Fretless mountain banjo: 44 years in the making

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Tom Snape
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Joined: Sat Feb 11, 2012 5:51 pm

Fretless mountain banjo: 44 years in the making

Post by Tom Snape »

I became interested in building musical instruments in my mid-teens. I made this fretless mountain banjo in 1976 following instructions in the Foxfire 3 book. The date 7/4/1976 is scratched inside to coincide with the US bicentennial . I used salvaged wood that I found in an old cellar hole on our property. At the time I didn't have all the materials to finish it properly, so it has remained in a semi-finished state until now. 44 year later it sports a new goathead skin, tuning pegs, and brass tailpiece.

The pot is made from popular and the neck looks like maple. The nut is a very hard white wood, and I suspect I used hornbeam. I rolled a 3/16" brass rod into a hoop for a tone ring. I cut the tailpiece from some scrap 1/8" brass. In the original version, I carved the friction pegs from some kind of hardwood but they didn't hold up. The current pegs are oud pegs from ebay.
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Karl Wicklund
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Re: Fretless mountain banjo: 44 years in the making

Post by Karl Wicklund »

When you say the original pegs didn't hold up, is it that they stopped working, or that they disintegrated, or...? Thanks.

I've looked at that Foxfire banjo a few times but never went ahead with it.
Kaptain Karl

Tom Snape
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Joined: Sat Feb 11, 2012 5:51 pm

Re: Fretless mountain banjo: 44 years in the making

Post by Tom Snape »

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I ended up twisting the knobs off. I probably made them from red maple and they weren't strong enough. Also when I first built it I was using steel strings. Now I'm using Nylgut.

Bob Francis
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Re: Fretless mountain banjo: 44 years in the making

Post by Bob Francis »

It looks great Tom. How does it sound?

Tom Snape
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Re: Fretless mountain banjo: 44 years in the making

Post by Tom Snape »

Bob Francis wrote:
Wed May 06, 2020 9:11 pm
It looks great Tom. How does it sound?
Thanks Bob! I'm really happy with the sound and I'm surprised it plays as well as it does, considering it's the first instrument I ever made and really didn't know what I was doing. I wasn't a banjo player until now and I'm still getting used to playing clawhammer on a fretless instrument. I can't play like Leon Ballard does in this clip, but my banjo sounds a lot like the one in the video. https://youtu.be/DwrplEyF4eM

Clay Schaeffer
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Re: Fretless mountain banjo: 44 years in the making

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

Good looking instrument, Tom
Has it really been 44 years?
I have an unfinished "lute like object" laying around in the shop gathering dust that I started in the late 70's, but never finished. Perhaps I should follow suit and do it. I wonder how many others have unfinished projects left on the strand?

Tom Snape
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Re: Fretless mountain banjo: 44 years in the making

Post by Tom Snape »

Well, almost 44. I don't know when I started it in 1976. Funny you mention the "lute like object" because that was the next thing I started making. I had some birch or something from a tree I cut down and had bent into a teardrop shaped one piece side. But that's as far as that project ever got.

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