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Banjo Talk - Long Neck and Head Tension

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JedMarum 22 May 03 - 09:37 AM
JedMarum 22 May 03 - 09:49 AM
fretless 22 May 03 - 09:56 AM
fretless 22 May 03 - 10:44 AM
Frankham 22 May 03 - 12:12 PM
fretless 22 May 03 - 12:19 PM
JedMarum 22 May 03 - 01:54 PM
GUEST,sorefingers 22 May 03 - 02:58 PM
Frankham 22 May 03 - 04:06 PM
DonMeixner 22 May 03 - 04:15 PM
GUEST,Martin Gibson 22 May 03 - 05:05 PM
JedMarum 23 May 03 - 12:15 AM
BlueSage 23 May 03 - 02:44 AM
Frankham 23 May 03 - 06:34 PM
Allan C. 23 May 03 - 09:00 PM
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Subject: Banjo Talk - Long Neck and Head Tension
From: JedMarum
Date: 22 May 03 - 09:37 AM

Now Spaw, don't start with the jokes ... there must be something silly about this tite, even though I don't know what it is .... yet.

I've got a question for all you long neck banjoists; I love my Vega (Deering) long neck - but it really sounds different when I play down low. I mean, the freq response is so different. It really makes it a baritone banjo! I don't think I really like the sound.

I've tried adjusting the head tension to compensate, and that's helped some ... but I really want to 're-adjust' the (tone) dials when I take off the capo and play down low. The reach is a bitch, too - but that's not a major beef, and in fact probably is good for me to reach.

Just how much can I crank up the head tension? I just do it according to feel and sound ... Are there ruels of thumb I oughtta know about banjo care? Am I missing a big part of my banjo education?


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Subject: RE: Banjo Talk - Long Neck and Head Tension
From: JedMarum
Date: 22 May 03 - 09:49 AM

ooops, I mean, "something silly about this title."


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Subject: RE: Banjo Talk - Long Neck and Head Tension
From: fretless
Date: 22 May 03 - 09:56 AM

Rules (or ruels)...there are no stinkin' rules in banjo playing.


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Subject: RE: Banjo Talk - Long Neck and Head Tension
From: fretless
Date: 22 May 03 - 10:44 AM

Ok, so much for fun. Here's a more serious answer: "there are no stinkin' rules in banjo playing." Which is true. Crank it up, see how it sounds, play it the way it sounds right to you. Just be careful not to tighten too much and pop the head. For plastic/synthetic, you can tighten a banjo head to the point where there's very little give. For a skin head, you have to be careful not to tighten it to the point where it feels good today but pops tomorrow (or next week...) when the humidity drops.

And hopefully someone else on the list can come up with more specific ideas.


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Subject: RE: Banjo Talk - Long Neck and Head Tension
From: Frankham
Date: 22 May 03 - 12:12 PM

Sometimes it's important to cut out some of the overtones by stuffing a hanky or a diaper in back under the crossbar inside the pot. Sometimes, the head makes a difference. A lighter head might work better than a heavier or vice versa. Each banjo has it's own sound. Played two Bart Reiters the other day and the both sounded so different.


If you have a Tuba-phone pot, you oughta' be able to get a good rich sound. Sometimes, a resonator can change the sound of a banjo, too. Seems like to me (correct me if I'm wrong) that Uncle Dave used a resonator banjo. Also Stringbean.

One idea which is pretty rad is to have a plexiglas circle cut out and bracket it to the back of your banjo. Old-Timey purists might not like this idea but it might bring out a different quality that's good. Works on my tenor banjo and it's lighter than a standard resonator which means you can play it standing up longer without tiring. I haven't had the time or nerve to try it on my long neck Gibson but I just might one of these days.

Pete now uses a lignum-vitae neck (hardest wood out there) with a Tuba-phone pot. The neck will have some effect on the sound.

