Posts Tagged ‘banjo’

Mumford & Sons, Taylor Swift, The Brit Awards and Eagle Banjos

What a great night for the humble banjo at the 2013 Brit awards! It was awesome to see Winston Marshall ‘rocking it out’ and playing our namesake banjo model, the Deering Eagle II 5-string banjo during their live performance at the awards. To enhance the on stage performances of Winston’s banjo and give it the power to keep up to electric guitars bass and drums, Winston’s Eagle II Deering banjo is fitted with the superb Kavanjo electro acoustic banjo head pick up system.

If you were at the awards or watched the ITV show on Tuesday February 20th you will have seen Mumford and Sons win the award for the best British group!

Mumford & Sons

Coming from the West of London here in the UK, the brilliant folk rock band Mumford & Sons was formed in December 2007 and consists of multi instrumentalists Marcus Mumford (lead vocals, guitar, mandolin, drums), Winston Marshall (vocals, banjo, guitars, resonator guitar), Ben Lovett (vocals, keyboards, accordion, drums) and Ted Dwayn (vocals, upright bass, guitar, drums).

Winston Marshall

Mumford & Sons received two Grammy Award nominations in December 2010 for Best New Artist and Best Rock Song. The bands second studio album ‘Babel’ was released in September 2012 and was the fastest selling album of 2012 in the UK reaching number one in both the UK and USA charts. The album also went on to win ‘Album of the Year’ at the 2013 Grammy Awards.

Watch this space for more information on the Mumford & Sons ‘Gentlemen of The Road Stopover’ in Lewes, England on July 19th-20th.

Mumford and Sons

The Deering Eagle II banjo that Winston Marshall plays was named in respect of Eagle Music’s dedicated passion towards Deering Banjos. The serial number one Eagle II banjo was presented to Steve Noon our company owner, by Greg and Janet Deering at the Eagle Music Banjo 1000 event on Saturday March 20th 2010.

Steve Noon awarded with Eagle II Banjo

Another Deering banjo endorsee who gave a stunning performance at the 2013 Brit awards was the USA’s own superstar Taylor Swift. Taylor stunned everyone during her performance at the 2012 Grammy awards when she performed with her Deering Boston B6 6-string banjo. The Deering Boston B6 that Taylor plays is also fitted with the powerful Kavanjo electro acoustic banjo head pick up system. Taylor was the winner of two Grammy awards in 2012 for best country solo performance and best country song.

Taylor Swift

The Eagle II and the Boston B6 string Deering banjos are stock models that are available from Eagle Music shop. The Kavanjo pick up system is also available from Eagle Music and can be fitted to most banjos that are designed to be fitted with an 11” head.

Trust Tanglewood, New Banjo and Mandolin Range in Stock

We are delighted to announce the arrival of the new Tanglewood range of entry level / improver Banjos and Mandolins. The new range joins the Union and Cove Creek Series of Folk instruments.

The new range includes: Three 5-string models, two 4-String tenor models. one six string banjo, and five new mandolin models.

The specification relative to the retail price on this new range of entry level Tanglewood instruments is quite exceptional. Steve Noon our company owner is involved with and has a long standing relationship with Tanglewood UK in the production of all Tanglewood folk and acoustic instruments.


Steve has ensured that on the budget priced instruments, all the necessary elements that make an instrument ‘work’ are there for the player. eg. The banjos are built from natural maple, they have resonators fitted, they are fitted with an armrest (engraved) to comfort the player, they are fitted with Remo Weatherking banjo heads, they have fully bound fingerboards that are inlaid with side position dot markers. To make tuning easier for the beginner, all the banjos within the range are fitted with geared 5th string tuners rather than the unreliable friction type tuners that are found on many entry level instruments.

As an introductory special offer to our valued customers, we have put some excellent Bundle Packs together of these new instruments that include a range of FREE necessary accessories for the beginner.

Click Here to See the 5-String Banjo Pack

Click here to see the Irish Tenor Banjo Pack

Click on this link to See the full range at Tanglewood Guitars uk
You can trust Tanglewood!

Banjo buyers guide by Eagle Music including explanations of banjo types

Whether you are looking to start playing a Bluegrass 5-String Banjo, Frailing or Clawhammer Old Time Banjo, Open Back Banjo, Irish Tenor Banjo or Plectrum Banjo, Eagle Music will help you to make the right choice.

Original article written by Steve Noon, founder of Eagle Music, 2004

There are three critical but simple decisions that you our valued customer should make when buying a banjo:-

Buy from a Specialist Company… that will set up the instrument correctly
Eagle Music is Europe’s unrivalled leading banjo specialist shop

Buy the Best Quality instrument… that is within your budget
Eagle Music carry Europe’s largest selection of world class banjo brands

Choose the Correct Banjo… for the kind of music that you want to play
Eagle Music’s specialist musician sales team  will ensure this for you

The notes below will help you choose the banjo that is the right model for you.

Types of Banjo and the kind of Music that  is Played on them

There are many ‘types’ of Banjo that have been designed to suit specific kinds of music, these banjos will in general have either four, five or six strings. However, there are crossovers where one particular ‘type’ of banjo can be suitable for more than one ‘kind’ of music. We shall try to keep explanations relatively simple and deal with each of them in the notes below.

An important point to note for beginners is that some banjos are what are called ‘OPEN BACK’ and some banjos have what is called a ‘RESONATOR’ fitted, this banjo is also called ‘CLOSED BACK’. The ‘OPEN BACK’ is a quieter gentle banjo because some of its sound when playing is absorbed by the players clothing.

Whereby the ‘Resonator’ when fitted, helps to push most of the sound forward. Both banjos normally have the same neck and are tuned the same which means that any kind of music can be played on either banjo. However, in the 5-string banjo world BLUEGRASS players like powerful banjos with resonators fitted and the old time FRAILING and CLAWHAMMER players like the more gentle sound of the open back banjo.

5-String Banjo

The 5-string banjo is the most popular and in relative terms the easiest to learn to play as in most cases it is tuned to a ‘G’ chord …so that means that you can ‘play music’ by just brushing across the strings, when the banjo is in tune, that is.
Some types of popular music that are played on the 5-string banjo are as follows:-
Bluegrass, Frailing, Clawhammer, Old Time, 5-string Folk style, Classical etc.

5-String banjo Bluegrass Music style

Bluegrass players choose a powerful banjo that has a resonator fitted. Many bluegrass players play in the style of the USA legend Earl Scruggs. In this style, a thumb pick and two finger picks are fitted to the picking hand which then plays ‘rolls’ alternatively about the strings in what is called the ‘three finger picking style’. With much practise dexterity, solid timing and vibrant attack is achieved in producing the Bluegrass Banjo sound that you hear in American music like Duelling Banjos from the popular film Deliverance.

