c.2012 26" Rim Upright Banjo Bass

Another banjo bass? What the heck?

There is a reason for the madness...! After finishing off my second banjo bass build, I realized that I could apply its design to a larger rim and give it a fretless neck to assuage my portable upright bass needs. This big hunk of banjo achieves that goal and is really fun to boot!

The core of the instrument is a 26" rosewood bodhran (Mid-East Mfg) rim, to which I've added a synthetic Remo Renaissance head, copper tonering, and banjo-style hooks & shoes. Make no mistake -- this rim is just as wide if not wider as the lower bout of most 3/4 ("standard size") upright basses. This is a significant amount of resonant surface.

The "body" (integrated tailpiece and support for the bolted-on neck) is quartersawn mahogany and is suspended above the head and tilted back a bit towards the rim on the neck side. This design keeps the instrument extremely stable and also means, that if it really needs to be, it can be taken apart for moving about with.

Bone nut, typical Asian-made Grover-copy tuners. The neck is a decent WD Music fretless neck with an "overhang" ebony board, non-skunk-stripe rear, and  a great feel. It has the "jazz bass" width (1.5") at the nut. When I ordered the neck off of eBay, it was supposedly a 12" radius find, but it turned out to be almost entirely flat, which meant that any aspirations for bowing were shortly put down.

Fortunately, after assembly I tried a bit of bowing on the low E and high G and, surprise, surprise... it sounded horrible anyway, so no real loss. I suppose this is why bowed banjo instruments never became popular in the Western world...!

Strings are 1/4 size upright bass strings.

The "overhang" on the fretboard is pretty cute and adds to the upright aesthetic.

Bridge is adjustable with ebony top and cherry bottom. Note the flat bottom -- to ease tension across the head.

No real sense installing a tailpiece system with this when a string-through method works just fine!

Note how some of the hooks are longer and bigger... I will be replacing these "drum hooks" with more regular banjo hooks in the near future, plus 46 mooooore hooks for better average tension overall.

I simplified the body-to-rim join on this one vs. my last, fretted banjo bass.

Copper tonering.

I also tilted the neck back much more than on the previous model, too.

Note the hole for the end-pin support. While this plays awesome "sitting down" with this cradled at an upright angle between the knees (and is thus super-great for practicing upright style and fitting in to tight spots in jams), it also plays nice with its end-pin support in place, which puts it at "upright level" about a foot and a half off the ground, so you can play it doghouse style.

So...? I'm happy. With volume about 2/3 to 3/4 that of my upright (which is hecka-loud for a laminate anyway), it certainly gets the job done. Tonewise, with a slight foam mute in place between the body and the head near the neck, it can mimic an upright almost exactly. I was really surprised (and delighted!) at this, because I was expecting less of that velvety mwah and more of a punchy banjo tone. I'll have to admit, those proper upright strings and the fretless neck probably help a bunch, though.


Anonymous said...

I like. Will there be a sound file example?


Rolfyboy6 said...

OExual 408Jake, you are one sick puppy of a luthier. Don't ever change.

Antebellum Instruments said...

Danke. :) Sound soon, perhaps!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the sound, Jake.

If I would have heard the sound file without knowing anything else I doubt I would've guessed it was a banjo.

Have you experimented with a closed back/resonator back? Seems that a lot of bass speakers and of course doghouse basses have a closed back. Just wonderin'


Antebellum Instruments said...

Ben: I have a 26" aluminum pizza pan on order that will become a "pieplate" resonator as soon as it arrives. You're absolutely right that it'll help... it'll boost volume, punch, and clear up the tone. I just had to find the right item since I despise the idea of a heavy wooden resonator on something already so big... :)