What do you do if you are hooked on music, and want to take a banjo with you backpacking? You need a banjo that is light, compact and has a rain-proof, cushioned case. Weight is one of the most important restrictions, because it is difficult to carry all your gear and food in the mountains. Some backpackers even remove all the tags from their clothing to save weight. I could not find a banjo that fits these requirements, so I made my own.
Here is a banjo that weighs 3 pounds, including case. Its main size and weight-saving feature is a head made from a cat-food can! First, think about a Dobro: it has a resonator made of spun aluminum. A cat-food can is also made of spun aluminum, weighs very little, and eliminates the need for a heavy pot, brackets
and tension ring. This banjo has a tone that sounds like a banjo, but is rather quiet. It is about the same volume as the Martin backpacker guitar, which is about right for a quiet mountain backpacker’s camp. How about a bigger, steel can for the tone? It is not as loud, and sounds awful. One catch: make sure to wash the can very well, so that the bears don’t want to rip apart your banjo in the middle of the night! Another weight saving feature is the cam-operated tuning pegs, which allow precision tuning with much less weight than traditional tuning pegs.
You can hear an mp3 of my playing “When You’re Smiling” on the backpacking banjo here.