5-String banjo Clawhammer Style –  also closely related to Drop Thumb and Frailing  styles

Open Back banjos are chosen by players for this style of ‘Old Time’ Banjo Music, and to facilitate easier fingering, a number of different tunings are chosen by the ‘Old Time’ players to pick out fiddle tunes. This style is also most suitable for singers and vocal accompaniment. Thumb picks are generally not used, but some players do use a pick like the Fred Kelly Freedom Pick’ or the Perfect Touch Clawhammer Pick instead of the back of the natural nail.

This style is very popular in folk and mountain music circles. The desired banjo sound is gentle and mellow, deep and ‘plunky’ and some modifications can be made to the design of the banjo to give these desired requirements.

On some banjos like the Vega Old Tyme wonder, the Prucha Old Time, the OME Juniper and Jubilee Models or Gold Tone White Ladye models a ‘frailing scoop’ (removal of some frets and part of the fingerboard at the bottom of the neck) can be found on the banjo to facilitate the thumb on the ‘Clawhammer’ hand as it comes down to rest on 5th string and then ‘pick’ the 5th string. In the same rhythmic movement, the back of the nail on the picking finger … normally the third or first finger on the picking hand picks the tune out on the other four strings. With practise the frailing / clawhammer rhythm can be learnt quite easily by most players.

5-String banjo folk style

This style is a combination of clawhammer and “up picking” and was popularized by Pete Seeger. Played without finger picks and usually mixing melody playing with chords. Very often a long neck banjo is used because it may be tuned lower to better suit vocal ranges. There are many variations of this style and may be played on an open back or resonator banjo.

The 4-string Tenor Banjo

Tenor banjos are nearly always played with a plectrum (pick) and can be played in the strumming style along with single picked scale runs. It is the typical banjo for New Orleans style jazz sound or Irish traditional music.

The 4-string Tenor Banjos Jazz and General Styles

The four string banjo has a shorter neck than a five string as the tuning is higher 4C 3G 2D 1A and is an excellent rhythm instrument for jazz bands. A resonator is typically used, since the banjo’s sound must be loud and piercing to compete with other instruments in the band. Single string melodies can be played but chord melodies are more traditional. Popular jazz tenor banjo tuning is 4C 3G 2D 1A.

The 4-string Irish Tenor Banjo

The Irish Tenor banjo is the same instrument as a jazz tenor banjo and can have a seventeen or a  nineteen fret neck. The shorter neck allows a higher tuning so the songs are better suited to the keys of Irish music (G, D, A, E etc.). The style is played with a plectrum and often played with rapid single string melodies. The Irish tenor banjo can be fitted with or without a resonator, the sound desired is mellow but with attack. Popular Irish tenor banjo tuning is 4G 3D 2A 1E.

The Long Neck Banjo

As an absolute beginner looking at banjos, you might think that all 5-String banjo have a long neck! most  do in fact have a 22 fret neck but, there is a specific banjo called ‘the Long Neck banjo that was designed by Pete Seeger in the 1960s. this banjo has an extra three frets making it a 25 fret neck and around a 32” scale length (nut to bridge). it is tuned normally to E Which gives the banjo a powerful low tone. The idea of Pete’s design was for accompanying his singing in the lower keys, a style that has been copied and sought after by many aspiring banjo players to this very day.
You can place a capo on the third fret of this banjo and play in open G as on a normal 5-string banjo. Check out the Deering Vega Tubaphone and Woodsongs range and the Gold Tone Long Neck available from Eagle Music shop.

The Plectrum Banjo

The neck on a plectrum banjo has 22 frets and a Deering model has a scale length of around 27” (which is slightly longer than a 5-String banjo).
Some plectrum style players will use a five string neck but eliminate the fifth string. A plectrum may be used in jazz styles, melody chord styles or for just playing chord accompaniment for vocals.  It can be played with or without a resonator. Players usually use G tuning which is D G B D. However, it can be tuned C G B D or D G B E. The chords are easier to learn than on a Jazz tenor banjo.

Alternative Banjos

These include the six string banjo like the Deering Phoenix, Gold Tone Banjitars etc., the Banjo Mandolin, Bass Banjo, Ukulele Banjo, even Dobro Banjo. Most use a banjo-style body but neck and tuning is the same as the names they simulate. They allow non-banjoists to achieve a banjo tone without learning a new instrument.

Travel Banjo

A travel banjo is a smaller version of a standard size banjo. Check out the Deering Goodtime 19 fret Parlour 5-strings and 17 fret Tenor Banjo models. Also the Gold Tone range of travel banjos.

Contact our Technical Department

If you have any questions about the above notes or about banjos in general or any other musical instrument, please contact our banjo technical department at Eagle Music shop on 01484 661460

How Does your Banjo Ring and Frequently asked Questions. Author, Steve Noon, Cleckheaton, 1988

Banjo parts and adjustments, simple explanations of how they affect the sound and tone of your banjo.

Eagle’s answers

I have revised this article that I wrote back in 1988 during my Cleckheaton days with Dave Mallinson and David J Taylor after being asked so many questions about banjo set-ups by many banjo playing friends and customers. Also see our other specific blog articles relating to all banjo parts.

If you are a banjo player, you may already be afflicted by the ‘vellum pluckers’ condition. A condition which leaves you constantly asking yourself, “It’s not quite sounding right, is it? Or is it?” If you haven’t yet been afflicted, the following hints, adjustments and modifications will help you through some of the traumas. A banjo is different from most other stringed instruments: you could think of it as a mechanical ‘drum’, with many adjustable parts. So, as a banjo player, it will help you to develop your D.I.Y. and mechanical skills, along with your musical ones.

What kind of banjo do I need?

Choosing a banjo, we have many books, tapes and videos to take you from beginner to advanced player. You may ask “what kind of banjo do I need?” Here is a description of the most common banjos used today, and a simple explanation of the music they are chosen for.

The Tenor banjo

In the early 1900’s this banjo was designed and made for playing jazz music, it was tuned C4, G3, D2, A1 and either picked or strummed. This is the banjo that has been adapted for playing tunes in Irish and traditional music. In order to make the playing of fiddle tunes, jigs, reels etc. easy, we put heavier strings on the tenor banjo and ‘drop’ tune it to G4, D3, A2, E1. (The fiddle and mandolin are tuned to G4, D3, A2, E1, only an octave higher). Scales and tunes that are written for fiddle are now much easier to play. You can play the tunes on a ‘C’ or jazz tuned banjo, but it is much harder. Another golden rule when stringing ‘drop’ tuned banjos is ‘The shorter the scale length, the heavier the strings’. Tenor banjos come in standard scale (usually 19 fret) or short scale (usually 17 fret), the scale length is the distance between the nut and the bridge. They may be ‘open back’ or have a resonator fitted. The resonator was designed to increase the volume of the banjo. The resonator projects the sound forward.

