c.1920/2011 Banjo Bass

One 23 1/2" thin bass drum rim from the '20s + lots of hardware store fittings + new Gold Tone banjo bass neck... and voila... a humble but very effective substitute for an upright bass. I put this monster together over the weekend and have been tweaking it a bit here and there as I get used to it.

I didn't really want "Gold Tone" all over the headstock, so this is a vintage-style travel sticker I popped on the headstock. I'm a little tempted to put a bunch more of them all over the rim.

The Gold Tone neck has MOP inlay, a rosewood board, and is made out of several pieces of plain maple. It's a lot wider than I'm used to playing but has a nice medium scale length (32"). I say a lot wider because I'm used to playing a modern Fender Mustang Bass which has a smallish nut width like a J-bass.

I decided on an adjustable bridge for this instrument because it has a skin head, and I figured being able to raise and lower the action would help when the head tightened up in dry spells and sagged in wet spells. This is a modified parts-piece archtop guitar bridge plus my own ebony saddle. I used a cello tailpiece to accommodate the electric bass flatwound string lengths.

The head is kept somewhat tight by the giant bass hooks (6).

Shell is multi-ply maple with non-ply maple tension hoops. Skin head is original to the drum.

Here's how the neck is attached to the "pot" -- standard Gibson-style "coordinator rods." I may bulk up the rim at some point where the neck attaches to stiffen it, and also possibly install a couple of 1" wooden dowels to keep the pot more rigid as well.

Top coordinator rod sticks out and becomes a tailpiece hook (note crummy wire for the "tailgut" -- but it works! Second rod sticks out and serves as an adapter for a stand while playing in upright position.

Simple L-brackets from the hardware store hold up copper plumbing tubing that serves as my tonering (effectively making this a vintage-style archtop banjo). Before I installed that "tonering" this banjo was sort of muddy and sort-of-pleasing but dirty sounding. Now it sounds essentially like a very punchy 3/4 or 1/2 size upright bass. This really needs to be played heavy-handed and with a pick, though, to get the upright y tone I was looking for. I attribute that mostly to the short scale and electric strings, though.

I made this bass banjo specifically to play with our little Saturday morning jam group when the group gets large enough to need some drive to keep it together. It got its first public performance last night and I think it did darn well -- it's exactly what's needed to supply some authentic acoustic bottom end to our 5-10 (or so) member group. And best yet -- the fretted, shorter scale is very familiar and lets anyone who can play a bit of electric bass sit right in during sessions (as long as they're willing to whomp on it a bit!).

1 comment:

Tim Dempsey said...

Crafty, Jake! Wish i was a local so i could join in on more Saturday Morning Jams!