Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Ok,  I want to make a real  deep sounding gourd banjo.  I have got some pretty large martin{I think} gourds, ,,,,    Im thinking about cutting them up higher to the top of the gourd, making a larger resonance chamber,,,,, but if I do that it will decreaser the size of the skin head.   Is the area of the skin most important for tone,,,, or the sound chamber size?

ie   a tackhead w/ a 2" deep pot and 14 inch head  vs   a 3 1/2 deep  w/11" head

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In my opinion, trying to intuit the finer points of tonality on a gourd is a losing proposition once you get past the generalities. That being said, a big gourd will give you a plunky, echoey sound. Most of the gourds I make are relatively small -- the biggest are usually around 11"or so. But even then, that measurement represents the widest part of the gourd, and not the head, which is usually only 7 or 8 inches, sometimes less. And even then, you can get a nice booming sound from them. What's equally important, as always, is the tautness of the skin, the scale, and the bridge (and the existence of absence of a sound hole).

Thanks Jay

 Dont you usually put a single   F  type hole in the gourds?    I think part of my dissatisfaction is going with a 24 " scale

It's always two f-holes if any. But I don't always use sound holes, and sometimes they're just a single circular hole. 24" is on the shorter end, but its still possible to get a nice sounding and playing gourd like that. I like to stick around the 25.5" range with normal-sized gourds. I made this giant a while back. It was sort of closer to the opposite extreme -- with that scale and the size of the gourd, it was thunderous, with a booming bass tone. Even still, the actual vibrating head surface was relatively small -- maybe 8" at most, but I don;t even think it was that big.

The fun thing about gourd banjos is that they're forgiving. Unless you really muck up the neck angle, it's very difficult to get one that isn't playable. And when they sound good, they sound really good.

 I love that giant!

With the maker's blessing,  I added a sound hole to a small 8" gourd banjo after the fact, and it increased the volume by about 30%...it was really too soft before.

Before:

After:

My other gourd, which is about 10" rather than 8", is much more resonant with a fine volume and tone.  It too has one round soundhole, which it had from birth.

I was lucky to get to sit down with Paul Draper (a member here) and hear him play his brand new beautiful canteen gourd banjo last weekend at our fiddlers' reunion.  I believe it one of yours, Moschella- it's a wonderful banjo, and Paul's a terrific player.  :)   I love the slightly flattened canteen gourd- large diameter but easier to hold against the body especially for a woman with smaller arms etc.

Paul and I had a little gourd 'tent revival' by ourselves for a little while- great fun!

Guess that means I am getting the drill out tonight and putting a sound hole in my gourd before I assemble my banjo... Glad I've reading along on this one :-)

If you do, be sure to make a tiny pilot hole first.  And try to keep far enough away from the tacks and head edge, and the neck hole, since these are already areas that compromise the gourd's strength under tension.  Hold the gourd in your lap so you can get an idea of where the hole would be best, not covered by your arm, etc.

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