Jun 9, 2013

Banjo Boys, Chapter 20

The first Banjo-Boy to finish his instrument!  Congratulations, Clint!
A Land Rover like Clint's
Today was very special.  One of the Banjo Boys might finish a banjo that was started back in November.  Clint met me for breakfast and we proceeded to the shop.  The first order of business was actually to investigate a problem with the front end of his Land Rover.  We solved that issue within an hour and began work on our banjos.  Monty couldn't be with us today because of a prior commitment.

Our goals were fairly simple.  For Clint, it was to remove his existing nut (the "bridge" that supports the strings at the top end of the fretboard), make a replacement nut, measure, mark, and file the grooves in the nut, and put the remaining strings on the banjo.  For me, the goal was to work on measuring and marking the places on my tension hoop (now silver soldered into a continuous ring courtesy of Dan Shady), and to start filing the recessed notches in the tension hoop where my "hooks" engage it.  Also, I wanted to start cutting off the ends of the Navy spoons that I plan to use as hooks and to see if I could bend them properly without breaking them.

Clint successfully removed his existing nut by gently tapping it using a small scrap of wood placed against the fret side of the nut and tapping it gently with a mall hammer.  The glue popped and the nut could be lifted out easily.  He then carefully measured the width of the neck and cut the piece of water buffalo horn that he had acquired for the new nut.  Remember that his banjo has lots of black and dark coloration.  The water buffalo horn is very dark and looks wonderful with the ebony surface of the fretboard.

Clint's finished nut.  You may be able
to see a little wax on the strings.

We had acquired a new tool to assist in accurately spacing the notches in the nut, so in no time, Clint had shaped the nut, polished it, glued it in place, and was filing his carefully-spaced string notches.  He used a feeler gauge placed under the string and over the first fret to judge where to stop filing on each string.  This is tedious work and took a couple of hours to complete.  He waxed the notches to help the strings slide more easily when tuning and we were ready to bring his banjo to life for the first time!  Pictures and a brief video can do this better than words:


I can't express you what a big deal this is.  Clint had never built a musical instrument in his life.  He told me that Sarah wanted to learn to play the banjo.  I threw out the idea of him building one for her.  Never, in my wildest imagination, could I have dreamed that he would build this heirloom-quality work of art.  Congratulations to Sarah for receiving such a special gift.  All the Banjo Boys hope you will learn to play it, treasure and cherish it for many years to come!  And now, Clint wants to build a second one -- this time, with a "bees" theme.  Get it?  Birds and bees?
My banjo with clear plastic
head and tension hoop in place.

After the excitement of "first notes," I proceeded to sand my tension hoop with gradually finer grades of sandpaper down to 400 grit.  This will make it easier to polish eventually and I wanted to "round off" the square edges of the rim.  I then placed the clear plastic head on the rim and the tension hoop over the head to mark the place where each notch will be filed.  I marked each with a marker pen and then filed a small groove at each mark.  Using a fairly aggressive metal file, I made the first notch to see how wide and deep it would need to be.  This required that I cut and bend at least one spoon to see how the hook will engage the notch.  Here's one of the spoons, cold-bent using a small metal brake.

I decided to go ahead and cut and bend all sixteen spoons.  Unfortunately, I broke three in the process, so now I must find a few more.  Ebay to the rescue.

Here is how I plan to use the spoons.  On the back of each spoon segment, there will be a silver-soldered nut.  I will use a stainless steel screw passing up through the bracket and into the nut on the spoon to apply tension to the head.  It might even work.

That's all for this chapter.

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