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 Lowering steel string on a 1884 S.S.Stewart, Universal Favorite

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egretflatsPlayers Union Member

United States
13 posts
since 12/5/15

03/20/2017 11:47:06 Reply with Quote

How do I lower the strings to 8/64" from the 17th fret so I can more easily chord?

I just traded for this banjo that is in nearly new condition. The strings are at 16/64" above the 17th fret, the bridge is 1/2".  The neck has a 1/16" shim between the ebony fret board and companion ring which puts the neck about 1/16" away from the silverspun pot, the neck is very secure to the banjo pot.  The coordinator rod is solid to the pot on the tail end and the pot measures at 11" uniformly. 

Bob Smakula

United States
1212 posts since 4/7/10

03/20/2017 11:59:52 View Bob Smakula's Classified Ads View Bob Smakula's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

It will need a neck reset. That involves steaming the dowelstick from the neck, filling the hole in the neck and then precision drilling a new hole in the neck. Of course the end of the neck has to be carved to fit the rim.

Our shop does that job frequently. The usual cost is $200.

Bob Smakula

smakula.com 

 

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maneckep

United States
1092 posts since 6/2/10

03/20/2017 12:06:54View maneckep's MP3 Archive View maneckep's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

John - I highly recommend getting it done at Smakula's. He did that on one of my banjos 10 years ago and it still plays great. He also replaced the fretboard, straightened the bowed neck and installed a carbon fiber reinforcing rod to keep the neck straight. High quality work that will last a lifetime.

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OldPappy

United States
2692 posts since 5/12/10

03/20/2017 12:43:57View OldPappy's MP3 Archive View OldPappy's Photo Albums View OldPappy's Blog Reply with Quote

John, 

If that is an 1884 banjo, I don't think it came with a "coordinator rod", so I am assuming you mean the dowel stick.

The below statements confuse me a bit more;

"The neck has a 1/16" shim between the ebony fret board and companion ring which puts the neck about 1/16" away from the silverspun pot, the neck is very secure to the banjo pot."

If the neck is 1/16" away from the pot, how can it be "very secure to the pot"??

I think Bob is right about a neck reset, and his shops is one I would trust to do it right.

What I am concerned about is that statement about the 1/16" gap between the heel and pot. Those old banjos were not designed for steel strings, and Stewart stated they would void the warranty if steel wire strings were used because of the possibility of bowing the neck.

That gap, and the high action, cause me to think the someone tipped the neck back by raising the end bolt (tail end of the dowel), and if so,  I have to wonder about why. I would check to see if the neck is bowed from being under tension from steel strings.  

 


Edited by - OldPappy on 03/20/2017 12:51:25

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Bill H

United States
942 posts since 11/7/10

03/20/2017 14:48:10View Bill H's MP3 Archive View Bill H's Classified Ads View Bill H's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

I have been very happy with the nylon strings I've installed on my 1890 ish banjos. With the right bridge and head tension they can put out all the volume you need.

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egretflatsPlayers Union Member

United States
13 posts since 12/5/15

03/20/2017 18:50:03 Reply with Quote

I like the sound of nylon strings and wondered if nylon might be a better fit than the steel it came with? The dowel stick acts like it is a 1/16" too long so they put a shim in between the top of the neck and rim. Thus the neck seems solid, except there is a 1/16" gap below the rim between the silverspun pot and around the neck. Maybe nylon strings would be worth trying and they would exert less pressure on the neck and it could be adjusted down to rest against the pot? John

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rcc56

United States
500 posts since 2/20/16

03/20/2017 19:18:45 Reply with Quote

A few pictures would help.

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egretflatsPlayers Union Member

United States
13 posts since 12/5/15

03/20/2017 19:49:37 Reply with Quote

I was thinking that after I tried writing the previous description. I'll work on it tomorrow. John

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rmcdow

United States
442 posts since 11/8/14

03/20/2017 20:35:50 View rmcdow's Classified Ads View rmcdow's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

I've had or worked on four of the spunover pot banjos from that era, one of them was a Universal Favorite in like new condition, except that it was missing the tension hoop.  When I made a replacement hoop (couldn't locate a grooved one the right diameter), and set up the banjo, it had high action, just like the other three of the same era.  None of the necks were bowed.  This has caused me to wonder if during that period people just liked the action higher than they do now.  Does anyone know?  I assume no one here was alive at that time, but has anyone heard or read about this type of thing?  One of the banjos I had was a Lyon & Healy, which came with steel strings, and had a 1/4" bridge on it that the previous owner had misplaced.  I strung it up with gut, with a 1/4" bridge I made for it, and although the action wasn't 1/4" like yours, it was higher than I liked or was used to.  Anyone know more about this?  Bob, you must have seen a lot of these, any stories that might give some clues?

