Making "VictorM"



I'm making my first banjo "VictorM" as a surprise present from the Acoustic Soundboard Forum for Martin Robertson. It will be an 11" open backed banjo with an English Walnut rim capped with Anjan; an English Walnut neck; a brass tone ring; calf skin head; an ebony fingerboard with frailing scoop and raw brass fittings and tuners. Scale length will be 630mm to bring the bridge to a more central position and make the neck easier to play. It will also have a number of "De Faoite" features that will become clearer later.


Last updated 29/9/2014.


Here are most of the parts.

Here's the beginning of the cunning plans.

While I ponder the rim geometry and how the hardware fits I'll start with the neck. This is made up of nine pieces - two bookmatched pieces of English Walnut containing a sandwich of black / pear/ black veneers around a central piece of wood from "The Tree" . . . well from the Port Orford Cedar tree that grew in my front garden. Here the pieces have been cut and thicknessed and are assembled for a dry run.

After applying lots of fish glue some serious clamping is done and the neck blank left to dry overnight.

The neck blank is cleaned up and then the top surface of the peghead is shaped.

The truss rod channel is then routed out central to the peghead and slightly offset to the treble side of the full 5 string neck width.

The slots for the twin carbon fibre bars are then routed either side of the truss rod.

The two way truss rod is fitted in the slot with a mahogany cap glued on top and the twin carbon fibre bars are also glued into the neck using fish glue.

The truss rod cap is levelled with the neck and then the neck cut to rough shape on the bandsaw.

The headstock is thicknessed and the rear volute shaped using the thickness sander.

The Anjan headstock veneer is then glued on using fish glue.

The headstock shape is marked and the headstock cut to this. The rear Anjan headstock veneer is bent on the hot pipe to match the volute and is glued on using fish glue.

The headstock is then rough shaped.

The rim will be English Walnut with an Anjan tone-ring and bottom cap. Here are the thicknessed pieces.

They are then cut into segment blanks.

The English Walnut blanks have the outside edge shaped using an adaptation of my circle cutter jig.

Here's the result.

The inner edge is then routed.

Here's the result. This is repeated for the other seventeen segments.

The English Walnut segments are then shaped, held in position with 6mm dowels and then glued using hot hide glue.

A bit more progress.

The last segment glued in.

The outer edge of the rim needs to be turned back so that English Walnut veneer can be glued on to cover the blocks. As I don't have a lathe I have to improvise and use my binding jig and laminate trimmer.

The English Walnut outer veneer is then glued on using fish glue and lots of clamps.

Next the tuner positions are marked and drilled with a 10mm drill. No point in making a banjo unless a do something a bit different so Victor M has a very "un-banjo like" shaped headstock and the tuners are asymmetrically positioned reflecting the asymmetry of the neck and fingerboard.

Here's the tuners fitted.

Here's a back view.

The English Walnut inner veneer is then glued on to the rim using fish glue and lots of clamps.

The rim is cut for the Anjan end graft that is glued in using fish glue.

Two purfling slots are then routed at the end graft outer edges.

Like so.

Ebony purfling is then glued in using fish glue.

The Anjan top ring segments are then rough cut and glued onto the pot using hot hide glue. These will be trimmed flush with the pot later using my binding jig.

Here's the top ring completed and trimmed flush.

The Anjan bottom ring segments are then rough cut and glued onto the pot using hot hide glue.

The bottom ring is trimmed flush with the pot and the edges rounded over.

The rebate for the brass tone ring to sit in is then routed in the top ring of the pot.

The brass tone ring is checked for fit - half rests on the pot and the other half clear.

The raw brass tension hoop is checked for fit too.

Finally the inside edge of the top ring of the pot is chamfered on the inside edge.

The holes for the 18 brackets are marked on the rim and then drilled with a 5.5mm drill.

Here are the brackets installed for a test fit.

The end of the neck is rebated to allow the tension hoop to fit using a pattern router . . .

. . . following this template . . .

'. . . with this result.

The adjustable neck works by having the neck sit in a shallow pocket in the rim. This has been routed out and will be tidied up later. The holes for the truss rod adjuster access and the top two pivot bolts are drilled.

The position of the top pivot bolts are marked on the neck heel and drilled.

The two top bolts are fitted with epoxy and will later be cut flush with the neck. This will be where two pivot bolts in the rim will register.

Here's the neck fitted with the top bolts to check that the truss rod tool can access the truss rod. Hopefully there will still be enough room when the calf skin head, flesh hoop and tension hoop are fitted to the rim.

The hole for the lower adjusting bolt is drilled in the rim.

