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 Playing Advice: 4-String (Jazz, Blues & Other Trad Styles)
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Richelieu tenor banjo mutes

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

malarz - Posted - 12/28/2018:  05:14:00

Any thoughts on these?



yellowdog - Posted - 12/28/2018:  07:30:19

Richelieu once wrote that he put his daughter through college with the money that he made from sales of this mute, so I must have contributed to her education because I bought two! They looked cool and they did work, but like all the other mutes that I tried they made my banjo sound like a guitar and not a banjo.

The only mute that I liked and used for many years was one that I invented and tried to sell, which was pretty dumb of me because they were so ugly they looked pathetic. But they had a great jazz banjo sound and volume was totally adjustable. I wrongly thought that everyone else would love it too. I only saw one on someone else's banjo at a banjo convention and when I asked the owner about it I learned that he loved his as much as I loved mine. He wasn't kidding because his was as dirty as mine. I named my mute the "Parachute Mute" because it had a small bag made from actual parachute canopy material (ripstop nylon) that was filled with air rifle shot (brass-coated B-B's) and used paratrooper's elastic boot blousing garters to hold the bag of B-B's both on and in front of the bridge. Yes, I said "in front of" because the secret of the banjo sound was that the vibrating strings were between the B-B's, which made the vibrating strings bump into adjacent B-B's which bumped into their adjacent B-B's, etc. to absorb energy and make a soft sound not unlike a drummer brushing symbols as the strings made the music. Volume was controlled by how far the bag was placed in front of the bridge.

The mutes were a pain to make so their almost total unpopularity was actually a blessing. I probably used mine for about 10 years until I learned to use the meat of my right hand as a mute with better pick control.

If you are handy with a sewing machine you will probably enjoy making one for yourself. You'll absolutely love it!

Frank Geiger (Yellowdog)

malarz - Posted - 12/28/2018:  13:56:41

Creative and inventive! Thanks for sharing. Any photos of your design on your banjo?


Omeboy - Posted - 12/28/2018:  14:11:28

Another recent Richelieu thread:

yellowdog - Posted - 12/28/2018:  16:08:14

Hi Ken,

No, I don't have any photos of the Parachute Mute although I may have taken some. 1996 was just too long ago. As I recall even my sales flyers had drawings because I thought drawings were more descriptive. The last time I saw one in a drawer about a year ago I tried to put it on my banjo and found that the rubber in the elastic bands had deteriorated making the elastic bands unusable, so I didn't try it. But everything else on it survived the years OK.

davidcava - Posted - 12/28/2018:  18:38:55

I need to hear this mute Frank.........please.....make an audio with your device on and off?

davidcava - Posted - 12/28/2018:  18:39:29

I'm intrigued

davidcava - Posted - 12/28/2018:  18:41:30

It is ugly as hell.....but I'm so curious

Helix - Posted - 12/28/2018:  19:57:38


davidcava - Posted - 12/28/2018:  20:27:24

Well.....lets get into it....

What are the tonal differences between a clothesline clip.....and any other mute?

davidcava - Posted - 12/28/2018:  20:28:04

does anyone care?

davidcava - Posted - 12/28/2018:  20:30:42

I guess it comes down to a recording effect....or just to keep the babies from awakening

parlour player - Posted - 12/28/2018:  23:26:55

Yet another banjo mute.

malarz - Posted - 12/29/2018:  02:49:51

Yep, that’s what I plan to order.


aintbrokejustbadlybent - Posted - 12/29/2018:  05:05:50

My question is, why do you want to mute the banjo? I installed a mic in mine so I could plug in. Even bought me a distortion pedal.

malarz - Posted - 12/29/2018:  06:43:24

Try something new, for one reason. Experiment with different tonalities. Also, I play occassionally with a banjo club and I try not to add to the overall cacophony. A muted banjo sounds cool with an Irish harpist.

I read once that the banjo is the “hot-rod” of stringed instruments whichmeans, to me anyway, that there are all sorts of modifications a person can make to the instrument to try to make it suit your fancy.

Nothing better to do with my money!?

aintbrokejustbadlybent - Posted - 12/29/2018:  08:59:20

A banjo with a harp is interesting. Like to hear that.

yellowdog - Posted - 12/29/2018:  09:34:25

Hi David,

Good suggestion for me to record with and without the Parachute Mute so all can hear it. Unfortunately, I looked through my overstuffed banjo memories case and couldn't find the one that I saw there a year or so ago. I'll keep looking.

If you want to make a quick feasibility prototype I suggest that you cut off both ends of a small Kraft paper coin envelope for the top panel instead of using sewn canvas or muslin and use staples instead of sewing. An old nylon or silk ladies scarf should substitute well for the parachute nylon bag material. Thread two large rubber band chains through the coin envelope and connect them to the banjo's hooks with steel paper clips. This should work just as well as the paratrooper boot blousing garters. As I recall it takes about one and a half tubes of B-B's per mute so you'll have to buy those. The last step is to staple only the ends of the bag to the Kraft paper top panel so that the bag hangs down with slack as shown in the patent drawing.


davidcava - Posted - 12/29/2018:  09:57:33

Thanks Frank, If I can get the ingredients, I'll give it a go.

ldieckow - Posted - 12/29/2018:  11:59:54

Long time no see Frank! What fun we had back in the day at Mr Ward's Southland Banjorama in Atlanta. As for the mute Rich made, I first met him in La Crosse in the early 70's. Great guy and a heck of an entertainer. I bought one of his mutes and put it on the Vega Little Wonder I was playing at the time. Used it a lot practicing in my room to be quiet so the folks could hear the Cub games. In 74, I traded the Vega and cash to Bill Camp for my 29' Montana #4 and kept the mute but had no need for it anymore. I love my soft pedal mute and it has a lot to do with Perry Bechtel and his playing. I was blessed to know he and Miss Ina in his last years. I encourage one and all to listen to his playing to understand how he used the mute to perfection and it became a trademark of his playing. Still have my Rich mute and may have to put it on my Gibson and play around with it!

