gourd (banjo)

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I am in the process of making a gourd banjo.I grew a 12 inch round one and have it cut in half. I cleaned it by soaking in warm water and rubbing with a brillo. I have not soaked it again since cutting it and it has a lot of dry membranous debris in the bottom.I am afraid to soak again because it might weaken the body of it. Anyone have any tips on getting this out. I also bought a chamois to use as a skin head on the top as opposed to a regular skin head. Is this OK? Anyone have any Ideas on making one of these. I have looked at the different web sites. There is some for sale but I feel silly asking people who sell these for information when I am making my own.Also I want to string with catgut(not real gut from cats-I am a cat lover).There is some in a vet book-can I use that kind?I am sure one of you country folk must have made one of these before. Any tips? Good luck to me, Terry

-- Terry Lipe (elipe@fidnet.com), January 24, 2002


Hey Terry,maybe i can help..first you will want to get some ruff grit sand paper and sand out the inside.keep usein finer sand paper till you get it as smooth as you like it. But be careful, dont wont to sand to long in one place,the gourd is thin.. But after you get all your sanding done you will need to take a damp to wet rag that has a little clorox,and wipe it down well inside and out..this will kill any mold or mildew.(dont wanna go threw all this hard work for it to start to grow more mildew) but i would after cleaning it with clorox/water mix rag, let it sit an dry.then next day do it again. then after you feel that you are sure no more mildew will grow, get a finish on it..take your time with it..sounds like fun Terry.When ya get it finished and ya wanna pick sum, just let me know..I'll bring my up rite Bass ( I call it a dog house bass) just lub that ol b/grass music..Great Luck With Your Banjo Terry..and let us know how its goin..

-- Kay S.C. (BLUEGRASSGIRL@CHARTER.NET), January 24, 2002.

Also remember to wear a nose & mouth dust mask when you're doing the sanding and to do it in a well ventilated place (like outside). The mold dust can be toxic.

-- rose marie wild (wintersongfarm@yahoo.com), January 24, 2002.

Mike and I are banjo builders but we do not build the gourd variety. We own one though. It was built by a friend in California. As far as using chamois for the head, don't do it. It is too thick. We have some real skin heads that are perfect if you would like to e-mail me privately about them. You can check my credentials by visiting www.ramseybanjos.com. and we can be e-mailed from there also. As for strings, each string is usually a different gage. I would recommend classical guitar strings. We use them on our minstrel model. They are nylon. Mike can tell you the exact gage. You will want to get all the loose stuff out of the inside of the gourd. Anything loose inside will vibrate and cause buzzing sounds when you try to play it. Bob (who made our gourd banjo) had a cool way to attach the head so that it could be adjusted. You may try to do a search and see if he has a web site. His name is Bob Thornburg. He is in California. Type in Thornburg and gourd banjos and see what comes up. I would really consider nylon instead of gut strings especially if your area is humid. If you only plan to play it in the air conditioning then the gut will stay in tune long enough for you to finish the song!

-- Patricia Ramsey (WOOLSPIN@AOL.COM), January 24, 2002.

Terry, I have built a couple of these recently (3 - see a couple at http://wcob.uark.edu/dhyatt/banjos.htm ) 1. You must remove the soft membrane as you must have a smooth surface inside. I knock it out with a nylon paint stripping wheel on a drill - carefully. Then smooth it up with sandpaper. I then use wood hardener to seal the inside and make a hard surface. (the first time I did it I used a shaped cabinet scraper - took a long time) As said before - avoid that dust.

If you cut the gourd in half you may already be in trouble with the head size, etc. I cut about a third of the gourd - it must be strong, since you are going to stress it by pulling skin across it. The gourd should be very hard. If you smack it with you knuckle, it should "crack" rather than "thud". It should not be very flexible.

There is a book on "making gourd musical instruments" that includes a banjo. (I think possibly by or with input from Bob Thornburg). There is also another book (I think by the same folks) on gourd craft that gives a lot of artistic ideas and practical gourd craft.

Another reference suggests soaking the gourd to remove the inner matter, and that being OK as long as you let it dry completely (a couple of weeks, I think).

Elderly sells cheap goatskin heads. You can attach with glue (set with tacks that can be left or removed) or use the adjustable systems such as used by Bob Thornburg.

You can pick up violin tuners on ebay or local music stores). You have to figure out how to taper the holes for them - you may have to borrow a reamer. It is important to get a good fit or tuning will be misery for you.

Be careful with that dang groud - it gets slipery-er the closer you get to completion. I have strategically superglued my last gourd together in two places.

Another question likely to arise - how to shape the neck: 1. Use a drawknife - probably preferred by purists 2. Use a wood rasp - rough but faster 3. Use a rasp on a drill press or hand drill - much faster 3. Use a shaper - all done!

I use a bandsaw to get it as close as I can. I've also learned that a dremel is a handy tool for working on gourd banjos, from cutting the hole for the dowel stick to shaping the neck to fit the gourd (if you plan to do so), to setting inlay, cleaning holes.

I finish the wood using a razor blade as a scraper (trick from Mike and Pattie Ramsey's shop). I used linseed oil on one, and tung on another.

Elderly sells gut strings for banjo, so does Bob Flesher and George Wunderlich.

Ok, good luck, and be careful not to become obsessed with this, alienating family and friends, forgetting to eat and drink, talking to yourself....well, got to get back to this neck....David

-- David Hyatt (in Arkansas) (dhyatt@walton.uark.edu), February 21, 2002.

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