It's done: I've added a 6th (extra bass) string to my Pisgah-esque banjo build "El Hefe" (more on El Hefe here)....and its amazing! I'm still in the "experimentation" phase of learning how to play the thing - for this week, I'll share some pics of the process and throw a "teaser" sound file in at the bottom of the Post. I'll likely do a more in-depth post on the various uses of a 6 string banjo in the future.
Adding the extra tuner:
In the past two posts on this topic, I sketched out my plans for adding an extra bass string to El Hefe (here), then described adding extra slots to the nut (here); the only thing remaining from a hardware point of view was to add the extra tuner, for which I enlisted the help of a friend who's garage is slowly being converted to a fully-equipped woodshop (f.y.i., he and I have plans to do a bit more banjo building in the near future...I'll definitely be devoting future posts to some of those adventures come to fruition). The tuner I was adding was a brass tuner I purchased from Balsam Banjo Works (pictured below), which matched the other 4 on "El Hefe."
The brass tuner I got in the mail from Balsam Banjoworks.
As I mentioned in previous posts, I had planned on putting the additional tuner right in the middle of the headstock (not really sure where else to put it on a paddle-head banjo). Patrick Heavner (owner of both Pisgah Banjos and Balsam Banjoworks) told me installation required drilling a 3/8" hole. Not having a drill-press at our disposal, my buddy and I had to come up with a plan for "straight as possible" drilling with a hand drill to get the new tuner installed. In comments to a previous post (here) my buddy Stew mentioned the existence of something called a "doweling jig" which clamps on to a piece of wood and guides your drill bit to make a perfectly straight hole. While I didn't end up a doweling jig, my buddy and I basically made a low-tech alternative using scrap wood. The process went as follows: First we tried to drill a really straight hole in scrap wood using the 3/8" bit we'd be using to install the tuner (this took a few tries); once we got something that appeared straight, we clamped it on to the headstock with the hole centered where the new tuner was going; finally we inserted the bit into the "scrap wood doweling jig" and used the previously-drilled hole to guide our bit straight through the headstock. Believe it or not this worked pretty flawlessly:
Drilling the hole for the new tuner. You can see my homemade "doweling jig" which was used to guide the drill. Note that I had to take all the other tuners off to do this.
Once the new hole was drilled, I installed the new tuner and strung up my "new" 6 string banjo:
After tuner installation. The tuner ended up pretty close to center and works great! If you look closely, you'll notice the center tuner is quite noticeably more shiny then the other ones : )
As I mentioned last week, I decided to just use my existing 5 string no-knot tailpiece and double-up strings on the middle "nub." 6 string tailpieces are available for fairly cheap but for the life of me I can't think of a super-compelling reason to buy one as what I've done seems to work just fine:
Closeup of the tailpiece with the 3rd and 4th strings doubled up on the same "nub."
Once again, this came out like a dream! It's like the banjo was purpose built this way. Here's a couple of final product views for good measure:
The final product: El Hefe has a 6th string....and sounds pretty cool!
I ended up using a 32w 5th (bass) string that I stole from a pack of strings for Irish tenor banjo. I'll admit its a bit light - tuned up to A its tolerable if a bit anemic sound wise; tuned down to G its unacceptably "floppy" and can't even hold decent intonation up to the 4th fret as a result. I'll definitely have to go bigger on the 5th (bass) string quite soon. The guy from Banjohangout who gifted me the 6 string bridge recommends a 40w for the 5th (bass). For the sake of my fingernail, I'd like to end up a hair lighter than that if possible.
But how does it sound??
For today's test file, I decided to play Clyde Davenport's "5 miles from town." I did this because, while I love hearing this tune on fiddle, the banjo part I've had to settle into for it leaves something to be desired on a standard 5 string. Fiddlers play this D tune so that the A part is in the low octave for a fiddle in first position, while the B part is in the higher first position octave. If I want to stay below the 5th fret on a banjo (...which I typically do...) I only have enough notes to play both parts in the same octave on a 5 string banjo. The A and B parts of "5 miles from town" have some similarity, and the tune ends up sounding just a bit monotonous without the musical distance between octaves to further differentiate the parts. However the added bass string on El Hefe finally unlocks the low octave for the A part of this tune!! In fact the very first melody note in the sound file below is an open A (5th/bass) string:
"Five Miles from Town," a pretty nifty Clyde Davenport tune played on my Pisgah-esque banjo
"El Hefe," post the addition of an extra bass string!
Hope you enjoyed following along to this construction adventure! Once again, I'll definitely post some more sound files in the future. Finally - a big thanks once again to the kind 6-string enthusiast who sent me free bridges for this project, and a big thanks to my building-buddy for loaning me shop time and tools : ) As you may have noticed, I'm being a bit cagey with names because I haven't asked their permission to use them; however - due to the kindness of these two people, this whole project only cost me ~$35....way less than I would have paid for a purpose built 6 string.
About this blog
I have lots of ideas about banjo playing and music in general - this blog allows me to get them all out of my head and see what you think.