The Five String Banjo

The earliest banjos that came from America (even earlier, from Africa!) reached maturity around the late 1800s. Many fine open back five-string banjos from this period can still be found today. The most popular five string models today have heavy tone rings and are fitted with a resonator. These banjos are chosen for playing bluegrass, folk and general banjo music. The most popular tuning is G (fifth drone string), D4, G3, B2, D1. Normally played with a plastic thumb pick and metal fingerpicks fitted to the first and second finger. Open back banjos have a more ‘gentle’ feel. They are a favourite type for frailing style. A point to note is that all five string banjo types can be used for bluegrass, frailing, old time and jazz. (In some cases you just tune the strings differently).

The Plectrum Banjo

This banjo has a neck as long as the five-string banjo but is fitted with only four strings. The instrument is ideal for chord work. You can ‘pick’ or ‘strum’ using a plectrum.

Heads, skins, vellums, which type do I need?

The skin, vellum or head This can be adjusted and tensioned like a drum. The choice of skin and tension applied will give a different sound to the banjo.
a) Clear plastic This head will give the loudest, bright thin sound.
b) Plastic head spray finished “Frosted Top” This head will give slightly less volume than the above, but with more “body”. These heads can be obtained with the sprayed on coating applied to the inside or the outside.
c) “Fiberskyn” plastic head This head will give less volume than the above heads but will give a rounder sound with much more body and depth. The sprayed on fibres are applied to the outside of the head to emulate a real vellum, but unlike the vellum, the fibre head is not affected by humidity.
d) Calf or goat skin vellum The vellum will give the traditional full bodied “mellow” sound, but remember that a vellum is affected by humidity and temperature. You can experiment with different heads and different head tensions to find your desired “personal” sound but remember, any adjustment on head tension will affect the height of the strings in relationship to the fingerboard, as the bridge moves with the head All the above heads and vellums are stock items at Eagle Music.

Bridge, how does it affect the sound of my banjo?

The bridge The bridge can alter the tone and the volume of your banjo. If you change your bridge from 1/2” to 5/8” you will get more volume. Don’t forget that this might, depending on your instrument, make the “action” (that is the distance you have to push the strings down to the frets) higher and more difficult. If you sand a bridge to give less area contact with the head, the tone will be “snappier”. You can also taper the bridge from the bass to the treble end to try to eliminate unwanted overtones and harmonics. Compensated 5 string bridges are also available. Maple and ebony bridges are supplied in various heights, also with bone inserts for a clearer sound. Remember, the bridge must be positioned on the head the same distance from the 12th fret as the 12th fret is from the nut. The bridge can be slightly angled to compensate for the heavier fourth string on a tenor or plectrum banjo, the distance at the fourth string thus being slightly greater than at the first string.

Tailpiece, how does this affect the sound?

The tailpiece The tailpiece plays a very important role in the tone and volume of your banjo. Its prime function is to anchor your strings. Its secondary function is to angle your strings to exert maximum pressure on the bridge in order that the bridge transmits sound into the banjo head. Adjustable “clam shell”, “Scruggs” type, “Kershner and “Nashville” types are available. Please enquire for prices.

Resonator, what is it’s function?

The resonator If you fit a resonator to your banjo, it will have more volume and will project the sound forward. Without a resonator, your banjo will be quieter and sound more mellow. A “frailing” banjo would not have a resonator.

Armrest, do I need one?

How can the arm rest affect the tone of a banjo? If an arm rest is fitted to your banjo, it can keep your arm from deadening the movement of the head, which could lower the potential volume of your instrument; also, it can he adjusted to alter the angle and position that you “attack” your strings, which brings in the… strings.

Strings, what type should I use?

Strings come in many different grades, materials and gauges, each of which gives a different sound and “feel” to your banjo. Experiment with all aspects to find your preferred tone and volume, but remember this brief note: thinner steel and nickel for more “clang” and “twang”, heavier wound bronze or phosphor bronze for a “warmer” sound with more body. Note that custom gauge sets can be made up at no extra cost Last but not least, the position that you strike your strings, what you strike them with and the pressure that YOU can exert accounts for much of your banjo’s tone and volume.

Plectrums, picks, The choice is yours

Plectrums, picks etc If you are a plectrum player, experiment with different shapes, thicknesses and materials. The nylon picks give a softer sound, the harder the pick the “chunkier” the sound. Remember this brief note: the closer you pick to the bridge, the harder the sound. The further you pick from the bridge, the mellower the sound. The “old masters” prefer to use a tortoise shell plectrum: I prefer to see the shells on the backs of the tortoises! Fingerpicks and thumbpicks likewise come in all shapes and forms. Again, experiment, although you don’t have as much choice as you have with plectra. Bluegrass players go for metal fingerpicks for attack and volume.

Vellum, how do I fit a new one?

Please note – these instructions apply to natural skin vellums only! Fitting a plastic head is much simpler. Basically, all you need to make sure of when fitting a plastic head is that you apply equal tension gradually, all round the circumference of the head, tightening up hooks evenly and symmetrically.

Fitting a Natural Skin ‘Banjo Vellum’.

When the time comes to fit a new vellum, it is also a good time to clean all the metal parts of your banjo and remove all grime and dust from the inside of the banjo rim! (The ‘rim’ is sometimes called the hoop) Vellums (Sometimes called ‘banjo heads’ or skins) are available at Eagle Music Shop in different qualities and types. Calf skin and goat skins are the most popular …natural white calf skins are the most expensive. Order a skin that is larger in diameter than the banjo rim, normally 30mm excess all around is sufficient, this allowance is for pulling around the flesh band (sometimes called the vellum wire), and gives you some leeway for cutting off and finishing the job neatly on the inside of the bezel (sometimes called the stretcher band or hoop).

Firstly study how your banjo ‘pot’ (The pot is the whole assembly) is assembled (If you have a camera, take some photos to remind you later) note the position of the bezel in relation to the neck, tailpiece and rim. (Banjo parts can be distorted and ‘out of round’ from years of use or abuse!).

Remove the strings from your banjo and commence to strip down the ‘pot’. Keep all the tensioning hooks (Sometimes called brackets or ‘J’ hooks) and nuts as they are matched (This makes it easier to assemble later, as threads can differ from one hook to another)
Take some time out here to clean all the metal parts …Take care with plated parts, and do not use abrasives on gold or thin nickel plating.

Now is the fun part …To Mount Your New Vellum on The Flesh Band/Vellum Wire
Study the new vellum and note which is the ‘face’ and which is the ‘back’. The ‘face’ is normally smooth and the ‘back’ is normally rough. This is very important, as I have seen a fair number of vellums fitted the wrong way around!

