Making an Appalachian Banjo
Our first banjo was "the Awesome Possum, alias Road Kill Banjo". It was made in the
style of fretless mountain banjos. The neck is maple and the body is heart poplar which looks very similar to walnut. The tuning pegs are hand carved walnut and the inlay on the peg head is walnut and heart poplar. Trisha did the scroll cut bird design on the back to which I added the shallow bowl carving. The birch buttons, that cover the screws, are darkened by baking in the oven.
We enlisted the aid of our community to help us find a road kill for the skin. There was plenty of sightings of possum and raccoon and much fun was had by all (except the road kill) but no useable skins were turning up. I stopped for a raccoon once but even with a clothespin on my nose couldn't get close enough to bring it home and most road kill was beyond use (you wouldn't want the banjo to sound flat!).
As the banjo was nearing completion, Trisha began to get antsy about where we would find a skin so she ordered one from a music supply house. Unfortunately, it arrived pre-stretched on a rim that was too small for our banjo The day the woodworking on the banjo was completed , we went for a walk with our dogs. This particular day, we felt very energetic and took a longer walk than usual. Near the end of the walk, about a quarter mile before our house, we found a freshly hit possum with all of it's skin intact......just what we needed. So we went home to get the car. No way we were carrying that thing down the streets.
At home, because Trisha had ordered the skin instead of trusting the universe,
I insisted she skin the possum (Hee, hee, hee). Actually it was a very interesting process which we both participated in and would not like to repeat too often.
My next task was to scrape the skin and stretch it onto the banjo. At last it was finished and what a beautiful sound! Now the spirit of the possum lives on singing mountain tunes.