo on the 1st string is almost down to the 5th string peg. I will simply have to get used to finding the notes in slightly different places on this one.
The places where the strings chime are almost exactly at the middle of the curve just below the 5th string peg and in the last notch down at the heel. That makes them super easy to find. Every fretless banjo has its own characteristic fret positions, and they can be modified by moving the bridge up and down on the head. For now, I like it this way so I will leave it alone. I may move the bridge later to see how it affects the sound. If I put the bridge in the middle of the head it ought to make the sound super round and mellow. The possibilities are endless.
While I was building the banjo I kept track each day of how much time I spent on it. I often read descriptions of projects done by other people who say things like, "I spent 800 hours on this", or whatever time it was. I wondered where all that time went. So I logged the time, and for my project I can go back and see where each hour was spent. I added it all up and came up with 64.75 hours. That is about the same amount of time I spent on the other banjos I have built, given that I had almost no prep. work to do on the gourd this time. I won't bore you with my comparisons of what the banjo would cost if I had to pay my auto mechanic to build it. You can look at my previous pages to see those discussions. Nor will I bore you with the itemized cost of parts. It hasn't changed since the last one, so you can go read about it there.
I have two gourds left out of the box of 5 that I bought when I started building gourd banjos. I might pick another one next time and do another gourd banjo, or I might see if I can learn how to bend a wooden hoop and build a regular minstrel style banjo. Stay tuned.
Original post date September 20, 2009