Have a large clean towel at the ready, laid out on a flat area …Fill a large clean bowl with fresh clean cold water. Immerse the vellum completely in the bowl of water and leave until the vellum is supple, this normally takes about ten minutes depending on the thickness of the vellum. Remove the vellum from the water and shake off the excess water, place the vellum ‘face’ side up on the flat towel. Visually check that there are no wrinkles in the vellum and feel that the vellum is supple. Place the ‘flesh band’ (Sometimes called the vellum wire) central on the vellum leaving an equal amount of surplus skin around the edges. Holding the bezel above the ‘flesh band’, start to fold the surplus skin up and around the outside of the ‘flesh band’ and at the same time folding and tucking it inside the bezel and working in a circle motion around the whole circumference of the bezel. Visually check all around the vellum for evenness.

Now working with the hoop on your banjo…evenly spaced around your banjo’s hoop, fit half a dozen of your banjo’s tension hooks and nuts. Ensure that they are loosely fitted and ready to accept your new vellum. Now place your new vellum, flesh band and bezel assembly onto your banjo hoop. Here you can note if your bezel has a weld joint and position this to be hidden underneath your tailpiece. Position the vellum assembly carefully and evenly around the hoop and locate the six tension hooks in position …do not over tighten the tension hooks at this stage but visually check that they are evenly pulling down on the vellum. Seeing that no folds or wrinkles appear …ease the vellum up and under the bezel and ensure that there are no overlaps or folds as it passes over the ‘flesh band’. Gently press down in the centre of the vellum to give a little ‘slack’ in the vellum for later tensioning after the vellum has dried. Visually check again that the bezel is pulling down even and gently tighten the six tension hooks to leave the bezel slightly higher than the face of the vellum …The bezel will be tightened down to it’s final position when the banjo is assembled before being finally ‘set up’ for playing. Have a last final check that the vellum is evenly stretched and that there are no wrinkles or folds evident.

Now lay the whole pot assembly on one side in a clean dry position, in a cool dry room. Under no circumstances should you use a ‘hair dryer’ or any form of heat to speed up the drying process. Leave for at least twenty four hours, best to leave even longer to ensure that the whole of the new vellum is dry. Please Note: The part of the vellum under the bezel will take much longer to dry than the face of the vellum, so don’t rush the process when you ‘feel’ that the face of the vellum is dry!

After a day or so, remove the vellum from the hoop by undoing the six fitted tension hooks. Leave the vellum ‘off’ the hoop for a further few hours, this will allow the mating parts to further dry out. The vellum should not feel ‘tacky’ and should not stick to the hoop. If you try to fit a vellum that is not completely dry, you can cause distortion of the vellum or even cause it to split. When you are quite sure that the vellum is completely dry, this is the time to finish off the vellum by trimming the excess skin from the inside of the bezel. Use a sharp ‘Stanley’ type knife for this process, it is also good practise to protect the face of the vellum with a thin piece of card or plastic (a piece of old banjo head is ideal for this purpose) as you work around the circumference of the bezel.

Now to Fit Your New Vellum to Your Banjo Rim

Sprinkle some French chalk on the inside of the vellum in the area where it locates with the rim, and shake of the excess before offering it to the rim. Note the orientation of the bezel and place any welding joints in position so that the tailpiece will cover the join. Fit all tensioning hooks and nuts until finger tight. Working diagonally and evenly, tension each hook and nut so that the bezel pulls the vellum down evenly. ‘Correct’ vellum tension is a personal choice. However, the vellum needs to be tight enough so that when pressed with your thumbs, you feel a reasonable tension and no sign of ‘sagginess’. Experience will teach you how tight your vellum needs to be. Please do not hesitate to contact our technical department at ‘Eagle Music Shop’ if you need more information.

The Banjo Head, Vellum or Skin (As it may Be Called) – a guide by Eagle Music

Banjo Heads, Frosted Top, Mylar, Fiberskyn, Renaissance, Remo, Calf Skin all explained by Eagle Music

For simplification we shall refer to it as the BANJO HEAD. There are many types of Banjo Heads in differing materials and finishes. The most popular modern banjo head is the mylar type plastic head. This head is supplied in different finishes/coatings, each of which gives the banjo a different sound. The banjo head is tensioned like a drum and gives a different sound to the banjo throughout its tension range. In general a slack head is plunky with more depth of tone, whilst a tight head is brighter with a sharper tone. The choice of banjo head and the tension that you apply will influence your banjo’s tone and volume level.

Clear plastic

This uncoated head will give a loud, bright thinner sound but with excellent sustain. A consideration when choosing this head is that you will be able to see directly into the ‘pot’ of your banjo exposing all the inside workings!

Smooth Top – Frosted Bottom

This head is popular with tenor and plectrum banjo players in that the smooth top of the head is not offensive to the brushing of the hand over the head, it is quieter when they strum their banjo and pass their hand or plectrum over the head in the process. The spray coated / frosted bottom gives good bass and more depth of tone than a clear head.

Frosted Top – Smooth Bottom

This head is the most popular with 5-string banjo players and is the first choice for most bluegrass banjos. The spray finished frosted top gives the banjo a crisp bright tone with good depth and distinct note separation, not too much sustain and overtones. The frosting also helps to anchor the bridge in place and gives extra stability to the player that rests one or two fingers of his or her picking hand on the head. Another little tip if you don’t like the feel of the frosted top around the areas where your hand touches the head, and one that I do myself, is to lightly sand the head with a piece of smoothish grade (350) wet and dry.

Fiberskyn

This head has fibres sprayed onto the top of the head, which also gives it a look of a natural skin vellum. This thicker finished head has a quieter, warm and rounder ‘plunkier’ sound that is favoured by old time, clawhammer and frailing players. Unlike a natural vellum, the Fiberskyn head is not affected by damp weather and humidity.

Renaissance

This head has a smooth opaque top with an attractive honey colour. This head will give your banjo a clear bright tone with excellent quality of depth and sustain.

Black

This thicker head gives a mellow tone with lots of depth (bass response) and excellent sustain.

Natural Calf Skin or Goat Skin Vellum

The natural vellum is the traditional banjo head that was the only one available head during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The natural vellum has a warm, mellow full bodied banjo sound, the down side being that it is considerably affected by temperature and humidity! On a warm day the head tightens, on a damp day the head slackens, all this affects the action of your banjo, so you have to consider the following when experimenting with different banjo heads. If you tighten your head it will raise your action because the banjo ‘Bridge’ will move with the head, and likewise if you slacken your banjo head your action will lower.

Also See our Technical Notes Fitting a Natural Skin Banjo Vellum.

How to fit a Natural Skin Banjo Vellum – a guide by Eagle Music

How to fit a natural calf or goat skin vellum to your banjo.

