Thursday, December 27, 2007

"You do the best you can, and very softly"

I hope everyone had a peaceful Christmas.

Many years ago my Mother started the tradition of getting the family together on Christmas eve for chili. Well, my small family has gotten smaller in the past few years, my mother and grandmother are no longer with us, but the family still gets together for chili on Christmas eve. This year was the first year that we gathered at my house, which was nice since it's the old home place. So, while it's sad that family members are gone, it is comforting that traditions remain. And how can family members really be gone when they live on in each of us?

Amy gave me a couple of luthier oriented books for Christmas. The title of this post, "you do the best you can, and very softly," is from the book, Hearts & Hands: Musical Instrument Makers in America. The quote is by Warren May of Berea, Ky, by the way.

The class I was assistant teaching is over. Here's a photo from the last day of class. I don't think that you'll find a brighter group of folks anywhere. I'm sad that the class is over, it was certainly one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had. There's no profession that I admire more than teaching, and I'm fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience a little of what it is like to be one. I'm going to miss all the folks in the class.
My Friend Brian Kimerer just finished his first gourd banjo and documented the process. It's a beautiful and great sounding instrument. You can read about it at: http//

And now, on to the banjo:

I cut the nut out of a piece of ebony. Several different materials can be used to make the nut, each giving the banjo a different sound. I used ebony on my last banjo for the first time and really liked the way it sounded. It gave the banjo a nice earthy sound. I guess that when you hand make an instrument, each one will be different, each having it's own personality. After cutting and gluing the nut onto the banjo, I took it off. The ebony, while perfect for my last banjo, just didn't fit the sound of this banjo. I guess each instrument speaks to the maker and experience is how the maker understands the language of the instrument, I reckon. I replaced the ebony with bone. I didn't think to take photographs of the new nut, but the steps are the same. The photo shows the string spacing ruler that I use.

The photo to the left shows the tools that I used to notch the grooves in the nut. I used a small saw to make the initial cut, then a file to make the nut "v" shaped.

After the nut has been notched for the strings it is glued into the slot between the fretboard and the peghead overlay with a mixture of Elmer's glue and ebony dust.

When the glue was completely dry I began to install the fifth string tuner.

First I drilled a hole just shy of the correct diameter.

Next, I used the fifth string reamer to create the correct taper.

I removed the button off of the fifth string tuner and used a dowel rod with a hole drilled into the center to tap the fifth string tuner in place. By doing this, the shaft is protected from damage.

And here is the fifth string tuner in place.

Next I drilled the fretboard for the fifth string nut and glued the nut in place.

After the fifth string nut was in place I put strings on the banjo and made some slight adjustments. I forgot to take photos of the making of the bridge, but it was cut on the scrollsaw from rosewood. The rosewood gives the banjo a nice warm sound that's perfect for old-time music.
And with that, I think I'll call it a day.

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