Banjos were first brought to America by African slaves in the late 17th century, and their music became part of the culture of the South. Much of the South was settled by Scottish and Irish immigrants, and they brought their musical traditions of Celtic fiddle songs with them, as well.
The mixture of the two brought about the musical traditions that have become uniquely American, including the blues, bluegrass, country, ragtime and Dixieland.
Here’s how you can make music with a simple banjo of your own:
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
- large plastic container (2 to 4 quart)
- 30-by-1-by-2-inch wood strip
- two 1-inch nails
- 2 screw eyes
- 3 yards nylon fishing line
- two, 3/4-by-2-by-1/4-inch pieces of wood
WHAT YOU’LL DO
Step 1: Cut off the top half of the plastic container. Discard the top. Cut two trap-door flaps on opposite sides of the container. These flaps should be about one inch above the bottom of the container and about the size of the wood strip, which will be the “neck” of the banjo. Slip the wood strip through the trap doors; the fit should be fairly tight.
Step 2: Hammer the nails in side by side at the very end of the neck of the banjo on the end closer to the container. Only about 1/4 inch of the nails should be showing. Next screw the screw eyes into the opposite end of the neck, leaving them partially unscrewed (you will tighten them later).
Step 3: Tie pieces of the fishing line between the nails and screw eyes, and knot them so that they are very secure.
Step 4: Take one of the smaller pieces of wood (this piece will make the “bridge”) and insert it under the strings at the point where the strings cross the center of the bottom of the plastic container. Cut string-size grooves in the bridge so that the strings can sit securely on the bridge.
Step 5: Place the other small pieces of wood under the strings next to the screw eyes. This will give the strings extra tension. In order to tighten the strings, screw the screw eyes in tighter. Strings should be tight for maximum resonance.
Project adapted from “Great Civil War Projects You Can Build Yourself” by Maxine Anderson, published by Nomad Press.