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Making LAP-JOs

December 23, 2022
Good Morning, Y'all!
What a cold day it is here in Woodburn, Indiana. The forecast for this weekend is a "high" temperature in the single digits. Brrrr. Some of you might scoff at that, but even for northeastern Indiana, that's chilly!

But nippy is okay - I plan on spending the time indoors, with family, and with some great music. I hope you can do the same wherever you live.

Last week I put a question to you asking "what to do with 5000 gallons a year of sawdust?" The most popular response was (out of the 47 people who wrote back with ideas) to compost the sawdust. Which is what I've already done with some of it. I even served tomatoes and cucumbers at one of last summer's Second Saturday Clinics here at the shop - veggies from my personal garden, grown partly on good old Folkcraft sawdust compost.

Lots and lots of "craft" size uses, and some highly inventive solutions, too. Several folks even suggested that sequestering the dust (carbon) in a landfill would be good for both the landfill and for the environment. Overall, Folkcraft newsletter subscribers are a brilliant group of people, and I sure appreciate all of your suggestions.
Switching gears...
It was seven years ago this month (December 2015) when Steve (my brother) and I sat down to plan out 2016. We had decided earlier that year we were going to spend January of 2016 developing something new. We discussed a student (low-cost) instrument, a new (since I didn't care for the existing models) travel-size dulcimer, a Hawaiian-style dulcimer, and a banjo-style dulcimer. We opted to work on a brand new design of a banjo-dulcimer and devote the full month of January 2016 to its development.
Four weeks is fast to design, prototype, and build a from-scratch instrument, but Steve did it. We researched banjos and decided on a partial-open-back design. We didn't need the volume of a full resonator back and wanted a more "banjo" sound than the "folk style" instruments. So, the first week of the month was spent creating a rim (fancy banjo word for "body"). The rim is tricky, with all the hardware and stresses from all the bolts holding the head at tension, but by the middle of the month, we had a mostly-working rim and could start working on a neck and head.

a pair of lap-jo rims

While Steve was finishing off the design of the wood parts, I was spending a lot of time (and money!) learning about the various hardware options. Some parts could be purchased, others had to be made. By the end of the month, we had a prototype we were both happy with.

A couple of weeks later, I was in Homosassa, Florida, for a festival, and Steve was in Lexington, Kentucky, for a festival - on the same weekend. We both sold out of our banjo-style dulcimers! We did a naming contest and John Keane came up with LAP-JO. Which is, of course, a LAP banJO, but in John Keane style, it is also an acronym for Loud And Played JOyously.
To my knowledge, Folkcraft is the only maker of a banjo-style dulcimer that uses a real banjo head. Several makers make instruments with small "practice pads" (from a drum kit) that have a plucky banjo-esque sound, but no other maker has an instrument so close to a real banjo in tone. (Some of you might think that's a good thing, but we don't need to get started on banjo jokes here!)

2023 will be our eighth year of making LAP-JOs. What do you think we should work on (new) for 2023? I'm open to your suggestions.
Thank you very much for subscribing to our newsletter. I've enjoyed sharing some things with you this year, and look forward to 2023.
Just an FYI: There won't be a newsletter on December 30, so look for your next one on January 6, 2023.
Happy New Year!
Richard Ash, banjo-player-wannabe-so-I-made-a-banjo-style-dulcimer-instead person