Saga Kit RK-2

A Second Look

I happened to acquire another one of these kits for a very good price, so I thought I would build another one.  This time, I tried some experimental things which were more-or-less successful depending on your point of view.

This copy of the kit had been returned to a music store by an displeased buyer who felt that the holes in the aluminum rim were drilled incorrectly.  He was right, of course.  I "solved" the problem by enlarging the holes with a rat tail file and using bigger washers in bolting the neck on.  The heel was cut improperly such that it did not fit the rim at a right angle.  I re-cut it. Otherwise, the problems with the kit in general were much the same as encountered in the first one.
One different thing was that the 5th string tuner hole was too big.  This I fixed by simply shimming the tuner in tight with some bits of pine veneer.  I took a different approach to the tailpiece bracket, making an L-bracket out of a brass resonator bracket from my junk box.  I also ground the notch wider where the tailpiece rests on the tension hoop.  This lets the tailpiece sit vertically.  The angle adjustment screw and attachment screws were both too long.  They are easily shortened to make a more compact, neater-looking tail end.

There were two things I wanted to try although I would not do them both on the same banjo again.  First was a celluloid Art Deco peghead veneer, followed by a decorated head.  To the left is another peghead that I like, just to fill in the space.

I save pictures of pegheads that I think are cool.  I ran across this one some time ago.  I don't recall what kind of banjo it was on except obviously a 1930s tenor.  The peghead is veneered with a kind of celluloid often called MOTS or "Mother Of Toilet Seat". This kind of celluloid is not much made any more except for ping pong balls.  It is wickedly flammable - burn a ping pong ball sometime if you don't believe me.
First, I superimposed the Biltmore peghead photo over a scan of the unmodified Saga peghead. You can see that it fits pretty well except for the narrow area at roughly the midpoint.  I cut off the non-Biltmore wings and protrusions and used the larger pieces to fill in the narrow "waist" area.  [The red vertical line is a centerline I added for reference in this intermediate version of the design.  Ignore the truss rod cover for now.]
The next trick was to acquire some MOTS the resembled the Biltmore.  Some of the drum coverings commercially available were OK but seemed just too bright and too white.  I finally found a vintage celluloid dresser tray on eBay for 10 bucks and ruthlessly cut it up for peghead veneer.  This stuff is sometimes known as Pyralin, which was duPont's registered trade name for celluloid.  You can read more about celluloid and early plastics here:

From there it was a simple matter to cut a piece to fit the peghead and epoxy it in place. I decided that a relatively quick and easy way to make the design was on clear decal sheet. The original was probably painted but I didn't want to take the time to cut stencils.  After all, I'm not trying to make an exact replica, just get a look that I was after.  I used Hammermill Clear Window Decals.  I had some qualms about this but it was all I could find locally at the time.  I worked up a new design with my Keystone logo and made a decal.  This decal plastic is made for inkjet printers.  By the way, the font is called "Broadway", one of many Art Deco fonts available on the web.

Next, I printed two copies and doubled them because the printing tends to be somewhat transparent. Then I stuck it on the peghead, trimmed it, gave it a few coats of clear lacquer and there you are.  I found it bugger-all hard to photograph, so here are two more. I trimmed the truss rod cover to mirror the keystone shape.
Just for fun, I decided to make a little different nut.  This one is built up of several layers of old piano key ivory glued together with Stew-Mac black cyanoacrylate glue.
Moving on, I've seen some interesting graphics applied to banjo heads lately.  I thought I would give it a try.  I am singularly uncreative, so I looked around for something that might be interesting.  I settled on a well-known Japanese block print (woodcut) titled The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), one of his brilliant series "Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji", created from 1826-33.
I think the shape of the top of the wave fits a banjo head perfectly.  I downloaded a copy of the art and cropped it to a circular shape.
Then, I printed it out (in two halves) and made a pattern for tracing and taped it to the inside of the head that came with the kit (Remo top-frosted).
I started out with an ordinary black Sharpie for most of the image. The light blue is a Sharpie highlighter marker.  The rest is Stew-Mac ColorTone wood stain mixed in water to fill in the very dark areas of the waves.  The bubbles are white color pencil.  The whole thing is protected by 3 light coats of clear gloss lacquer from a rattle can.  I think it looks OK but I also think I went way overboard in making a head graphic.  It looked pretty good with just the black outlines and blue highlights - maybe I should have stopped there. 
Oh, well, I love the piece.  I took some liberties with it by leaving out the boats and adding some to the bottom edge to fill out the round shape.  Also, the colors are hard to get right.  I've looked at maybe 6 different copies of the piece on the internet and the colors are quite different.  A good example is the curved, bubbly stripes within each wave.  On some copies, they are black, on others dark blue (see example at left). 
Here is the whole thing, all finished.  I left the resonator off because it was too busy already and I prefer open backs anyway. With some attention to set up, it is a decent-sounding banjo.  I used GHS light strings instead of the kit strings.  I used (for now) the kit bridge although it needs to be re-cut to Crowe spacing for my hammy hand. The lacquer on the head does not hurt it at all - indeed, it is plenty bright and has plenty (maybe a little too much) sustain.