The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #62831   Message #1016756
Posted By: Richard Bridge
11-Sep-03 - 04:14 AM
Thread Name: Setting up a cheap banjo
Subject: Setting up a cheap banjo
This sort of follows on from where I started on the 6-string banjo thread, but is rather more specifically about how to set the instrument up.

Daughter's boyf has now turned up with the instrument (brand new, marked "Countryman", and with a shallow bowl back held on by four bolts to right-angle brackets on eight of the head tension bolts, comes off really easily to get at the head tension nuts) and I am trying to get it set up so he can start to learn to play it. Some idiot has "set it up" (and charged lad for it) so that you can't play the octave at all (neck angle too low so the strings foul at about fret 17), and it looks as if he has achieved this by slackening the single co-ordinator rod, with the result that the plywood body rim is now oval (I guess squashed by string tension - 11 1/4 inches across body in line with the neck, 11 1/2 from side to side) and there are slight cracks showing where the co-ordinator rod meets the body, running from the rod mountings away from the head.

I've read the links on other threads about banjo setup and oh boy do I have some questions!

The scale length is about 23 inches (58 cm). Guitar scale length is usually about 25 1/2 inch. So if it's got ultra-light strings on (top string is a 10) should it really tune to eadgbe, or as it's in effect the same length as a guitar would be if the bottom note were F sharp, should it tune to F sharp or G and then same intervals?

Next issue is the head. It's a plastic Remo. How tight should it be? I know the tension should be even all round, and I can hear when that is so, although it's a little challenging to keep adjusting the skin tension and then the co-ordinator rod, and then back again, since the skin tension affects how much the skin sinks at the foot of the bridge which in turn affects the neck angle you want, and when you put more thrust in the co-ordinator rod it affects the skin tension and the evenness of the string tension. I bet if I pulled too hard on all those little nuts I could rip the skin in half. At the moment it looks a bit slack to me in that you can really see (from the back) the corners on the little feet of the bridge digging in. Is it a good idea to put something like a lollipop stick, thin and flat with oval ends, under these feet to stop the corners holing the head skin?

How high should the bridge be? It's exactly half an inch at the moment.

Next there's a little Philips head screw in the back of the shoulder of the neck. It looks as if it ought to slide the whole neck bodily across the frame, either towards the head or away from it, but it's quite tight and I don't want to force it and wreck something. What's it do?

Should the bridge be exactly the same distance from the 12th fret as the nut is, or a little bit more to allow for end-effect as the strings angle over the bridge? Should the bridge be at a slight angle like a guitar saddle? How tight do I do up the lever thing that squashes the strings down towards the head to make extra pressure at the bridge?

If I want to take the whole thing to bits (or at least get the neck off to try to figure out why it's wrong) Am I right I just take the strings off and then undo the end-nuts on the co-ordinator rod?

Any other bright ideas?