I have been building and designing banjos for my own use and enjoyment for a number of years now. Five years ago I began to think about developing a look and style of my own by pulling together all the things I love about the instrument. This is when Darkwood Banjos began to take shape.
I have lived and worked as an artist and designer for most of my life. Although predominantly a painter, I also love to work with wood. Its natural qualities and ability to be formed into beautiful shapes and sounds is an alchemy that captivates my imagination. I find the form and shape of banjos a great platform for creativity, always being mindful of protecting its simplicity and pure sculpted lines, retaining a contemporary look and feel whilst honouring tradition.
I hope that you enjoy the Darkwood Banjos' website and that you pay another visit to see the progress of the new banjos being designed this year.
Jon Adam February 2015
Wood: All the wood is well seasoned and is hand picked from a variety of sources.
It is then stage one prepared and stored in a dry workshop for at least another six months to insure maximum stability.
Hardware: All the hardware is made from high quality brass. The tension hoop, shoes, tailpiece, connection rod ends and some of the tone rings are all manufactured in the Darkwood workshop. All the brass hardware has a special aged patina application to suit each banjo build.
Design: Simplicity, pure lines with a traditional look and a contemporary edge is the design philosophy of Darkwood. These elements combine to give a strong and purposeful feel.
Sound: Darkwood is always chasing the holy grail of the banjo sound. Choosing the best quality wood, hand made brass parts, carefully combining types of wood and making sure of good and solid connections is a great foundation. But in the end it comes down to a simple gut feeling of what is right.
Inventory of designed and handmade parts
Spokewheel and chamber connector rod: Darkwood's own patent pending design.
Both ends of the connector rod are cut and milled from a solid piece of brass. The middle section is usually made from the same wood as the neck of the banjo. The connector rod is custom fitted to each banjo to ensure a precise fit. The intention behind this design is to give an exceptionally solid connection to the rim top and bottom using wide brass footprints so that the tone-wood and brass alone connect the neck to the rim thus optimising the sound quality. When the spoke wheel is tightened the whole banjo feels like one piece of wood.
Aesthetics play a large part in this design. Because Darkwood’s banjos are open backed, it is important that the connection rod looks as beautiful and crafted as any other part of the banjo. The outward appearance of the connection rod resembles the traditional dowel stick assembly but uses a similar way of connecting to modern day connector rods. The brass spoke wheel allows the neck to be tightened to the rim without turning the squared rod so the rod stays square to the back of the rim.
Neck: Whilst a standard neck can be commissioned, the Darkwood neck is slightly thicker than the standard width banjo neck, 1.7/16”~36mm at the nut and 2.1/8”~54mm at the heel. This gives the neck a good strong feel and allows for slightly wider string spacing. The fret board is made from 1/4”~ 6mm ebony for added strength. To give the neck greater stability, the wood is halved and the grain opposed and bonded back together with a central veneer for added strength. This process gives the neck good strength and stability. The neck is hand carved with rasps and blades, sanded and then stained, with a final finish of several coats of hard wax to give sheen and depth to the wood.
Rim: The rim is block built and very precisely bonded together, then cut and shaped on the lathe, with a final finish of several coats of hard wax to give sheen and depth to the wood. Exceptional care and attention is taken when building the rim to ensure the best resonating sound possible.
Tone ring: Most of the tone rings are bought in although Darkwood manufactures a 3/16”~5mm x 5/8”~ 16mm brass tone-ring.
Tension Hoop: The tension hoop is hand made from 3/16”~ 5mm x 5/8”~ 16mm hand rolled and soldered brass. The banjos have 14 hook spacing to give a traditional look to the rim whilst allowing for plenty of stability for tensioning the skin.
Shoes: A simple classic design is used. The shoes are milled out of high quality brass, individually hand shaped, drilled and threaded for the rim bolt and hook.
Tailpiece: Darkwood Banjos’ own design tailpiece, milled out of a solid ¼”~6mm flat bar, heated and then bent to shape.
Tuners: Now use preferred Gotoh tuners, usually raw bass and aged accordingly.
There is always an awareness in the building process of not building clone banjos, so small marks and evidence of a hand build are often apparent and remain as part of the finish to create a unique and characterful banjo.