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3 April 2015

Highwayman Banjo - Over the (Bad) Moon

I've been doing hand-springs around the house and carrying Mrs Uke about on my shoulders. What a day! I've spent most of it holed up in the garage, furiously working on my Highwayman Banjo. I've done so much and the end result has surpassed all my expectations. It doesn't happen all that often, so I'm savouring it while I can! Ha ha. Let's relive a little of what I've been up to...


This morning is was all about shaping the banjo neck. I did it in two phases: Phase 1 was to get the depth right; Phase two was to round off the neck. I have gone for the same depth as my Windsor Whirle which is 7/8" at the nut and 1" at the 12th fret. All of the rounding has been done by eye so far and I have no intention of digging out any templates. I'll just keep working it until it feels good to my hands.

See the lump I've left on the neck for where I'm going to fit the 5th string tuner. At this point of the day, I had no idea what I was going to do here, so I left plenty of wood to give me options.


I cleaned up the head and it's come up a treat. I think that the odd stain on the top right hole is oil from the Grover tuner. Damn! The other odd stains are actually sweat! Yuck. I couldn't believe it myself!


This is me leaving things for a well-earned break. I knew that I wanted to tackle the 5th string tuner next, but I still wasn't sure on what I needed to do. 


I did a tiny bit of research on where to place the tuner and set to the neck with my drill. I was worried about hitting my truss rod and sure enough, you can see here that I did just that. Thankfully, this is the depth of hole I was going for, so I didn't need to drill into the rod. 


Here's how I'm fitting the tuner. See that it is turned slightly anti-clockwise bringing the  hole on the "capstan" below the level of the fretboard. I was figuring here that the peg was going to be pretty well lined up  with where the 5th string needs to run. I do intend to fit a string guide, but for now it was going to be good if I could string it up without one.


One more picture of the neck that I'm falling in love with. You can see clearly here the location of the hole for the 5th tuner, almost smack bang in the middle of the 5th fret beneath the fretboard.

I'm loving the clean contrast of the ebony veneer on the head with the mahogany neck. Lovely. And those maple fret markers are working better than I ever hoped.


I posted on Google+ that I was losing the will to live and this is why. I'd moved on to fretting the neck. I hate fretting! Have I ever told you that?

I dug out my fret holder (Tm), tang nipper and set to work cutting and dressing the frets. What a boring job. I wasn't too careful and delicate in my work, but I got there in the end.

In a moment of madness I then banged them in with my brass fret hammer. No drama! I can't believe it.


Having got further than I hoped I would today, I quickly rushed inside and started putting everything together. Would it play?

Damn right it would! It's got a lovely sound and I'm thinking that it plays better than my Windsor Whirle. Well for a start, the neck is straight! Ha ha.

I only had 4 banjo strings and not wanting to break out a new pack I stuck on a uke string for the 5th. Sounds pretty good. The 5th tuner is a distraction for me. I'm not used to playing with the 5th string or the tuner; The Whirle has a tunnelled 5th meaning that the tuner is positioned on the head, but the string snaps after about 5 seconds so I've never got into the habit of using it. I can't wait to learn to use a 5th string properly.


Here's that head again. Have you ever seen anything so pretty? 


I include this picture for the builders and players. This gives you a feel for the string placement I have with my temporary nut and no guide on the 5th. I reckon this is looking pretty bloody good! 

I'm sure to give you a sound check of the Highwayman sometime soon, but for now you're just going to have to imagine what it sounds like. I'm going to struggle to stop myself from playing it, but I should get it finished before I play it too much. There are still lots of little things for me to sort out first though; like how I'm going to fit the arm-rest; and how I'm going to secure the tail-piece. These are problems for another day. For now... I'm just going to enjoy admiring what I've got. Oh yeah... and I've got to properly sand the thing down. Sooo many things to do ;-)

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