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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Towel or No Towel


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/364776

Oldman3527 - Posted - 06/08/2020:  15:29:52


I'm fairly new to clawhammer and currently have a Gold Tone CC-50 openback. I've using Elixer medium strings and like the tone. However, I've been using a towel inside to soften the sound up a bit more. I'm getting used to the tone to the extent that I actually prefer to use the towel inside rather than go without. Is there some type of rule that says clawhammer music is played without a towel in the pot? Does it matter as long as I like it and can hit the notes? Am I a candidate for a mountain banjo?

Please advise....

Thanks,
John

Zachary Hoyt - Posted - 06/08/2020:  15:40:09


If it's an authentic pre-war towel you'll be fine, otherwise maybe not.

writedivine - Posted - 06/08/2020:  16:04:29


I like to use drum damper gel, the clear kind.

Vanjo - Posted - 06/08/2020:  16:15:32


I use various materials in mine... I suppose it's not conventional banjoing but some do prefer it. I started because I wanted to quiet down a banjo I had a long time ago and came to prefer the softer tone.

Bill Rogers - Posted - 06/08/2020:  16:52:28


On rare occasion I might use an old sock. Mostly I don’t. I see it as pointless to spend premium money for a good tone-ring banjo and then work to make it sound like a cheap clunker. Others may disagree, but htat’s my take.

George Flink - Posted - 06/08/2020:  17:04:30


A prewar diaper is preferable. If you can find one of Earl's even better.

the-fish - Posted - 06/08/2020:  18:54:20


Agree with bill

Noah Cline - Posted - 06/08/2020:  19:00:10


I prefer to use a rolled up sock and placed where I think the sound is the best. My main player has a Whyte Laydie tone ring, and I would describe it as sounding "airy" without any stuffing. The sock just helps soften it up and gets rid of any overtones. 

Alvin Conder - Posted - 06/08/2020:  20:04:50


I’ll never understand why folks will hunt and search and agonize for months over getting the ultimate vintage banjo, or wait, months and years even to get a premium built custom banjo, then question and search over the right perfect bridge, type of head, head tension, strings...and when all that is aligned...just so...shove a towel or a sock in the back so it sounds like a poorly set up $200.00 Buckbee.

Putting a towel or a sock in the back just ruins the tone that the builders originally intended. It’s a waste. Near a sin and an insult to the instrument and the tradition of banjo playing.

Everybody who is anybody knows it has to be an old tee-shirt.

mrphysics55 - Posted - 06/08/2020:  20:36:06


laugh

BrooksMT - Posted - 06/08/2020:  20:57:16


John, it's your banjo, you can do anything you want with it.

Sometimes I prefer the towel, sometimes I don't. It's music, which is Art, which is entirely in the eye/ear of the beholder.

Some songs need the ring of the tone ring, some do better with less harmonics and less sustain i.e. better with a towel = my opinion, see above sentence :-)

I suffered ear damage back in 2016. Some days my ear ringing is so loud, that not-stuffing is just not an option -- I need the quieter sound of a stuffed banjo.

Hope this helps.

talljoey - Posted - 06/08/2020:  23:51:12


I use a towel when I want to practice in the evening. If I am playing outside, or jamming with friends, then I take it out.

I prefer the soft sound of a towel over a mute. Playing with a mute makes my banjo sound like it has been huffing nitrous oxide.


Edited by - talljoey on 06/09/2020 00:01:02

GrahamHawker - Posted - 06/09/2020:  00:52:47


I checked some banjo parts sellers and none are selling towels or socks or sponges for stuffing banjos. Why is this? Deering haven't even patented the banjo towel. Perhaps they are missing a trick.

If you want to deaden the sound of the banjo put on a fiberskyn head. I have to admit that I take off arm rests so I have clothing touching the head. Although the deadening affect is much more limited than putting a towel in the back. The key is more setup than towels. My banjos used to have overtones I didn't like which stuffing would have cured. But I went for the setup route instead.