When the time comes to fit a new vellum, it is also a good time to clean all the metal parts of your banjo and remove all grime and dust from the inside of the banjo rim! (The ‘rim’ is sometimes called the hoop) Vellums (Sometimes called ‘banjo heads’ or skins) are available at Eagle Music Shop in different qualities and types. Calf skin and goat skins are the most popular. Natural white calf skins are the most expensive. Order a skin that is larger in diameter than the banjo rim, normally 30mm excess all around is sufficient, this allowance is for pulling around the flesh band (sometimes called the vellum wire), and gives you some leeway for cutting off and finishing the job neatly on the inside of the bezel (sometimes called the stretcher band or hoop).

Firstly study how your banjo ‘pot’ (The pot is the whole assembly) is assembled (If you have a camera, take some photos to remind you later) note the position of the bezel in relation to the neck, tailpiece and rim. (Banjo parts can be distorted and ‘out of round’ from years of use or abuse!).

Remove the strings from your banjo and commence to strip down the ‘pot’. Keep all the tensioning hooks (Sometimes called brackets or ‘J’ hooks) and nuts as they are matched (This makes it easier to assemble later, as threads can differ from one hook to another)
Take some time out here to clean all the metal parts. Please Note: Take care with plated parts, and do not use abrasives on gold or thin nickel plating.

Now is the fun part, To Mount Your New Vellum on The Flesh Band/Vellum Wire.

Study the new vellum and note which is the ‘face’ and which is the ‘back’. The ‘face’ is normally smooth and the ‘back’ is normally rough. This is very important, as I have seen a fair number of vellums fitted the wrong way around!

Have a large clean towel at the ready, laid out on a flat area. Fill a large clean bowl with fresh clean cold water. Immerse the vellum completely in the bowl of water and leave until the vellum is supple, this normally takes about ten minutes depending on the thickness of the vellum. Remove the vellum from the water and shake off the excess water, place the vellum ‘face’ side up on the flat towel. Visually check that there are no wrinkles in the vellum and feel that the vellum is supple. Place the ‘flesh band’ (Sometimes called the vellum wire) central on the vellum leaving an equal amount of surplus skin around the edges. Holding the bezel above the ‘flesh band’, start to fold the surplus skin up and around the outside of the ‘flesh band’ and at the same time folding and tucking it inside the bezel and working in a circle motion around the whole circumference of the bezel. Visually check all around the vellum for evenness.

Now working with the hoop on your banjo, evenly spaced around your banjo’s hoop, fit half a dozen of your banjo’s tension hooks and nuts. Ensure that they are loosely fitted and ready to accept your new vellum. Now place your new vellum, flesh band and bezel assembly onto your banjo hoop. Here you can note if your bezel has a weld joint and position this to be hidden underneath your tailpiece. Position the vellum assembly carefully and evenly around the hoop and locate the six tension hooks in position. Note: do not over tighten the tension hooks at this stage but visually check that they are evenly pulling down on the vellum. Seeing that no folds or wrinkles appear and ease the vellum up and under the bezel and ensure that there are no overlaps or folds as it passes over the ‘flesh band’. Gently press down in the centre of the vellum to give a little ‘slack’ in the vellum for later tensioning after the vellum has dried. Visually check again that the bezel is pulling down even and gently tighten the six tension hooks to leave the bezel slightly higher than the face of the vellum. The bezel will be tightened down to it’s final position when the banjo is assembled before being finally ‘set up’ for playing. Have a last final check that the vellum is evenly stretched and that there are no wrinkles or folds evident.

Now lay the whole pot assembly on one side in a clean dry position, in a cool dry room. Under no circumstances should you use a ‘hair dryer’ or any form of heat to speed up the drying process. Leave for at least twenty four hours, best to leave even longer to ensure that the whole of the new vellum is dry. Please Note: The part of the vellum under the bezel will take much longer to dry than the face of the vellum, so don’t rush the process when you ‘feel’ that the face of the vellum is dry!

After a day or so, remove the vellum from the hoop by undoing the six fitted tension hooks. Leave the vellum ‘off’ the hoop for a further few hours, this will allow the mating parts to further dry out. The vellum should not feel ‘tacky’ and should not stick to the hoop. If you try to fit a vellum that is not completely dry, you can cause distortion of the vellum or even cause it to split. When you are quite sure that the vellum is completely dry, this is the time to finish off the vellum by trimming the excess skin from the inside of the bezel. Use a sharp ‘Stanley’ type knife for this process, it is also good practise to protect the face of the vellum with a thin piece of card or plastic (a piece of old banjo head is ideal for this purpose) as you work around the circumference of the bezel.

Now to Fit Your New Vellum to Your Banjo Rim

Sprinkle some French chalk on the inside of the vellum in the area where it locates with the rim, and shake of the excess before offering it to the rim. Note the orientation of the bezel and place any welding joints in position so that the tailpiece will cover the join. Fit all tensioning hooks and nuts until finger tight. Working diagonally and evenly, tension each hook and nut so that the bezel pulls the vellum down evenly. Correct vellum tension is a personal choice. However, the vellum needs to be tight enough so that when pressed with your thumbs, you feel a reasonable tension and no sign of ‘sagginess’.

Experience will teach you how tight your vellum needs to be. Please do not hesitate to contact our technical department at Eagle Music Shop if you need more information. Tel:01484 661460

How often should you change the strings on your banjo, guitar, mandolin etc?

We are often asked the question ‘How often should I change my Strings’?
In the following notes, Eagle Music  gives examples of how strings are affected by different players and how they react to usage. How strings ‘work’ and the frequency that you should change them.

There are many answers to this question and it all depends on the player. A professional player who works his strings hard, may change strings for every performance to insure against string breakage during a live performance. A general rule for all players, is to change your strings when they have lost their tone and tune-ability.

Strings have a different tolerance to each individual player. Some players have dry hands and can make their strings last longer, and some players have ‘rusty fingers’ that corrode strings fairly quickly. It’s all relative to how much acid and skin debris you deposit on your strings from your fingers.

The strings are a ‘disposable’ part on your banjo and relatively inexpensive. They greatly affect the tuning, tone, power and projection of your banjo. A new set of strings can transform your instrument and the enjoyment that you will get from it.

Here are some notes for your consideration:

  • New strings are brighter with better tone and volume
  • New strings tune easily
  • Some players like their strings to be ‘played in’ for a week or so, at which time the tone mellows
  • Old ‘dying’ strings are difficult to tune, have poor tone and volume
  • Low cost ‘budget’ strings wear out and die quickly
  • Nickel strings are bright and metallic
  • Phosphor bronze strings have a warmer tone
  • Nickel wound strings last longer than phosphor bronze wound and are less reactive to players who have ‘rusty fingers’

String cleaners eg. Fast-Fret and Kyser prolong string life and keep strings brighter for longer – Use before and after each playing session.

