The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #51209   Message #779180
Posted By: Geoff the Duck
08-Sep-02 - 03:21 PM
Thread Name: Banjo Setup and Sound Problems
Subject: RE: BS: Banjo Setup and Sound Problems
Over the years, one of the things which has kept me interested in banjos is the incredible variety of completely different types of sound produced by different instruments.
There are many factors which affect the sound and tone of a banjo. Some of these can be adjusted for a specific instrument, but others are what makes that particular banjo what it is, and therefore cannot be altered.
The volume and tone of a banjo are greatly influenced by the materials it is constucted from. If the body is made from a dense wood it will be louder and have a crisper tone than if it is constructed from a lighter wood (Birds eye maple would produce a sharper tone than oak). If a metal tone ring is added, this increases the weight of the body and depending on the type of design and material will tend to produce a tone characteristic of that particular tone ring. Some tone rings raise the central portion of the banjo skin and so produce a smaller diameter drum, which also affects the overall tone.
Often a tone ring contains extra air chambers for the sound to vibrate round, and so increase the volume produced. A resonator encloses the back of the banjo and produces an air chamber which amplifies the volume. It also reflects more sound forwards towards an audience, rather than it escaping out behind you.
A high bridge raises the strings away from the banjo head. This affects the height of the strings at the fingerboard, raising the playing action. It also increases the pressure produced by the strings on the skin. This will make the strings spound louder and crisper than on a low tension short bridge. You can usually adjust the angle of the neck to compensate the playing action produced by changing to a different bridge. Lighter gauge strings will produce less pressure on the bridge, heavier strings more pressure, and a resultant increase in volume. Nylon strings (or fishing line) produce a softer, plunkier tone than metal ones, and different makes of string suit particular types of banjo better than others.
A goat or calf skin vellum will usually give a more mellow tone than a plastic head, but animal skins are affected by atmospheric moisture and will go out of tune more easily if you move it to a different place.
If your banjo was built to sound like an electric guitar in a bucket, apart from small changes, that is probably what it will continue to sound like.
If you need a banjo with a different tone, you probably need to look out for another instrument which meets the new criteria.
I hope that some of the above makes sense, and is of help to you.
Geoff the Duck!