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A banjo, handmade by the Moss Landing Marine Labs BanjoWorks group is being raffled to raise funds for student scholarships. 100% of the funds raised will be used to help Masters degree students complete their research in various marine science fields. Moss Landing Marine Labs (MLML) administers the Master of Science in marine science program for California State Universities in northern and central California, and is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in both education and research. The raffle funds will be administered by the San Jose State University Tower Foundation. The official raffle rules can be found here (Raffle rules).

Basic Raffle information:

Buying tickets

To purchase tickets please contact Stephanie Flora at flora@mlml.calstate.edu

The banjo

In August 2011 Bill Watson decided to make a banjo. Bill was an engineer and staff at MLML and an long time bluegrasser. At that time staff members and students had a bluegrass jam going on weekly at work. Bill started the bluegrass jam and got a group of MLML staff and students started playing bluegrass instruments. When we heard he was going to make a banjo we asked to make one too. So we formed the MLML BanjoWorks group made of 7 staff and students. When we asked the director for permission to use the shop he said yes if we make and extra banjo to raise funds for student scholorships. And that is how banjo number 9 started.

Bill Watson was the leader and created all the techniques used to make the banjo. He was a very patient teacher. We all learned to used a lathe, drill presses, how to cut our own pearl and some of us learned wood carving and carved designs into our the heels on our banjos. Banjo 9 is the last banjo created and everyone helped with the process. The neck is magogany and the fingerboard is inlayed with marine live native to the Monterey Bay area. The rim is maple with a magogany cap in it. The heel was carved by a professional carver who also taught us to carve, Stacey Flora. All the metal parts, tuners, bridges, etc where ordered from Rickard Banjos. The banjo is  patterned after the Whyte Laydie banjos produced circa 1890 by the A.C. Fairbanks banjo company. There is a tension rod in the neck to adjust the neck if needed in the future.

Banjo features:

Today, banjos like MLML Banjo #9 are generally played in an old-time or folk music setting using a clawhammer/frailing style, but can be played bluegrass style using finger picks. In the late 19th century, this style of banjo was promoted by Boston banjo manufacture's as a ladie's or gentleman's parlor instrument to be played in a classical guitar style. MLML Banjo #9 is patterned after the Whyte Laydie banjos produced circa 1890s by the A.C. Fairbanks banjo company, but with our own decorative inlay motif and heel carving to reflect the marine environment associated with Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.

For more banjo history: http://bluegrassbanjo.org/banhist.html

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MLML BanjoWorks group

Group members: Left to right in the photo above: Bill (Staff-retired), Sonya (student-graduated), Arley (staff), Stephanie (staff), Sara (staff), Melinda (student) and Marilyn (student)

fullbanjo fretboard heel
Open back 5-string banjo Fretboard: Pearl designed and cut by Melinda Mahogany Neck with carved kelp (by Stacey Flora)
peghead fullback potback
Peghead designed and cut by Melinda Back of banjo Back of banjo with carving on heel and reconstituted stone seastar
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Detail of fretboard inlay, green and paua abalone and mother of pearl

Making the banjo

This was a two year process and it was a blessing to get to do it and have the amazing and VERY patient Bill help us every step of the way.

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21-Aug-2011

The banjo making started in Aug 2011 at the Moss Landing Marine Labs workshop.

We started by cutting many trapizoids out of maple to make the rims.

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21-Aug-2011

The trapizoids where then test fitted to make sure they created a hoop of the correct size and fit together properly.

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21-Aug-2011

We then put glue between each piece. Blue tape was used to hold them together in a circle until we could get a hose clamp on them.
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21-Aug-2011

Each hoop was then clamped to make sure they stayed flat while drying.
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21-Aug-2011

One hoop finished!

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23-Aug-2011

We neede 3 hoops for each banjo rim so we made many hoops.

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23-Aug-2011

Some of us wanted to add a cap on the rim using different types of wood. Here the maple and some exotic wood are glued to eventually be cut into trapizoids.

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24-Aug-2011

Sara and Bill checking out the gluing jig.

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24-Aug-2011

More gluing of hoops.

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26-Aug-2011

Then the finished hoops needed to be planed so they where flat. This allows the three hoops to be glued together. The seams of each hoop was offset to make a strong rim.