I always went for mellow tones and still do but towels or socks stuffing is too much. The only time this helps a bit is with cheap and nasty harsh sounding banjos. These days I'm more interested in the banjo sounding like a banjo than making it sound as dead as a guitar. Last weekend I worked on my three Recording King resonator banjos (one is now actually an open back with a flathead tone ring). These are not mellow but the sound is good. And suddenly my open backs sounded a bit dull. Actually of course they sound fine but it is just what you get used to.

mike gregory - Posted - 06/09/2020:  03:38:36


If you're playing traditional music, it seems appropriate to use traditional stuffing.



Just follow the instructions on the box.



GrahamHawker - Posted - 06/09/2020:  03:49:43


quote:

Originally posted by m06


let it ring.



This is the best three word summary of the way to proceed.

AndrewD - Posted - 06/09/2020:  04:27:35


If you like that muffled tone. It's your banjo. But if you do use a towel it should be a bar towel. I keep one in my case. Not for stuffing (I like my banjos unstuffed) but to wipe it down after a pub session. Or as Graham suggests, play the banjo while touching cloth.

Oldman3527 - Posted - 06/09/2020:  05:22:34


quote:

Originally posted by BrooksMT

John, it's your banjo, you can do anything you want with it.



Sometimes I prefer the towel, sometimes I don't. It's music, which is Art, which is entirely in the eye/ear of the beholder.



Some songs need the ring of the tone ring, some do better with less harmonics and less sustain i.e. better with a towel = my opinion, see above sentence :-)



I suffered ear damage back in 2016. Some days my ear ringing is so loud, that not-stuffing is just not an option -- I need the quieter sound of a stuffed banjo.



Hope this helps.



Finally, someone who understands.  I worked 44 years in an automotive glass fabricating plant.  The hearing protection wasn't real great for the first 20 years or so and my hearing is reduced somewhat.  Like you, ear ringing is a constant companion.  



I don't enjoy real sharp and loud tones.  That's why I prefer the somewhat muffled tone of a small hand towel stuffed in the back of the banjo.  I know that I am most certainly not the greatest player but this is what sounds pleasing to my ear. 



That being said, there are some days when I sit on the back deck with some coffee, the towel comes out and I can enjoy what I have.  Perhaps as the days go by and my playing becomes more controlled and restrained I'll find that balance point where I won't use the towel at all because the music sounds so good.








 

Bill - Posted - 06/09/2020:  08:37:29


quote:

Originally posted by BrooksMT

John, it's your banjo, you can do anything you want with it.



Sometimes I prefer the towel, sometimes I don't. It's music, which is Art, which is entirely in the eye/ear of the beholder.



Some songs need the ring of the tone ring, some do better with less harmonics and less sustain i.e. better with a towel = my opinion, see above sentence :-)



I suffered ear damage back in 2016. Some days my ear ringing is so loud, that not-stuffing is just not an option -- I need the quieter sound of a stuffed banjo.



Hope this helps.






I agree 100%.  I find it interesting, and just a bit hilarious sometimes, that various players think it's jut fine to:



a) change the strings to give the sound they like (costs $),



b) change the head to give the sound they like (costs $),



c) change the bridge to give the sound they like (costs $),



d) change the tailpiece to give the sound they like (costs $), or



e) change the banjo to give the sound they like (costs many $),  



and then turn around and go ballistic when someone uses a cheap piece of cloth give the sound they like.



I stuff or not depending on the room I'm playing in (or outdoor environment), the tune, the tuning, or the state of my tinnitus on any given day.  It works out just fine for me.


Edited by - Bill on 06/09/2020 08:38:03

Paul R - Posted - 06/09/2020:  21:31:15


I was (jokingly) accused of filling my banjo with socks and undewear - which gave me the idea that I could use my resonator banjo as a knapsack.



But I stuff my banjo(s) with a bit of foam. Flexible, unobtrusive, and easily removable if necessary. My main banjos can really ring and I like to get rid of crashy overtones. They still have quite enough ring when stuffed, they just sound a little more civilized. Oh, wait. Civilized - does that go against the grain of what a banjo stands for?



I wouldn't use a towel, at least, not after I'd dried off with it after a shower.


