I was browsing through some old Firefox books a while back when I came across some folks talking about making banjos and dulcimers. In particular, one fella talked about making a cookie tin banjo. I had 4 cookie tins in my office that I saved after we emptied them last Christmas which seemed perfect for the job. So, since I had one insignificant piece of junk I needed, I felt compelled to find the rest and build a banjo!
For the neck of the banjo, I used an old piece of bamboo flooring which I glued to a pine 1×4. The floorboard by itself was not thick enough to provide support where it enters into the cookie tin. I am not exactly sure that it’s the right thickness now but it seems to fit in my hand ok. I left the bamboo top squared off but I rounded the back (the pine part) off smooth so I could hold it easily. Now, I know you are curious how I came up with the shape for the peg head…I traced two Mt Dew cans. This part is important…you have to use Mt Dew to get the thing just right.
The tail piece is a chunk of an extra slat from plantation blinds we installed last Summer. I think there must be a proper way to do this but it seems that the only measurements that really matter are the distance from the bridge to the nut (basically, from the wooden peg on the face of the banjo to the point where the neck joins the peg head.
My length is 25 inches though there is some flexibility in that size. The distance from the bridge to the 5th string which attaches to the side of the neck is 18 1/2 inches. Just about everything else negotiable as far as I can tell from reading in Firefox 3.
The hardest thing for me to do was carve the tuning pegs. I tried using steel thumsbcrew and eye bolts and regular screws but none of those things would hold the string tight enough to tune. That left me with carving wooden pegs which hold their position by friction.
I bought square 1/4 poplar dowel rods and cut off 2.5 inch sections to carve the pegs. I rounded the bottom 2/3 of the peg to fit in the hole. The top part I left square so I could get a better grip on it for tuning. It seems simple enough but it was a real drag to carve them round. My hands are killing me from messing with those tiny pegs. Anyhow, I drilled a small hole in each to catch the string and they seemed to tune and hold pretty well.
I have a chromatic tuner that I got to tune my violin. I messed around a bit to get the tuning right for the banjo. I think it is pretty close although the 4th string doesn’t sound right to me. We’ll see. It definitely has a banjo sound.[audio:http://www.MyHomeAmongTheHills.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/mycookietinbanjo.mp3]
So, the $6 Martin banjo strings are about the only money I have in this thing. Gosh, if only I had any idea how to play a banjo!