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09-Sep-2011

We each learned to use the lathe to turn the irregular rims into perfect circles and fitted for the tone ring..

Each lesson was about 4 hours long. And there where 6 of us to teach so this was a slow process.

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31-Aug-2011

A rim on the lathe with its tone ring. A perfect fit.

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28-Oct-2011

We started on the necks in October. We all had to learn a lot of skills. Band sawing was one of them.

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28-Oct-2011

 

Bill built a lot of cool jigs to help us novices make our banjos. This is the jig that uses a shaper to shape a large portion of the back of the neck.

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28-Oct-2011

More instruction on the use of the shaper.

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28-Oct-2011

Sara rough shaping her neck.

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28-Oct-2011

Melinda shaping her neck.

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04-Nov-2011

Drilling the holes in the rim using another cool jig created by Bill.

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07-Nov-2011

Sara turning her rim on the lathe.

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07-Nov-2011

Looks great Sara.

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19-Nov-2011

Stephanie cut the intial rough shape for a walnut neck using the bandsaw.

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19-Nov-2011

More neck bandsawing from Sonya.

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19-Nov-2011

Arley getting the "how to sand your peghead flat" lesson.

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16-Jan-2012

Now to drill the whole in the rim for the neck and tail piece. Lots of precision here.

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16-Jan-2012

And really long drill bits.

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16-Jan-2012

Ebony glued onto the pegheads.

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04-Feb-2012

Progress status on the rough necks. Banjo #9 neck is in the front.

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19-Feb-2012

My sister is a work carver so she came over and taught a two day class on carving. Only about half the folks who took the class decided to carve their heels. It was a lot harder than it looks.

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19-Feb-2012

More carving class fun.

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19-Feb-2012

The end of day 2 of the carving class.

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25-Feb-2012

Three necks with most of the heel and back of the peghead shaping done.

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10-Mar-2012

More bandsawing.

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10-Mar-2012

and more...

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10-Mar-2012

Sonya practicing her carving skills. She wanted to carve a cobra on the back of her peghead.

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10-Mar-2012

Final shaping the back of the neck.

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24-Mar-2012

Bandsawing the heel shape.

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24-Mar-2012

Getting the heel angle correct before detailed shaping.

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24-Mar-2012

First test fitting!!

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02-Jun-2012

More neck shaping with the cool sanding drum. Some of us loved this thing and some did not.

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02-Jun-2012

After a few months learning to cut pearl and coming up with designs the pearl cutting and inlay started.

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02-Jun-2012

Routing into the peghead to inlay the pearl.

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09-Jun-2012

More routing. This took a bit of practice.

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30-Jun-2012

Pearl cutting continues.

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30-Jun-2012

More pearl cutting.

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16-Jul-2012

Starting to take shape. The necks after about a year into the project.

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16-Jul-2012

Close-ups of the pegheads.

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16-Jul-2012

Gluing the fretboards onto the neck.

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24-Jul-2012

More neck shaping. We were all at very difference stages during this process.

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27-Jul-2012

More detailed neck shaping.

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28-Jul-2012

Time to add the frets. This was an interesting process. I never knew how much work getting the frets in and level was.

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28-Jul-2012

The fret pressing maching.

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28-Jul-2012

Fret leveling process starts.

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28-Jul-2012

Arley has all her frets in.

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28-Jul-2012

Leveling the frets.

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05-Jan-2013

Marilyn doing some more shaping.

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05-Jan-2013

Gluing in the nut.

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08-Jun-2013

Cutting the pearl for banjo #9. But this time we all had practice on our own banjos so by the time we worked on #9 the cuting and routing looked really good.

 

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08-Jun-2013

Sonya fretting her banjo.

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27-Jul-2013

Marilyn starts fine sanding the neck.

The other 8 banjos we made. The best part is they sound as good as they look.

bills

Bill's Texas banjo

steph2

Stephanie's Flower banjo

arely3

Arley's Montana banjo

staeph2

Stephanie Ocean banjo

mel

Melinda's Farallon banjo

sara

Sara's Poppy banjo

sonya

Sonya's snake banjo

mar

Marilyn's Nautilus Banjo