What Wood Should You Choose for Your Custom Open Back Banjo?

The following is from our free guide to customising your open back banjo.

Wood choice isn’t just aesthetic, different wood densities can also affect the tone. Here’s a run down of some of the properties of common wood choices for handmade banjos.

Maple

Unstained maple is very pale in colour. There are different varieties and some are harder than others, but for the most part it’s a very hard dense wood. European variety is slightly softer than American rock maple.
You can also get different types of naturally occurring effects including:

  • Birdseye Maple – tiny dappled markings
  • Flame Maple – similar to tiger stripes
  • Curly Maple –  a scattered, striking pattern

These differences occur due to the different parts of the tree, and sometimes the way the wood is sawn. Some can be very flamboyant to look at.
Maple is probably the most common wood for banjos. Generally when used in the neck, it makes a harder, brighter sound of banjo compared to a walnut neck for example.
It has a close grain and is a strong resilient wood. Nice and stable, works well for instruments.

American Walnut

This is a dark, almost chocolatey looking wood with a fairly pronounced grain. Quite a bit softer than maple. It generally makes a warmer sounding banjo with a bit less volume and punch than maple.
American Walnut has gained a lot of popularity in the old time world because of the warmer sound and players don’t mind losing a bit of volume to compensate for that.
It’s great stuff to work with and looks lovely and because it’s not generally used in mass production banjos, it really stands out.

Ash

Ash has a similar density to maple. It’s also pale but with a very oak-like grain going through which is quite pronounced. It has a  slightly different tone from maple even though it is very close to maple in characteristics (very hard and dense).

Cherry

Cherry has a slightly pinkish hue. Looks a little bit like maple at a casual glance but isn’t as dense. Cherry really makes wonderful banjo pots. With its pinky  /reddy colour it works well with a maple neck.
When choosing the wood for your neck and rim your maker can advise on the different properties. If you choose different wood for the neck and the rim but are concerned about contrasting colours,  there is always the option of choosing certain stains to make the colours more complementary

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