Coated strings eg. Elixir last longer but some players don’t like the ‘feel’ of the coating.

Changing the strings on your Banjo, Mandolin, Guitar, Ukulele etc – advice from Eagle Music

Eagle Music explains here all the do’s and don’ts when fitting a new set of strings to your instrument. It is important that you understand that the weight, size and tension of your strings affects the set-up and action of your instrument.

First, I offer you this simple advice, invest in a string winder. A string winder will take all the work out of string changing and as an added bonus it will speed up the process! I insist that string winders are used at all times in our workshop, this ensures that our customers get a lower priced bill when it comes to the cost of paying for workshop time!

In the following notes, I shall assume that you are a right handed person, and that you are going to change the strings and then tune your instrument to standard tuning. The string set that we are using in the example is our most popular standard Eagle-Puretone set as follows, 1st also referred to as the ‘top’ -string is the furthest away from your chin when holding your instrument in the playing position. (If your instrument is part of the mandolin family, you will have a pair of 1st strings) The ‘bottom string’ is the string that is nearest your chin.

The string numbers eg.’9’ or ‘12’ refer to the diameter of the strings and they are measured in imperial measurement, which is used by the USA manufacturers (Not Metric) a ‘9’ for example measures .009” (which is nine thousandth’s of an inch in diameter)

Also take note before changing your strings what gauge of string set is already on your instrument, if your instrument is correctly set-up, the nut will have been cut to suit the gauge of strings that are already on your instrument. Changing up to heavier strings, without having your top nut cut to suit, can cause the thicker strings to bind in the nut. Slight binding can be cured by rubbing a little graphite into the slot (an HB graphite pencil or softer is fine)

Remove your Old strings

Please Note: Your instrument is ‘SET UP’ under tension, so it is a good idea when string changing, not to take all your strings off at the same time. Change one at a time. Slacken off your 1st string and unwind it from the capstan/pillar on your tuning peg, then remove the string from the tailpiece or bridge saddle.

Attach the new string to the tailpiece or bridge saddle, note from the remaining old strings that are still on your instrument, how the strings fit to your tailpiece or bridge. For example: Tailpieces on banjos come in many designs and on some tailpieces the string lays across the top/front of the tailpiece.

Hold some tension on the string to keep it attached to the tailpiece/bridge, as you lay it along your fingerboard and feed it through the hole in the pillar on your tuning peg, pull the string through the pillar with your left hand until there is no ‘slack’ on the string. Keep tension on the string with your left hand. Some of this excess that is now pulled through your pillar will be ‘cut off’ when you have tuned the string to its correct pitch.

At this stage you need to give yourself some ‘slack’ on the string, this ‘slack’ will allow you to put at last three turns around the pillar/capstan on your tuning peg. To do this, keep hold of the string with your left hand pull tension on the string. Then place your right hand index, middle and ring fingers behind the string near the pillar with the back of your fingers touching the instrument and ‘clamp’ the string against your fingers with your right hand thumb. Still holding tension on the string with your left hand, transfer your grip to hold the tension of the string now with your right hand.

Turn your right hand approximately ninety degrees with your index finger remaining in contact with your instrument, this action will pull some ‘slack’ back through the pillar. At this point ‘kink’ the string to ‘dog-leg’ the string as it enters and leaves the hole in the pillar, now in the same motion wind the string around the pillar to take up some of the ‘slack’ that you are holding in your right hand. Note the direction that the string winds around the pillar. It will be wound in the same direction as the old SECOND string that is still attached to your instrument. (Anti clockwise, assuming that the old string was fitted correctly!)

Tuning the 1st String

Carrying on from iii. above and still holding tension on the string with your right hand to keep it attached to the tailpiece, move you left hand to the tuning peg button and start to wind tension onto the string. At this point note that the string is located in its groove in the nut of your instrument, also that you are turning the tuning peg in the correct direction …you can see the pillar rotating as you wind the tuner peg. Carry on turning the tuner button until you take up all the ‘slack’ from your right hand. Then continue to ‘tune’ the 1st string to pitch. A clip-on electronic tuner is very useful for this operation, also to speed up the operation, use of a ‘string winder’ which is very helpful. At this stage you can ‘cut off’ the excess from the string …always tune your string BEFORE cutting off the excess. A small pair of wire cutters is a handy tool to have in your instrument bag, or you may want to invest in a state-of-the-art ‘string speed winder’ that has a pair of clippers on the end of the winder. For neatness, clip the string close to the pillar leaving approximately 6mm (¼”) Angle the remaining part of the string towards the neck face to avoid spiking yourself, but ensure that it does not touch the face of the neck which can scratch the finish when it is being wound.

Fitting and Tuning the 2nd, 3rd 4th etc. Strings

Fit the 2nd string using the same method as the first string and tune it to pitch. Fit the 3rd string in a similar way and tune it to pitch. Note that it winds around the pillar in the correct direction. Then fit the wound 4th string and tune it to pitch. Note also that the fourth string winds around the pillar in the correct direction. Carry on with the remainder of your strings with the same method. NOTE: NEVER cut the excess off a wound string before it is tuned to pitch, doing so can cause the string to unwind and loosen it’s winding along the length of the string.

5-string Banjos Only:-

Fitting and tuning the 5th or Octave String

The fifth or ‘octave’ string is attached to the tailpiece in the same manner as your other four strings, but it will have a guide on the neck of your banjo, it may also have a plastic ‘sleeve’ that fits onto the string to protect the side of your banjo neck. Take note of such things when you remove your old 5th string. Again ensure that you give it enough ‘slack’ when fitting to allow at least three turns around the pillar of the tuner button. The fifth string is tuned to high ‘G’ which is an octave above your 3rd ‘G’ string.

I have written these notes as simply as I could to help the beginner. I have tried my best to write down and explain the way that I change my own instrument strings! String changing is very much a ‘knack’ and I am certain that you will develop your own ‘knack’ of changing your strings based on the above notes.

Banjo Care & Maintenance – Looking after your Banjo

We are often asked how do I look after my banjo?  and how do I clean it?
Here Eagle Music answers in simple terms the important do’s and don’ts regarding general care of your banjo, storing, cleaning and transporting your banjo safely.

Eagle Music Shop has a fully equipped on-site workshop facility and offers a full set-up and repair service for stringed instruments.

Storing

In general musical instruments like the same environment as their player, they need conditions where it is not too hot or hot and certainly not wet or damp!
keep your instrument clean and free from dust, dirt and moisture. In a UK home, its OK to leave your instrument on a stand between playing sessions, in fact we encourage this as it makes you pick up the instrument more frequently to play and practise. Buy a decent quality stand to keep your instrument ‘out of the way’ in a corner of the room. Never leave it near a radiator or in a window where direct sunlight can fall upon the instrument and bake it! Also, never leave your banjo stored in a cold or damp place eg. cellar, loft or out in the garage!

