Welcome to the Beartown Banjo Gallery. Photos and information of all of my banjos are listed… all the way back to #001. Please feel free to peruse the banjo gallery and reach out to me if there is a banjo that you’d like to talk about.
I am always working on new builds. The primary woods at Beartown are hard maple, cherry and black walnut from New York and Pennsylvania. Sapele mahogany, bubinga, purpleheart, and wenge are some of the more exotic (and more sustainable) woods utilized. Necks are laminated with 3 layers, and block rims are hand built and turned in house. The most common setup is 25.5″ scale length, 11″ block rim, 2 way truss rod adjustable at heel, 5th string tuner at 5th fret, custom Beartown curved bridge. If you are interested in a custom built banjo or would like to know about currently available instruments, please email (email@example.com) or call me 607-275-1674 to discuss options.
This banjo is a 5+1 six string. First four strings and the short string (6th) are tuned as you would expect, 5th string (low bass) is tuned to 2 octaves below the short string. This makes for a open back banjo with a unique, room filling sound. (Think 12 string vs. 6 string guitar.)
Block rim of sapele. Rim cap is Cherry, as is the upper rim layer, which supports a 1/4 brass rod tone ring. Neck is 3 piece laminate of cherry with center rib of sapele. 1/8″ x 3/8″ carbon fiber reinforcement assures stiffness and stability. Scale is 25.5 and side peg is at the 7th fret.
Fingerboard is oiled wenge. Banjo is finished with waterborne lacquer. Banjo is set up with brass hardware and brass Gotoh planetary tuners. Currently set up with a goatskin head and 11/16 Beartown curved bridge.
Sound is somewhere between booming and ethereal with the 12″ pot, goat head and extra low string tuned 2 octaves below the 5th string.
This banjo has a block rim of hard maple. Rim cap is black walnut, as is the upper rim layer, which supports a brass Dobson style tone ring. Neck is 3 piece laminate black walnut. 1/8″ x 3/8″ carbon fiber reinforcement assures stiffness and stability.
Fingerboard is oiled wenge. Headstock laminate and heelcap are also wenge. Instrument is finished with waterborne lacquer.
Banjo is set up with brass hardware and brass Gotoh planetary tuners. Currently set up with an “Elite” fibreskin head. (upgrade to goat skin available)
Set up is with a modest frailing scoop level with the head. Scale is 25″ with 17 frets. Bridge is custom Beartown 11/16″ curved bridge.
Tone is pure and ringing, with good sustain and clarity. Responsive in lower positions and up the neck.
This is an early photo gallery early after banjo was finished.
This Banjo is SOLD and living its life in Ithaca, NY with its new owner.
This banjo was my favorite player for a year or so before it went on to its next owner. Here’s a more recent shoot with skin head and many hours of love.
This banjo has a block rim of sapele. Rim cap is hard maple, as is the upper rim layer, which supports a 1/4 brass rod tone ring. Neck is 3 piece laminate of sapele with center rib of hard maple. 1/8″ x 3/8″ carbon fiber reinforcement assures stiffness and stability.
Fingerboard is oiled wenge. Headstock laminate and heelcap are also wenge. Banjo is finished with nitrocellulose laquer.
Banjo has brass hardware and brass Gotoh planetary tuners. Initially set up and photographed with an “Elite” fibreskin head. Since fitted with a Remo Renaissance head, offering more precision and clarity in tone. Set up is with a slightly deepened frailing scoop level with the head. This raises the finger board slightly relative to the strings to provide lower action, while maintaining a more traditional frailing setup with nice clearance between strings and head. Bridge is custom Beartown 3/4″ curved bridge. Sound is comfortingly plunky with bell tone clarity up the neck and good sustain. Responsive in lower positions and up the neck.
This banjo is SOLD and is living its new life in Australia!
This banjo is a sweet instrument all around. Block rim is made up of two full layers of cherry with a thickened rim cap and tapered tone ring layer of purpleheart. The neck is s three layer laminate of cherry with a purpleheart rib. Neck reinforcement is 1/8 x 3/8 graphite fiber epoxied in place.
Cherry is one of the less dense woods that I use, so this banjo is comfortably light and warm sounding. The purpleheart tone ring provides clarity and definition to the tone. Set up with moderate frailing scoop to the 15th fret, fiberskin head, nickle plated brass hardware and nickle plated Gotoh tuners.
Fingerboard is oiled purpleheart with a beautiful whorled figure and headstock and heelcap are pupleheart as well. This banjo is a joy to play, and sounds beautiful.
This Banjo is SOLD and is living its life in Missouri with its new owner.
For this banjo, I sourced a beautifully figured plank of flat sawn maple from central PA (there are still two banjos worth left). After working with Black Locust, the hard maple cut like butter with carving tools and on the lathe! The integral tone ring is Black Locust.
This banjo will be heading back to the shop in a little while. I made an oops in finishing the end grain of the head stock, leaving a couple of unsightly chips at the top edge. And also, as beautiful as the figure is in this plank, there is some graying in the center grain. It doesn’t show in the side grain of the neck, but the end grain on the back and end of the headstock have an unattractive dirty look. To date, all of my banjos have been finished without stain… just letting the beauty and color of the wood show through. This re-work will be my first foray into staining! Should be fun!
This banjo is living its life with a new owner in Catharine, NY!
Black Locust is considered to be a “weed” by many. It grows quickly and tenaciously in difficult environments. It is stiff, and hard. Very hard. It is also very beautiful, with a finely textured grain and beautiful yellow/gold color. It was my choice for the primary wood in banjo #2.
The entire pot and neck are made of Black Locust. It’s fairly heavy and very stiff. With its initial set-up, the tone was a bit on the bright/tiny side. It’s since been back to the shop for some very fun modifications that I’ll write about soon!
This banjo was my first banjo project. It is made from a single plank of wormy chestnut salvaged from a renovation project of my old farm house 25 years ago, and the fingerboard and laminates are black locust from the trimmings pile at a black locust sawmill just up the road. It was a lesson for me in many ways; planning, patience, and precision. When it came to carving the neck and finishing the headstock, I discovered that the worm boring damage was much more severe at that end of the plank, leaving only enough wood for an exceptionally slender headstock. I could have worked around the blackened nail holes in the pot that used to be the homes for hand forged square nails. But I like the visual reminder of history, life, and afterlife of this Chestnut tree.
I still enjoy playing this sweet little banjo, and it is a comforting reminder to me of how far my banjos have come.