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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Banjo Head Tension

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higorhlg - Posted - 01/28/2019:  15:40:22

Hello there, I just got a recording king dirty 30's (RKOH-6) from Guitar Center, I think they did a pretty good job at setting it up, but I ended up trying to tighten the head and think I might have made a mistake.
I started turning a little bit on one hook then going for the opposite hook, but by the 3rd time I did this(on the 3rd hook from the side I started) the opposite just felt hard to turn, so I hesitated to force it, fearing it might break the head.
Still, since I had started, I ended up going up to the last hook (still trying to turn the opposite) and was able to turn a bit of some without putting too much strength, but the thing is, from this point onwards, the opposite almost never was able to correspond to the same turn using the same strength, most cases I couldn't even turn at all without putting more strength, so I didn't.

I tried using a tuner on my phone and tapping the head, the tuner is accusing a solid G#, but something feels weird (might be just my paranoia).
I fear I might have an uneven tension in my head now, I can't quite discern if the sound is really weird or if it is just my paranoia making things up.

I wanted to ask if just a little bit of tension difference in those hooks can really make things "weird".

Also I heard that in cases like this is good to loosen it up and start over from scratch, I would like some tips on that.
If I just completely loose them all, I believe it should pop out of the drum, right?
How to loosen it to make them "equal" in tension again?
In one of the pictures I'm attaching, there is the view of 2 hooks only, and one seems really deeper (more tense?) than the other, is this a good way to measure the difference in tension between them?


lightgauge - Posted - 01/28/2019:  16:51:26

I would loosen them all and start over. Nothing should pop out. Make sure the hoop is level, with the same amount showing all around the edge. From level, turn each the same amount as you go around until you reach the desired tension. You could loosen the strings some if you wanted when starting out. The only tool I am aware of to measure is a Drum Dial. They are handy, but not required, to make a banjo playable.

Ken LeVan - Posted - 01/28/2019:  17:20:36

This may not be much help, but when you are tightening them, you can feel if they are even with your fingers as you are turning the wrench. If you go around and around 1/8 turn at a time, it's easy to tell if one is tighter or looser than the other ones.

I do this when I am installing heads and I use a drum dial to tell whether I am at the desired tension, but as I go around with the wrench, I can get them even with one another to within 1-1.5 by feel.

rudy - Posted - 01/28/2019:  17:44:19

A couple of things to keep in mind.

First, high head tensions are not necessarily what many would shoot for with an open back banjo.  Second, flat hooks, and especially banjos with lower number of hooks, will be particularly prone to straightening of the hooks way before reaching those tensions you see recommended by resonator banjo players.

If a banjo has fewer than 24 hooks and if those hooks are the flattened variety then you're rolling the dice when trying to achieve high head tension.

What you're observing with the hook pairs in the photo look like a hook that's exceeded it's capabilities to exert further head tension. (The photos look like there's already some of the hooks that are starting to straighten at the top bend where they curl over the tension band.)

If you're new to banjo then be aware that head tones are very difficult to hear, and it's easy to mis-interpret what you are hearing.  It's far better to use something like the straightedge and coin method to establish a base tension on the head.

Edited by - rudy on 01/28/2019 17:59:35

Alex Z - Posted - 01/28/2019:  17:45:20

"How to loosen it to make them "equal" in tension again?"

Your starting point will be with all the hooks just barely loose, and the head even.

Then turn one nut with your fingers until it has the smallest tension that you can barely feel.  Remember that when you tighten one nut, the nuts on either side will be looser.  You get around this by initially getting only the tiniest bit of tension, the nut not even snug, just a little resistance.

Go all the way around, like clock.  When you get back to the starting nut, it will feel looser.  Go around again, by hand, the smallest resistance you can feel.

After 3-5 times around, you'll be at the point where all the nuts will feel tight with your fingers, and you can't turn any of them any more with your fingers.  This is the point where (a) the head is level, and (b) all the nuts have equal tension.

At this point, you can use the wrench.  The amount you turn from this point on is not determined by feel, but rather by the amount of rotation.  Start at one nut, and give it 1/6 rotation (the nuts are 6-sided, so it will be easy to tell.)  Go around in a circle, and give each nut 1/6 rotation, ignoring how the tension feels.  By this process, which Steve Huber recommends, (a) the head will continue to be level and (b) all the nuts will end up with equal tension.  You may have to go around several times.

Stop when the head reaches the tension you want -- that's another issue.   At any tension I've ever used, the nuts still feel a little springy when I'm turning, never feeling like they are stuck or I've hit a limit.  Also, the last few times around as the head is getting close to the desired tension, I don't use 1/6 turn, but much less, such as 1/16.  (1/16 is easy to judge by eye because it is one-half of one-half of a quarter turn.  1/8 is  half of a quarter turn and 1/16 is half of that.)

Hope this helps.  With a system like this, don't need years of experience tuning heads by feel.

Edited by - Alex Z on 01/28/2019 17:46:46

higorhlg - Posted - 01/29/2019:  15:02:09

Thank you all for the answers, since my knowledge was almost null, every one had an information I wasn't aware of.

"What you're observing with the hook pairs in the photo look like a hook that's exceeded it's capabilities to exert further head tension. (The photos look like there's already some of the hooks that are starting to straighten at the top bend where they curl over the tension band.)"
Actually, after seeing this, I counted 3 of them that are not curling over the tension band D:
Should I try fixing it?

Anyway, I still haven't tried the coin method, I gave Alex Z 's method a shot first and it seems to be better now, ear wise, seems to be darker, which I liked more.
I still am not feeling completely satisfied though, something is still feeling weird, I might try to tighten it up some more.

I noticed my head does not seem equal in tension not even when I loose all the hooks, the part near the neck and the tailpiece are a bit taller, showing less of the hoop. Is this unusual?

Don't know if it's worth anything, but my tuner now is giving me a D(it was saying C, then I tightened a bit and it raised to D), it seems tight, not too tight, but as rudy mentioned that I shouldn't shoot for too high tension and since I don't know how precise is my tuner getting the head note, I didn't wanted to go further without making a stop first.

To check with the coin, should I just put a straight edge near the bridge and see what coin fits under it? Since I live in another country I'll have to check tomorrow what coins might be similar to the ones shown in the pdf.

Edited by - higorhlg on 01/29/2019 15:15:16


lightgauge - Posted - 01/29/2019:  16:39:27

If the hoop is higher at the neck and tailpiece when loosened, it was likely not even before. I would start tightening there first and get them down evenly with the sides, then proceed. This is assuming the hoop is flat against the head bead. I mention this only because of some heads having excess glue at the bead that the hoop sits on, preventing good seating.

higorhlg - Posted - 01/30/2019:  08:07:47

Actually, to me, the hoop seems to be level, the head that seems to be uneven, not much difference though, I tried tightening te hooks where the heads seemed to be lower (middle-left and middle right) first but had to tighten too much to make a difference (I thought I saw a difference, not much though).
I ended up redoing again and now I'm tighter than before, the sound seems fine, I think I will settle with my current head tension for now and buy a drum dial later.

I can feel where the hooks are not curling some unevenness of tension, just a bit, but is there. I have my first banjo(24 hooks vs 18 of the new one) laying around and was wondering if I could take hooks from it to replace in this new one, the other banjo hooks are millimetres thinner, they are really almost the same size.
Is it okay to do that replacement?

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