Soda Bottle Banjo Head - 2nd most boring video unless you make banjos

Experimenting with an alernate material for banjo heads. Got this idea from Mike Gregory at Banjo Hangout. Not sure where he got it from.

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Comment by Better Trees on April 16, 2014 at 2:29pm

Thanks a ton for sharing. Super cool info.

Comment by Jim Morris on April 14, 2014 at 12:58pm

Well you're a step ahead of me Rand! I still don't have a neck on any of mine but hope to soon. It's fun seeing your experiments and maybe we can learn a few things from each other along the way.

Comment by Rand Moore on April 14, 2014 at 2:25am

Hi Jim.

I tried to super glue the plastic to the box frame, but it didn't hold, so I decided lacing it was the way to go. I have since cobbled together a head and fretted neck for the "square drum" that I had documented in my last post. So far, I have just strung it with one string. The resulting instrument sounds rather mellow and not that loud. One thing I did notice on this drum-based instrument... if you hold it to your body it definitely smothers the sound. Best to hold it at an angle to allow a way for the sound to get out. Maybe some sound holes in the side of the box frame would help. Here are a couple photos...

I was able to re-heat the plastic to get more shrinkage (attacking it from the underside of the box frame helped a lot), and so the plastic is pretty tightly stretched across the box frame. I didn't put a back-board on, leaving it more like an open-backed square drum. The neck was salvaged from an old instrument. It was a headless instrument, so I added a headstock. The fretting was for a 50cm VSL, so I had to extend the end of the neck, which explains why this neck is so ugly. But, I'm planning to keep the neck and recycle it into other instrument mock-ups as the occasions arise. The headstock and neck can support 3 tuners, but for expediency, I only installed one. I will likely try other methods of attaching the plastic drum head to the box frame, so I'll let you know if there are any improvements.


Comment by Jim Morris on April 12, 2014 at 11:19am

Looks like progress Rand! I've found that the ridges you mentioned in some bottles will smooth out nicely after the plastic shrinks. Rather than lacing like you do I'm thinking about this like a tackhead banjo. It's nice to have you approaching it a bit differently.

Comment by Rand Moore on April 12, 2014 at 7:23am

Hi All...

I did a second test with this PETA 1 clear bottle plastic. This time, instead of using a round tin can as the drum frame, I used a rectangular box frame. When I cut off the top end and the bottom of the bottle, the result is a cylinder shaped piece of plastic. I then I then cut the cylinder to come up with a rectangular shape which seems to me to be calling out to be mounted on a rectangular frame. Also, this time, instead of lacing all the way to the bottom of the (can's) frame, I reenforced the top of the frame, drilled a series of holes near (and around) the top, and then, using a soldering iron, easily punched holes in this clear plastic material I'm using for the drum head. Finally, I laced the drum head and the box frame together, and once fairly tight, I took our 2000 W hair drier to it. It didn't melt as well as I had hoped. Maybe will try to heat it again from the bottom side of the box. I thought this method of lacing the drum head plastic to the top of the box frame might be useful to other folks who might be investigating this technology.

I'm using a clear plastic (PETA 1) water bottle that cuts down to roughly 7.5" x 6.5", so my box frame is pretty small. What I like about the bottle is there are no ridges, dimples or weird shapes molded into the bottle that would potentially mess up the drum head. Anyways, here are a couple photos...

This first photo shows the drum head (hard to see because the plastic is clear), but you can clearly see how I laced it to the frame before taking a heat gun to it. The next photo shows the drum looking up from the bottom side of the drum. I'm obviously going to have to refine my technique and get a tighter fit of the drum head to the frame.

I still feel this technology has potential, I just have to develop better techniques to mate the drum head to the box frame. The plastic has a memory of its original shape and so it wants to fight you all the way. I think next time I'll test to see if I can tame this shape memory of the plastic by preheating it to better fit my box frame. But I am afraid this means I'll loose a lot of the shrinking that I'll need to get good head tension across the box frame.

I'll update you all some more when I've made more progress.


Comment by Jim Morris on April 11, 2014 at 9:48am

Yeah Rob, now I'm anxious to make an instrument from one of these experiments!

Comment by Rob Uker on April 10, 2014 at 1:20pm

That's a great idea. 

Comment by Jim Morris on April 8, 2014 at 10:19am

Thanks Low Budget and turtlehead. Yeh I'm looking in dumpsters for a big round one too! Hey Rand, I discovered a way to fix the plastic to a metal can! It has to have a lip around the edge to work. I'll post photos and a vid soon. Did the plastic tear around the lacing when shrinking? If not I would leave the lace in place like on a lot of drums.

Comment by Rand Moore on April 7, 2014 at 11:20pm

Hi All,

Love this idea. Hope it works well. Guess I give it a try...

So, here's what I've done so far...

1.) I cut down a PETA-01 plastic juice bottle into a roughly rectangle piec of plastic (which has a "memory" and wants to role back into a cylindrical shape). The dimensions are roughly 6" by 7".

2.) I selected a "quart sized" tin can roughly 4" wide and 5" tall. Then using a can opener, cut the top and bottom off the can to become the frame of my drum.

3.) On the bottom end of the can I punched 8 holes one for each of the 8 main compass directions. I'll be using these to help lace the plastic drum head into place on the top end of the can.

4.) Using the piece of plastic from step 1 and a paper hole punch, I punched 8 holes into the plastic, again one for each of the 8 main compass directions.

5.) Using chordage that I sometimes braid together to make guitar straps, I was able (with some force) able to lash the plastic into place atop the can, threading the chord through the matching holes in both the plastic drum head and the corresponding one at the bottom of the can. Then using pencils as the stick in the tournaquet, was able to tighten the head pretty well down to cover the top of the can... still a loose fit, but atleast in the ball park.

6.) Using a 2000W hand-held hair dryer set to high, I was able to shrink down the plasitc drum head to comform with the shape of the top of the can.

The resulting drum head did not stay in place when I unlaced it, so it seems we'll need to keep the lacing in place. Next time I'll lace it up again, and try to be a little more careful in my workmanship so the resulting drum will look a bit better. I wonder if a hoter industrial heat gun would shrink the head down tighter so I won't need the lacing?

I also wonder if I can elimonate the plastics memory of its cylindrical form by hiting it with the heat gun befre lacing it onto the can without shrinking it too much because I'll need it to shrink more when forming it to the top side of the can.
But, yeah, this might be a viable alternative to making drums for banjo/dulcijo/canjo instruments. I still will have to build an instrument to test the concept further.


Comment by turtlehead on April 7, 2014 at 11:18pm

Yep, this is great. I know I've seen big round cake containers like that which would be perfect for a full sized banjo head.  Time to start diving in recycling bins. 

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