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Banjo 09 - strings on

Yesterday I finished work on my current mountain banjo build. Having let the skin settle for a few days, it was time to put on the strings.

This is a reasonably slow process: filing down the nut to what looks like a good height, cutting the string slots, and then putting on the strings and gradually taking it all lower until they sit at a comfortable height above the fingerboard. That process is then repeated with the bridge, to give the final playing action.

For the fretless banjos that I make, that action is reasonably heigh, at least in comparison to modern fretted steel-strung banjos. This is in part a right-hand playability consideration. There's no frailing scoop on these banjos, so to have the strings a comfortable height at the top of the neck for clawhammer playing, they need to be a little high across the whole length.

But it's also because sightly higher strings just feel right for this kind of banjo. Higher action sacrifices some accuracy at higher picking speeds, but the sound of these banjos is so mellow that high-speed / high-accuracy picking is never the goal anyway. Instead, a higher action suits the lazier pace and simpler playing that sounds best on a mountain banjo, and the bounciness of the strings above the fingerboard opens up a whole range of additional textures: springy pull-offs, slappy hammer-ons, smooth slides. The higher action brings an additional energy to the instrument, helping the nylon strings and woody response to avoid a tone that is too mushy or soporific.

Those strings will take at least a few days to stretch and settle, so banjo 09 is not quite wrapped up yet. In the meantime, I've been fiddling around with the early stages of banjo 10. I'm following my nose on this one without a fully fixed plan - all I know is that it'll be an open-back in ash and walnut, and that I'm going to use it teach myself some techniques that I've not had a chance to try before.

I had two long pieces of ash left over from banjo 09, neither of which were quite wide enough to make a neck out of, so that's one new technique: a laminated neck, with a contrasting stripe of walnut down the centre-line.

I'd set these gluing last week, so yesterday I was thicknessing the laminated neck blank and beginning to mark out the shape.

And here's banjo 10 progress by the end of the day: the steam-bent pot from earlier in the summer, neck peices gluing up, and some bits of walnut that will become the fretboard and a contrasting cap for the ash rim.

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