These are images taken shortly after an accident which left multiple fractures in the neck of the banjo I'd had for fifteen years. I know enough about instrument repair that any real repair would be problematic. Gluing the neck has never, in my experience, held long-term. Replacing it was an option, but a very expensive one to have done professionally and not necessarily perfect. I decided that I couldn't really afford to risk any of these choices. Therefore, as much as I'd loved and cherished this banjo, I opted for a full replacement.
In the meantime, I discovered a lot about banjos, banjo necks, and how they work. So, I've had a new neck built. I have no need for a standard banjo, so I've chosen to make this one something different. It's going to be a 5-stringfretless banjo, but with some other differences: I'm going to place the 5th string nut a whole-step higher than is standard. It will be an open high A instead of an open high G. I will use various tunings for the rest of the banjo, but the primary tuning will be in open fifths, such as G-D-A-E, which translates easily into several open tunings (F#-D-A-D, G-C-G-E, G-D-G-D, etc.).
I got what's known as a "stage 4" neck, which means a professional luthier machine-cut the wood, installed the truss rod, cut the peghead and glued the fingerboard on. I chose an ebony fingerboard with a black walnut neck. Oddly enough, this actually cost me more than a neck which had frets on it. Since fretless banjo necks are a rarity, it had to be special-ordered.
Eventually, that neck will be be sanded & rounded off, coated with sanding sealer & grain filler (necessary for the more porous woods, such as black walnut) and then coated with multiple coats of clear gloss lacquer. I've chosen a clear gloss because I adore the look of the black walnut and don't want to ruin it with something that looks fake.
Inside the instrument:
In the meantime, I had to take the old banjo apart. Banjos, unlike guitars, come apart relatively easily. (Guitars come apart easily as well, but it's a lot harder to get them back together again) The banjo has a few components. Pictured on the right here is the main pot assembly.
The pot assembly is attached to the resonator via four screws. When removed, you can see the double-rod assembly inside the pot. This is what attaches the neck to the main body of the instrument. We'll look at that again later when it's time to install the new neck.
And now, back to the neck:
The neck needs to be sanded, and this takes a bit of care. I enlisted a friend who knows a lot about woodworking to help me out with this. The sanding has to be very even and because of the cut of the head, there is some detail work to be done in the curved grooves.
We're starting with coarse sandpaper-- 100 grain-- and will eventually move our way up to 320-400 grain. Because this is a black walnut neck, we're dealing with a porous grain, so a few extra steps need to take place to work with the finishing. After sanding, sanding sealer is going to be applied, and then grain filler. Those are the next steps, and as we complete those, more pictures will be added.
I haven't kept up the photos as much as I'd like, but I'll still fill in on some other details: the neck's been sanded down to 400 grain, and grain filler has been applied multiple times to fill in the black walnut finish.
The finish we're using is a satin finish, for a more natural grain, which will look a little incongruous with the high gloss finish on the body of the banjo, but you know, it's a project, so what the heck? I also decided to get a new bridge for the instrument, a Sampson (see stewmac.com for details) in Walnut, to go with the neck. I will probably at some point choose to replace the banjo head as well, but that's fairly complicated and for the moment, I just want to see how this thing works.
The one glitch we discovered was that the peg holes on the new neck were too large for the older tuners. I could have bought new tuners, but instead found converter bushings for the tuners which allowed us to fit the old tuners in smoothly. The neck fit perfectly on the old banjo, and everything else is coming along smoothly. I will post more soon.