Edited by - Paul R on 06/09/2020 21:33:15

OM45GE - Posted - 06/10/2020:  03:26:01


It’s your banjo, it’s your towel and it’s your preference regarding the sound. Do what you want.

AndyW - Posted - 06/10/2020:  04:36:28


"I'm getting used to the tone to the extent that I actually prefer to use the towel inside rather than go without. "

This is a thing. It's called 'the exposure principle' and it's why for example you can often grow to love music you dislike at first hearing.

I stuff and peg the bridge to keep the sound down as I live in a small apartment (but prefer the sound of the banjo ringing out). When I remove these appendages the banjo sounds very strange ringing out properly to an extent it affects my playing until I get used to it. I try to make a point of removing the stuffing regularly because of this.

Jelle - Posted - 06/10/2020:  07:35:06


Interesting topic, until now I've never played a premium open back banjo, but all the 'mid-rangers' I had sounded pretty harsh without stuffing. Especially while playing melodies the overtones take the upper hand. Individual notes sound much more distinct with small piece of cloth in pot.
Currently I'm waiting for my new Ome Tupelo to arrive, and I wonder if I can appreciate the sound of it in it's un-stuffed form.

Oldman3527 - Posted - 06/10/2020:  07:51:25


I've still been thinking about this and wonder if this isn't the primary reason after all. I am a beginner and I admit to that. My playing is not as clean and light as that of a master banjo player and it's quite obvious. Probably I think more unrestrained. Once in a while when I have decent control, the banjo sounds pretty good to me without the towel. I suspect that as time goes by, my playing becomes more natural and my skills grow, the banjo will sound much better than it does now.

AndyW - Posted - 06/10/2020:  10:27:16


I play alone most of the time so can't state this except for when I have recorded myself.

But a lot of the overtones you hear behind the banjo don't travel too far out front. So stuffing too much will sacrifice a lot of volume for possibly no good reason than to clean things up a bit for your own ear.

I've also noticed the same for my perceived huge difference in sound between my index and middle finger. Behind the banjo it sounds massive. But listening back to recordings from out front the difference in tone is much less noticeable.

gratefulbiker - Posted - 06/10/2020:  10:56:39


I like to use a small piece of foam to tame the overtones a bit. I’ve done it on pretty much every banjo I’ve owned and haven’t noticed a significant difference in volume unless the foam is directly under the bridge.

Knows Picker - Posted - 06/10/2020:  11:50:36


I sometimes use this little guy. He (?) is the perfect fit between the dowel stick and the head.

And he is very handy when my 3 year old comes in and wants attention!


Knows Picker - Posted - 06/10/2020:  11:51:24


I named him Sock.

Everything else in the house my daughter has already named Fred.

ceemonster - Posted - 06/10/2020:  16:19:14


]]]I see it as pointless to spend premium money for a good tone-ring banjo and then work to make it sound like a cheap clunker.[[[ Ha, love this. That is just how my banjos have sounded when I've experimented with the sock/sponge/dishtowel thing.



Not long ago I read a lengthy Banjo Newsletter interview with Richie Stearns, one of the Patient Zeroes of the skinhead-Dobson epidemic. They asked him about his setup. And he went into this long narrative describing all the, well, abuse, IMHO that he visits on his banjo. To make it louder. Because it's not loud enough. (At that point one does muse that not being loud is, after all, the nature of a Dobson tone ring, particularly with a skin over it.)



So, he went on to relate how to make it louder he jacks up the action a mile off the board and covers the bridge in something, and beats the daylights out of it when playing. He was detailing how the fretboards and necks of his banjos have to be replaced and fixed and stuff because he basically destroys them by jacking the thing up and beating on it.



This came to mind RE this thread topic because of the seeming illogic of choosing a tone ring or banjo type and then wanting a sound that is different from its nature. And persisting with that rather than seeking a banjo type designed to give the sound one wants. I think sometimes the needs and yearnings people have in this area are not musical or aesthetic. They are emotional/psychological.


Edited by - ceemonster on 06/10/2020 16:22:19

John Gribble - Posted - 06/10/2020:  17:33:34


All my several banjos are muted in one way or another. A scarf in one, a roll of muslin in another, foam rubber, etc, etc.

