Lets build a bluegrass banjo!

Okay, as it happens i am in the process of building another banjo. If you have just come across this site then as way of an introduction i am mad about bluegrass and bluegrass banjos. On this page i am going to show you the stages in assembling your very own bluegrass tool.

Much of the work has already been done and i apologies for that in advance, however if you are looking to build your own banjo then shoot me a mail and i will do everything i can to help you realise the top of your own mountain.

A rather rough heel cut for a One Piece Flange.

We start with a neck, in this case mahogany, i cut this heel for an OPF [one piece flange], and no, i did not make a very good job of it. Never the less it works. The heel angle needs to be cut at 3 degrees to allow for a decent string action on the 12th fret.

peg head, pot and sandwich.

This is the face of the peghead. Currently being sealed as the pours in mahogany are quite large sanding sealer is needed prior to final finishing. You can also see my breakfast sandwich clearly in the frame.

Hardware…….tuners, thumbscrews and spacers.

Here is some of the hardware, the tuners, resonator fixings, spacers and thumbscrews, you always need a few of odd sized screws to finish one of my banjos.

Nickle plate straight-line tailpiece.

This is the tailpiece, the bit that holds the strings onto the pot. Here we have a Goldtone item, cast alloy and quite frankly not my first choice of parts however this banjo is destined to be a ‘works beater’ so i am using left over bits i have laying around the workshop.

The all important pot!

Here is the pot or drum assembly. This one is an ‘archtop’ rim which means there is a raised area inside of the rim, this reduces the vibrating part of the drum skin from 11 inches to 10 inches which results in a thinner and more brittle banjo tone as made popular by Ralph Stanley [of the Stanley brothers fame].

Also you can clearly see the one piece flange, tension hoop and hooks. That’s basically all the metal parts [hardware] on the rim. This rim is special as it is designed and built in Sun City Arizona by a good friend of mine called Larry Hill. He builds a unique style of rim construction and markets it under the company name Helix banjos. Here is a link to Larry’s site where you can hear the banjos being played and check out the revolutionary timber construction that Larry uses;


Larry's label, Cherry Number 10.

And that label again.

note the plugs in the rim wall.

This rim was previously built up into a banjo which used a shoe and bracket assembly rather than the OPF which i and most bluegrassers prefer. Here you can see where i plugged the holes in order to cut the rim for the flange. If i could be bothered i’d tidy it up but you will not see any of it in the end as its all hidden inside the resonator.

The rim and resonator together.

This is what it looks like when the rim and the resonator are sat together….nice! The gap at the front is where the neck will eventually sit

Clever acoustic stuff here....

This pic shows how i have skinned the inside of the resonator. This changes the internal air chamber and ‘tunes’ the aperture [the gap between the head and the back of the resonator]. I have never done this before so i’m pretty excited about it as an idea. Watch this space to see if it works!

2 bridges, can you see the difference?

These are a couple of banjo bridges. The bridge is very important as it transmits the final energy from the strings onto the drum skin and so on. Here we have 2 differing ones, they are both ‘compensated’ [which means they have been built to accommodate the natural differences inherent with a 5 string, 26 /3/4 inch scale instrument]. Essentially one needs to have a slightly longer 3rd string and this is two ways of going about it.

Next job is to do a ‘dry’ build. That means putting the whole thing together and checking that everything fits, everything works and everything is in the right place. As i am going for a kinda ‘hot rod’ look on this banjo, i have decided to paint the neck and resonator matt black and the rim cherry red [its a cherry wood rim].

front view.

neck to pot view from the rear.

pot view with the tailpiece.

looking bad in black.

A very important part of the job is to make sure the string height at the twelth fret is just so. Here it want to be around 1/8 inch off the fretboard.

nice action!

3 thoughts on “Lets build a bluegrass banjo!

  1. Hi,
    I have a son obsessed with Banjos….. He is turning into a great player gigging regularly.

    He is studying design technology and for his major project wants to design and BUILD his own banjo from scratch (blocks of wood!).

    This is quite an ambitious task and I am trying to find someone that could help him get an idea of what is involved in making a Banjo.

    He has access to wood and metal workshops and the equipment but could really do with some help knowing HOW to do it!

    I don’t know if this is something you could help us with or point us in the direction of a UK based Banjo Manufactures that would be able to let us visit and see the process?

    Thanks for your time.

    We are based in Putney London, but would be willing to travel.

    Mark Livingstone

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