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Banjo Setup and Sound Problems

08 Sep 02 - 01:25 AM (#778957)
Subject: Banjo Setup and Sound Problems
From: GUEST,sorefingers

Got a real old 5 String Banjo with great quality hoop brackets and hide top. When setup to what I think is about the correct tension it sounds like an Electric Guitar in a big room or with reverb set to max.

Question why do older Banjos sound this way and secondly what do the Muddie Banjoexperts advise to get it sounding like a Gibson or anyother modern Banjo.

Things I already tried but reversed - tighten the top some more = made it worse, replaced the bridge with another = no change, shoved a cloth in the back between the neck rod and hide top = made a big difference and the sound was very nice, slightly clunky with very little ring or echo, cussed stared at the beast real hard saying 'hey Banjo quit yelling in a bottle' = the neighbors called over to see if I was Ok.

Thanks in restless anticipation and exictement

Yours fretingly an eager Banjo wannabe.

08 Sep 02 - 01:39 AM (#778959)
Subject: RE: BS: Banjo Setup and Sound Problems
From: Steve Latimer

Hey Sorefingers,

This site is run by a luthier. I've found it to be very helpful.


08 Sep 02 - 04:45 AM (#778984)
Subject: RE: BS: Banjo Setup and Sound Problems
From: GUEST,sorefingers

It's not that I don't want to play Guitar anymore - I do - but that the Banjo is so nice that makes me try so hard to make it sound modern.

So thank you Steve for the link - it told me lots of usefull tips but I cannot find one that says 'do this to make your banjo sound less like a mountain yodeler and more like a jungle woodpecker' IOW I am totaly lost on this one.

08 Sep 02 - 07:18 AM (#779026)
Subject: RE: BS: Banjo Setup and Sound Problems
From: BanjoRay

Dwight Diller's advice to me, which helped my banjo a lot, was to take a cloth or sponge and roll it extremely tightly. Push it between the head and the dowel stick as near to the neck as you can. This works well to remove hollowness from the tone. Making a banjo sound modern is not necessarily a good thing - the best bluegrass banjo players want theirs to sound like prewar Gibson mastertones, while Old Time clawhammer players want theirs to sound like a Fairbanks or Bacon fom around 1900.


08 Sep 02 - 08:21 AM (#779042)
Subject: RE: BS: Banjo Setup and Sound Problems
From: Steve Latimer


You're welcome. Is the banjo an Open Back or a resonator type?

08 Sep 02 - 09:09 AM (#779049)
Subject: RE: BS: Banjo Setup and Sound Problems
From: GUEST,

A few more questions... first, how old is "real old"? If it is turn of the century, it is possible it was meant to be strung with gut strings, not steel! Does the neck have a support rod? Is it adjustable? If it has a neck rod that can be adjusted, I would say your tension is set WAY to high! This is a problem for new and old banjos alike. What guage stings are you using? Older banjos like a lighter gauge. They will never be as loud as their modern counterparts. Finally, what condition is your head in? DOes it look like the original? When you tap on it across the top, does it feel like an equal tension? Incorrect tension, ie to tight, can also cause the effect you mentioned. To recap... check for a tensioner rod in the neck and see if it can be adjusted. Lighten your string gauge and check the tension on your top! GOod luck Rock On John P

08 Sep 02 - 11:17 AM (#779090)
Subject: RE: BS: Banjo Setup and Sound Problems
From: bigchuck

If it doesn't have a fairly substantial tone ring under the head, It'll not ever sound modern, certainly not with a skin head. If you really want a more modern sound, I think you'll have to switch to a plastic head of some sort, and perhaps a tension type tailpiece that allows you to increase the downpressure on the bridge.

08 Sep 02 - 01:06 PM (#779136)
Subject: RE: BS: Banjo Setup and Sound Problems
From: BanjoRay

Ignore the advice of GUEST, to adjust the tensioner rod in the neck - if he's referring to the truss rod that goes the length of the neck, the only point in adjusting that would be to correct very small problems of curvature along the fingerboard - nothing to do with the sound. Too much adjustment could damage the neck. If he's referring to a coordinator rod, there's often two of these metal rods which cross the banjo body under the head. Adjusting these is only any use in correcting very slight action problems, and can easily result in damage to the body.


08 Sep 02 - 01:40 PM (#779154)
Subject: RE: BS: Banjo Setup and Sound Problems
From: GUEST,sorefingers

Steve its an open back - though you might not believe me when I tell you it will never ever need a resonator it is nearly as loud as my Martin .. the missus says the DM sounds like an electric guitar!

Hi Ray thanks for the tip, I know it works as I already tried it. However I think it can be made to sound like several other fine Banjos I have seen played eg Reiter, Omes and so on, since the hoop etc looks so similar.

BigChuck it has so large and solid a hoop it weighs in like a sack of flour! No problem there - I seem to be great at finding either exceptionaly good examples of instruments or incredibly good lemons, to understand this remark you would have to see my old Chromatic Harmonica collection.

Guest you are so right about that. I swapped it for a fiddle when I had two of them. I don't need fiddles since I am a Guitaraholic in therapy with Colonel C F Martin.

After indepth analysis it appears that higher bridges make louder banjos - no idea why - but it looks like mine being way too high, a new lower bridge may help ... a lot.

There is a screw in back for adjusting neck angle and that works - but it cannot fix the brige problem only make it less of problem.

08 Sep 02 - 01:56 PM (#779156)
Subject: RE: BS: Banjo Setup and Sound Problems
From: Bee-dubya-ell

Seconds to everything Bigchuck said. If you want to keep the natural skin look, try a Fiberskyn head. But if it's an open-back banjo with no tone ring it ain't never gonna sound like a Mastertone any more than a nylon-strung classical guitar is gonna sound like a D28.


08 Sep 02 - 02:46 PM (#779174)
Subject: RE: BS: Banjo Setup and Sound Problems
From: X

If you want your banjo to sound like a Gibson (Mastertone) or a "modern banjo" you are going to have to get a Gibson or another "modern banjo." Your open back banjo isn't going to do it. Sorry.

08 Sep 02 - 03:21 PM (#779180)
Subject: RE: BS: Banjo Setup and Sound Problems
From: Geoff the Duck

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!

10 Sep 02 - 11:29 AM (#780466)
Subject: RE: BS: Banjo Setup and Sound Problems
From: Geoff the Duck

Looking through the bookmarks on my browser, I spotted this site, which looks in detail at many aspects of banjo setup. The site owner, Bill Palmer, analyses in detail factors which alter the sound produced by the banjo and explains his findings in a sensible and understandable fashion.
Here ia a Blue Clicky which will take you to the site
Happy tinkering

10 Sep 02 - 08:59 PM (#780906)
Subject: RE: BS: Banjo Setup and Sound Problems
From: CraigS

A fairly harmless tone modifier can be made from hardboard or oilboard. Cut a circular piece to close the back, make too small holes roughly in the middle, tie on round the centrepost with string. It may not give the tone you require but the neighbours will probably thank you. That damn duck gets too scientific sometimes!