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Boucher Style Minstrel Banjo I

2012-03-21

As though I don’t already have enough half-finished projects laying around (viz my practice kilt and tenor banjo) my lutherie jones has been acting up again. It’s been nearly six years since I did any serious work on instrument building, partly because I’ve been without a workshop for the last four. The workshop situation is being resolved somewhat and I’ve been gathering materials for a new project: a banjo in the style of those made by William Boucher in Baltimore, Maryland in the mid 1800’s.

I’ve been exploring early banjo music for the last couple of years, and have fallen in love with the deep, mellow sound of those instruments. There is a small but vibrant community of players and builders, and because these instruments are a little bit simpler in construction than their modern steel-string counterparts, one can do a lot more with a lot less in terms of specialized tools and materials. The major outlay for this project will be a violin peghole reamer and a peg shaver, but that’s a one-time expense. I’m going to attempt to steam-bend a rim, and I’ve managed to assemble what should be a servicable steaming rig with a 4 foot length of 4” PVC pipe (free scrap from a plumber), a washing machine hose (also salvaged for free) and a clothes steamer that I found at Salvation Army for about 8 bucks.

Meanwhile I picked up a rough-milled piece of 6” wide by 8’ long, 5/4 maple, which should provide wood for at least 6 necks (Boucher’s necks were made out of two pieces of inch-thick wood, laminated at the heel.) I’ve got a template ready to go:

Boucher Neck Template

I based the measurements on this instrument, and adjusted the double ogee to work with a 26” scale length.