Cleaning

Each time you have played your instrument give it a wipe over with a lint free cloth to remove finger marks. the strings can be cleaned with Fast Fret, martin or Dr Kyser string cleaning lubricant.All these care products can be bought ‘off-the-shelf’ from Eagle Music. From time to time you may want to polish your instrument, always check that this is suitable for the finish on your instrument eg. On a modern gloss finish, always choose a non-smear wax free polish. Always remove finger and body marks from Nickel plated or gold plated hardware and use the special impregnated cleaning cloths that are available for this purpose. Never use abrasive cleaners as this can remove the plating! Chrome hardware is much easier to keep clean and is much harder wearing.

Transporting

Care of your instrument during transportation really depends on where it is being transported to, and how it is being transported. Hard-shell cases and Gig bags have their pros and cons. It can be said that a padded gig bag is sufficient to take your instrument out to the pub or a jam session.But please note:- when using a gig bag, you must always remember that your instrument can still be damaged if you don’t take extreme care of how you handle it, how you put it down and where you leave it as other persons can sit on your gig bag! Also, If you are a gigging musician, It wouldn’t be a good idea to put your gig bag and instrument in the back of a van or in the boot of a car with PA gear and other hard objects! We recommend a hard-shell case always for gigging musicians. If you’re traveling by air we recommend a hard-shell or even better a flight case. Also, for added protection its a good idea to ‘bubble wrap’ your hard-shell case before letting it go in the hold of an airplane, the handling of baggage at airports can be very rough! Our Hiscox range of lite-flight cases is excellent or you could have a more expensive flight case made by Keith Calton.

Check out our Black-Ice and Extreme Protection range of well thought out quality gig bags. For hard-shell cases check out our Leader, Hiscox, Deering, TKL, Original and Kinsman etc. range of top quality brands.

Defining the parts of the Banjo – A guide by Eagle Music

What is a Banjo Rim, Tailpiece, Banjo Tone Ring, Pot, Tension Hoop, Coordinating Rod, Banjo Vellum, head, Banjo Flange, Planetary Geared Tuners, Neck Truss Rod ?  All these and more banjo parts are demystified and explained here by Deering and Eagle Music.

In the following notes, we shall use for example, the USA built Deering Banjo models to explain materials chosen for parts and general banjo build quality.

The Banjo Rim or Pot

Maple has long been used to make banjo pots because of its fine grain, strength and bright clear tone on stringed instruments. The entire violin family instruments use maple for their backs and sides. All Deering banjos have solid violin maple rims. Steinway and other quality brand pianos use maple for the pin blocks of their pianos. Bowling alleys are commonly made of maple for its hardness and durability.

Some far eastern made banjos have soft aluminium or plywood rims that do not have the sparkle, brightness or clarity of the USA built banjos. Deering uses a steel rim on the Boston series banjos. Tap on a disassembled aluminium rim and you hear a “clunk”. Tap on a disassembled Deering steel rim and it rings brightly, clearly and long. Soft aluminium has little or no musicality. It is a reasonable building material but has a poor musical tone. Likewise, many of the Far Eastern made banjos have wooden rims made of softer plywood. The softer, porous wood does not have the hardness, fine grain structure or tone character of a musical quality hard wood like violin maple.

The Banjo Head

The most popular banjo head size is 11” high crown. Types of heads: Top frosted, clear, fiberskyn, Kevlar, bottom frosted, black and Renaissance. Top frosted heads are brightest and crispest. Clear heads are bright with more sustain. Black shiny heads are mellow, warm and soft with more sustain. Fiberskyn heads are warm and plunky with less sustain. Bottom frosted heads have good sustain with nice bass response, not as bright as top frosted. Kevlar is snappy and responds a bit like an arch top banjo due to its stiffness and thickness. Heads can be used to achieve certain sounds and looks. Heads come in three crown heights (height of the playing surface above the head’s stretcher band, the rim around the edge of the head.) high, medium and low. High are medium are the most common and the easiest to find. For example, all Deering made banjos work with High and Medium crown heads.

The Tailpiece

Good quality banjos have adjustable tailpieces (except for many of the ‘‘old time ‘‘ banjos like the Deering Vega Old Time Wonder that has a small fixed tailpiece for traditional appearance and sound.) The best adjustable tailpiece has no resonance of its own, so it should not be made of brass, bronze or hard steel that would ring and interferes with the tone of the rim and tone ring. For example, all USA made Deering, Goodtime and Tenbrooks banjos have the Deering adjustable tailpiece made of a non-resonant alloy.

Bracket Shoes and Flanges

Deering Goodtime banjos have zinc alloy bracket shoes and Deering resonator banjos have zinc alloy resonator flanges that also do not interfere with the tone of the rim and tone ring. Zinc alloys are acoustically dead so these critically functional parts do their job helping support the head tension, without infusing any unwanted and interfering sounds to the banjo.

Brackets and Nuts

These parts must be made of steel for strength and durability and have consistent threading to make adjustments accurate and controllable. These parts are “isolated” from the rim by the zinc flange or bracket shoes and also by the banjo head that is held in place by the tension hoop (or stretcher band as it is sometimes called). which is also isolated by the stretched head.

The Tension Hoop / Stretcher Band

Deering tension hoops are brass or steel and Goodtime tension hoops are steel. Both are isolated from sound interference by the banjo head.

The Coordinator Rod(s)

These rods need to be solid, and made of a strong yet non-interfering alloy. All Deering, Goodtime, Vega and Tenbrooks have solid rods of this same alloy. Many traditional banjos have brass rods which interfere with the tone even though this is a traditional metal used for this part.

The Tone Ring

Tone rings come in many designs and alloys. Some banjos do not have a tone ring but stretch the head over the wood or metal rim. Bluegrass style banjos (like the Deering Sierra) have a bell bronze tone ring that weighs 2-3 pounds and is precisely fitted to a three ply violin maple rim. Historically, Maple is the most accepted rim material in banjo building. Old time music banjos are commonly open back, with tone rings made of brass and the tone rings are lighter in weight. Some entry level banjos have steel tone rings that have a bright, responsive sound and feel. Many import banjos advertise a “bluegrass style tone ring” but don’t tell you what kind of metal they are. Most of these are “pot metal” or zinc alloy, which, while appropriate for a flange or shoe, is inferior in tone to the USA built tone rings. Even the import banjos with “brass” tone rings can have cheap die cast tone rings that do not have the correct grain structure or alloy for the best musical vibration and yet these banjos can sometimes cost as much as a good American made banjo.

The term ‘Banjo Pot’ refers to the rim with all the parts that are assembled around it.

