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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Best banjo head for clawhammer.


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: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/364022

rustic - Posted - 05/15/2020:  14:19:28


banjobrewer - Posted - 05/15/2020:  16:22:32


That’s a long list based on preference and budget. Pisgah, Reiter,Rickard, Hoyt,Ramsey, just to many to list. What’s the budget look like?

Bill Rogers - Posted - 05/15/2020:  16:59:48


Depends entirely on your taste in sound. I like Remo Renaissance heads and also high-quality skin heads, which are more expensive. No one head is “best,” but you do want a quality one. The bridge, head and head tension will significantly affect sound, so experiment with various combinations to find the sound you prefer.

OldPappy - Posted - 05/15/2020:  18:23:25


Not a long list when it comes to banjo heads. Remo makes most of the heads available today.

I build "clawhammer" banjos, and the only heads I use on my banjos are Remo Renaissance, or the same thing with the Stewmac branding of "Amber Elite" .

Some like the Remo "FIbrerskyn" heads, but I think they are way too thick and dull down the sound too much. I use them in the garden to keep the deer and birds from eating my berries and vegetables.

banjobrewer - Posted - 05/15/2020:  18:50:51


Miss read the op. Asking about heads. I read best banjo for clawhammer. Sorry. Renaissance! If you don’t have patience for skin.

Austin Stovall - Posted - 05/15/2020:  20:30:47


Renaissance seems to be the most popular synthetic banjo for old time banjo players right now. But I honestly think setup is more important than head choice. Any head can be setup to sound very different based on head tension. I have heard many people say Fiberskyn heads muffle a banjo too much but yet I have played and heard some banjos with Fiberskyn that had plenty of volume and a pleasing tone Ive also played banjos with Renaissance heads that sounded thudy and dead because of poor setup. I mostly use standard white frosted Weatherking heads. John Balchs pre mounted hide heads are great but at 75 dollars they are too expensive for me. A 15 dollar frosted head was good enough for Earl Scruggs its good enough for me. My least favorite heads are Renaissance Ive just developed an aversion to the look of them no problem tone wise. If they would make an off white opaque head in the renaissance head material It would be awesome!

RV6 - Posted - 05/16/2020:  07:50:32


quote:

Originally posted by Austin Stovall

 My least favorite heads are Renaissance Ive just developed an aversion to the look of them no problem tone wise. If they would make an off white opaque head in the renaissance head material It would be awesome!






It's a little work but I like the looks of the painted (on the inside with Krylon Dover White (or black) Fusion spray paint for plastic) Ren heads.   And I think the extra 3 grams weight added helps to lessen some objectionable over tones.


Clawdan - Posted - 05/16/2020:  10:40:01


quote:

Originally posted by OldPappy

...I build "clawhammer" banjos, and the only heads I use on my banjos are Remo Renaissance, or the same thing with the Stewmac branding of "Amber Elite" .



Some like the Remo "FIbrerskyn" heads, but I think they are way too thick and dull down the sound too much. I use them in the garden to keep the deer and birds from eating my berries and vegetables.






LOL, I'm exactly the oposite for exactly the same reasons! Send my your Fiberskyns! They are getting way harder to find. Needing to "dull down" one that twangs a bit too much. Prefer calf skin when possible.

RG - Posted - 05/16/2020:  12:11:17


I'm with Dan and Austin, I've found the first generation Fiberskyns were excellent banjo heads, as are the current Elites from Stew Mac. I much prefer the Elite amber heads over the Renaissance heads, that's the LAST head I'd use on a banjo, Renaissance heads are the ones I use to chase deer and birds out of my garden, and they're not very good for that quite honestly. I prefer a frosted Five Star over the rennaisance. With all of that said, I only used medium goatskin heads on all of my banjos, if you buy a quality skin (I use Elderly's medium goatskins) and install it properly, you won't have any humidity issues... the heads on my banjos have all been there for over 10 years and the skins cost around $15 a piece, and the brass flesh hoop less than a buck... pretty inexpensive.



