Deering Banjos is one of the oldest and best-known manufacturers of banjos in the world. The founders, Greg and Janet Deering, set out 35 years ago to produce quality banjos that beginners could afford. Today, Deering is the largest manufacturer of American-made banjos, producing nearly 100 models of banjos that appeal to everyone from beginners to hardened pros. Their banjos are used in all disciplines of music – bluegrass, Old Time, rock, Dixieland, New Orleans jazz, Irish, blues and country; and are played by many of the best known banjo players in the world - Béla Fleck, Doc Watson, Tony Trischka, John Hartford, and Terry Baucom.
While one wouldn’t necessarily consider the world of luthiering, that is the making and repairing of stringed instruments, a high-tech manufacturing process, Greg Deering has been using CAD and CAM in the making of his banjos for over 25 years! Greg was first taught drafting by his father when he was only 7 years old and was later urged to get into computers by his younger brother. The natural outcome of this was the incorporation of both 2D and 3D CAD design and CAM into the production of Deering banjos. And ‘CAD’ for Greg, has meant using DesignCAD!
Deering began using DesignCAD in the 1980’s. He has used it as his primary tool for creating the inlays that go into the banjo’s fingerboard and neck. Greg really likes DesignCAD’s curve creation and editing tools, finding them incredibly easy and robust to use.
Once the inlays have been created in DesignCAD, manufacturing them is done in a number of ways. For less expensive models, the inlays are burned into the banjo component using a laser. The laser is recognized as a simple output device, essentially a printer, and the output is burned accurately into the wood. For the more expensive inlay materials such as mother-of-pearl, Deering sends his DesignCAD files to a third-party, who, also using DesignCAD, outputs the design to a CNC machine which is driving a high speed, very small and accurate (as small as .005 of an inch!) end mill which cuts out these inlays. In this instance, the DesignCAD file is exported as an HPGL plot file and then read into the CNC machine. For other inlay materials, the DesignCAD file will be saved in a .DXF or .DWG file format and then imported into MasterCAM. Deering believes that by utilizing CAD into the design of his inlays, he’s been able to reduce the time to manufacturing from a week or more for one inlay set, down to a couple of hours!
Greg is about to start exploring DesignCAD’s 3D design and modeling tools as well. Currently, he’s been using MasterCAM for his 3D Design needs, but hopes that DesignCAD’s 3D tools will work as easily and as well for him as have the 2D tools. In addition, he is evaluating DesignCAD’s 3D CAM plug-in, ContourCAM, as a way of directly driving CNC machines from within the DesignCAD application, and as a much less expensive alternative to MasterCAM.