Omeboy - Posted - 12/29/2018:  12:58:30

I used to own a B&D #4 with a pedal mute (now own an Ome with pedal mute) and I found the combination of the Richelieu mute and the soft pedal mute (used in vibrato) gave me some nice sustaining effects that were like the tremolo effect on an electric guitar, especially if amplified. You could slip the Richelieu mute into a half on/half off position and the add vibrato to that effect with the pedal mute. It was fun and sounded great on tunes like Laura's Theme (from Dr. Zhivago.)

I wouldn't part with my Richelieu mute and the additional mass provided by the brass roller (in the unmuted position) sure helped to sharpen the tone of any banjo that needed a little more zing.

Edited by - Omeboy on 12/29/2018 12:59:45

yellowdog - Posted - 12/29/2018:  15:54:59

Hi Lance,

I also had a Vega Little Wonder and loved it, but eventually sold it to Steve Dwiggins, a banjo Pro here in Atlanta. We both miss Horis Ward and his annual Southland Banjorama in Atlanta.

Omeboy, your comment about the additional mass of the brass roller on the Richelieu Mute in the unmuted position sharpening the tone is certainly true, and it reminded me of a wonderful Paramount tenor player who regularly entertained with a piano player the "Pizza Palace" (Sorry I can't remember his name) in Hawthorne, California in 1967-1968 (or it might have been in nearby Inglewood, California) who always played with the top part of a Gillette double blade razor screwed down on the strings behind the bridge to sharpen the tone like the Richelieu mute does behind the bridge. He was a fantastic solo tenor player and inspired me to purchase a Paramount and do the same thing with an old razor. I couldn't even afford a pizza in those days but could scrape up enough change to give him (he also tended bar) for a hot dog sandwich and a draft Hamms beer!

yellowdog - Posted - 01/02/2019:  03:14:35

Malarz, you asked for a photo of the Parachute Mute. I found one and have attached it below. The banjo is a Paramount Style A tenor which I have but no longer play..

malarz - Posted - 01/08/2019:  10:12:54

Update: I received the Richelieu mute yesterday, cleaned and polished it, installed it this morning, played for a bit. I really do lilke how the banjo sound can be muted and modified or left alone, depending on where the mute is positioned. I’ll try to remember to do a recording so anyone interested can hear the sound differances.


aintbrokejustbadlybent - Posted - 01/08/2019:  11:14:20

Hey Ken, please do. Source?
I think my wife would appreciate me using a mute.

Omeboy - Posted - 01/08/2019:  12:32:40


This might "tide you over" until Ken gets his demo finished. This is a violin style mute on a plectrum by banjo-great, Ken Aoki:

Edited by - Omeboy on 01/08/2019 12:36:34

aintbrokejustbadlybent - Posted - 01/08/2019:  13:30:46

Haha!!! Yes that tied me over, some serious driveway time watching that twice. So if I put that mute on my banjo I sound like that??? Sold, I’ll make installment payments. Ken is an incredible player, thanks for that. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you too are a great player.

Omeboy - Posted - 01/08/2019:  16:00:17

Thanks, Mike. Good luck trying to locate a Richelieu mute. Nobody is making them anymore as far as I can tell. Too bad. They were once a hot little item. Recently, Elderly of Lansing, Michigan had two of them for sale, but they didn't last long. (I think I know where they wentwink.)  Maybe if you keep an eye out long enough, one will turn up somewhere.  Every now and then, you'll see one on a banjo for sale.  You can always offer just to buy the mute.

Edited by - Omeboy on 01/08/2019 16:01:43

Omeboy - Posted - 01/08/2019:  16:08:44

Looks like Bernunzio has a couple of them for sale:

Fud - Posted - 01/08/2019:  19:24:20

There are actually 3 on that well-known auction site, right now. No connection... just curious, did a search for Richelieu Banjo Mute.


malarz - Posted - 01/09/2019:  03:48:44

The other mute which I bought but couldn’t install because of the design of the bridge I use (designed and built by Steve Caddick) is Mike’s Mute. Nicely designed and constructed and a much lower profile and physical presence than the Richelieu. The mute is new, obviously never installed. I still can return it for a full refund, minus shipping, but if anyone wants it from me you can have it for $35 which includes shipping within CONUS. From Mike’s Mutes it’ll cost $36.99 which includes shipping. You can search for him on the internet or in Banjo Hangout. The mute gets good reviews.

If you’re searching for the Richelieu it is officially called the “Master Mute and Tone Clarifier.” $40 at Bernunzio is the going price for one. New, back in 1980,the mute was $15 for nickel, $25 for gold (plated).

At the time of manufacture there was an LP “I Love the Banjo”available from CUCA-Banjorama label (#KS-2098) which claims to give a full demo of the Master Mute. (All of this information is taken from the instruction sheet included with the used mute I bought.)


parlour player - Posted - 01/10/2019:  05:44:29

Another one

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