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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Neck Straightness Issues - How much does it matter?


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/382835

woodpekkerfrommars - Posted - 04/26/2022:  00:58:16


Hello,

I'm looking to buy my first vintage banjo, and I've noticed that several I've come across look or mention issues whereby the neck isn't perfectly straight.

I of course understand it can cause problems in intonation or sharpness, but my question is - should this put me off buying? Do these issues make the old banjos unplayable, and is it a problem that can be fixed and if so, what kind of work would be involved?

Thanks for any help!

Helix - Posted - 04/26/2022:  03:46:25


I have seen many necks that were older, very straight and playable.

You need a straight and untwisted neck to play music, otherwise hang it on the wall.

csacwp - Posted - 04/26/2022:  04:39:46


Sometimes a twisted neck can be straightened, but it's usually not worth the effort. I generally keep clear of banjos with bowed or twisted necks.

BobbyE - Posted - 04/26/2022:  05:19:27


Another consideration is the question, 'has it twisted all it is going to?' What is playable at the time of purchase might not be a year down the road.

Bobby

kyleb - Posted - 04/26/2022:  07:36:41


a twisted neck can be fixed, but unless you are a luthier or know one well enough to get a good deal, it can be very expensive to fix a neck. Usually its cheaper to replace it (which is not very cheap either). So unless the banjo is valuable its probably not worth fixing. That said I'm lucky enough to know a great luthier who helped me fix an old fairbanks banjo with a twisted neck and now its only of my favorite 1880s banjos to play.

The Old Timer - Posted - 04/26/2022:  07:57:42


A badly twisted or bowed neck is unplayable because the strings won't fret properly at all postions. So unless you're talking about a fretless banjo, the only satisfaction you get from a "vintage" banjo with a bad neck is its appearance -- a wallhanger.

If you're a tough guy you might be able to "power through" a neck with forward bow -- it's much harder to fret, and the further up the neck you go the more the intonation suffers (beyond what bridge adjustment can solve). What's even worse is a neck with BACK-bow, that probably can't be played at all.

Warped/twisted necks are right out.

However, for instance with old Vegas and Fairbanks that have had metal strings for a century (or more) with no truss rod, it's not at all unusual to have noticeable but not fatal forward bow. These banjos often had "high action" when they were made, by today's bluegrass standards, so of course the action now can be quite high. You do as much as you can to correct it with a lower bridge height, 1/2" or less. And you learn to live with the high action over the upper frets. But they can be played! Honest sellers will usually point out this neck bow, to prevent grumpy buyers from returning the instrument.

As long as you get to personally try out a banjo before you commit to the purchase, you can decide if forward bow is acceptable or not. But back bow and warp/twist are unlikely to be adequate without repairs.

beegee - Posted - 04/26/2022:  11:40:42


If it is twisted or bowed, it may or may not be repairable. If it is, be prepared to pay for a quality repair job. Different techniques may be required for different problems

AJLeonardi - Posted - 04/26/2022:  11:44:57


One thing that hasn't been mentioned here is that depending on the banjo and the price -- you may consider buying it and having a new neck built. Obviously there are desirable banjos out there where everything's good, except the neck and it would be worthwhile to have a neck made (or another neck fitted to it).

I'm not sure that's your situation, but figured I'd throw it out there!

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 04/26/2022:  13:52:45


If the seller points out a warped neck, it may be that he's aware that the banjo has issues.

There are enough banjos out there to get one without any neck issues, so I wouldn't bother with looking at warped necks.

mikehalloran - Posted - 04/26/2022:  15:50:53


quote:

Originally posted by woodpekkerfrommars

Hello,



I'm looking to buy my first vintage banjo, and I've noticed that several I've come across look or mention issues whereby the neck isn't perfectly straight.



I of course understand it can cause problems in intonation or sharpness, but my question is - should this put me off buying? Do these issues make the old banjos unplayable, and is it a problem that can be fixed and if so, what kind of work would be involved?



Thanks for any help!






Unfortunately, "isn't perfectly straight" covers a lot of ground. Likewise, as you've read, whether it's an issue or not depends on the player, style of music, the player, what remedies exist (if any) and the player.



For a good deal of my performing career, my main mandolin and symphony bass had a slight twist to their necks. I was always going to get them repaired but never did. I played the bass for 40 years and the mandolin for 15.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 04/26/2022:  20:09:50


I once owned an Epiphone recording banjo wit a slight twist in the neck. It played fine.

Still, as a "first banjo" I think you should avoid twists and warps. No sense learning on a questionable banjo, and would you, as a newcomer, even be aware that your banjo might not be quite right or that you may be learning to compensate for an issue your second or third banjo may not have? A bad banjo can lead you to some bad playing habits.

woodpekkerfrommars - Posted - 04/27/2022:  13:47:03


Thank you all for your detailed replies. I have decided not to persue the banjo I was interested in. It sounds not worth the effort, even if it was only $150 (for an SS Stewart 1880's model).

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 04/27/2022:  14:17:26


That is suspiciously cheap for an SSStewart, although it may have been a grade 2, which is a lesser Stewart model.

Those really old banjos many times suffer from neck issues because previous owners put steel strings on a banjo designed for gut strings. Stewarts are one of the high quality instruments from the 1880's that were meant for gut, and far too many have been ruined by the use of steel. Wooden tuners and Ivoroid tailpieces are also many times victims of steel, frets can be worn badly, and even rims can get distorted by the extra tension and cutting action of steel.

I am glad you chose not to purchase this one. You might look at something newer and more robust that might also suit whatever style you plan to learn.

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