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 Post subject: Oh my...
PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2018 1:46 pm 
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Mahogany
Mahogany

Joined: Wed Jun 29, 2011 9:34 am
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First name: Steve
Last Name: Blower
City: Keighley
State: West Yorkshire
Zip/Postal Code: BD20
Country: UK
Focus: Build
Status: Amateur
Having previously made a tenor guitar for a very nice gentleman, I’ve been approached by said chap with a tentative enquiry to make a banjo.

Completely outside my wheelhouse.

Do I embrace the request as a valuable opportunity to grow as an instrument maker or run away squealing...

All advice welcome.

:)


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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2018 2:02 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
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First name: Bryan
Last Name: Bear
City: St. Louis
State: Mo
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I don't really have any advise but I'll follow closely to see what the community has to say. I was recently asked about making a harp guitar (which I have never done) but I don't like the idea of commissions, especially so, when I have no idea how it will turn out.

I thought about agreeing to make it and then give the person the option to buy it if he liked it. That would be a good learning experience. But, I don't really want one if he doesn't buy it.

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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2018 2:53 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

Joined: Sun Mar 30, 2008 8:20 am
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There are different styles of banjos They can be anything from crude backwoods models to some that look like they were made by a machinist. If you can make the neck and do a good job of it you can buy most of the rest of the parts needed for a modern banjo.
The Foxfire book vol 3 covers making backwoods style banjos and Stewart McDonald can sell you the parts for making a modern banjo.
As with most musical instruments the difference between a good banjo and a "banjo" banjo is in the small details.


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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2018 3:27 pm 
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Joined: Tue Dec 17, 2013 10:52 pm
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First name: Don
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Clay S. wrote:
As with most musical instruments the difference between a good banjo and a "banjo" banjo is in the small details.


This is the part that would dissuade me from building my first banjo for an actual customer. Think about all the little things that make your most recent guitar better than your first guitar, and how you could only learn those things by building more than one.

But if you disclose your lack of experience to the customer, and the customer is willing to go with you on this experiment, maybe it would work out fine.


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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2018 5:19 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

Joined: Wed Apr 08, 2009 9:34 am
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Find out what he expects in a banjo. Frailing or 5 string?
Metal tone ring composition makes quite a bit of difference in a 5 string.
I would really make it absolutely sure that you can build him one but have no experience. If he understands that, why not? If he is just expecting a nice sounding instrument with no guarantee on tonal qualities, it could be a good learning experience for you. This is where talking over expectations is really important.
This is also where you can feel him out and decide if you really want to take this guy on. That will be a big part of understanding "customer relations" for you. It's good practice to avoid the horror stories you hear about customers from he!! from time to time.

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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2018 11:11 pm 
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Koa
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City: Escondido
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Gosh, I usually agree with Haans but my experience is the opposite. I have had bad experiences with customers looking for extreme customization (eg: "can you build an 8 string nylon arch top with fanned frets?"). I am fortunate that I am a reasonably accomplished guitar player, but I have come to the conclusion that I will not build a guitar that I cannot or would not play. You don't know whether it is crap or just the right thing. And every new build comes with a steep learning curve of the process, what order to do the different tasks, etc. You always make mistakes at first.

No matter how cool people seem at the beginning of the build, once the chips are down they are never quite so cool. I would encourage you to stretch yourself to build a banjo, but not a first one as a paid commission.


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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2018 11:34 pm 
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Mahogany
Mahogany

Joined: Wed Jun 29, 2011 9:34 am
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First name: Steve
Last Name: Blower
City: Keighley
State: West Yorkshire
Zip/Postal Code: BD20
Country: UK
Focus: Build
Status: Amateur
Grateful to all for the responses.

The description given as an ideal instrument was a steel rim, 4 string tenor banjo with a shorter scale. The gentleman already has a number of banjos but can’t find one with his ideal scale length.

It did look more like an assembly project (apart from the neck).

We’ve already discussed that it’s a new project for me.

I’d love to build it on a take it or leave it basis, but as mentioned above, I have no desire to own it if it’s not up to the clients expectations.

Maybe if I ask the client to buy the parts up front so my only cost is time. If it falls flat I can put the time down to experience.


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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2018 1:46 am 
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First name: Bob
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Unless you are really wanting to build a banjo, I'd walk away from it. I've got 45 years of building and repair experience, and one of the best things I ever did was to learn when to say no. That took at least 30 years to get to that point. Slow learner!

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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2018 5:42 am 
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Brazilian Rosewood
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Joined: Mon Dec 27, 2010 9:06 pm
Posts: 2161
Location: Magnolia DE
First name: Brian
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Focus: Repair
Status: Professional
Depends.... How much do you like banjos? I have never built one but do service them. I also service mandolins and have never made one either. I might consider making a banjo but would turn down making a mandolin immediately. Why? Because I do not really care for the mandolin as an instrument, I cannot play one worth a darn..... so for me it would be an exercise in frustration as much as exploration. Banjos on the other hand I can play a bit on and while I generally do not care for bluegrass I find them fun to mess around with.