I like the way it sounds. Period.

Lew H - Posted - 06/10/2020:  20:47:50


It's entertaining to me that pickers buy banjos but don't like the tone, so they stuff stuff inside the pot. I would think it would be the listeners who want to stuff--their ears.

I did stuff a rubber chicken in my banjo for a while, but some chemical in it melted the rubber on my capo. Well that was a joke: A chicken in every pot, etc. Actually I would take the chicken out when I played.

More seriously, I have only recently begun to stuff a washcloth in my banjo but only to mute it a bit. Other pickers at our weekly jam (now cancelled by the virus) complained all the time: "Your banjo hurts my ears! Could you point it the other way!"

russtul - Posted - 06/12/2020:  12:51:50


My favorite is a piece of rabbit fur, and not very big either, maybe a 6"x6" rolled and placed under the tension bar. John Balch used to send a small one packed with his hide heads. It gives a great sound without muting all the overtones. You can find a bag of these fur scraps at Tandy's. listed as polishing or cleaning cloths I believe. Cheap too. Around $5.00 a bag as I recall.

Gordy Ohliger - Posted - 06/12/2020:  13:19:10


You can do any damn thing you want

LesCaldwell52 - Posted - 06/12/2020:  13:51:52


If it's possible to buy a banjo that already has the "toweled" sound. Can anyone suggest one? And I'm not talking about a banjo that the seller has already put a towel into. :-)

Jim Yates - Posted - 06/12/2020:  14:20:53


quote:

Originally posted by George Flink

A prewar diaper is preferable. If you can find one of Earl's even better.






In his old red book, Pete Seeger said, "A handkerchief is too small, a towel is too big, but a diaper is just right."



I use a pair of red socks.  (Other colours may work, but I think red ones work best.)

 



 

Brucie - Posted - 06/12/2020:  19:03:22


I have found the sound of my own banjo-picking to be improved by rolling two corners of a threadbare towel into tight cones, cutting them off where they are 1/4 inch thick, and...inserting them into my ears.
This economic method leaves 2 corners for a guest.

Noah Cline - Posted - 06/12/2020:  22:59:05


If people tell me to put a sock in it while playing, I can flip it around and say, "I done did it." cheeky

Im banjobruce - Posted - 06/12/2020:  23:02:25


To soften the tone a bit, switch to nylon strings; or swap in a skin head; or add a heavier bridge (100% ebony) . The most rewarding solution might be to focus on playing softer to begin with. It requires concentration and careful right hand control, which will improve your overall playing anyway.

pastorharry - Posted - 06/12/2020:  23:53:54


You'd be hard pressed to find a reputable CH player that does not use some type of stuffing in his/her banjo today. Their are some, but fewer by the day.It all depends on the tone you like....some like the piercing tone of say, George Pegram , while some prefer the deep, softer tones of say, Adam Hurt or Riley Baugus ...I stay in the latter camp, so I use a little stuffing.

rgoad - Posted - 06/17/2020:  17:29:35


It may be a combination of discomfort with your own playing tone as well as strange harmonics that come from the head, tail piece or other parts of the banjo. You say you are getting used to the sockless tone which may be attributable to your improved playing. Congratulations! As your ear matures you will hear tones more distinctly that you still don’t like that may require foam, leather, wooden shims or such to mute to your satisfaction. There is a well known banjo player who sticks the electrodes from an ekg machine to the inside of the head to kill unpleasant sounds.

trampagne - Posted - 06/17/2020:  18:50:48


quote:

Originally posted by rgoad

There is a well known banjo player who sticks the electrodes from an ekg machine to the inside of the head to kill unpleasant sounds.






Huh, never heard of that. I'm having an EKG done soon and I might just ask them if they can spare a couple of extra electrodes!

BanjarTater - Posted - 06/17/2020:  19:17:43


Step 1: I let my wife buy jewelry
Step 2: She let's me buy banjos
Step 3: I steal the foam square out of the box
Step 4: Tuck it under the head near the neck joint
Step 5: or not...


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