Old time Clawhammer

David's picture

So this past winter was my first spent in northern Ontario.  I was warned many-a-time that the winters up here were cold and long.  Colder and longer than southern Ontario.  Well, they weren't lying. 

The days were colder, but I found it similar to the heat in Phoenix.  Once it reaches a certain point every degree thereafter didn't make much of a difference.  The only days where I thought it was really cold was whenever the wind picked up.  But really, I couldn't tell much of a difference between the north and south.  Now the 'longer' part, I did feel the difference.  The snow started falling earlier and didn't stop until later in the year. 

Which brings me to the main subject of my blog.  I've got some kind of bug in me that can't sit idle for long periods of time.  I just need to do something constructive or I'll start going crazy pacing back and forth desperately looking for something, anything, to do.  Maybe there is a screw on the face plate of a wall switch that needs tightening.  Or the shirts in my drawer could be organized a bit more than what I did the day before.  And being how the winters are very long up here, outdoor activities are scarce. 

Anyway, one day I picked up a magazine that had the answer to my problem.  In there was an article about making my very own cookie tin banjo.  I've always been interested on playing an instrument.  And the idea of making and playing a banjo was the answer to my winter rut.  Now I just needed to find the materials.  The wood for the banjo was readily at hand.  I went out to the forest and picked up a nice birch log.  I worked on carving it down while in search of the rest of the materials.  Which really was only the cookie tin.  I ended up finding one I was happy with.  The size was perfect, it has a nice country look to the sides and a picture of a teddy bear on the lid.  I made the nut and bridge out of some scrap oak I had laying around.  We had to save up to purchase the strings and tuning pegs.  I suppose I could have made my own pegs, but without the proper tools, I don't think I would have been happy with the end result.  Lastly I needed to put some frets on it.  I know I didn't want to buy them being how they were simply just some bits of wire.  So with a bit more rummaging, I found some barb wire that suited me just fine.

All completed, I strummed it for the first time.  It was nice, but I know I could make it better.  I found there was too much vibration coming from the cookie tin.  A bit more thinkin' and a bit more rummaging and I came across some rigid foam.  I formed it to fit snuggly inside the cookie tin to keep the vibrations down, and then strummed it again.  Wow!  Did it ever sound nice.  Well, it was out of tune of course, but the sound was smooth and crisp.  It seems like I was ready to start learning to play it.

One of the coolest things about the banjo is that it's really easy to pick up and start playing some simple tunes.  Especially clawhammer style.  Man do I love the sound of clawhammer.  You can make it as simple or as complicated as you like.  I've been practicing now for maybe a couple of months and love it.  Patricia even finds most of what I 'play' nice.  I say 'play' because I'm not playing a song, but just a few different rhythms that I practice.

In all I'm very please with it.  Aside from the strings and tuning pegs, all it took was a bit of ingenuity and some elbow grease.  I still want to add a couple more frets and then stain and seal it.  But one things for sure... I won't be wearing a groove in the floor this winter.


Rachel's picture

I think that is one of the most awesome things I've ever heard!  How cool to make a musical instrument out of odds and ends.  You go with your bad self!  LOL

By Rachel
David's picture

Thanks!  I kinda always wanted a banjo, but they are so expensive.  I figured I'd have better luck getting my hands on an inexpensive used guitar.  But as it happens, I came across the banjo article before I could find the guitar.

By David
Criddles's picture

LOL!!!! At first when I read the title I thought it said Old Time Clamchowder....here I was thinking, you talking about winter and all, that you found a wonderful recipe to make some Clamchowder soup. Then I continued reading...still waiting to read the receipe...it wasn't until you said clamjammer in your post did it dawn on me that I mis read, and even then I had re-read that sentenance along with re-reading the tile....ohhh my.....LOL!!!!! Well that is a pretty neat instrument idea!!! Way to be creative and actually make a project in an article come to life!!!!

By Criddles