If you like the bright sound of a Round Peak clawhammer, you won't get it out of the long-neck Deering I believe. The long neck is going to get you a Seeger sound.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Banjo Talk - Long Neck and Head Tension
From: fretless
Date: 22 May 03 - 12:19 PM

"Seems like to me (correct me if I'm wrong) that Uncle Dave used a resonator banjo."

I recall that Wade Ward did, too. So much for bluegrass players having a monopoly on that version of the instrument.


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Subject: RE: Banjo Talk - Long Neck and Head Tension
From: JedMarum
Date: 22 May 03 - 01:54 PM

I love the sound of this Vega (it has a tuba-phone ring, by the way) but I play mostly in G tuning, capoed at 3 or maybe a bit higher. Playing in F is where I run into the issues with too boomy a bass ... it's minor issue, and may just be my ear - but I'd like to get a tighter sounding tone from the instrument then I do. I may go ahead and just crank that plastic head down a bit more and see how that affects the sound.

This is a great banjo, and I ain't complainin'! Just looking to understand the instrument a bit more - after all, what does aguitar player know about banjos?

;-)


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Subject: RE: Banjo Talk - Long Neck and Head Tension
From: GUEST,sorefingers
Date: 22 May 03 - 02:58 PM

Recently had to adjust an prewar calfskin topped 5 string when the danged bridge would slide about. I found that contrary to common misinformation, a higher tension does make a lot of difference in these type instruments; but not in the copies which were NOT made for gut string like the originals. So when the bridge is deflecting more than 1/32nd ,too loose, need tightening, tricky since the other way - I have not managed to get there yet - it should begin to crack the top.

I do notice that in the prewar models, and I have sought out several, a real hide top and no 'padding' in back sounds very early Scruggs like!; to the Seeger style player inserting a good quality sponge into the back - under the tone bar - will make a very nice sound.

But if you want to be in the dweepickums today, playing early BG and OT seems to be the way to go. I can't do either that well but I love the sound!


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Subject: RE: Banjo Talk - Long Neck and Head Tension
From: Frankham
Date: 22 May 03 - 04:06 PM

Jed,

"Just looking to understand the instrument a bit more - after all, what does aguitar player know about banjos?"

You were kidding but you know there is an answer. Guitar players deal with counter-lines and bass runs in backup arrangements. Pete Seeger differentiated his style of banjo playing from the more traditional players by bringing these musical elements to banjo accompaniments. Usually, a trad banjo player would play the tune on the banjo and sing it simultaneously. Pete approaches the banjo more like a guitar with a bass line, counter-line or descant or even playing a harmony on the banjo under the singing of the melody. This was Pete's major contribution to the banjo. Before him, banjo players pretty much stuck to playing the melody on the banjo as they sang it.

A different guage of string might help those lower keys. Heavier strings could bring out the bass frequencies or it might be that a lighter string could cut them. When you hear Pete's earlier recordings, he plays the banjo in F and E below the customary G and it sound great Check his record "Darling Corey" on Folkways. In my opinion, this is one of the best recordings he ever made.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Banjo Talk - Long Neck and Head Tension
From: DonMeixner
Date: 22 May 03 - 04:15 PM

Jed,

Some of the difference in tones are caused by the neck angle or the string angle over the bridge. My Ode has a great accoustic sound in all applications. Except electric which, even with a PUTW Banjo Pickup, sounds marginal. I also play in "G" and capo everywhere. I leave one on all the time at 3 and capo evrywhere else with a second capo. I also use a Shubb slider on the fifth string. I never play lower than "G" because with my fingers I can't make the reaches.

But my five has the heaviest strings I can find, the steepest angle I can make on the bridge, and the neck is angled alittle bit to help the angle on the strings. This gives it some pretty good tone and drive. Also the top is probably too tight.

Don


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Subject: RE: Banjo Talk - Long Neck and Head Tension
From: GUEST,Martin Gibson
Date: 22 May 03 - 05:05 PM

Long neck banjos are really an image thing.

