Heavy Machinery 1/2

This is a technical account about banjo construction.

I hope you know by now that I love the banjo; and that includes the elegant and assertive pot.  Its heavy wooden rim and metal tone ring insure a bright, clean sound.  The optional resonator increases the volume and depth of the sound.

There are two problems with that pot, though.  The first is its intricacy: hooks, nuts, shoes, bolts, brackets, screws, tension rods.  All of these are subject to loosening or failure; so the conscientious player has a lot of adjusting to do.  My first banjo had a parchment (animal skin) head, which caused a lot of fiddling with the nuts attached to the hooks.

The second problem is the weight of the pot.  An average acoustic guitar weighs less than 10 pounds.  A new banjo with resonator weighs 11-14 pounds.*  The difference between a 10-pound guitar and an 11-pound banjo isn’t that great, but it feels big.  That’s because the weight of a guitar is more evenly distributed. 

The pot, with resonator, of an 11-pound banjo can weigh  7 pounds, all at one end of the instrument.  You see that in the location of the strap; both ends attach to the pot.  The more balanced guitar has one end of the strap at the peg head.

All of this got me thinking.  Could I design a simpler, lighter pot?  And, very important, could I make it?  I knew that constructing a standard pot was beyond me.

*It’s possible to make a light standard banjo.  Deering’s “Good Time Openback (without resonator) Banjo” weighs four pounds.  I’ve heard one; it sounds very good.

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