Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gourd banjo, part five

I am at last focused on spending some time working on this instrument, so things should happen pretty fast. For me, anyway. I have just finished an arrangement of the Vivaldi D major lute concerto where I play the orchestra to Richard Kriehn's mandolin playing the lead, and I need this more powerful (I sure hope) instrument to be able to hold its own with other instruments.

First, I built a maple rim for the gourd, leaving two gaps for the spine to fit. I made six angled pieces like the one on the right, each piece was put on the gourd rim and marked from below, then cut out on the bandsaw (see my previous post) and sanded to an approximate finished shape on the belt sander. Because the gourd is so irregular, I made each piece, glued it on (with the masking tape clamp method you can see above), and then fitted the next piece to it. I had marked locations on the rim of the gourd for each piece, but I assumed (and this turned out to be the case) that once I started fitting them, the marks would change.

Next came fitting the spine. Cutting a precise fit into a gourd is very satisfying since the material is so easy to work. I got pretty close just marking things and cutting the basic shape with a coping saw, and it was easy to file a tighter fit. I have the square end at the tailpiece, and a small rounded heel for the neck.

I don't know of any African instruments that have a wooden rim like this, and I don't know if other modern makers use them, so I think of it as my idea. I did this on my first gourd banjo, though through several alterations not much of it remains. I think it significantly stiffens and strengthens the gourd, and I guess some part of me likes the idea of a "tone ring." Because I intend to glue the head (instead of attaching it with nails), I think that it will become very strong when reinforced with glued skin.

Now I can file the final maple rim shape and prepare the gourd for finishing, finish the tailpiece shape, create the rim sections in the spine, and make the head brace, which will be the subject of a future post.

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