So while I could easily build either I also know myself and that is the 50% of the equation a lot of people overlook in these things. Get all into the construction details and pricing etc without stopping to ask if this is something they want to do. If the work at the bench is not enjoyable the work will suffer and the client will be disappointed.

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These users thanked the author B. Howard for the post: Bryan Bear (Thu Jul 19, 2018 8:55 am)
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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2018 5:54 am 
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Cocobolo
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Joined: Thu Feb 09, 2012 4:10 pm
Posts: 169
First name: Chris
Last Name: Reed
City: Stowmarket
State: Suffolk
Zip/Postal Code: IP14 2EX
Country: UK
Focus: Build
Status: Amateur
UKSteve wrote:
Grateful to all for the responses.

The description given as an ideal instrument was a steel rim, 4 string tenor banjo with a shorter scale. The gentleman already has a number of banjos but can’t find one with his ideal scale length.

It did look more like an assembly project (apart from the neck).

We’ve already discussed that it’s a new project for me.

I’d love to build it on a take it or leave it basis, but as mentioned above, I have no desire to own it if it’s not up to the clients expectations.

Maybe if I ask the client to buy the parts up front so my only cost is time. If it falls flat I can put the time down to experience.


Hmm ...

One possibility is to ask the client to buy a tenor banjo whose pot and hardware he likes, and then you make a new neck for it. Making a neck is something you already know (and tenor banjos aren't long and bendy in the neck department, which makes it easier). You also have the donor banjo to copy so far as fitting the neck to the pot is concerned.

And if it all goes wrong, the original neck can be put back on and the banjo re-sold, so the client isn't taking such a huge risk and nor are you.



These users thanked the author profchris for the post: Bryan Bear (Thu Jul 19, 2018 8:56 am)
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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2018 6:25 am 
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Koa
Koa

Joined: Thu Sep 10, 2009 4:01 pm
Posts: 1829
Location: UK
I've never built a banjo but I've built many different types of plucked stringed instruments, anything from 1600 right through to a Strat and much in between. If I was younger and eager to learn instrument making I'd dive head first into this project, providing he knows the limitations. If he already has banjos presumably he won't mind you looking at them, examining them in detail. I don't think there's much reason to fear this but there is a real reason to see it as an opportunity.


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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2018 6:54 am 
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Brazilian Rosewood
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Joined: Thu Jan 06, 2011 6:08 pm
Posts: 2647
First name: ernest
Last Name: kleinman
City: lee's summit
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Zip/Postal Code: 64081
Country: usa
Focus: Build
Status: Professional
Specialize . specialize , specialize . Trying to be all things to all people is a waste of time IMHO . and a dead end financially.. I/ve repaired all manner of stringed instruments from oud/s to Kotos, all manner of vln family instruments , vln family bows and banjos. But I stick to building only the instruments I/m good at. My 2 cents , refer this fellow to a banjo expert . Your client will thank you for it. Before referring, thoroughly vett the prospective banjo luthier, if he is not up to the task , your former client will not be happy. Been there , done that.


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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2018 7:41 am 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

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Posts: 2906
UKSteve wrote:
Grateful to all for the responses.

The description given as an ideal instrument was a steel rim, 4 string tenor banjo with a shorter scale. The gentleman already has a number of banjos but can’t find one with his ideal scale length.

It did look more like an assembly project (apart from the neck).

We’ve already discussed that it’s a new project for me.

I’d love to build it on a take it or leave it basis, but as mentioned above, I have no desire to own it if it’s not up to the clients expectations.

Maybe if I ask the client to buy the parts up front so my only cost is time. If it falls flat I can put the time down to experience.


Oh, I would set a payment schedule at least half and let him pay for the parts. Delivery on final payment. Make that very clear.
I've had several customers from He!!, but you do get wary as you learn to quiz them. Spell everything out in writing and both of you sign it. Make 2 copies so that you both are covered. I even charged a non-refundable deposit to do the up front paper work.
Any slight negative "gut feeling" before I even did paperwork would cause me to say no.

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http://www.brentrup.com


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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2018 8:33 am 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

Joined: Tue May 13, 2008 10:44 am
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A banjo is definitely a different animal. I'd guess you can buy the drum ring or what ever it's called instead of laminating it up yourself. It probably requires a bunch of specialized jigs and tools too. I don't even like to make a certain model guitar on commission if I have no experience in it. I made my first dreadnaught after 25 years of building instruments last year just to get taht one out of the way. It came out 'okay' but I would not have wanted to ship it off to a customer. I can do it better next time.

