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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: To stuff or not to stuff

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:

clawgrasser - Posted - 06/02/2020:  17:07:09

I currently own four old time banjo time banjos. An older Thornburg fretless gourd banjo with skin head and nylgut strings. Perfect tone as is for this type banjo. Second, a 1993 Enoch series 100 fretless with cherry neck and original Fibre skin head. Light steel strings. No stuffing. No complaints although I'd like to try Renaissance head or nylgut. Third is fancy old restored Rettberg and Lange with 10 & 15/16" double spun rim, skin head, nylgut strings. Wonderful tone when lightly stuffed, cut you like a knife tone when unstuffed. Lastly, a Wildwood Troubadour with light gauge steel strings and Fibre skin head. Heavy ringing, undisciplined tone when unstuffed. Gorgeous tone when stuffed with light foam pad. Kind of a Stelling banjo for old timers.

But that's what I've got. Nothing perfect, but what is. 

Edited by - clawgrasser on 06/02/2020 17:10:47

clawgrasser - Posted - 06/02/2020:  17:09:18



Edited by - clawgrasser on 06/02/2020 17:11:46

Lew H - Posted - 06/02/2020:  18:34:06

My banjos are mostly more modern ones with heavy rims and tone rings of different sorts--comparable to your Wildwood. I used to never stuff, but following complaints in a weekly jam that my banjo is TOO LOUD, I've begun to stuff, just to mute some. But note that I prefer the tone of bluegrass banjos more than old thin shell ones--spun overs and what not--but I still play sometimes my old Kay that has no tone ring.

banjo bill-e - Posted - 06/02/2020:  21:22:12

Outside of the Bluegrass world I've never encountered a banjo that was not made sweeter, to my ear, by at least some degree of attenuating the resonant overtones. Even the ones that sound good with nothing sound a touch better to me with a light touch of sponge or fleece to the back of the head. Seems to bring it all into focus.

George, you've got a cool banjo arsenal going.

Tweelo - Posted - 06/03/2020:  04:25:27


Originally posted by m06

Though I do take Lew's point about muting a too loud banjo in a session setting. But even then I would ask why not simply modify volume by the way you play?

Agreed. Most banjo players over play because the banjo tends to be louder than what you realize, due to the way the sound projects. 

If you like it stuffed, stuff it. Of not, don't. Regardless, do learn how to use your hands for dynamics. 

carlb - Posted - 06/03/2020:  06:38:25

I'm with Mike on this also. You should be able to play softly or loudly as desired, so I would suggest developing your technique to be able to do that.

Viper - Posted - 06/03/2020:  08:15:03

I used to stuff, but then I stopped. I think part of this decision was because I've gotten a little more confident in playing and have learned (as said above) to adjust my playing to be either loud or soft, depending on the situation. Plus, it's good to know what my banjo REALLY sounds like.

raybob - Posted - 06/03/2020:  21:46:43

I go back and forth. Mostly I don’t stuff, but sometimes I do. Right now I’m stuffing both my players just a little. Sometimes it sounds good to me sometimes not so much.

mjt0229 - Posted - 06/04/2020:  08:05:38

I have 4 different banjos - one by Zach Hoyt, a tackhead by Eric Prust, a Pisgah Rambler, and a Rickard Maple Ridge. I find that stuffing all of them is necessary. It's not to control the volume at all - without the stuffing the banjos sound to me like they're being played inside a metal trash can. I've noticed this with banjos in shops, too, so I don't think I just picked a crop of duds or set them up badly.

I think I stuff them pretty lightly - just a sock or rolled up rag near the neck joint, with just enough pressure to keep it in place when the banjo is hanging up.

Edited by - mjt0229 on 06/04/2020 08:06:56

Noah Cline - Posted - 06/04/2020:  11:29:06

Really I guess it depends on what the banjo is made of, tone ring type and material, how it's set up, etc, and the sound you want from it. My homemade open back has a vintage wooden rim and no tone ring with nylon strings and I have a sock placed up at the heel joint. I had a Lyon & Healy Mysitc that had a spunover rim and goatskin head with nylons and it actually sounded great without any stuffing (it was one of a few open back banjos I've owned to be like this). 

I didn't stuff my Morgan Monroe Luxmore for the first couple years I owned it (has a Whyte Laydie tone ring), and as Mark T mentioned, that's about how I would describe the sound of it. My taste in sound changed, and I too used a rolled up sock (a clean one, of course ;) ) and placed it just snug under the bridge, as this seemed to give the best sound overall and at this position it doesn't kill all the volume. This banjo, having one of the brighter tone rings, definitely "rings" and has some overtones, otherwise. 


Edited by - Noah Cline on 06/04/2020 11:32:29

Bum Ditty Brendan - Posted - 06/05/2020:  18:14:19

I stuffed once upon a time because thats what so many folks do. During a lesson, Tom Collins wanted to hear what my banjo sounded like without the stuff - it did sound better (It is a huss and Dalton singletree 12" tubaphone).

When I do stuff, it is because the overtones aren't what I want to hear. But I am dubious if others on the other end of the banjo hear these overtones.

Bart Veerman - Posted - 06/05/2020:  20:47:59


Originally posted by clawgrasser


Heavy ringing, undisciplined tone when unstuffed. Gorgeous tone when stuffed with light foam pad. Kind of a Stelling banjo for old timers


Your own ears are the only ones that can do the deciding so it sounds to me that you've answered your own question smiley

clawgrasser - Posted - 06/06/2020:  08:59:27

Back in the day I never stuffed. I didn't even know that stuffing. But I sold a Vega Tubaphone because of its ringiness. I sometimes unstuff in a large noisy pub jam.

Paul R - Posted - 06/07/2020:  06:05:56

My banjos are stuffed with pieces of foam. I've tried other materials but this is what I've arrived at. (Someone at the jam said my banjos are filled with socks and underwear. I've never tried either.) My main banjos are a resonator with a Liberty arch-top tone ring and top tension set up, and a Jake Neufeld open-back with a Mastertone style twenty-hole tone ring. I stuffed to cut down on overtones. I'm quite satisfied with the stuffing and set up, no crashy sound but still enough ring.

Back when I was briefly teaching, a student came with a 1905 S.S. Stewart with a skin head. He didn't need to stuff at all.

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