Sunday, November 20, 2011

2011 Nashville Banjo

Around 2004 or 2005 I bought a Fender Banjo and played it a little bit in a band, mostly for the novelty factor, but I was the fifth wheel playing the extra bits like the occasional guitar line or synth bit. Honestly I wasn't very good at any of them.
The Banjo was cool and all, but the damn thing wouldn't stay in tune for more than a couple of minutes.

Pretty annoying when it goes out of tune on stage waiting for the bit where it's needed.
I had it for a couple of years, but never played much, simply because tuning it was such a pain that it didn't inspire practice. Also, since it had a resonator it was very loud and emphasised:

 a: how crap I was
 b: how out of tune it was.

So I sold it (didn't see that coming did ya).

Anyway, a couple of months ago I got the banjo bug again after digging up an old demo that I'd recorded with the banjo. Didn't think I'd be able to afford one, so I detuned a couple of my electrics and practiced banjo chords that way. Not great, but adequate. I was able to re learn that old song and started window shopping for banjos. A few six stringers popped up at the local 2nd hand shop, but they weren't very nice to play, so I passed on them and went on my merry way.

A couple of weeks later I had some time to kill while I waited for people to get organised and head out for the afternoon. I popped into the local acoustic instrument shop and had a chat to the owner about banjo's and my unhappy experience with the Fender. 

In the six or so years since I owned it, he informed me that the world of banjo's had changed for the better.
This meant that we now have low priced high quality instruments available to us. He happened to have a few budget models in stock and I proceeded to play. One of them had been on display in the window. It was a five string open back Nashville branded banjo. The store owner told me that it was made in the same factory as Oakridge, and that they were identical apart from the headstock shape and logo. The rest of the components are the same.

I played the Nashville and was suitably impressed. Impressed enough to go home and obsess about how to fund it. After going over my parts inventory, it was evident that I could finance the project and got the approval from a certain lady, to go ahead and purchase it.

The next day the banjo was mine!
It's all maple, with a brass tone ring which seems to really help sustain and gives that classic high frequency sound (I compared one without a tone ring too and there was a marked difference in high end). Being open backed it's not too loud and I've only had to tune it up twice in the last three weeks. I'm quite chuffed with this little banjo. I've been driving my family crazy with twang twang twang every chance I get.

My old Fender banjo

Monday, November 14, 2011

DIY Scratch plates

The weather was kind to me, this past weekend. I managed to finally start making router templates.
Plywood and a Coping saw make for fairly easy work. I made three in two days.
Well not two full days, but over two days. Maybe 8 hours all up.

This is all as part of my summer projects, which I started late last summer. There are currently four guitars in various stages of reconstruction littering the house. It may appear as though I'm rather lazy when it comes to finishing projects (actually that's largely true), but last summer I did finish a number of large projects which got in the way of finishing these guitars. Also the parts I ordered from the U.S.A took their sweet time to arrive.

First up is a revisit of my first electric guitar The La Grange Strat Copy. Back in the day it had one horn cut off and the frets pulled. Some of the fretboard came up with the frets and the guitar was rendered unplayable.
I decided to try to rescue it, and the only sensible option seemed to be to turn it into a Lap Steel. I cut off the other horn and rounded it out a bit. The dark P90 shaped slab of wood is a piece of Jarrah which was probably the hardest thing to cut, ever. The Jarrah slab is actually going to be sitting on top of two piezoelectric elements that I pulled from a couple of cheap buzzers. The bridge will sit on top of the Jarrah biscuit, so that the pressure from the strings push down on the elements to create an acoustic like tone. For more traditional tones, I'll also add a humbucker pulled from my buddies' Gretsch. In addition to the body mod, I'm considering reshaping the headstock to more of a square sort of shape. We'll see....

Next up is the new template for my Tokai Hummingbird. The plate that came with the guitar was too pointy, too skinny and not nearly Mosrite enough. I thought about this for most of the last year. As the guitar has quite large routing holes, it was a case fill in some or work out how to cover them. It seemed simpler just to cover them up. The plate I have in mind is tortoise shell, but am considering a half an half of cream and tortoise shell, to give the illusion of half a pick guard. Time will tell if I am off my rocker.

This is an oldie. Bought way back in the 90's for $60. I think it's a Kay, but there are many guitars from the 60's that look like it. When I bought it, the guitar was in terrible condition. Almost unplayable. It ended up sitting in a cupboard at my mother's house for more than a decade. I retrieved it around 18 months ago and slowly began working on it. The original scratch plate was split into two segments. Not elegant in my opinion, but hey, that's the way it was. I've never really been much of a fan of the traditional SG plates and thought that I'd have a crack at making my own design. It's borrowed some aesthetics of Airline guitars with a hint of Mosrite thrown in by chance (dictated by the routing actually).

The real hard part is cutting these into pickguard material, which is a nightmare to work as the plastic curls and catches on the blade and gums up the router attachments.

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