Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mission: Accomplished

I have finished the gourd banjo. Well, not completely finished--I am going to replace the nut and make a new bridge, and possibly make other adjustments as I play it--but I strung it up last night and went down to the fabulous Green Frog here in Palouse to try it out at our local open mike, photographed above by my friend Jens Hegg. It is everything I needed--louder, more responsive, richer in tone. Among the experiments that worked really well was gluing on the head. I got a very thin goatskin head and working from instructions I found for reheading dumbeks (a Mediterranean drum with a glued head), I made a frame (a piece of plywood with a hole cut out in the middle for the gourd body to sit in, the edge padded with duct-taped foam) with screwed-in hooks so I could stretch the skin (which had been soaked in water) over the glued surface and anchor it down using cotton string going through the holes I punched along the edge of the skin. I did not crank it super-tight, but took the suggestion of my friend Paul Hill (who has put skin heads on two of my regular banjos) to just work it down tight enough to get the wrinkles out and assume that the skin would pull itself tight as it dried. Next time I do this I'll put "S" hooks in the holes in the skin, and attach them to the hooks using rubber bands. Anyway, by the time the skin started to dry and pull tight, the glue (Titebond II) had set, so nothing slipped. I did have to go around quite a bit and work wrinkles out of the side as the glue was drying, and I had the red surgical tubing you can see below that I sort-of wrapped around to pull things together. It came out perfect.

The instrument is so responsive now, it will take me a little while to figure out how to handle it. But before too long I will be going back to work, recording the new CD and plotting a course for this project.