-or-

How to look like a folksinger

Most anyone will also say they sound lousy and bassy/muddy with no capo or below the third fret.

Playing in E with a capo on 4th fret using C chord configurations sure sounds nicer to me.


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Subject: RE: Banjo Talk - Long Neck and Head Tension
From: JedMarum
Date: 23 May 03 - 12:15 AM

Frank - I undertsnad what yo mean about a guitar player's approach to banjo, and I never realized that is how Pete played, but I understand, and have to say that is very much my approach too. I do know that I use a more three fingered style then Pete, though - and add a good bit of brushing. It started out accidental, but it is becoming a style I like. I am still pretty limited with my left hand .. since I play alone quite a bit, I have to provide the acompaniement and whatever "instrumental" is done, so I don't stray too far up the neck. I love it, though. What a great instrument, even in the hands of a guitar player!

Don - I have to say that my PUTW pick-up is probably the only reason I'm bitching about the tone issues, sans capo. I find the banjo actually picks-up pretty well ... BUT I do have tht gripe about going below the third fret and wanting to 'redial' the freq settings. I am going to try some of the adjustments and see if I can;t do better. Actaully, the banjo picks up well over a mic too - so maybe I'll just drop the pick-up.

GUEST - my first thought was that you were being totally cynical - but there is certainly some truth to your comment. I can see that the long-neck banjo really does have some limitations, below the third fret. If I knew when I bought the thing what I know now about the banjo, I would have bought a regular neck - BUT I have to say, I love my Vega longneck. I wouldn't trade it for the world. I do play in F pretty regularly, and yes I could play cross key in a G tuning - it's a lot easier then I used to think - it's become second nature, actually; but I ain't as happy about where the scales fall for solos. Still, life is for learning, eh?


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Subject: RE: Banjo Talk - Long Neck and Head Tension
From: BlueSage
Date: 23 May 03 - 02:44 AM

Jed,

Don't give up on your long neck yet. Keep experimenting with the head tension, string gauges, head type, ect., until you find the sound you are looking for. The banjo is the "hot rod" of the acoustic world; there are many variables you can tinker with to change it's sound.

As far as the lower tones are concerned, they are the only reason for owning a long neck. If you aren't getting a tone you like when playing open or capoed on the first fret, try hiring an experienced banjo luthier/repair person to help you "set it up".

I, too, own a Vega/Deering long neck and I love the sound in E and F. I set my instrument up with a fiber skin head and cranked it up pretty tight. I also experimented with different string gauges until I found the combination that worked best with the longer scale length.

I don't believe the instrument is "limited" below the 3rd fret. Just listen to the recordings of John Hartford to hear how effective a low tuned banjo can sound. Or, if you'd like, I could "home" record a few tunes on my long neck and send you a copy on CD. It would give you an idea of the sound I was striving for when I set up my own banjo.

Send me a personal message if you are interested... Mike


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Subject: RE: Banjo Talk - Long Neck and Head Tension
From: Frankham
Date: 23 May 03 - 06:34 PM

Jed,

Like you, I prefer to use the Seeger approach particularly in accompanying singing.

I put a dynamic neodymium mic in the pot and duct-taped it onto the cross-bar. Then, I got me a AC cord that has a female XLR on one end and a quarter-inch jack on the other. Now I can plug into the sound system or a guitar amp. There doesn't seem to be much problem with feedback since the drumhead acts as kind of a shield.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Banjo Talk - Long Neck and Head Tension
From: Allan C.
Date: 23 May 03 - 09:00 PM

It may be worth noting that there is such a thing as a torque wrench for banjo heads. An investment in one might be worthwhile (about $50 USD). This way you can more accurately narrow down just which tensions work best for you and then can easily duplicate it at any time. I feel sure that JanetDavisMusic.com has the torque wrenches available in both 1/4 and 15/16 inch sizes.


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