Spanky Banjo Ukes
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Development
Our goal when we started this project was to build a better banjo uke,  The instrument was all the rage in the depression years and many of these vintage instruments are still floating around.  The problem is they typically have a harsh sound and are difficult to play.  What we wanted was all the fun and punch of a vintage uke but with a mellower more pleasing tone and better playability.  We surveyed many players to get a wish list then went to work on some prototypes.

PROTOTYPE ONE

Prototype one has a sapele pot and neck with ebony fretboard.  The top is a Remo Renaissance head tensioned with 14 traditional hooks and shoes.


       


The fret board and peghead overlay is brown ebony with pearl inlay.  The tuners are Pegheds geared pegs.  They have the traditional look of friction pegs but have internal 4 to 1 planetary gearing for easy and sure tuning.  Traditional dowel stick construction is used for strength and also for later resonator attachment.

This first prototype turned out better than we had hoped.  The instrument has plenty of volume but with a very pleasing tone.  It has punch without being jarring.  It is easy to play and balances well for a banjo.  The tuners work well and will become a standard feature.
 





PROTOTYPE TWO

We made several changes to prototype #2.  We refined the peghead shape and used black ebony rather than brown for the overlays and fretboard.  This instrument has a cherry pot and neck with ebony fretboard.  The top is a Remo Fiberskyn head tensioned with 14 traditional hooks and hex shoes.


       




The fret board and peghead overlay is ebony with red pearlescent inlay.  The tuners are Pegheds geared pegs.  They have the traditional look of friction pegs but have internal 4 to 1 planetary gearing for easy and sure tuning.

We learned more with each of these instruments.  On this one we used the Fiberskyn head which we like also.  The instrument has plenty of volume with a cool thunky tone.  It has punch but is more mellow than the Renaissance head.  We also started experimenting with various strings to see what works best.

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PROTOTYPE THREE

Prototype three has a sapele pot with a walnut cap.  We added this cap for extra strength and to dress it up a bit.  The top is a Remo Fiberskyn head tensioned with 14 nickel plated hooks and shoes.  The neck is also sapele with walnut laminations running all the way down the length of the dowel stick.

      

       

The fret board and peghead overlay is brown ebony with pearl inlay.  The tuners are Pegheds geared pegs.   Sapele and holly overlays are used on the back of the headstock to lend additional strength and beauty.




Here is a good look at the walnut cap on the pot.  The grain in this cap runs perpendicular to the grain of the pot to add strength.  The pot is plenty strong without it but a little more strength never hurts and it looks cool.

With #3 we were starting to dial in on exactly what we wanted these instruments to look like.  We liked the added cap on the pot but not the laminations to the neck.  This neck is slightly wider and thicker than the previous two.  We passed the three of them around to various players to see if there is a consensus on what neck and features everyone liked best.  From this experience we settled on a standard design for the Spanky. 

In the finished design we added two frets to the neck to pull the bridge closer to the center of the pot.  This mellowed the tone a bit more and eased playability up the neck.  We dropped the laminations on the back of the peg head as they added too much expense for a small gain in style.  We also went with two cap rings on the pot to offset each other for additional strength.  The final neck profile is of the more slender style.