To Thread - Forum Home

The Mudcat Café TM
26 messages

Banjo Head Torque Wrench

14 May 02 - 02:28 PM (#710809)
Subject: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: Steve Latimer

I recently had to replace a banjo head and was wondering if a torque wrench would be a good idea. I still think it would be a good idea, especially if a manual was provided saying for Bluegrass torque to ..., for old time torque to ... etc. Nobody had heard of one. I came across one here, although it seems a bit expensive to me (Scroll down about half way):

Click here

Any thoughts from fellow banjo nerds?

14 May 02 - 02:57 PM (#710829)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: GUEST,Russ

Banjo torque wrenches have been thoroughly discussed on Banjo-L
In general old time banjo players don't see the point. Those bluegrass banjo players who are seriously into technical issues (the real geeks) swear by them.

14 May 02 - 04:46 PM (#710911)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: Mr Red

I can just see those comments coming, likening it to a Brumagem screwdriver. As a Bodhran player I wouldn't stoop so low. ***BG***

15 May 02 - 09:40 PM (#711283)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: Steve Latimer

Guest Russ,

Thanks, I tried to subscribe but I didn't hear back. When I got my banjo I had a couple of people (professional pickers) tell me to tighten the head to just before it snaps. Well, I found out the snapping point the hard way. My thinking is that with one of these wrenches, you could see what a banjo that is set up properly torques to, then just torque yours to that setting. But $50 U.S. seems a lot for something that you throw in your case and use occassionally.

15 May 02 - 10:06 PM (#711289)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: GUEST,ozmacca

Steve, that bit about "..just before it snaps.." Us bodhranists got used to that a long time ago. Only thing, with us it usually goes on.. "then take it another couple of Nm." - or footpounds or whatever standard is used locally.

15 May 02 - 10:21 PM (#711295)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: catspaw49

Steve.........Gotta' griend who's a mechanic? He probably has both a foot/pound and an inch/pound torque wrench. Borrow one and a socket to fit the clamp and see what you find. Inexpensive torque wrenches are available for less than 35 bucks.......Good ones go at over 150-300!


15 May 02 - 10:21 PM (#711296)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: Charcloth

Ahh Steve we all know you love the rush ya getwhen your tweeking it to the edge (and beyond)
tell me does it go BANG or pop? LOL
I had to egg ya on just a smidgeon don't ya know Charcloth

15 May 02 - 10:37 PM (#711301)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: Steve Latimer


Why don't you send the Saga up for "an adjustment" and I'll record the results for you.

I will say, it's sudden and it's loud.


Yes, I do know a mechanic. Lives just across the road. I'll check. I wish I had this advice a couple of months ago.


15 May 02 - 10:53 PM (#711306)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: Charcloth

Now Steve my friend, Me thinks I don't wanta do that besides I get too nervous just changing strings. I'm always expecting them to pop. When they do I about jump outta my skin.
BTW I think Les B just bought a Saga too & he was talking like he was changing the head to a fiberskin (Sorta like the one on a Chanterelle) So that makes three people I know who have changed their banjo heads
Me I'm trying to avoid that for another 45 years LOL

15 May 02 - 10:56 PM (#711309)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: GUEST,Russ


I am a subscriber to Banjo-L in the digest form, but I receive it only sporadically. Sometimes the interval between digests is so long I think my membership has been cancelled. Then it shows up. You still might eventually get a reply.

Your professional picker friends didn't give you the whole story. The idea is tighten the head until it pops, then back off half a turn. That's the correct torque.

As far as I can tell the torque wrench is only for the most anal of bluegrass players. The ones who debate endlessly over the best alloy for tone rings and have memorized lists of Mastertone serial numbers and dates.

I play old time. The tightness of my banjo head is whatever it was the day I bought it. It looks more or less flat to me and sounds fine.

Bye the way, another school suggests tuning the head to a particular pitch rather than a particular torque settings. What pitch? No consensus there.

16 May 02 - 05:06 AM (#711431)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: mooman

I think Guest Russ hit the nail on the head! "Sounds fine" is the criteria I use when adjusting my banjo head (which is very rarely indeed). Although it is now a Remo, I also used the same criterion when I had natural skin banjos.

If I purchase a torque wrench, I will need to also purchase a humungous case (instead of the neat little gigbag I currently use) to accomodate the banjo, torque wrench and (inevitably) anorak I will have to carry! (;>)

Best regards,


16 May 02 - 07:04 AM (#711472)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: Steve Latimer


Apparently Earl said he only changes heads if he breaks one, so forty-five years isn't out of the question.

Guest, I'll watch for them to reply. When I first replaced the head I read a few things saying to "tune" the head to a certain pitch, I think I read A and A# at two different places. I mentioned this to the same two experts and they both kind of replied "yeah, right, pull the other one".

I am one of the least detail oriented people I know, but my thinking is that a torque wrench would be the equivalent of an electronic tuner for the head, as long as you knew what it should be torqued to.

16 May 02 - 10:43 AM (#711595)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: Mr Red

Torque Wrench?
gotta be........
Torque of the Devil..........
I'll get my coat......

16 May 02 - 11:57 AM (#711649)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: GUEST,Guest Sailor Dan

The Owner of the Banjo Store in Ft. Lauderdale showed me the way to tune the head was with a meter and tighten the heaad until when you tapped it, your tone was a B.

Seemed to work well on my Deering and I never did get to the loud pop and back off a quarter turn torque.