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Joel HooksPlayers Union Member

United States
3425 posts since 9/21/07

03/21/2017 06:36:33View Joel Hooks's MP3 Archive View Joel Hooks's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

quote:
Originally posted by rmcdow
 

I've had or worked on four of the spunover pot banjos from that era, one of them was a Universal Favorite in like new condition, except that it was missing the tension hoop.  When I made a replacement hoop (couldn't locate a grooved one the right diameter), and set up the banjo, it had high action, just like the other three of the same era.  None of the necks were bowed.  This has caused me to wonder if during that period people just liked the action higher than they do now.  Does anyone know?  I assume no one here was alive at that time, but has anyone heard or read about this type of thing?  One of the banjos I had was a Lyon & Healy, which came with steel strings, and had a 1/4" bridge on it that the previous owner had misplaced.  I strung it up with gut, with a 1/4" bridge I made for it, and although the action wasn't 1/4" like yours, it was higher than I liked or was used to.  Anyone know more about this?  Bob, you must have seen a lot of these, any stories that might give some clues?


Yes, SSS banjos were built for a "high" action while using a low bridge (as were others of the day).  The standard setup was 1/2" bridge with about 1/4" high action at the 12th fret, give or take a fraction.

The high action allowed for playing "concert style" on thin gut strings without them buzzing. Concert style is fingerstyle with bare fingertips playing with a very strong attack.

The non elastic (static) nature of Steel Wire strings will flex the neck forward slightly and make the action even higher and in many cases unplayable.  The classic "fix" (and one that should involve flogging the people who commit the act) is to drill a hole for the tailpiece bolt slightly above the original.  That will tilt the neck back.

It is possible that the very thick and high tension nylon and polyester strings in fashion today will exert a strain similar to that of light steel wire causing the same problems.

As very few people play these as intended, a neck reset would make it a tolerable banjo for modern clawhammer-- but not great.

Modern designs are so much better for clawhammer as banjos are now built from the ground up for that style.  A repurposed Stewart will never be as good as a Enoch, Lee, Pisgah, etc., etc. for playing old time.

 

 

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OldPappy

United States
2692 posts since 5/12/10

03/21/2017 06:58:14View OldPappy's MP3 Archive View OldPappy's Photo Albums View OldPappy's Blog Reply with Quote

I agree with Joel about that style of "fix". The proper fix was described well by Bob Smakula above, but we see a lot of old banjos where someone has adjusted action by moving the end bolt up to tilt the neck, and without a re-cut of the heel they usually shim up the gap, but a 1/16" gap is rather large for a shim. 

Most people who do this are people who either do not have the skill/tools to properly do the job, or don't/can't spend the money to have it done.


Edited by - OldPappy on 03/21/2017 06:59:25

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Bill H

United States
942 posts since 11/7/10

03/21/2017 10:38:27View Bill H's MP3 Archive View Bill H's Classified Ads View Bill H's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

I really believe that there are "old banjo people" and "new banjo people". Old banjos, particularly 19th century instruments do require some tinkering to get the most out of them. For some of us that is a big part of our love of banjos. But without that inclination to tinker the vintage banjo experience can lead to frustration.

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egretflatsPlayers Union Member

United States
13 posts since 12/5/15

03/21/2017 10:53:22 Reply with Quote

The Stewart came from the east coast to me only last week and am learning from all the help I am getting that shims and moving the end bolt doesn't produce a good fix. I like this instrument and would like to fix it properly, but I'm wondering if a west coast builder like Brooks Banjos might be able to do the work that has been described to me. This banjo is in sweet condition and sounds nice as long as I don't fret past the 7th fret or so. Beyond that I need fingers of steel to get sound I am used to up the neck. I really appreciate all the help in solving this issue. I would like to not have to ship it anymore than necessary. John

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rcc56

United States
500 posts since 2/20/16

03/21/2017 11:01:52 Reply with Quote

A builder who makes dowel stick banjos should be able to do the work; however, they should have experience with antique banjos.  I have been told that some of the Stewarts have a screw or a nail under the heel cap that anchors the dowel stick.  If the repair man is not aware of this, he can inadvertently cause a lot of damage.  If in doubt, I would send it to Smakula.  This is a routine repair for them.  Gryphon would be a good choice on the west coast.

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jwold

United States
815 posts since 7/21/04

03/21/2017 12:37:53 View jwold's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

Hi John,

I'm not certain, but Brooks is pretty busy just keeping up with construction that I don't think he does much repair/banjo modification. Perhaps that's no longer the case, but about 2 years ago I met with Brooks about helping me do a open back conversion of an old tenor to a 5 string, using one of the on-line available mahogany necks I think Gold Tone or Saga produces.