In all honestly of building banjos for the last 20 years, and setting them up for over 40, in my experience the head itself has the LEAST to do with the sound of your banjo. More important is the bridge, tailpiece and head tension (regardless of what brand it is). I've set up clear head Remo's with two footed thick pine or maple bridges and Waverly or Presto tailpieces and made them sound as "plunky" as you'd want. It's really about how your bridge and the down pressure on it carries the sound DOWN to the head than anything else... the head isn't a true soundboard like on a guitar.


Edited by - RG on 05/16/2020 12:13:27

Austin Stovall - Posted - 05/16/2020:  17:36:17


Bob. I've done that with Ren heads before also thats what I have on this banjo right now.



 

RV6 - Posted - 05/17/2020:  05:22:51


quote:

Originally posted by Austin Stovall

Bob. I've done that with Ren heads before also thats what I have on this banjo right now.






Austin,  Did you notice any difference in sound?

Terry F - Posted - 05/17/2020:  06:08:55


It sounds like everyone is answering the question: "What is the best banjo head for old time music?"
I would think the fact that someone plays clawhammer style doesn't necessarily mean they are playing old time music. I play very little old time music and prefer a white, bright frosted head for a brighter sound.

OldPappy - Posted - 05/17/2020:  08:52:37


I much prefer the Amber Elite to a Remo Renaissance too, but only because I like the logo better. They are the same heads, both made by Remo.

Dan,

A lot of people like that sound, but I prefer my banjos to ring out more, which is why we have a variety of heads to choose from.

I do like a good quality thin calfskin head on some banjos, but a good tight calfskin head like that will ring out loud and clear as any.

I used to have the FiberSkyn heads laying around back when the Chattanooga Folk School was still going. One of the banjo teachers there would occasionally ask me to see what I could do to improve a student's banjo, and the improvement often included a different head.

The Folk School shut down a few years ago, and I don't do much repair work anymore, so I have ran out of those heads. They don't last but one season out in the sun down here, so I no longer have any hanging in the garden either.

rustic - Posted - 05/17/2020:  10:32:26


Thanks so much for all the replies and opinions. Now I just have to distill it all down to an idea oh which on to try.
Don.

RG - Posted - 05/17/2020:  15:46:36


quote:

Originally posted by OldPappy

I much prefer the Amber Elite to a Remo Renaissance too, but only because I like the logo better. They are the same heads, both made by Remo.



Dan,



A lot of people like that sound, but I prefer my banjos to ring out more, which is why we have a variety of heads to choose from.



I do like a good quality thin calfskin head on some banjos, but a good tight calfskin head like that will ring out loud and clear as any.



I used to have the FiberSkyn heads laying around back when the Chattanooga Folk School was still going. One of the banjo teachers there would occasionally ask me to see what I could do to improve a student's banjo, and the improvement often included a different head.



The Folk School shut down a few years ago, and I don't do much repair work anymore, so I have ran out of those heads. They don't last but one season out in the sun down here, so I no longer have any hanging in the garden either.






About 10 years ago I stopped in at the Remo warehouse and asked, and they said they were "essentially" the same head, but that the Elite's where somewhat heavier than the Ren's... didn't know if that was true, but that's when I started using the Elite Ambers and did notice a difference in sound... maybe it was all in my head?  Most likely was...

hweinberg - Posted - 05/18/2020:  07:19:22


Like Bob, I spray the back of Ren heads for looks and a little heavier weight. I'm not sure how different the tone is because of the coat of Krylon. I like skin heads, but I use Fiberskyn a lot so I don't have to worry about humidity changes. I have heard a lot of people say that they have no trouble with skin heads and weather changes, but I have never had that experience. I recall reading that when Earl played skin heads in the 40s and 50s, before going on stage, he used to put a light bulb inside his banjo for a few minutes to keep the head at tension.

Broken Ballad - Posted - 05/18/2020:  08:58:10


I've only used fiberskyn so far. Like Austin Stovall said, setup matters. I like a twang to my sound but I enjoy a nice thud coming from my 4th string. I was able to do this with my head, took awhile though.

Andy B - Posted - 05/18/2020:  18:47:30


Another vote for goat. Replacing a Fiberskyn with a goat skin head took some of the ring off my tubaphone. I prefer the slightly less ringy sound.

