How to distress a banjo?

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Forum topic by Raftermonkey posted 10-04-2010 10:11 PM 1839 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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560 posts in 3084 days

10-04-2010 10:11 PM

Topic tags/keywords: distress finish banjo tip trick question maple finishing

Ok folks I have been asked to ruin a perfectly good banjo, kinda,haha. My step-dad has been plays banjo and here lately he has been moon-lighting with a Civil War era band. He plays a different banjo when he plays with these guys and he has asked me if I could make it “look the part”. I’m not gonna mess with the fret board or frets at all. I’ll be focusing on the neck, headstock, and body, not the skin, but the wood part and maybe some of the hardware. I have heard that altering the finish on a guitar could change the tone, not so sure on a banjo since it has a tone ring. Anyway I don’t want to do anything that could change the tone. I know the neck and headstock are maple and I think the body is too, but I’m not positive.
I am sure I will have to do a light sanding on all of these areas. Do any of you have any tips or techniques you would like to share with me to make this thing look like it would have 145 yrs ago?

-- -Zeke- "I hate to rush off, but I gotta go see a man about a log"

10 replies so far

View Roger Clark aka Rex's profile

Roger Clark aka Rex

6940 posts in 3606 days

#1 posted 10-04-2010 10:29 PM

Give it to Pete Townshend of The Who to play on a gig, it’ll come back distressed alright. :-)

-- Roger-R, Republic of Texas. "Always look on the Bright Side of Life" - An eyeball to eyeball confrontation with a blind person is as complete waste of Time.

View Raftermonkey's profile


560 posts in 3084 days

#2 posted 10-04-2010 10:45 PM

HAHA, yes it would. So you think I can achieve this with a few days worth of the “Windmill” technique?

-- -Zeke- "I hate to rush off, but I gotta go see a man about a log"

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 3155 days

#3 posted 10-04-2010 10:57 PM

Jimmy Hendricks burned his. Why not burn the edges to make it look like it put out some fires with. Civil war burned and battered, why not a banjo?

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View HerbC's profile


1790 posts in 3030 days

#4 posted 10-04-2010 11:00 PM

Want to distress a banjo? Ask ME to play it. The results will be very distressing <grin>


-- Herb, Florida - Here's why I close most messages with "Be Careful!"

View Raftermonkey's profile


560 posts in 3084 days

#5 posted 10-05-2010 09:46 PM

Does anybody have any idea what kind of finish would have been used on a stringed instrument 145 yrs ago. I really have no clue what kind of finish to use. All of the pics I have been able to find online looks like a dark stain. I dunno, I may be in over my head here. Finishing is not one of my strong points.

-- -Zeke- "I hate to rush off, but I gotta go see a man about a log"

View bobkberg's profile


439 posts in 3244 days

#6 posted 10-05-2010 10:08 PM

Actually, 145 years ago, it would have looked fairly new. I thiink you are actually asking how to make it look 145 years old, which I would not recommend.

As for finish, I would guess at shellac, and here is an article talking about that:

-- Bob - A sideline, not how I earn a living

View dq2's profile


71 posts in 2975 days

#7 posted 10-05-2010 11:25 PM

There is a picture of a Civil War banjo at the following site:

This is a handmade banjo used during the Civil War by Capt. James Pinckney Thomas. The drum is made of bobcat skin. Capt. Thomas served in Company “E”, 18 th Texas Cavalry led by John D. Coit under Gen. Granberry, Clebourne Division. It is said of him, “He did more good with that banjo than many a preacher, when he kept the boys in camp nights, with his playing and singing.”

You indicated you would be focusing on the neck, headstock, and body, not the skin. May I suggest you also consider doing something with the skin. A good cup of strong cold tea or coffee should do the trick.

-- - DQ in Phoenix -

View Raftermonkey's profile


560 posts in 3084 days

#8 posted 10-06-2010 12:50 AM

dq, I had thought of doing something with the skin. My method would have been a little rudimentary (rub a lil dirt on it) and possibly bad for tone and durability. Coffee sounds like a great idea.

-- -Zeke- "I hate to rush off, but I gotta go see a man about a log"

View TJ65's profile


1381 posts in 3221 days

#9 posted 10-06-2010 10:40 AM

To distress a banjo – talk to the guitar instead!!! :-)

-- Theresa,

View helluvawreck's profile


32087 posts in 3038 days

#10 posted 10-06-2010 11:29 AM

I don’t know how to distress one but I sure do love to hear the banjo played. My family bought me a real nice one a few years back because I always said that I wanted to learn how to play one and still do, but the few times I tried I couldn’t get very far and I have so many things (hobbies) I love to do or want to do and not nearly enough time. One of these days though I will give it a good try.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

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