Banjo Making: Build Considerations

An understanding of the banjo's parts is essential to banjo making. This diagram displays a banjo with all of its parts labeled.
An understanding of the banjo’s parts is essential to banjo making. This diagram displays a banjo with all of its parts labeled.

When considering building a banjo there are a few important questions to reflect on:

  • What kind of banjo would you like to build?
  • What tools do you have readily available?
  • What parts of the banjo would you like to build yourself?
  • What parts would you like to buy?
  • What tools would you consider purchasing?

The answers to these questions can inform your banjo building adventure in a big way. “Right-sizing” the banjo building adventure will keep it fun and interesting while avoiding frustration. Many ready made parts are available¬†online today. If this is your first build, a kit is highly recommended. A quality kit will allow you to try it out and see how you like it.

Banjo building from scratch is serious woodworking. If you are completely new to wood working you may wish to consult an introductory manual, tolerant friend, or better yet, get a part-time job in a custom cabinet shop. It is important to become familiar with safety concerns associated with the operation of hand tools and power tools. The proper use of personal protective equipment is also key. It is possible to become badly injured or even get yourself killed from the misuse of a power tool. The biggest dangers in the wood shop are not paying attention, being careless, and failing to think an operation through.

Think about all of the parts and steps in the process before ever beginning to build. Plan your design. It’s beneficial to have a banjo on hand to use as a three-dimensional model. Whenever you have the opportunity, take special notice of the structural details of other banjos. Studying other instruments will inform your preferences and taste.

Dust control can be an issue that seems tolerable in small bursts. But over time dust can take its toll on a person’s respiratory system. Wear a quality dust mask whenever cutting or sanding wood or other materials. An outdoor work bench may also be a good option for some depending on the situation.

Every banjo has a neck and a rim. The neck allows for noting and the rim acts as a frame to stretch a membrane across. The membrane, which is commonly called the “head”, which is a lot like a drum head, acts as the soundboard. The neck and the rim are constructed separately. Bringing these two basic parts together to become a banjo is a challenge and is accomplished by adding a third basic part, the dowel stick. The dowel is found on the inside of the banjo rim. The dowel is rarely seen while the banjo is being played. In the case of a resonator banjo the dowel is almost never seen because it is concealed by the resonator.

There are as many approaches to banjo making as there are people who make banjos. Building from scratch is a great experience that requires a fairly extensive tool set and work space. Purchasing and assembling prefabricated parts is also a great approach to banjo making. Regardless of whether you make all of your parts or buy some of them, a look at banjo making processes that work for others will prove helpful.