July 12, 2013

Photo Essay: Deering Banjo Company Factory Tour

I don't play the banjo, but I like to see how things were made.

So while in the San Diego area, why not visit Deering Banjo Company, the largest manufacturer of the distinctively American acoustic instrument?

After having toured Steinway & Sons' piano factory in Queens - where photography is verboten - I was excited to inhale some fumes and snap away at the various equipment in Deering's factory.

Like the pianos, various pieces of wood (maybe maple) are steamed, curved, layered, and glued together to make the body...

...being placed in a rim under a heat lamp to let the glue dry.

For the non-openback models, a resonator is made out of thinner layers of wood (probably mahogany), which are also steamed, pressed together, and fitted into a curved mold... create the slightly domed back of the banjo, which pushes the sound forward and out, making the music brighter and louder than the openback models.

The resonators are then sanded, buffed, stained, and possibly lacquered, depending on the model of the banjo.

The banjo necks are made from relatively simple cuts of wood (literally, 2x4s), which are interlaced together and then glued, dried, and sanded...

...creating a slightly curved neck reminiscent of the "Mona Lisa Smile."

After applying the head, bridge, tailpiece, tonering, rods, pegs, nuts and hooks - not to mention fretting and stringing -  the banjo is complete.

Some are simple, traditional, classic, basic models...

...while others are elegant and luxurious, like the $32,000 Gabriella, with its mother of pearl fingerboard, exotic woods, and handset abalone shell trim...

...or elaborate, like the apocalyptic Zombie Killer, with its blood-splattered resonator, engraved inlays, and red circular saw blade.

Whatever the model, they are all packed and boxed up right there in Spring Valley, CA and sent to stores and banjoists all over the world...

...except those that get hung in the showroom, waiting to be played by staff and visitors alike. They are meant to be played. They are better when they are played.

Makes a person want to learn how to play the banjo.

Related Post:
Inside the Belly: Steinway & Sons Piano Factory Tour

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