The position for the bolt on the neck heel is marked and a threaded insert fitted.

The two pivot point bolts are then cut flush with the neck.

The top neck bolt position is marked and drilled in the neck and the bolt fitted with epoxy. The end of the bolt is cut off when the epoxy is dry leaving the threaded rod.

The "neck block" is made from Anjan. A 18mm hole is drilled with a Forstner bit to a depth that will seat the bolt head.

A 7mm hole is then drilled in the centre for the bolt to pass through.

Two holes are drilled in the block for the top neck bolt and the bottom register bolt. The neck block is shaped to match the internal diameter of the rim. The bottom register bolt is glued into the rim using epoxy.

Finally a 5mm diameter carbon fibre registering pin is fitted in the neck and a corresponding hole drilled in the rim and Anjan block.

A brass plate is made to cover the Anjan block with matching holes for the top and bottom registering threaded rods. This will "capture" the bottom neck bolt and make the neck adjustable. The two pivot set screws have been fitted to the rim.

So here's how it works. The neck is fitted and the Anjan block fitted over. The bottom neck bolt is fitted.

The brass cap is then fitted and secured using the two brass thumb screws.

Before fitting the head the rim needs to be sprayed.

The tension hoop brackets and tone ring are fitted to the rim.

The ⅛" square brass bar that will be the flesh hoop is roughly bent.

Here it is next to the rim.

Joe Wadsworth came to help fit the head. The calf skin has holes punched around the perimeter and string threaded through the holes. It is then soaked in water until pliable.

The wet skin has the brass flesh hoop fitted inside and the string drawn tight to cover it.

The skin and flesh hoop unit is then placed over the rim and tone-ring and the tension hoop fitted over it. The tension hooks are then loosely fitted and tightened to bring the skin to the right tension leaving it slack enough to tighten more as it dries.

Here's Joe showing the result. The fit was a bit tight and could have done with using 2 ½" hooks rather than the 2" ones I have. Hopefully the skin will dry well overnight without the skin splitting. If necessary I can get 2 ½" hooks later. If all goes well the excess skin will be cut flush with the tension ring and the skin tightened to proper tension.

The skin has dried nicely and has a nice "ring" to it under tension. The excess skin was carefully cut off with a scalpel.

With the head on and tensioned it became clear that internal adjustment of the truss-rod would not be possible and the truss-rod needed to be reversed for adjustment from the peghead end. The tress-rod fillet was removed followed by the truss-rod. The pocket in the peghead was then routed out.

The end of the pocket was ramped.

The two way truss rod is fitted in the slot with a new mahogany cap glued on top using fish glue.

The fret positions are marked on the ebony fretboard and cut using this jig.

The scoop is then cut using a pattern following bit and a template.

Here's the first cut.

The rest of the scoop is then routed out.

The fingerboard is then tapered for the full five string width and the end shaped to match the curve of the tension hoop ring.

The four string section of the fingerboard is shaped.

An ebony binding strip is bent on the hot-pipe and glued to the end of the fingerboard using hot hide glue and this jig.

The remaining ebony bindings are shaped and glued onto the fingerboard using fish glue.

The positions for the side dot markers are marked on the fingerboard and drilled with a 2mm brad point drill bit. The white markers are then glued in.

The fingerboard is then glued onto the neck using fish glue.

Jonny Moss came round to visit and was impressed !!

The pilot hole for the fifth string tuner is drille. This will be reamed to fit the tuner later.

A 4mm hole is drilled behind the fifth string fifth fret to take the brass string guide.

Neck carving is now done.

The fingerboard is radiused.

Here's the carved and radiused neck on the rim - more fine tuning of the neck profile to come.

The gold evo frets are pressed in.

Here's the fretted neck on the rim with tuners. An Anjan nut and truss rod cover has also been made and fitted. The 5th string tuner will be properly fitted after the neck has been finished and sprayed.

The neck is then sprayed.

An Anjan saddle is glued onto an English Walnut base using hot hide glue.

A curved bridge is then cut from this laminated blank. Five lines are marked where the strings will be. The radius of the curve is 8 ¾" which should allow the strings the proper compensation.

8mm holes are drilled beneath each string position.

The bridge is then further shaped.

Final set up involves fitting the tuners, nut and string post, attaching the nut, fitting the tailpiece and strings and setting up the playing action. This is done by adjusting neck relief with the truss rod and cutting the string slots in the nut and saddle to the right depth. Here's the completed VictorM.

Back view.

End on.

In its little house.

"VictorM was presented to Martin who was totally surprised and delighted at the same time.