The Neck

The shape: Though a good feel of a neck is subjective, the neck must “feel” good to the player. It must make the strings feel easy to push down with as little effort as possible. Generally, thick, bulky, poorly shaped necks can be found on some far Eastern banjos and are more difficult to play. However, thickness alone, does not make a neck feel bad or “great”. The “great” feeling neck has subtle shape characteristics that are difficult to put in words, but instantly discernible by the human hand. Certain curves, slopes and shapes, when artistically combined are comfortable. Neck shapes have been developed to a shape that has optimum playability by the great American banjo companies like Deering.

The material: Mahogany and Maple are the two most popular banjo neck woods currently in use. Walnut, Koa and Rosewood are also used but not quite as popular. Import banjos often use terms like “Mahogany stained hardwood” to include the word “mahogany” to mask what wood is actually being used.

Tuning Machines – Banjo Pegs

The best tuning machines are geared for smooth, easy tuning. Some inexpensive banjos have friction pegs that are difficult to tune and frustrating for the novice player. Tuning machines with buttons that stick out to the side of the peghead are usually referred to as “guitar style” tuners. Geared tuning machines that stick straight back from the peghead are called “planetary style” tuning machines. The term planetary refers to the arrangement of the gears in the tuner that surround other gears much like the formation of the planets in the solar system.

Truss Rod

The truss rod in the neck of a banjo controls the  ‘‘relief ‘‘ or subtle curvature of a banjo neck and helps counter act the pressure of the strings to help prevent warping and twisting. An adjustable truss rod can be used to change the “playability” of a neck by allowing the neck to curve a little more or by flattening the neck out a bit more. Players with a hard attack generally need a little more “relief” in the neck and players with a lighter touch generally like a slightly flatter neck.

The Nut

The top nut is usually made of a hard material like, bone, ebony, mother of pearl, Formica or other synthetic material and guides the strings through slots  over the finger board so they are separated evenly and in correct relationship to the width of the fingerboard. The nut is  ‘cut ‘ to a depth for the strings to give the best  ‘‘action ‘‘ in the first position.

The Position Markers / Inlays

The dots or other inlays are used as reference points on the finger board to tell the player at what frets certain notes are found. Dots and fancy inlays are the same in function but only different in cosmetic appeal. Side  ‘position’ dot markers are found on the side of the neck on some banjos.

The Frets

Frets are usually made of nickel silver and are either pressed into the fingerboard or pressed and glued in. They are shaped sort of like a round topped  ‘T ‘ with tiny barbs on the tang to grip the fingerboard slots they are pressed into. Frets can be jumbo or narrow as found on vintage banjos. Some higher end custom banjos have stainless steel frets.

The Banjo ArmRest – Different types and how they fit

The prime aim of the banjo armrest is to give the player comfort on the wrist/arm of the picking hand. There are many different designs and styles of armrests. Most banjo arm rests are designed to fit on banjos in relation to the number of tension hooks (sometimes called brackets) on the banjo.

The traditional Gibson type flat armrest can have one or two brackets for fixing it to your banjo. These brackets are spaced to span over the tension hooks on your banjo. The brackets on the armrest have a flat metal bar that positions behind two tension hooks and clamps to the tension hooks via a hexagon screw that when adjusted pulls the bracket tight against the hooks.
the Deering banjo armrest is similar to the Original.

Some armrests are versatile and will fit on banjos that have 18 or 24 tension hooks, whilst others are designed purely to fit a specific number of tension hooks.

The old vega style ‘Wire’ armrest that can be bought from eagle Music is very versatile in that it will fit OPEN BACK banjos that have any numb oog tension hooks from 12 to 34
Please click on this link  to view our arm rest selection [coming soon]
Banjo sound and volume …Fitting an armrest can also affect the tone of a banjo in that it can restrict your arm from resting on the banjo head and deadening the movement of the head. Any body contact (arm, hand fingers) with your banjo head will lower the volume  of your banjo.
Most armrests can be adjusted for height to give the player the optimum position for your style of playing. All players have a different way that they ‘attack’ their strings.

Please call us to ask which arm rest is suitable for your banjo.

Banjo heads

THE BANJO BRIDGE and Its Function

The banjo bridge does exactly as its name suggests …it forms a bridge for the strings to pass over the banjo head and transmits sound from your strings into the banjo head. Bridges are available in different heights and they are measured in imperial measurement …The most popular three heights being 1/2”, 5/8” and 11/16”The most popular bridges are made from AAA grade  maple with an ebony top. Some bridges have inserts made from bone or plastic to help give a brighter tone.

Tone, Volume and Action

Changing your bridge will alter and affect the tone and volume of your banjo, it may also alter the ‘action’ of your banjo! (The ‘action’ is the distance that your strings are from the frets of your instrument. Your strings will be easier to press down when you have a ‘low’ action. However, the ‘action’ should not be set so low that you get ‘fret buzz’)
In general the simple rule is: Low Bridge = Low Volume High bridge = More Volume.
5/8” is the optimum and most popular bridge height.
Note: Some novice players think that the height of the bridge is for setting the ‘action’ of their banjo …this is not the case! The action is set by adjusting the ‘neck angle’ on a banjo.
However, in some cases where the banjo neck angle cannot be adjusted that only way to change the action of the banjo is to alter the height of the bridge.

Banjo Intonation

The intonation of your banjo is affected by the position of your bridge. The rule is that the bridge is positioned on the banjo head twice the distance of the measurement from the inside of the nut to the 12th fret. On a 5-string banjo the bridge is generally positioned square, but on tenor and plectrum banjos it helps intonation to set the bridge at a slight angle giving the heavier gauge fourth string a greater distance than the thinner plain first string. The bridge should sit flat and square making full contact with the banjo head.

Shape of Banjo Bridges

You can buy ‘Of the shelf’ Compensated 5 string bridges, some of which compensate the length of all the five strings and others that only compensate the length of the third string. Modifications to the shape of a bridge can alter the sound of your banjo eg. if you ‘thin’ your bridge by sanding it, this will give your bridge lesser contact with your banjo head and the result will be a brighter ‘snappier’ tone, many plectrum banjo and uke banjo players do this. Unwanted harmonics and overtones can ‘sometimes’ be suppressed by sanding the bridge thinner towards the treble end.

Resonators

The resonator If you fit a resonator to your banjo, it will have more volume and will project the sound forward. Without a resonator, your banjo will be quieter and sound more mellow. A “frailing” banjo would not have a resonator.

Tailpieces

The tailpiece The tailpiece plays a very important role in the tone and volume of your banjo. Its prime function is to anchor your strings. Its secondary function is to angle your strings to exert maximum pressure on the bridge in order that the bridge transmits sound into the banjo head. Adjustable “clam shell”, “Scruggs” type, “Kershner and “Nashville” types are available. Please enquire for prices.

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