Helix - Posted - 05/26/2020:  05:14:17


Elite Amber, Elite, fiberskyn are shown here

Fiberskyn tightens up too fast

We must curtail our use of plastic and the Banjo market uses a bunch of it

I support a green soybean alternative

Big pallets of skins are imported
I’ve seen too many imploded spunovers
Be responsible with your Banjo footprint



 

Paul R - Posted - 05/26/2020:  06:50:55


My Orpheum (purchased c. 1978) had a skin head. With humidity changes (and my ignorance of such details), the head ripped. I replaced it with a plastic head and it never sounded the same. Last year I traded the Orpheum for a '78 Neufeld, which has a Mastertone-style tone ring. To calm it down I replaced the regular plastic head with a Fiberskyn. It sounds gentler but not muffled, and still has enough ring to it.



Personal preference: I like the tone of the Neufeld/Fiberskyn combination. I also like the tone of the regular plastic head on my archtop resonator banjo, set up for clawhammer with looser tension. While I'm sure I'd like the sound of a skin head, I may be too lazy/inattentive to maintain proper adjustment, and that's a factor others might want to consider, too.



I guess a lot of your choice depends upon the tone ring as well.


Edited by - Paul R on 05/26/2020 06:53:02

ceemonster - Posted - 05/26/2020:  09:44:51


The answer of course is that there is no "best banjo head for clawhammer." This is a completely personal, subjective preference.  Like wine-tasting preferences.   



I'm with the much-missed Donald Zepp, who maintained he preferred Renaissance/Elite for giving a more open and clear sound than FIberskyn or skin. To my ear his bazillions of mp3 and youtube clips demo-ing bazillions of banjos bear this out.



There are trends and fads in preferences about clawhammer banjo elements such as tone rings, rim widths, scale lengths, and head type.  It can be amusing as well as head-scratching to watch them evolve.    Just now the trend is muddy, thuddy, "plunk."   (Otherwise put as the "I don't want to play a stringed instrument, I want to play a DRUM" phenomenon.)     I must say there is a tiresome preciosity in a certain sub-set of "historical fantasy" fanbois about their muddy, thuddy, gurgly skin-head dobsons.     (I wish I had coined the term "historical fantasy"  as applied to banjo tastes, but got it from a poster here at the BH whose moniker I can't recall.   I believe the poster was a banjo maker.)


Edited by - ceemonster on 05/26/2020 09:52:34

AndrewD - Posted - 05/26/2020:  14:10:11


quote:

Originally posted by ceemonster

The answer of course is that there is no "best banjo head for clawhammer." This is a completely personal, subjective preference.  Like wine-tasting preferences.   



I'm with the much-missed Donald Zepp, who maintained he preferred Renaissance/Elite for giving a more open and clear sound than FIberskyn or skin. To my ear his bazillions of mp3 and youtube clips demo-ing bazillions of banjos bear this out.



There are trends and fads in preferences about clawhammer banjo elements such as tone rings, rim widths, scale lengths, and head type.  It can be amusing as well as head-scratching to watch them evolve.    Just now the trend is muddy, thuddy, "plunk."   (Otherwise put as the "I don't want to play a stringed instrument, I want to play a DRUM" phenomenon.)     I must say there is a tiresome preciosity in a certain sub-set of "historical fantasy" fanbois about their muddy, thuddy, gurgly skin-head dobsons.     (I wish I had coined the term "historical fantasy"  as applied to banjo tastes, but got it from a poster here at the BH whose moniker I can't recall.   I believe the poster was a banjo maker.)






Thank you. Thank you for outing the " tiresome preciosity" of "fanbois about their muddy, thuddy, gurgly skin-head dobsons". My No 1 banjo is an 11" head with a WL ring and a TIGHT skin head. Unlike the Bluegrass guys I don't actually want to peel paint with my banjo. But at a pinch I could. 

6stringedRamble - Posted - 06/02/2020:  07:53:06


I only have had one banjo with Remo Fiberskyn or whatever they call it.. But I can say the banjo that have real skin on youtube always seem to sound better. Hillary Burhans for example recently has been playing a banjo with a real skin head, and IMO you can hear a big difference, even on my crappy tablet speakers. youtube.com/watch?v=uH77SQcrWHs

That said, they say that real skin requires maintenance according to the climate variations. That probably wouldn't be for me, being entirely prude in technical intimacies of the banjo.

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