Doug Crane, 69, loves building banjos. “I have been building banjos since 1999,” said Crane.
He and his wife, Mary, live in Joplin, Mo., along with their son, Danny, 42.
Crane knew neither how to build a banjo or how to play one when he started. Before retirement, Crane was a building engineer for the Joplin School District.
“I decided that I wanted to make a banjo and I bought instructions from a co-worker for a quarter and taught myself how to play,” said Crane.
Since then Crane has changed the whole design of his banjos. “I make banjos for people upon request, and I also repair banjos,” said Crane. Crane charges $200 for a homemade banjo and wood is provided.
“Everything is done through word of mouth with me. It’s a hobby, not a job. I do it at my own pace,” said Crane. Currently Crane has four banjos going to California and three going to Kentucky. “I’ve sent banjos to several different places. I’ve made about 80 banjos so far,” said Crane.
Crane has also built several banjos out of wood from the May 2011 Joplin tornado. “People have a choice of three different types of wood; maple, walnut, or cherry,” said Crane.
He also goes to Silver Dollar City in Branson and plays with the Homestead Pickers several times each summer. “I play claw hammer style, which is the old style of playing the banjo,” said Crane.
Crane has built and donated banjos to different organizations, as well.
“I built one out of the St. Peter’s Church pews and then I donated it to the church and I also built one for the Stain Glass Theater and donated it,” said Crane.
It takes Crane about 50 hours to build one banjo completely by hand.
“I would say that the hardest thing is building the fretboard (fingerboard) and the easiest would be sanding it all down,” said Crane.
Crane makes each banjo different so they all have an individual look. “People want them to look old, that’s how they like them,” said Crane.
Crane also has a special signature that he puts on every piece — gold star on the top of the banjo. “I just like the star. I used to paint something red or put red felt on them, but I switched to the star,” said Crane.
When Crane begins the building process he starts with the pot, which is the circular part of the banjo.
“I make 10 pieces and that’s what I glue together once I have them made,” said Crane.
Crane also collects old Civil War banjos. “I will find really old banjos and buy them and fix them up so I can play them,” said Crane.
Crane has also given banjo playing lessons for people interested in playing. “I gave lessons to an MSSU football player around four years ago and he really took off with it,” said Crane. “I love building and playing the banjo. If someone wants me to teach them what I know, I can certainly do that.”
Crane will be demonstrating his banjo making process at Traveler Summer Fest on Saturday, July 18, at Morse Park North in Neosho, Mo.
“I plan to get started about 9 or 10 and will spend the rest of the day building a banjo,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun and I think people will really enjoy watching the process.”
Summer Fest, which is free and open to the public, will also feature kids fishing in Hickory Creek, guided fishing trips, float trip on Shoal Creek, games, contests, various demonstrations from outdoors experts (fly fishing, predator hunting, etc.), as well as arts and crafts vendors, food and live bands.
For more information about Summer Fest, visit the Traveler Summer Fest Facebook page or call the Traveler at (800) 874-8423, ext. 1.