If I were in your shoes I'd tell the guy I will build him a banjo but first I'm gonna build one as a model. And hey if it comes out great then there ya go. IT sounds like this guy likes your work well enough to give you a chance.


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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:04 am 
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Brazilian Rosewood
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First name: Bryan
Last Name: Bear
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State: Mo
Country: USA
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UKSteve wrote:
Grateful to all for the responses.

The description given as an ideal instrument was a steel rim, 4 string tenor banjo with a shorter scale. The gentleman already has a number of banjos but can’t find one with his ideal scale length.

It did look more like an assembly project (apart from the neck).

We’ve already discussed that it’s a new project for me.

I’d love to build it on a take it or leave it basis, but as mentioned above, I have no desire to own it if it’s not up to the clients expectations.

Maybe if I ask the client to buy the parts up front so my only cost is time. If it falls flat I can put the time down to experience.


How much shorter does he want the scale? There may be a reason he is not finding the scale he wants. It may not work well on banjos. Maybe it moves the bridge too far to the center, maybe it makes the strings too floppy. . . all of those will change the timbre. If he only wants a small difference then maybe what he wants is a new neck for a banjo he likes with either the bridge moved up a little, a fret or two taken off the neck or a combination of both.

That would seem pretty low risk with a banjo, you could easily return it to original with no damage.

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Bryan Bear PMoMC

Take care of your feet, and your feet will take care of you.


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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:22 am 
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Mahogany
Mahogany

Joined: Wed Jun 29, 2011 9:34 am
Posts: 46
First name: Steve
Last Name: Blower
City: Keighley
State: West Yorkshire
Zip/Postal Code: BD20
Country: UK
Focus: Build
Status: Amateur
Thanks again for the collective wisdom and advice.

We did discuss modifying an instrument he already has, but from the descriptions they are all decent quality. I’d hate to do irreversible damage to one.

Buying one to modify may be a fruitful suggestion though.

I’ll continue to discuss with the client with your suggestions in mind.


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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2018 1:07 pm 
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Cocobolo
Cocobolo

Joined: Thu Feb 09, 2012 4:10 pm
Posts: 169
First name: Chris
Last Name: Reed
City: Stowmarket
State: Suffolk
Zip/Postal Code: IP14 2EX
Country: UK
Focus: Build
Status: Amateur
Yes, do think about the scale length, good point Bryan.

And his proposed tuning is important too.

I have a tenor banjo (23 inch scale, which is standard) tuned CGDA, and a tenor guitar I built (22 inch scale) tuned DGBE. The shorter scale guitar is fine in its tuning, but I think the scale is too short for CGDA. Even on the banjo, the bottom C string is fairly slack and tubby sounding, and it doesn't intonate that well. And there is also Irish tuning (octave mandolin tuning) GDAE, no idea what scale length suits that but I think Irish banjos might be as short as 21 inches. Needs some research!


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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2018 1:12 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
Brazilian Rosewood

Joined: Sun Mar 30, 2008 8:20 am
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"We did discuss modifying an instrument he already has, but from the descriptions they are all decent quality. I’d hate to do irreversible damage to one."

It is pretty commonly done to convert a tenor banjo to a five string by making a new neck. The modern practice is to keep the tenor neck intact for returning the instrument back to it's original state should that be desired.
It would be a relatively simple matter to make a new neck with a shorter scale for a banjo he already has without making any modifications to the original components. If he doesn't want to do that then having him buy the components as you mentioned (and own them) might be the next best thing. Pots, tone rings, tuners, and hardware can get expensive. If he doesn't like the finished product, then like the Solomon baby you can both take your respective halves.
I like to build a number of different instruments and will consider building something out of the ordinary if it appeals to me.But I try to keep the costs in the "take it or leave it" zone, and also not make it highly personal where only the client would buy it.

Irish GDAE tuning can have scales as short as 20 1/2 but I prefer 21 1/2 for the Octave Mandolins that I build.


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 Post subject: Re: Oh my...
PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2018 1:14 pm 
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Cocobolo
Cocobolo

Joined: Thu Feb 09, 2012 4:10 pm
Posts: 169
First name: Chris
Last Name: Reed
City: Stowmarket
State: Suffolk
Zip/Postal Code: IP14 2EX
Country: UK
Focus: Build
Status: Amateur
... and I should add, I'd not consider building a banjo now I've started looking in on the Banjo Hangout. If you think the regular suggestions that rosewood guitar B/S produce a "darker" sound than maple B/S have a religious element, you should read what they have to say about tone rings! The odds of building the "wrong' kind of pot are enormous.

I'd happily make a neck, though, nothing different there except that it's easier to fit to the body.


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