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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Banjo too resonant..need help


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Jaffa - Posted - 10/15/2012:  13:04:26



I've had my banjo over a year but it doesn't quite produce the sound I want. It was custom made for me with a shorter neck. The neck is made of new wood but the hoop is old (around 50 yrs old I think). It is good quality. The skin is synthetic, a Remo Weatherking opaque type. The strings are steel, medium gauge i think.



My problem is that the banjo sounds too resonant (too much like a guitar) despite being open backed, and the sound isn't short, twangy and 'snappy' enough for my liking. Any suggestions what might be causing this, and advice how to obtain the sound I want would be welcome. Apologies for my lack of tech speak, I've just taken up playing again after being banjo-less for about 20 years!!



Jane :)


banjo bill-e - Posted - 10/15/2012:  13:09:55


That is why many of us stuff the pot with anything that you can think of. Socks, chunks of foam, small towels, etc. Some also put various kinds of tape below or behind the bridge. Lots of threads about that subject here. I suggest lots or reading and experimenting to find a sound that you like. The other route is a skin head and/or nylon/gut strings.

Steve Jeter - Posted - 10/15/2012:  13:10:01


do you have a towel or something between the dowel & head?

Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 10/15/2012:  13:19:42



I personally find a small block of packing foam (which I always keep from whatever I may buy that is packed in foam - such as computers, etc.) slipped between the dowel stick and the head is usually sufficient to solve that problem. You can slide it along the length of the dowel stick and see where it produces the best sound. There will be more of a dampening effect if placed directly under the bridge - much less so, if placed near where the neck meets the pot, and basically gets rid of unwanted overtones if placed behind the bridge near the outer edge of the rim. There's there's really quite a bit you can do with a simple foam cube that fits snugly between the dowel stick (or coordinator rod) and the head.


kmwaters - Posted - 10/15/2012:  13:45:09



How tight is the head?  Worth checking.


Jaffa - Posted - 10/15/2012:  14:15:58



It's got a small piece of foam about 15cm x 5cm between the dowel stick and the head. I've moved it to under the bridge and it does dampen it a bit more but not that much. I thought people stuffed towels etc into it just for practising to make it quieter? Not for general use and performing?



I think I would like a skin head, a thicker one, but no doubt this would raise questions of it reacting to weather changes etc and going slack..however I've always loved the look and feel of them, and the sound. Are they expensive? I've tried nylon strings, didn't like them, the sound was too soft and gentle.



 


skip sail - Posted - 10/15/2012:  14:34:54


try one of John Balchs skin heads ,excellent quality and service.

R.D. Lunceford - Posted - 10/15/2012:  15:33:50


Give a skin a try. They aren't as bad as you may think.
Maybe give some nylguts a try as well.
All of my banjos sport that combination.

BDCA - Posted - 10/15/2012:  16:19:18



Before any thing else you can check the head tension with a 10" rule and a 10P or 20P coin. Search Steve Daivis' coin method. If the head it too loose, the banjo will sound tubby. A nice tight head is required for some snap.



Cya!



Bob


Snowbird - Posted - 10/15/2012:  20:16:04



Make sure you check that all the nuts on the banjo are tight (not the ones that change head tension, the other ones). A loos nut or two can mess up your sound pretty severely.


banjopogo - Posted - 10/15/2012:  22:31:44



1. Don't overtighten head- easy does it.



2.  If the head is opaque, you can run strips of masking tape on the underside to cut some of the ringiness.



3. And yeah, experiment with various stuffings.  I use a plastic bag stuffed in an old clean sock that lost it's mate.



4. Bridge type and material and tailpiece type are going to have an effect.



Edited by - banjopogo on 10/15/2012 22:39:25

Steve Donnelly - Posted - 10/16/2012:  12:55:58



Re stuffing - I use   2  3" wide rolls of terry cloth and place them against the rim next to the neck.



Depending on the sound I want I can use one or both and  can move one or both away from



the neck depending...


Jaffa - Posted - 10/17/2012:  11:02:06


What are nylgut strings?

Trentvalleybanjo - Posted - 10/17/2012:  11:06:20


I had exactly the same problem, could not get the banjo to sound like a banjo, until as mentioned above I found the Steve Davis head tensioning method, it then transformed the banjo sound. It is very difficult for beginners to get the right head tension and this method will get it in the ball park. I have a skin head and medium steel strings and I am sure if you try this method you will find your head tension way out no doubt not tight enough, when you have adjusted it give it a little time to settle, I use a steel ruler and have found a metal washer the correct thickness not sure how thick a 20p or 10p are would have to check. If you decide to eventually change to a skin head dont worry about it changing with weather conditions here in the UK, it does change a little with rainy days but it is easy to adjust using the steel ruler and washer / coin. Before changing the head try the above. I also have a small piece of foam between coordinator rod and head.

Jaffa - Posted - 10/17/2012:  12:02:06


I will try this Steve David method, thanks - could you explain exactly how you do it please?

