I am writing this blog in the hopes that I might be able to help at least one other person who may be facing similar struggles with a “sticking” Schaller D-tuner. In looking on here I have seen quite a few blogs and comments from people who have had bad fortune with Schallers. Most of the comments I have seen are about “slipping” tuners. My problem was not with “slipping” but with mine sticking or binding up.
I bought mine (the second string B to A and the third string G to F#) from Janet Davis Music (from here on JDM) and they were installed by Arthur Hatfield when he converted my old vintage Gibson TB-11. In addition to his other work and installing these, he swapped out my pearlite nut for a herring bone nut. After getting my banjo back I found that when I tried to work the D-tuners and turn them “down” they were not returning to their pitch. So I called a technician at JDM, and described what the D-tuner was doing. He recommended opening the slot in the nut a little wider with a piece of fine sandpaper (turned sideways and inserted into the groove) and adding a little graphite. Perhaps the herring bone nut was adding a little more resistance to the string moving when it was being tightened and loosened. But that didn't fix the second string D-tuner. The third String one was working. I tried working the D-tuners and setting them up after “overshooting” the notes slightly in hopes that when I turned them back down, they would return to the right place. Sometimes this worked, but it was too inconsistent and performing with them was terrible. And so I just let more time go by in frustration, not using my D-tuners.
Then I read some blogs on the hangout and many people were having trouble with Schallers. Apparently the expensive Keiths are the only way to go. There was a lot of talk about them "slipping." So I examined mine closely (the B). When I turned it "down" the post would rotate part of the way immediately and then the rest of the way slowly. So I called up the technicians again at JDM. The guy told me that it was probably a barb in the post rubbing against the cylinder. He recommended that I go ahead and spent the money get the Keiths and that the Schallers just aren't worth the time and effort of taking them apart and working them with mineral oil. I asked him about putting a heavier gauge string on the banjo to overcome the resistance. He said I could try it, but it really should work with any gauge string.
Then after I hung up with him it dawned on me that the two d-tuners (2nd and 3rd string) were identical, and that there would be more tension on g string then there would be on the b string. So I swapped them. The g string provided enough tension on the tuner that was in the b position to make it work! And the tuner that was on the g worked correctly with the b string (thank goodness!). So now they are both working perfectly! I am very happy about this because I cannot afford the Keiths at least for a while. Also, I do prefer playing with lighter gauge strings. I called JDM back and gave them feedback on my findings (so they have closure to the problem, and perhaps could advise on others with the same problem and help them). I was told that is why the Keiths have a different diameter cylinder for the B than the G because of the difference in string tension. Very interesting!
So if you are having trouble with your 2nd (B) string D-tuner, try putting it on the G. If there is resistance causing it to bind up, this might make the difference along with having enough space in the nut slot and a little graphite.
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