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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: New tuners on old banjo

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britcarfan - Posted - 11/21/2019:  19:26:37

I have 2 old tenor banjos. One is a early 20s Gibson the other is a Gretsch from I believe the 20s or 30s. Both have friction tuners. The ones on the gretsch need to be replaced due to the headstock veneer holes no longer having a chamfer. I am thinking of buying a set of ABM small shaft tuners to replace the Gibson’s then use its tuners on the Gretsch. My question is for historical reasons should I keep the Gibson as is and not change out its tuners. If the answer is yes I’ll need to figure out what to do about the Gretsch. The Gretsch isn’t worth a lot so it needs to be monetarily efficient solution.

Bill Rogers - Posted - 11/21/2019:  21:44:29

“Early 20s Gibson” tells us little. Is it a valuable, high-end collectible banjo that will be played little if at all? Then leave the tuners. If it’s ordinary one, then by all means put new tuners on it. A banjo should be as playable as possible, and that takes precedence over preserving history, unless, of course, you have a 5-or 6-figure value instrument with collector’s value.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 11/22/2019:  16:03:24

If I recall, your Gibson is a TB3 from the trapdoor era. There may not be a large value involved, but these banjos are somewhat unique in many ways. Gobson at the time used a number of different tuners. Some were two-on-a-plate guitar style units, some had more conventional friction models, and some used a spring-loaded friction type tuner. I suspect that you have the middle version, the simple friction jobs.

The thing to be careful about when deciding about new tuners for these early Gibsons is that the tuners for the 2nd and 3rd strings are quite close together, and it's possible there isn't enough room for the barrels of planetary models. Be sure to measure your clearances accurately.

Personally, I wouldn't bother changing them, although I am fond of historical accuracy. I'd just do my best to make them work well (screw tightening, washers) and servicing them regularly. They can be gotten used to; all of my banjos have friction tuners and I've always marveled at how many people complain about them because I just don't have any real problems with mine.

Your Gretsch, however, does seem a candidate for inexpensive guitar models or perhaps some Gotohs, which are pretty reasonably priced.

britcarfan - Posted - 11/22/2019:  21:45:52

Yes G Edward that is the Gibson I’m talking about. It’s a tb4 rim with what I’m told is a snake head tb1 neck. From info I’ve gathered I believe it came from Gibson that way. After some thought I will probably keep it as is unless I run across some original 2 to a plate tuners like Gibson used in the day.

The Gretsch I screwed up. It needed a new piece of veneer on the headstock when I got it. Someone I know made the repair for me and told me I needed to find someone to chamfer the holes for the tuners because he couldn’t. I couldn’t find anyone local & got impatient & tried it myself. Guess what that was a mistake. The tuner holes are so close to the edge of the headstock that guitar tuners won’t work & Gotoh’s require to big a hole. I may have found a temporary solution this evening. I put small o rings on both the front & rear of the tuner shafts against the headstock. I haven’t strung it up yet but the tuners seem to have enough friction to hold it in tune now.

britcarfan - Posted - 11/22/2019:  21:49:54

Two pictures in previous post are the Gibson. This is of the Gretsch when I got it.


G Edward Porgie - Posted - 11/23/2019:  11:36:49

I don't think that's a TB1 neck. It looks more like a TB3. Those look like the spring loaded friction tuners and should work okay provided they haven't imbedded themselves too deeply into the headstock. I had to put washers under mine, because the screws had been tightened way too much over the decades and the peghead wood had been crushed a bit.

For the Gretsch, you could plug the old tuner holes, re-veneer the peghead, and drill new tuner holes a little further from the peghead edges. From your photo, I think you'd probably only need to do this with tuners 2 & 3. The others look okay, distance-wise. However, unless you plan on using the large shaft planetaries, which woulpd require a larger hole, I think there's plenty of room for guitaqr tuners. ABMs (available from Bob Smakula) might also work, because they only require a slightly larger tuner hole, but they are rather expensive.

britcarfan - Posted - 11/23/2019:  12:26:33

I’ve already had the veneer replaced. I messed the holes up when trying chamfer the holes for the cone shape on the tuners to ride on. Plugging the holes and redrilling is an option but I don’t have the tools and having someone else do it might start to exceed the value of the instrument. But it might still be cheaper than the ABM units.


G Edward Porgie - Posted - 11/23/2019:  13:01:07

I really don't think you'd have any issues with guitar tuners. If the friction tuners haven't split the headstock, then guitar types won't either provided you predrill for the tiny guitar tuner mounting screws. The shafts on both should be the same size, and new tuner shaft holes won't be needed. Tuners for 2 & 3 will probably have to be angled a bit, and they'll probably be ugly that way. But at least you'll have an easier time tuning.

Bob Smakula - Posted - 11/23/2019:  13:17:06

I would install Gotoh tuners on the Gretsch banjo. Enlarging the holes is no crime, but there is one detail that you may not have thought about; Most Gretsch banjos have a curved volute on the back of the peghead. If your Gretsch is one of those, you will need to make a flat recess on the back of the peghead to accommodate the gear housing of the planet tuner.

I do that by plugging the existing tuner hole with a wood similar to the banjo neck. Mark the center of where you want the new tuner to be, then, using the correct diameter Forstner bit, drill a flat space on the back of the peghead. You should need to do that on the 1st and 4th tuner holes and not 2 & 3.

Bob Smakula

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 11/23/2019:  20:44:57

I don't see a volute on the Gretsch in your photos. There is enough of the side of the peghead showing on the first picture to indicate a smooth transition between the peghead and the neck. A volute would show.

I have to say, though, that Gotohs would look better, and you might wish to use them. First, though, you'll need to measure carefully to decide if the 3/8 inch hole needed for their shafts will allow enough wood for support at the peghead edges. Looking again at your pictures, I'd guess that you'll be fine with the larger holes.

There is plenty of good information here on the best methods for enlarging peghead holes, but few mention the most important detail: plan it all first, then work very carefully no matter what tools or methods you choose.

britcarfan - Posted - 11/26/2019:  11:23:40

Here are a couple of more pictures of the Gretsch. Not sure the ABM’s will work without filling & redrilling the #2 tuner.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 11/26/2019:  13:55:09

Well, I was wrong in saying it looked like there was no volute. Not the first time that pictures have been misinterpreted.

The first thing you need to do before deciding whether or not that number 2 hole (that sounds like a euphemism for something anatomical and non-banjo) is to remove the shaft of that old tuner clogging the works. If the hole is round, you should be okay; simply reaming for the ABM's won't put them too close to the edge of the peghead.

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