RV6 - Posted - 10/17/2012:  15:02:14



quote:


Originally posted by Jaffa




I will try this Steve David method, thanks - could you explain exactly how you do it please?






 



One of the many threads that show up via the Hangout's most excellent search feature: banjohangout.org/topic/242014


ELWOOD - Posted - 10/17/2012:  15:33:16


Here is a view of the A scale Bill Vanhorn banjo useing two methods of damping .I use the tape strip only for performances. Iuse the tape & towel
for recording. Ill include a sound sample to let you hear the results





Rose of Alabamy

John Gribble - Posted - 10/17/2012:  16:50:08



quote:


Originally posted by Jaffa




What are nylgut strings?






Nylgut strings are synthetic strings made in Italy which which have a sound closer to traditional gut strings than nylon strings do. 


Paul R - Posted - 10/17/2012:  17:59:20



I've stuffed with foam or with a rolled up fleece suglasses bag.



I changed the sound by changing bridges. I bought a new Grover bridge and cut the string slots in an offset way - the D is closer to its side than the high (short) G is to the other side (there are photos on my home page). It made the sound much snappier and gave me the "throaty" sound I like. depending upon your financial situation (and patience), you can also experiment with string materials and gauges, bridges, heads, and stuffing.


eMike - Posted - 10/18/2012:  01:14:57


I've had banjos that were too "ringy". I replaced the brass coordinator rods with steel ones and that made a big difference.

Mike

Jaffa - Posted - 10/19/2012:  07:18:47


The action on my banjo is high too, my banjo maker said this is how the open back banjos are usually set up, for frailing. Is this right? I suppose it will help for when I play slide on it?

george pereda - Posted - 10/19/2012:  18:46:25



If you like adjusting your head every 3rd day ,and then 1n 6 months have it snap on you-I would get a skin head-



I like to play not adjust-I put a tee shirt in my resonator-I have a weather king head.


Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 10/19/2012:  21:22:42



I have 5 banjos with skin heads. I never have to adjust them, and they don't break.



Edited by - Marc Nerenberg on 10/19/2012 21:23:05

Jaffa - Posted - 11/07/2012:  12:13:02


How much is a skin head likely to cost? (What's the starting price, roughly?)

hweinberg - Posted - 11/07/2012:  13:08:55



I use upholstery foam -- the kinds that goes into chair cushions.   It's cheap and compresses, so it stays in place.  Consider a heavier bridge for clawhammer -- cheap thing to try.  But all the advice about head tension is the first thing to get right. -- Howard


Jaffa - Posted - 11/07/2012:  20:33:55


Thanks for all the advice. My banjo maker is going to take the action down for me as it's way too high for my liking, although he said this is how it's meant to be for clawhammer playing? But I find it too uncomfortable. Hopefully will still be ok for when I play slide. Not sure about having a skin head yet, but I just have a hunch that I'd like one and I sure like the look of them too!

banjopogo - Posted - 11/08/2012:  00:39:52



quote:


Originally posted by Jaffa




It's got a small piece of foam about 15cm x 5cm between the dowel stick and the head. I've moved it to under the bridge and it does dampen it a bit more but not that much. I thought people stuffed towels etc into it just for practising to make it quieter? Not for general use and performing?



I think I would like a skin head, a thicker one, but no doubt this would raise questions of it reacting to weather changes etc and going slack..however I've always loved the look and feel of them, and the sound. Are they expensive? I've tried nylon strings, didn't like them, the sound was too soft and gentle.



 






It depends on what you stuff into it and how:



large heavy items stuffed tightly against head = quieting a banjo.



soft items nestled somewhat gently against the back of the head = tone tweakers and excess sustain killers.



I use a plastic shopping bag stuffed into an old (clean) sock.  The bag provides gentle pressure and the sock keeps it focused in one place..



Also, masking tape in crucial places under the head can provide some of the tonal quality of a skin head without the sensitivity to humidity.



 



Drummers engage in similar tweaking with their drumheads- plastic heads are TOO GOOD at producing sound.



Whether with drums or banjos, excess ringiness isn't percussive sounding.


Slick Salmon - Posted - 11/08/2012:  04:20:48



quote:


Originally posted by Jaffa




Thanks for all the advice. My banjo maker is going to take the action down for me as it's way too high for my liking, although he said this is how it's meant to be for clawhammer playing? But I find it too uncomfortable. Hopefully will still be ok for when I play slide. Not sure about having a skin head yet, but I just have a hunch that I'd like one and I sure like the look of them too!






Action is a personal thing, but I've never bought into the notion that it needs to be higher for clawhammer than for finger-style playing.  It can be if you want it to, because clawhammer players don't typically go far up the neck, but it doesn't have to be.  The place where good clearance is really helpful is between the strings and the head or neck at the playing position.  Here you can have some thumb problems if the strings aren't high enough.  Some banjos are specifically constructed to have low action but high clearance.  Cloverlick comes to mind, but I'm sure there are others.



Beyond that, listen to Marc Nerenberg's sound files, and you'll become a believer in doing whatever he suggests.



