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Reader Guitar of the Month: The Banjolin

A roots musician converted a busted-up violin body into a unique picking machine.

Name: RT Valine

Hometown: Allen, Oklahoma
Guitar: The Banjolin

In my 42 years on this planet, I’ve never been accused of being normal. I typically hear “that’s not the way it’s done” or “why in the world would you want to do that!?” So, years ago, when a friend gave me an old busted-up violin, I couldn’t help but wonder what sounds it might produce as an acoustic guitar body. After building some rather strange guitars and basses in my life and listening to all the critical commentary that came with it, I figured, what the hell have I got to lose?

I quickly eyed my old warped Epiphone 12-string lying in the corner and it suddenly became clear what must be done. I began by unbolting the guitar’s neck and chopped off the top half of the headstock. Next I carefully cut the violin neck out and ran a 1” x 2 ½” wooden brace through the length of the body. Then I crafted a wooden back brace that runs top to bottom and proceeded to bolt on the guitar neck.

I then moved on to my favorite DIY tailpiece solution: the trusted door hinge. After drilling six holes in the top half of the hinge, I screwed the bottom half into the base of the body. Now all I lacked was the bridge. With a little patience, I managed to carve out and sand a wooden bridge with the right radius for the violin.

My biggest fear was that this fragile, old, dry, cracked violin would buckle under the tension once the strings were tuned up, but the double-bracing method was just enough to keep the thing intact. Once it was strung up, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sound it produced was a very plucky banjo-like tone.

I have used this instrument on many recordings and it has served me well over the years when I need a unique tone in a mix. This strange hybrid even survived a late-night, head-first flip onto a concrete floor and just kept right on picking! Long live the banjolin!

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