Banjos are fun to make and fun to play. A banjo has a sound box, a long neck, four main strings and a short drone string. For a child, make the neck reach from the child's left side to six inches past where the right hand would be positioned for playing. If in doubt, three feet is comfortable for most children between the ages of 6 and 10.
Glue two 1-inch by 6-inch boards together using wood glue. Hardwood is best, but other woods will work. Let dry thoroughly. Copy the banjo neck pattern from Song of the Great Lakes website (www.songofthegreatlakes.com/banj.htm). Purchase a ready-made banjo fretboard, tuning pegs, five small eyebolts, two bridges and a set of banjo strings. Cut the pattern, then lay it on the top of the prepared boards. Trace the neck pattern on the boards. Cut using a jigsaw or saber saw. Check to make sure the fretboard will work with your pattern and adjust as needed.
Rasp the edges of the neck with a wood rasp to rough in the rounded shape of the neck. Finish by sanding with 00 (medium) sandpaper. Drill any needed holes for the tuning pegs. Four holes will go on the end of the banjo neck, and one will attach at the side bump for the drone string. Glue the fretboard to the neck. Stain, paint or use a natural wood sealer on the wood.
Starting Bleach Bottle Sound Box
Cut the neck portion off a one-gallon bleach bottle, just below the bottom of the handle. Make sure to leave at least six inches of plastic between the bottom of the bottle and the cut. Banjo bottoms do not need to be enclosed, but need the length for vibration. Measure a half-inch from the bottom on the sides, and mark with a permanent marker. Draw a line across the bottom of the bottle from one side to the other, marking the future path of the neck. Measure the left-hand end (bottom) of the neck. Cut a paper pattern using those measurements.
Preparing Soundbox and Neck
Place a dot on the middle of the top edge of the pattern. Center the dot on the line you drew around the bottle, just under the end of the line you drew across the diameter of it. Trace around the pattern, making the shape of the end of the neck on the bleach bottle. Turn the bottle, and trace the pattern on the other side. Cut along the sides and the top of the traced pattern shapes on the sides of the bottle.
Attaching Soundbox to Neck
Bend the plastic down, making an opening through which to insert the neck. As soon as the neck is dry, insert it through the holes, with the plastic flaps pulled down to the outside. Allow two inches of board to stick out one side, and the fret board out the other. Attach the bottle-soundboard to the neck by screwing small, round headed screws through the plastic flap. Seal the edges with wood glue.
Adding Final Parts
Screw five eye-bolts into the sound board end of the neck. Attach the tuning pegs on the other end. Glue one of the bridges to the soundboard, three inches from the edge nearest the eye-bolts. Glue the other bridge to the neck at the top of the fretboard. Use stickers or acrylic paint to decorate the sound box if desired.
Stringing and Tuning
String the banjo using the set of banjo strings. Use an electronic tuner or keyboard instrument to tune the strings. There are many tunings for banjo. Here is a standard tuning for a beginner: tune the bottom string (referred to as the fifth string) to high E, just like a guitar. Tune the fourth string to B, the third to an E that is one octave lower than the high E, the second string to G#, and the short drone string to a B.
- Cardboard Folk Instruments; Denis Warig; 2002
- Song of the Great Lakes Woodworking: Build a Banjo
- Boy's Life: Make Your Own Banjo
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