Good luck


16 May 02 - 01:46 PM (#711723)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench

Hi Steve,

Thought I'd stick my 2 cents in here since I've been replacing banjo heads for people for the last 40 years or so; some of them on instruments I made. When real skin was the standard and one could find well made heads, the pros usually needed a new head every 6 months or so. Since skin is so affected by changes in humidity, pros who needed their instruments to always sound good had to adjust the tension frequently and usually broke about 2 a year. The rest of us got by on many fewer changes. The bench mark of what sounds good is still the most important measure and using a torque wrench has LOTS of pitfalls. Even a small burr in the threads will affect the torque need on that particular hook. Are you lubricating clean threads or tightening older, dry, corroded ones? That'll change the torque readings 400% or more. Overtighteneng one hook will cause the two neighboring hooks to loosten. The quick route to breaking a new head is to tighten the neighbors in stead of loostening the overly tight one. Also, some instruments need tighter or looser heads than others to sound best. I could go on here but you get the point. If you like the sound, it's the right tension.

Best, Ray Frank

16 May 02 - 03:20 PM (#711793)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: Steve Latimer

So, I'm not getting a torque wrench. It was an idea that I thought of after I had snapped the first one and I was gunshy about tightening the new one too much. I installed the new one, tightened it up a bit, and then Rick Fielding was good enough to look at it and tighten it up to what he considered to be right. Rick's ear is a lot better than mine, he has done this many times on many banjos over the years, so I trust that it is correct now. However, apparently the nuts will loosen on their own over time, so maybe I'll just give them an eighth of a turn every six months or so.

Thanks for all of your input.


16 May 02 - 06:37 PM (#711896)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: Charcloth

Steve I never had to tighten the nuts on that. I have on a couple of others but each of them it was only a one time thing. I find the plastic heads seldom, if ever, need tweeking once they are set. My general rule of thumb for tension is this
If I can push on the head & it gives just a very slight amount & the feet are flat with no sag (but not conversely bowing)Then I'm good to go. If it starts sagging then I tighten to the same rules as above.

if as I tighten, I see the bridge rise & the top is beginning to get convex (or higher under the center foot) I back off cause it's getting too tight
I believe if you tighten the head every six months that will be way too often
I just don't want to see you pop it again.

17 May 02 - 02:16 AM (#712101)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: X

All banjo are diffrent, just tweek it down till it sounds good but don't do it all in one day. When it gives a nice ring when you thump it you're there. If it stops ringing and starts to give a dull thump, you're past the sweetness, back up. People will talk about tuning the head to a note or wolftones if you tune it to a sympathetic note. (The note of a string) I've tried all that jazz but in over thirty years of playing the damn thing I always come back to the before described method. Remember this, you can mess up a good rim or flange with to much torque on your head. And as to the price of a torque wrench, how many beers can you buy with that cash.

17 May 02 - 03:30 AM (#712122)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: Geoff the Duck

The most important thing about tightening a banjo head is to get the tension even across it. You are more likely to rip a head if the tension isn't even.
Using a torque wrench sounds too much like an April Fool joke to me. The tension should be spread evenly between the adjusters, but the overall tension on any 2/one of + the n/5(excuse 2 year old adding extra numbers) - any one of the nuts will depend on the number of nuts, the skin diameter etc. Some of these are standard on a modern instrument, but as mentioned above, can be influenced by small additional factors.
I favour pinging the head with a flick of the fingernail to see if it rings, and if the ring suits the tone of the banjo.
The other factor is the amount the bridge sinks into the skin when the banjo is tuned to correct pitch. Too deep and the instrument will not tune correctly, so the head needs to be tightened.
The difference between a plastic head and a vellum is that a natural skin is neither a standard thickness or composition. Too thin a skin will break at a lower tension, but too thick does not ring out as nicely.

22 May 02 - 12:09 AM (#715069)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: Steve Latimer

Thanks Guys, I've been away for a few days, so I missed these tips.

14 Dec 10 - 05:52 PM (#3053600)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: GUEST,terry barbin

Working with banjos for many years, I have tried all the gadgets out there to set up banjos. To tighten a head, keep the hoop even all the way around as you tighten, and tighten each hook 1/8 turn at a time.
Once the head feels fairly tight when you push on the head, then play the banjo with the resonator on until it sounds good to you, tightening a little as you go. IF YOU USE A TORQUE WRENCH MAKE SURE THE HOOP IS EVEN AS YOU TIGHTEN AND TORQUE TO ABOUT 12 ON THE DIAL AND YOU WILL BE CLOSE. A DRUM DIAL SET AT 90 ALL AROUND WILL BE CLOSER TO TO WHAT YOU WANT. TORQUE WRENCHES VARY DEPENDING ON THE CONDITION OF THE HOOKS.

27 May 19 - 03:25 PM (#3994235)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: GUEST,Henry

I have a Neary torque wrench. For bluegrass try starting at 7. For old time start around 4. Hope this helps.

27 May 19 - 04:31 PM (#3994242)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: Jack Campin

Can you also get those fluorescent plastic pointers as used on truck wheels to tell if the nuts have shifted?

27 May 19 - 05:24 PM (#3994248)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: GUEST,Henry

No idea, Jack. Maybe someone else can chime in on that one. But with a Neary you won't need them as the wrench will tell you if the nuts have loosened.

27 May 19 - 07:17 PM (#3994253)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: GUEST,Henry

If I can make the point, there's nothing wrong with a Drum Dial OR the Steve Davis method. I mentioned a Neary as that is what works best for me.

01 Jun 19 - 08:24 AM (#3994776)
Subject: RE: Banjo Head Torque Wrench
From: GUEST,Henry

Your "So I'm not getting a torque wrench" post bothers me Steve. Sound is subjective, so unless you were present when Rik adjusted the head, what suits him may not suit you.