Gourd Banjos by John Herrington


John Herrington - Banjo Maker
I build gourd banjos as a hobby.  I wanted one, having heard Tim Twiss on YouTube, and so I read everything I could find and just built the thing! I built one for myself first and played around on it. Those who heard its deep mellow sound liked it. I have built four more on order since then.


These things are very interesting to build. I order my large canteen gourds from the Welburn Gourd Farm in California. The strings are catgut and I obtain them from Bob Thornburg, a noted builder. From my rifle building, I have a lot of maple scraps and some walnut. Some of these are large enough to make necks for the banjos. I cut them out on a band saw and shape them by hand. I finish them like I would a fine long rifle stock.


The gourd itself involves cutting the top out of it and then cutting the two holes through which the stake of the neck goes. Then I put a goat or calfskin head on the open top of the gourd, affixing it with upholstery tack. It goes on after having been soaked in water for about 30 minutes and is as limp as a dishrag. When it dries, the head is as taut as a drumhead. The tuners are fiddle keys.



calabashThe gourd banjos I build are 5-stringers tuned down to open E. A tailpiece of leather or wood is affixed to the end of the neck stake and the strings are tied to this anchor. I build bridges of various woods. You frail the thing, like a standard banjo.


I had a supply of ironwood, which is extremely hard and so heavy it will not float; it’s also very beautiful. I ripped off a piece of this, attached it by glue to the neck of my next banjo, and finished it out. It was beautiful and smooth for a fingerboard. Each one I have built since then has used this type neck.


Pictures of four of my banjos are on my Banjo Hangout home page. So far, I have sold them by word of mouth and desire created by seeing them and hearing them. I plan to advertise them soon. I have asked $300 for the finished banjo, and feel this is certainly reasonable.


Read an interview with John Herrington Banjo-Totin' Pastor

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Paul RobertsPaul Roberts is a multi-instrumentalist, performer, composer, writer, music therapist
and arts-in-education specialist, whose articles and interviews are featured on and the Blog at

all articles ©2008/2009 by Paul Roberts - all rights reserved 


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