View Full Version : Make your own CW banjo?

06-06-2009, 10:39 PM
I seem to remember once in my life coming across a website explaining how to make a Civil War appropriate banjo at home. Now that my dad is getting into making instruments, I want to show it to him, but I cannot find it. Does anyone know where I can find this article/website?

06-08-2009, 01:04 AM
I'm pretty sure it is a page hosted by Dan Houde which shows his successes and failures in creating his tackhead banjo. I did a look for it, but was unable to locate it. In lieu of it, here are a few suggestions :

How to Make a Tackhead Banjo

Web guide to constructing a basic 5-string Banjo

Making a Tenor Banjo From Scratch

How to Install a Skin Head

How To Mount A Skin Head

Natural skin Unmounted banjo heads

You can purchase hoops from Cooperman Drums if you don't want to or unable to bend your own hoop. Mine is a Cooperman.

06-13-2009, 02:15 PM
Mr. Berg,
This maybe too little too late, but I just came across my copy of the old book set "Foxfire" #3. In it they have over 80 pages explaining how to build your own Banjo or Dulcimer, they cover many differant styles showing many artists/makers, with lots of pictures and even drawings.

My favorate is Stanley Hicks showing you how to make his "Cake Box Banjo", basicly a banjo neck put on a cake tin! If I remember right, one of these CW forums was showing/talking about a CW picture showing 3 soldiers, one holding a cake/meat tin banjo. I can not remember what expert figured out what type of tin it was. Can anyone else help on this thread/information?
Good Luck, Paul.

06-14-2009, 04:19 PM
I may be a tad late. But their is a guy in my company who makes his own banjos. I dont know if ther 100% period correct but they look great. If you want I can E-mail him and ask him to send me instructions and ill post them here.

Stephen Carroll

Mike Gregory, Banjo Maker
06-19-2009, 04:34 PM
I've made them out of cookie-tins, wooden salad bowls, and one SPECIFICALLY designed to look period authentic, using a REMO hand drum, cosmetically enhanced to look like a grain measure or cheese-box banjo.
It's for sale in the Sutler's section, and/or you can see it on Youtube.


Rob Weaver
06-23-2009, 06:46 AM
Ive always wanted to make a mbanza out of a gourd, and tune it like a 3-string dulcimer. Does anyone have experience with gourd instruments? How hard is it to get the neck to stay on the body?

06-26-2009, 10:46 AM
Okay everyone, I found it. Sucker was tucked away in my Internet Explorer favorites, and since Firefox blows IE out of the water, it'd been a while since I looked back there. Anyway, here's the original site I was looking for...


06-29-2009, 06:51 AM
They had a show on KET-educational TV in Kentucky, a guy made one out of a cord. I don't know if it would be considered a Civil War model but it was better to watch than most of whats on TV these days.

Doug Thomas
Lyons-Kentucky CS

Green Mountain Boy
07-03-2009, 04:16 PM
Okay everyone, I found it. Sucker was tucked away in my Internet Explorer favorites, and since Firefox blows IE out of the water, it'd been a while since I looked back there. Anyway, here's the original site I was looking for...



I have updated my banjo making pages starting at:


This is also a VERY worthwhile site to visit:

For some banjo-building inspiration go to the video of George Wunderlich being interviewed:

Best regards,

John Peterson

08-10-2009, 08:32 AM
hey John, glad to see you've put in your web site. I was going to find your home page and put it up! I still have my parts and am still hoping to put my banjo together. I have a dulcimer that I have had for over 20 years now and have started taking lessons for it. Not as glamorous as the banjo or fiddle, but it is period correct and even a little before the 19th century! :D
If everyone who is interested in making and learning the banjo actually made and played them, we would have some super jam sessions at reenactments, or living history events!

David Einhorn
02-06-2016, 11:25 AM
Okay everyone, I found it. Sucker was tucked away in my Internet Explorer favorites, and since Firefox blows IE out of the water, it'd been a while since I looked back there. Anyway, here's the original site I was looking for...


I thought this might help people looking for banjo building information. Even though the original website seems to have disappeared, I was able to find a copy of the website and the information on building banjos on the Internet Archival website:


Byron Ed
04-20-2016, 10:52 AM
Just wondered how this question ended up. Is there actually a banjo pattern that can be considered authentic to CW period?

The folky-style banjo plans with the small inset heads seem 1920s-30s, and the banjos made with cans etc. they don't look like anything I've ever seen in CW era tintypes or CDVs.

I suppose we can always go with "they could have made it that way" but that reminds me of the stupid homemade two-part wooden "rack chairs" I see at reenactments.

Byron Ed

Byron Ed
04-21-2016, 05:44 PM
Again, I've looked at the homemade banjo patterns and none look much like a CW banjo as seen in period tintypes and CDVs. The small folky banjos are too small in diameter and the tin can banjos seem like a modern craft-fair item...

Byron Ed

Byron Ed
05-01-2016, 06:06 PM
...well, although there is evidence of (proto-) lap dulcimers existing in 18th century, there's no account (found as yet) whatsoever of anyone ever using or seeing one during the CW period, which is what would be necessary to call them "period correct" for CW period. I hope an account turns up, I like them, have one myself.

For mainstream reenacting though, who cares? You see both lap and table dulcimers, mandolins, D size guitars, tenor banjos and bodhrans at reenactments, all of them too late for CW period-correct. They all only came into common use around turn-of-the-century or later. But nobody's the wiser. It's a hobby, so knock yerself out ;)

Byron Ed

Rob Weaver
05-01-2016, 08:20 PM
The dulcimer appeared around 1750 in south western Pennsylvania, on the frontier. The oldest surviving ones are extremely crude, literally a box with strings wrapped around nails for tuning pegs. Honestly, if you made one, it might be difficult to play, and the sound quality disappointing regardless of the authenticity. By the 1860s, that pattern would have been anachronistic anyway. The dulcimer also became ghettoized to the little pocket of Appalachia that's West Virginia now, and made by only a few makers. I doubt anyone outside that area was really aware of the instrument. I like the dulcimer and have played since I was about 13. I take my little pear shaped dulcimer to 18th century events, but just really feel it's out of date and too obscure for the civil war period

Byron Ed
05-02-2016, 03:30 PM
...to be fair the German scheitholt dates back before the 1700s and is considerably more sophisticated than a crude box with nails. It has fine tuners, sound holes and a measured scale with frets and had a finely constructed sound box, and a chanterelle or drone string. It was known among immigrants to Pennsylvania since well before the American CW. It is considered to be the proto-dulcimer that was the basis of our folk dulcimer, the type that settled in the Appalachians. Certainly no wasp-waisted dulcimer would have been seen during the CW, that came later.

I agree though, it would be a "reenactorism" to have one in a CW camp just because scheitholts existed at that time.

Rob Weaver
05-03-2016, 06:28 AM
As I understand it, the dulcimer is an Irish or Scots Irish imitation of the sheitholt. I was speaking narrowly of early extant dulcimers only. The sheitholt is a different instrument and I don't know if anyone was playing it in 1860s America. I don't think the dulcimer was ever a common or widely available instrument historically, and there are probably more people in the population who play it than there ever were during the historical period.