We met, he initially agreed to do the work, but then we met again and he gave me the whole banjo & neck back declining saying he was too busy with his own builds, and there were many variables that he was concerned about that the final result might be less than satisfactory and didn't want to be responsible for any problems that he wouldn't have any control over, pot being out of round, unforeseen neck issues etc.

It was a good point and I understood where he was coming from I ended up doing the conversion with some helpful advice and encouragement, the banjo came out fine.
Edit:

I did see an ad here on the hangout though...banjo building class in Astoria:

http://www.banjohangout.org/blog/34937

Maybe this gentleman could be of assistance since he's a banjo friendly luthier. 

 


Edited by - jwold on 03/21/2017 12:49:37

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egretflatsPlayers Union Member

United States
13 posts since 12/5/15

03/21/2017 15:33:29 Reply with Quote

I think I am getting closer to solving the problem, at least the journey is showing hope. I sat in my playing chair and looked closely at the neck, trying to move it around. No go, so thought if the strings are too tight for this machine why can't I loosen them equally enough to see if the neck moves and oh my, just a little force on the heel toward the pot reduced the gap to under 1/64" I slid the ebony wedges down to keep it there (not forcefully), but isn't firmly tight to the pot. It's tuned in open E, down from G. I'm out of my league in what to do? John

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jwold

United States
815 posts since 7/21/04

03/22/2017 18:04:50 View jwold's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

I think your next step should be to post a few pictures so we have a better idea of what you're dealing with.

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egretflatsPlayers Union Member

United States
13 posts since 12/5/15

03/22/2017 19:45:45 Reply with Quote

I got carried away w/life and will try my best.
I have the base of the heel visually flush with pot. String height at 12th fret is about 10/64"(top of fret to bottom of string). Seems something shifted with neck/pot during the journey and Stewart didn't warrant the instrument for metal strings in 1894 since no coordinator rod. I loosened the strings twice and tightened the wedges twice, it still seems slightly loose. Loosened strings to D to exert less pressure on the neck. I'm thinking nylon strings with the planetary tuners and the fiberskin might make a nice sound and stress the neck less. Any thoughts?

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drfordo

United States
50 posts since 3/20/16

03/22/2017 21:29:52 View drfordo's Photo Albums Reply with Quote

quote:
Originally posted by egretflats
 

I got carried away w/life and will try my best.
I have the base of the heel visually flush with pot. String height at 12th fret is about 10/64"(top of fret to bottom of string). Seems something shifted with neck/pot during the journey and Stewart didn't warrant the instrument for metal strings in 1894 since no coordinator rod. I loosened the strings twice and tightened the wedges twice, it still seems slightly loose. Loosened strings to D to exert less pressure on the neck. I'm thinking nylon strings with the planetary tuners and the fiberskin might make a nice sound and stress the neck less. Any thoughts?


Greetings,

I don't have any expert advice about the loose neck, other than gently tapping down the ebony wedges until they are snug.  I do believe these wedges need to be sized individually for each banjo, but I wouldn't myself be able to tell if particular wedges are sized correctly for a particular Stewart.  

I have a Universal Favorite, ca. 1891, and it chords great.  The string height at the 12th fret is around 6/32" and at the 17th around 7/32".  I've played Reiters, Enochs, Pisgahs, Rickards, and Dogwoods--all great banjos.  It may be a common belief that modern banjos made for clawhammer are superior in this regard.  I can't speak to the general consensus (if there is one), but  I love my Stewart for clawhammer and don't find it any harder to play.  It's light, has a great neck, the action is fine with a 1/2" maple bridge (no ebony strip on top), and it loves Nylgut strings.  I bet other nylon strings would be great, too--LaBella no. 17 or Chris Sands (if they ever come back on the market).  It's also got its own sound, quite different from any of these other models.  

The string spacing is more narrow than modern banjos made for clawhammer, and this might be a disadvantage for some.  I'm a little guy with little fingers and it suits me just great.  I've never owned any of these first-class modern banjos (just tried a few out here and there), and it could be the case that you just adapt your attack to the instrument you've got, but  I haven't yet tried out a banjo that I'd rather have over my Stewart.

Sean

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egretflatsPlayers Union Member

United States
13 posts since 12/5/15

03/24/2017 08:53:07 Reply with Quote

I've ordered a set of LaBella no.17 strings from Sweetwater. It makes sense to take my Stewart back to strings that were intended for it, since I have a couple of metal string banjos that are very nice sounding and I really do like the sound of nylagut strings. I'll probably remove the steel strings and make sure the neck and dowel stick is solid to the pot before putting on the nylagut. The neck apparently was loose when it arrived and when I re-tightened and tuned the strings leaving it feeling solid, but with a 1/16" gap between the neck and pot. Pictures won't show anything wrong, since it is now appearing correct. Thanks for some Stewart data - it nearly agrees with what I am seeing on my 3 year newer Stewart. John

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