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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Choosing the right banjo head

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Mariochamaco - Posted - 02/04/2019:  05:44:44

Hello everybody and thank you very much in advance for your tips and suggestions.

I just broke the 11" head of my 1933 B&D Silver Bell Serenader (beautiful instrument, by the way).

I mostly play tradicional jazz busking situations so I like it to sound loud and bright. Before I was using a Renaissance Remo head which just last a couple of months before it get broken.

As I start playing guitar before a played banjo I am using Chicago tuning (DGBE) so I try to compensate the lack of tension of the strings with a bit of extra tension on the head (could be a bit too much as the head did´t last too much...).

Do you have any suggestion on what head should I choose now? I was wondering if Deering Kevlar could be a good option...

Thanks a lot and waiting for your answer

Dave1climber - Posted - 02/04/2019:  06:41:10

For loud and bright I would get a clear head.

Prescott - Posted - 02/04/2019:  06:46:39

From your description you are tuning down to get to DGBE. Have you thought of using heavier strings to achieve a better tension? They'll tune easier and sound better. I tune a short scale tenor to GDAE, and use strings .044, .032, .022, & .014. They sound pretty good at normal head tension.For DGBE, I'd think of trying, say, .034, .026, .020, and .014, maybe a little lighter with your long scale Bacon banjo - you would have to experiment. Single strings are available at most music stores, and are fairly cheap. Some adjustment of nut and bridge slots may be required, after you decide what gauges you like.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 02/04/2019:  06:48:09


Originally posted by Dave1climber

For loud and bright I would get a clear head.

This one won't fit, but the correct size clear head is also available. Last B&D I put a head on was an 11 inch medium crown.

Bill H - Posted - 02/04/2019:  09:09:28

Wow, I've never had that happen with a Renaissance head. I have that head on at least 4 banjos. I also have a cloudy head on one banjo--it has a nice bright tone. I also like bottom frosted heads. I'm not sure if they are any stronger than a Renaissance, but they are bright. Isn't Kevlar bulletproof? Might be worth trying.

If Elderly doesn't have what you need, try Smakula Fretted Instruments. Bob has a great selection and great service as well.

BrooksMT - Posted - 02/04/2019:  09:36:55

Were the heads broken in an accident? Or did they just suddenly break "for no reason"?

If the 2nd is the situation, you might have a metal burr or other problem with your tone ring (anything that cuts into the head will make it weak at that spot).

Or you might be over-tightening the brackets. Steve Davis has written about an easy way to check head tension: put a small ruler ( say 15 cm) on the head next to the bridge; a thin coin should fit between the head and the ruler (he uses a US dime, others use a US quarter). Because the bridge legs push into the head, there will be a small gap (filled with the coin) if a ruler spans the head near the bridge. There are more details in his posts, or you could contact him via BHO email message, but you get the general idea, hopefully.

Or your finger ring (if you wear one) may be hitting the head. This is especially a problem if the strike is on the head over the tone ring; I play Mideast hand drums (where striking the drum at the rim is normal), and I always remove rings before playing just for this reason).

Hope this helps.

Edited by - BrooksMT on 02/04/2019 09:38:44

The Old Timer - Posted - 02/04/2019:  09:37:57

I believe from the photo your head was EXTREMELY too tight, and possible subjected to extreme cold/dryness. I've never seen a plastic head busted that bad.

Dan Drabek - Posted - 02/04/2019:  10:54:21

I agree with Dick. You look to be running your heads way too tight. The fact that you've broken two of them is pretty good evidence of that.
Frankly, I would be more worried about the banjo than the head. Those old banjos were lightly built and the rims could be pulled out of shape under too much tension.

A clear head or a top frosted head will give you a little more brightness than the renaissance head, but I don't think they will increase your volume. A resonator would probably help if you have or can find one.


Mariochamaco - Posted - 02/04/2019:  15:37:54

I really thank you very much all answers you gave me.

As I don´t have any other banjo player around my area I had to figure out by myself how to adjust it and get a better sound, thats why all these tips you are telling me are really really helpful.

As I can understand from your advices I didn´t adjust my banjo properly... I would try changing gauges and play with the head not that tight.

Regards to everybody

BrooksMT - Posted - 02/04/2019:  16:00:53

In experimenting with different head tensions, I noticed it takes a day or two for the head to fully adjust to any change in tension I applied (by tightening or loosening the brackets). It's important, I've read (and I believe) to adjust the tension brackets in an X pattern: that is, adjust a bracket at 12 o'clock, then adjust the next at 6 o'clock, then 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock. Work your way around the head in this X pattern (just like when you tighten lug nuts on a vehicle wheel).

Hope this helps

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