Wooden Dough Bowl Banjo, Greensboro NC


This curious antique banjo instrument was made from a wooden dough bowl for a body, a carved hunk of wood for the neck and old wooden clothespins serving as tuning pegs. It was discovered in Greensboro, NC and sold to me on eBay for a paltry sum of $25. Based on the parts used and patina, I would estimate it to be from the first half of the Twentieth Century.


The 8.5" diameter wooden dough bowl still bears the marks in the back where strings were fed from inside and sent around to the top. It appears that this banjo never had a head of any kind on the top of the bowl.


Three flat head bolts secure the neck to the bowl. It's a tight fit, even for such a crude instrument.


The neck is a monster, measuring 2.5" wide! It was crudely carved and the back shows knife and file marks along with big hunks of wood chiseled away. The original piece of wood was 2.5" wide, 1.5" deep and 24.5" long.


The big block headstock has four holes drilled to fit four clothespins. These do not hold much tension, telling me that this instrument might have been built for a child as a toy (although it's quite big for a toy) or it was made by an inexperienced builder. Note the half-round trim serving as a nut. It is secured in place by two brad nails.


A closeup view of the "tuning pegs" show the line of patina from the areas sticking out of the wood. Note the pencil lines on the fretboard and headstock. They trace where strings would be located. It looks like a child may have traced the original strings.


The most puzzling part of the entire banjo is the location of the bridge at the base of the neck. Notice it in the first photo in this article. It's right where the neck and bowl meet. This part would make the instrument unplayable because this piece of half-round would stop the strings in the middle of the playing area. The player could only strum the strings on the neck or the strings in the area of the body. It is this piece that makes me suspect that this is a toy, even more so than the clothespin tuners.

DISCUSSION: It may not play, but there is plenty of inspiration to be taken from this piece. You can find wooden dough bowls at thrift stores or yard sales. The neck is actually quite secure to the bowl. A properly made dough bowl banjo could actually work, especially if using low-tension nylon strings.


And what about the clothespins? Could these actually be used as tuners? If so, how? Post your thoughts in the comments!


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Here are the specs of the Wooden Dough Bowl Banjo:

Scale length: Unknown due to improper setup


Materials used:

  • Wooden dough bowl

  • Clothespins

  • Wood plank

  • 3.4" half-round trim

  • Flat head bolts and square nuts.

Dimensions: 31.75 x 8.5 x 1.75" (80 x 20 x 4.5cm)


Cigar Box Guitar Museum Catalog # ABN.2021.001


Currently in curation and slated to be shown at the Cigar Box Guitar Museum in New Alexandria PA at a future date.




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