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The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I'm doing now, man, for more years than I know. They played it like that in the shanties and in their juke joints, and nobody paid it no mind 'til I goosed it up. I got it from them. Down in Tupelo, Mississippi, I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now, and I said if I ever got to the place where I could feel all old Arthur felt, I'd be a music man like nobody ever saw - Elvis Presley, 1956, Last Train to Memphis

Author Topic: Gourd Banjo  (Read 1898 times)

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Offline eric

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Gourd Banjo
« on: February 12, 2011, 11:05:03 AM »
Not exactly CB, but I thought y'all might get a kick out of this.  A while back I was inspired to build this instrument.  Bob Thornburg was very generous with advice and old pal Dave Godwin let me use his band saw.

The top is goatskin, glued into place, because I was not confident I could get the tension high enough just using the rawhide threads, but I did the threads anyway because I liked the look.  The neck is made two pieces of book matched cherry. The nut is ebony, as are the standard violin pegs.  The tail piece is leather.  The designs are traditional African images I got from Bob.

The hardest part was getting the neck to match the holes in the gourd just right so the strings lie at a playable angle. I was surprised at how good it sounds.



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Eric

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Gourd Banjo
« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2011, 11:22:40 AM »
Am jealous. It looks very nice.

Did you use any specific plans? And what kind of gourd is it? What was the process for preparing the gourd for banjofication?

Sound file please!  :D

Offline eric

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Re: Gourd Banjo
« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2011, 11:38:40 AM »
Thanks, Uncle Bud.  I couldn't tell you exactly what kind of gourd it is, but they are very common, and there is an entire subculture out there involving making stuff out of these.  I got a few likely-shaped ones at a gourd festival.  They are sold dried, so I just cut the top off and cleaned it out.  The designs were added with one of those wood burners we used as cub scouts. I glued sandpaper to a piece of plywood so I could sand the gourd rim as level as possible.  As far as plans, all had was a couple of rough sketches of a neck from Bob Thornburg, that I'd be happy to share if I can find it.  My woodworking skills and tools are extremely basic.  Patience is the key.

I'm not set up yet to record, but I'm working on it...
--
Eric

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Gourd Banjo
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2011, 03:59:00 PM »
Great looking thing! Congrats.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Online Johnm

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Re: Gourd Banjo
« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2011, 04:07:44 PM »
That does look great, Eric.  Well done!
All best,
Johnm

Offline Slack

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Re: Gourd Banjo
« Reply #5 on: February 12, 2011, 04:25:09 PM »
Looks great Eric - congrats! 

Instrument making is a satisfying pursuit - build one Uncle Bud!

Offline Stumblin

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Re: Gourd Banjo
« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2011, 05:24:38 AM »
That's fantastic.
There are a few interesting looking instruments here, all built out of stuff which would otherwise have been thrown away.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Gourd Banjo
« Reply #7 on: February 13, 2011, 08:12:40 AM »
That's fantastic.
There are a few interesting looking instruments here, all built out of stuff which would otherwise have been thrown away.

Wow. Well, there you go, Eric. Now that you're done the gourd banjo, you can move on to a 16th-century Italian Pentagonal Virginal Harpsichord.

Slack, I am seriously considering building one. Should really fix a few things in the house first though. And my woodworking experience amounts to screwing some leftover wood together to make a shelf for plants. I'm also good at splinters.

Offline Slack

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Re: Gourd Banjo
« Reply #8 on: February 13, 2011, 08:23:10 AM »
Quote
Slack, I am seriously considering building one. Should really fix a few things in the house first though. And my woodworking experience amounts to screwing some leftover wood together to make a shelf for plants. I'm also good at splinters.

There are _always_ things to fix around the house, do both. Getting a pre-made neck greatly simplifies things for a first round build.

http://cgi.ebay.com/FRETLESS-BANJO-NECK-clawhammer-bluegrass-minstrel-gourd-/220737902489?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item3365011799#ht_3944wt_1141

Offline eric

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Re: Gourd Banjo
« Reply #9 on: February 13, 2011, 11:21:08 AM »
Quote
Well, there you go, Eric. Now that you're done the gourd banjo, you can move on to a 16th-century Italian Pentagonal Virginal Harpsichord.

Hmmm... I wonder what Cow Cow Davenport would sound like on that thing...

Quote
Getting a pre-made neck greatly simplifies things for a first round build.

Slack, getting that neck would indeed make it really simple.  I forgot to mention that I had to take mine to Mike Lewis so we could use his peg head reamer, which isn't a tool everyone has lying around.  Mike, by the way, is a maestro of archtop luthiery.
--
Eric

Offline frankie

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Re: Gourd Banjo
« Reply #10 on: February 13, 2011, 04:51:07 PM »
Great looking instrument!  Would mounting the head with tacks simplify things a bit?  In the years I've had my tackhead, I've never had a problem with head tension that didn't correct itself.  Love the designs on the gourd!

Offline eric

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Re: Gourd Banjo
« Reply #11 on: February 13, 2011, 08:07:44 PM »
Thanks, Frankie.  Tacks would no doubt work.  The gourds are pretty brittle though, prone to cracking.
--
Eric

Offline Lipkowitz

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Re: Gourd Banjo
« Reply #12 on: April 11, 2014, 12:32:20 PM »
If you're careful and don't bang too hard, tacks work really well to secure the head. I really recommend Welborn Gourd Farm in California. They have excellent, think bodied canteen gourds; you have to work hard to crack them.

 I have an article on gourd banjo-making coming out this spring in Make Magazine. Here is a link to Youtube with me playing one of my banjos.

Best.


Offline uncle bud

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Re: Gourd Banjo
« Reply #13 on: April 12, 2014, 07:21:59 AM »
Great looking banjos! Keep us posted on when that article has come out.

Offline Lipkowitz

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Re: Gourd Banjo
« Reply #14 on: April 15, 2014, 07:51:05 AM »
I will. Thank you.

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