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Making a Gourd Banjo

Sculptor and artist Jeff Menzies used the skills he aquired in school to learn the ancient art of gourd-banjo making. He refined his craft during an apprenticeship with a Pennsylvania banjo maker. Since then, Torontonian has produced over 200 gourd banjos, hailed around the world for their craftsmanship. Not only is each piece musically robust, it is also a stunning piece of art that takes on the unique shape of the gourd.

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These banjos are meant for hootenannies. Hear how they sound at Jeffrey Menzies’ Listening Parlour.

 

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The gourd has been cleaned and scraped of all of the pith and seeds inside. Holes have been precisely carved into the gourd so the neck can slide through it. The skin is ready to be stretched over the gourd and will take 24 hours to dry once stretched.  

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Here the minstrel style gourd banjo is well under way. The figured walnut neck is fully carved and ready for finish. The gourd has been fit to the neck and awaits the calf skin to be stretched onto it.

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The gourd banjo neck is secured firmly in the vise as Menzies continues to carve, rasp and continue to refine its surface.

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This detail shows the beautiful grain in the back of the peghead. The tuning peg holes have been drilled. This neck awaits a final sanding.

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Here we see a little more of the back of the neck. Notice the curly figure in this eastern black walnut

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A close up of the 5th string peg area.

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Here we see the stretched skin fastened down with furniture tacks. Notice the round hole in the gourd. This allows the banjo to produce more volume and a wider tonal range.

 

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Here the gourd banjo is completed and fully set up. Menzies has based the peghead pattern off of a Stradivarius cello scroll. The gourd banjo is approximately  9″ in diameter.

 

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Menzies now uses domestic woods almost exclusively now for his banjos. The neck on this banjo illustrates the beauty of the woods that grow here in Canada. The violin style friction pegs are custom made out of Ebony. The violin scroll has been very influential to his work.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Menzies.