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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Crack Experts Needed. Is it safe?

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jander88 - Posted - 09/27/2019:  14:06:41

Howdy. Just received a new old banjo. A slingerland 5 string. It appears to be in solid condition. It has a dead straight neck and all the hardware. Aside from some expected dents and dings, there is a crack in the neck up by the nut that has me worried. It looks like it had light steel on it before (remnants on tuners) but no excessive wear on the frets or fretboard. I can't picture the strain of strings causing the crack, but it looks like the nut was replaced at one time and I wander if they cracked it when trying to remove the old one. What do you guys think? Can I string her up? Thanks in advance!

WayneConrad - Posted - 09/27/2019:  14:13:12

Don't listen to me (I'm not a luthier), but when the strings are put under tension, the intact part of the neck will be under tension, and the crack will be under compression, which it ought to take fine, as opposed to shear or tension, which a crack will not take well. My guess is that it'd be fine strung up. Now let's see what the experts say.  I always learn something from the difference between my opinion and their knowledge.

Edited by - WayneConrad on 09/27/2019 14:16:09

deestexas - Posted - 09/27/2019:  14:20:34

What I would do: hold the neck below the crack and gently push the peghead backwards. If the crack widens, put some Titebond ( or similar) in it then tighten a capo to push it together to dry. String pressure should not worsen the crack since the strings would be pulling the tuners (and peghead) forward. I've done that with a couple of necks with no problems in ten years.  Not a professional either.

Edited by - deestexas on 09/27/2019 14:21:22

Dan Drabek - Posted - 09/27/2019:  14:54:26

I'd do pretty much the same as Deestexas, except I would probably wick in some thin grade super glue.

I would guess the crack was made when the banjo fell backward on it's stand. Most of these neck fractures seem to happen that way. Chances are it will be OK. Especially if glued. But I don't think you can do much more than that without the crack being larger. If you can get it to flex open and closed, you might be able to better work any glue down into the crack.

I would probably also replace the nut with a bone nut that is more carefully fitted. This would include cleaning out the nut slot and squaring it of with a small, sharp chisel. Hard to tell exactly without having it in hand. could just leave it alone and keep an eye on it. If it plays well, it might well hold up for years just like it is.


jander88 - Posted - 09/27/2019:  15:26:12

Sounds like a common practice, but Flexing that crack open scares me. And I kinda don't think it'll open, as short as it is. So I guess I'll just try my luck and watch it.

Good advice on the nut. I've got some deer bone and antler laying around I could probably use. I have been using Osage orange another nuts I've replaced. It seems to work well. I'll probably go ahead and string this one up with the existing nut first just to see how it looks and plays.

The other thing is that I really wanted to try light steel strings on this one since my other old banjos all have nylon and wooden pegs. I think this banjo could handle it, the crack is the only thing making me second-guess.

Thanks again for the responses!

rudy - Posted - 09/27/2019:  15:30:21

The fracture shown is typical of a fall or hit sometime in the past.  If you "flex" it enough to open the crack even enough to allow capillary action to draw the glue in you run the risk of the crack running.  String tension won't open the crack, but there's no guarantee it won't run later.  At the very least do be extremely careful to not bump it or allow it to fall.

The nut should be replaced but that won't do anything to negate the crack.

It might stay that way forever or it might not.  The only real way to repair it is to force it open further, but you run the risk of snapping it off.  It's the same principal used when a bone is broken and re-set.

Play it as is and watch it to see if it gets any worse over time.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 09/28/2019:  14:05:42

Strength isn't the only problem with a crack. Moisture and dirt can get in and could make later repairs more difficult. There could also be some wavering should the neck flex with heavy playing.

While it will likely hold for a while, I'd think seriously about having that crack repaired now.

Dan Drabek - Posted - 09/28/2019:  14:49:45

For that matter, it might already have been repaired. You might need to examine the crack under a hand lens to see if there is any glue in the crack. Of course if it moves when flexed, it probably hasn't been glued.


Sped Man - Posted - 09/28/2019:  15:31:56

Have you checked the heel with a black UV light? I got a banjo through the mail once. The owner claimed it was undamaged no heel or neck problems. He was wrong. It has a heel repair years ago. It wasn't visible under normal lighting. Using a black UV light the crack became visible. I shipped the banjo right back to the PO. Who wants to pay full price for a broken item?

jander88 - Posted - 09/28/2019:  15:32:45

I've had it strung up for half a day and it seems to be fine. Sounds pretty good. I did gingerly flex it beforehand and could not see any movement at the crack. I just examined it under 10x and I can't say for sure that it's got glue, but there is definitely no discernible hairline nor can I feel the crack when I run my fingernail across it. So it may very well have been repaired previously. Good thought, Dan.

jander88 - Posted - 09/28/2019:  15:35:10

The heel is in good shape in the neck to pot fit is great. This banjo came from Arizona and I can tell it has been in dry conditions. The heel plate and the trim around the bottom of the rim is cracked in several places. Looks cosmetic.

Edited by - jander88 on 09/28/2019 15:36:01

OldPappy - Posted - 09/28/2019:  19:05:53

Cracks in the heel cap, rim cap, or other face woods are usually just cosmetic unless there is some underlying problem causing the crack.

BrooksMT - Posted - 09/29/2019:  10:17:54

Idea for keeping a crack from running when stressed open (just an idea, I've not tried this).

Think of a barrel, many staves held with hoops, many "cracks" stabilized :-).

If you made the *un-cracked* area of the neck into a "barrel", the crack would not run when you opened it to wick in glue, I think. I'd wrap something protective around the neck, say blue painter's tape, or yellow Frog tape (easily removed, not supposed to hurt a painted finish, style tape). Then I'd add wood staves around the *un-cracked* area of neck (staves on both neck and fretboard). The fretboard staves would have slots to clear the frets. Then I'd use hose clamps to hold the staves (clamps=the barrel hoops). I would not go wild in tightening the hose clamps, tighten just enough to get a small amount of compression on the neck.

I'd be very gentle in prying to open the crack. While the barrel would prevent the crack from running, it would increase risk of snapping off the neck at the base of the existing crack (due to loss of the "circuit breaker" effect of letting crack run to relieve strain created by the prying).

Hope this helps. I'm not a professional.

Edited by - BrooksMT on 09/29/2019 10:21:24

DSmoke - Posted - 09/29/2019:  10:31:02

My original thought was the crack was caused when someone fit the new nut, and was going to offer my solution. But after reading it was from Arizona, it could just be on the surface. I have heard that happens in dry climates.

rcc56 - Posted - 09/29/2019:  11:06:21

If it moves when you flex it gently, glue and clamp it.
If it doesn't, don't worry about it.
Use Titebond original, or, if you know how, hot hide glue. Do not use CA.

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