Edited by - Slick Salmon on 11/08/2012 04:23:52

Robxx - Posted - 11/08/2012:  12:22:25


I've not had a problem with skin heads, I have them on three banjos and don't have to adjust the tension continually. I have had one break tho' recently , but I think it was because I left the banjo in the case with the strings tensioned and didn't lay the bridge down. The case not being quite the right fit I think the top was pressing down on the bridge.
Otherwise I am perfectly happy with skin heads. For me they give the right sound. Plastic heads give too sharp a sound which am not happy with on a vintage banjo.

scthompson - Posted - 11/08/2012:  18:46:36


I use foam and the Steve Davis method, but I always found my Gold Tone a little ringier than I liked (coordinator rods), whereas the Bart Reiter is purrrfect.

Tatersoup - Posted - 11/09/2012:  06:32:11



What about switching to lighter strings?


BANJOJUDY - Posted - 11/09/2012:  07:02:13


I have always fond stuffing a banjo makes the head too stiff.

However, I recently was shown how to stuff a banjo properly by someone whose banjo always sounds wonderful.

Here's how to do it right, and yes, for my banjos it makes a difference.

Use a medium thin towel or rag. Pinch the top center of the towel and roll that center down until the rolled part is thick enough to insert into the back side of the head and hold its place by the section where the head meets the neck. Then fan out the towel that remains soot covers much of the head.

OldPoppy - Posted - 11/09/2012:  08:16:29


It never fails to amuse me how people will take their dear, precious banjos which they have given a month or more of wages to own and which have been constructed according to all the refined arts and modern technology available to educated banjo builders and immediately begin attaching pieces of random stuff to them to get the dang thing to sound they way they want.

Even more amusing to me is the fact that I do this too -- old socks, rag towels, pieces of packing junk, duct tape, granddaughter's stuffed animal toys -- whatever happens to be laying around. Hmmm... I wonder how it would sound if I stuck *that* in there? And then, what if I moved it over this way a bit? I once folded a small paper towel and weaved it through the strings between the bridge and tailpiece with a surprisingly pleasing result.

It's part of the fun, but it's also funny.

carolynf - Posted - 11/09/2012:  08:45:02


Yes, the action can be a little higher for clawhammer, but some of that depends on how light and gentle, or how hard and vigorous you tend to play.

My fiberskyn head gives the right balance of ring and plunk for me. I find the frosted Remo too thin and ringy for my tastes, I also changed out my Grover bridge for a medium weight moon bridge.

There are skin heads that are much more responsive to the environment (sagging in a little humidity) and some, such as the heavier pre-prepared goldtone skin head that are more stable. I know someone with a goldtone similar to mine with the skin head and there isn't a huge difference in sound from mine.

Also, there is more difference than you'd think in the sound just from the way different people handle and play the instrument.

Jaffa - Posted - 11/10/2012:  09:13:21


Well my banjo has gone in for repair and I've asked for the action to be taken down quite a bit, as well as a couple of other minor adjustments. I think I would like a skin head put on some time in the future. Is this quite a fiddly job or is it relatively easy? I don't want to stress my banjo maker out too much!

Dan Gellert - Posted - 11/10/2012:  13:40:45



If you want a snappy sound, I'd say you DON'T want to mute the head much, if at all.  Do make sure the head is tight. 



Two things I'd do if I was looking for a snappier, less guitar-like tone:  Use a lighter-weight bridge, and increase the string pressure on the bridge.  The latter may be accomplished either by use of a pressure tailpiece or by resetting the neck so a taller bridge is used (or both of those).  



A major source of unwanted ringing (often erroneously called "overtones") is the portion of the strings on the tailpiece side of the bridge.  A pressure tailpiece can help a lot in that department, since it shortens those lengths considerably.  You can mute those strings with a strip of felt, leather, or rubber band; or wedge a piece of foam gently between the strings and the head.



Action is a matter of taste.  I've had world-class players try my steel-strung Mike Ramsey fretless and find it virtually unplayable because of how LOW I have the action set. 



 


Bart Veerman - Posted - 11/10/2012:  14:36:45



"My problem is that the banjo sounds too resonant (too much like a guitar) despite being open backed, and the sound isn't short, twangy and 'snappy' enough for my liking."



Dan Gellert is right on the money: get rid of the stuffing, it neuters the head, and use a lighter bridge. As well, tighten the head to more of a "bluegrass tension," about 90~91 on a Drum Dial.



Action should be where YOUR fingers LIKE IT as this is a playability, not a tone, issue.



Edited by - Bart Veerman on 11/10/2012 14:37:48

plunknplinkntwang - Posted - 11/10/2012:  14:55:34



There's two heights at play, that over the fingerboard and that over the head.  which one is giving you problems?



Vellum heads are £15 from AndyBanjo; he has a good web service I've used him frequently and never had a problem andybanjo.com/trolleyed/13/23/...index.htm .  I find if you phone him to expect an experienced opinion :)



BrownDogBanjo's on UK Ebay are reliable too, but a little more expensive



 




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