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Rare, Exclusive Photos of the Islander Banjo-Build by Malcolm McLeod

August 2013 Banjo pics 072

Notes for building the Islander banjos

I’m proud to be a small-batch handmade banjo-maker.

Doing this job, I meet some amazing people. My customers are from all around the country and from all sorts of jobs and backgrounds. From barristers, priests, helicopter pilots and pub landlords one of the real pleasures of this work is getting to know people and building them an instrument they’ll love.

Banjo players are quirky, sometimes plain odd, but never dull!

As an individual banjo maker, the majority of business comes from word-of-mouth. If a player invests in a handmade instrument, he’ll talk to his friends, other players and ask around for a reputable maker.


The finished Islander banjos

There are some excellent makers in the UK to choose from. You can also check out Dave Stacey or Phil Davidson’s work who have both built up fantastic and deserved reputations over the years.

When you work on a banjo commission, the first priority is that the customer loves it and is happy. And when that instrument leaves your workshop, it’s effectively your business card. It’s a firsthand example of your craftsmanship.

I thought I’d share a few photos of a recent project I’ve just finished for a customer to give you a glimpse of the build process that goes into making a handmade banjo.

The Islander banjo has been getting great reviews from around the world. I’m immensely proud of the work. Hundreds of hours went into building it.

I designed the instrument based on a methodology I have been refining over the last 12 years. The peg head was based on an old Slingerland banjo, but widened. The ash block rim is the same that I’ve been using on my own custom made banjos for years.

As I mentioned, I’m very proud of the work  and I would want people to know that if that style appealed to a player that they would know who made it, in case they wanted something similar, or something customised to their unique preference.

Photos of the Islander Build

The following photos show different stages of the Islander being built in my workshop in Brighton. For the neck shaping and the rim build, these are the same techniques I use on my other banjos, for example the Lurcher banjo.

I hope you enjoy them and I hope you understand my passion as a small maker to let people know what I do.

Shaping the neck

The first photos show the neck being roughed out on the bandsaw. I’ve already cut the neck join and roughed out the peghead. I start to shape the neck by hand using a Stanley knife and a carving knife (which looks a little bit like a prison outbreak weapon).

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 Building the rim

All the blocks from the rim are taken from one piece of wood. I want the blocks to be as consistent as possible which is why I choose to do it this way. The wood is inspected for flaws throughout the cutting and if anything shows up, it’s rejected and thrown away. The pieces are then fitted, glued and clamped and finally turned up on the lathe.

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 Finished product

Here you can see the finished banjos. Lacquered, strung up and set up ready for packing.

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I hope you enjoy these photos!

I like to provide useful tips on banjo-building and maintenance, so let me know if you have any questions. If you have any requests for banjo-related content in future posts, just get in touch.

Also – if you like this stuff, make sure you head over to our Facebook page and click the like button – don’t be bashful!


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