Finish and Set-up

I've tried lots of various finishing techniques, and I keep coming back to tung oil. It's amazing stuff. Genuine tung oil (lots of stuff labeled "tung oil" isn't) once polymerized (cooked) is a tough, easily repaired finish. It takes a lot longer than lacquer, but it's worth it. Lacquer can be lovely, and many wonderful instruments are coated with it -- but to me it's a little like wrapping wood in plastic wrap. So, instead of shuttling a Wooden Lady into a spray booth and shooting it with lacquer shortly before shipping, we go through the long process of successive coats of tung oil applied by hand.

I'm not a fan of binding. I like to see what the wood has to show me and not have some competing strip of plastic or machine-made laminate getting in the way. Binding is a necessity for things like guitars with fragile end-grain where the top and back meet the sides, but banjos can do without and -- to my mind -- ought to. As an aside and a distraction, I do prefer wood binding on fiddles as opposed to the traditional perfling, but that's another story...

We also don't order a truckload of wood and use whatever turns up. Fortunately, we have an excellent hardwood supply nearby. I climb rickety old stairs up the racks and sort through the stuff, thunking with a bare knuckle -- or sometimes the closed end of my Swiss Army knife -- listening for tonal response. Then I sort by appearance. We pay more to buy surfaced wood, but by doing so we can select by grain and color -- as well as tone.

I've tried this banjo with a variety of heads, and -- as I suspected -- I like the Remo Renaissance head the best of the lot -- with the Remo logo removed and the head thinned just a touch. This head also allows you to see the brass portion of the tone ring, which I think enhances the appearance of the banjo. Actually, I should say that I like real skin heads the best, but they can be very impractical, even hateful -- particularly if you have only one banjo. Still, if you want a skin head we'll be happy to set you up.

The bridge is a heavy Moon bridge, or sometimes one of our own making. This strings are GHS Phosphor Bronze Medium, .011-.026, for no particular reason other than that's what I'm used to. Tuners are Five Star, with a geared 5th. The tailpiece is a No Knot with the plating polished off to reveal the brass base metal. This allows it to match the hardware we make in our shop. As already mentioned, the nut is ebony, but I'll be trying a solid brass nut just for fun, as well as bone and whatever else comes to mind.

None of this is carved is stone. Banjos ought to evolve, and the Wooden Lady does. You'll be fully informed before ordering, however.


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