I've had multiple requests to share how I setup my Stellings so I will do my best to explain the why and how. I've owned half a dozen Stellings through the years and really didn't quite understand the nuances of how to get the best sound out of them for quite a while. I probably sold some good ones that I should've kept due to my ignorance. Hopefully this will help those who are still tinkering with theirs to get the best results quickly and avoid a lot of trial and error.
A well setup Stelling is a joy to play and will knock the socks off of most Mastertone style banjos being made today.
Note: One thing I've noticed about Stellings is that small incremental adjustments are best. Just a small change in head tension, bridge placement or tailpiece adjustment can make a big difference overall so be patient when doing the setup. You can go right past the sweet spot if your not paying attention. This setup is for a 2003+ Pass rimmed Stelling. Your mileage may vary for a pre-Pass rim Stelling as they are quite different animals.
1. Keep the Ludwig head that comes stock. I've tried traditional Remos on a Stelling and they tended to lose some of the clarity, punch and volume. Tune it to a G#. One of the best ways to tap tune a head I've found is using a free app called Pitchlab Lite (Free). Simply launch it on your smartphone and lean it against the tension hoop while the banjo is resting on a couch or chair, mute the strings and lightly tap the head with a pencil and eraser. You will get the tap note and it's corresponding Hz. Once you dial in the head tension write down the Hz and you can retune the head to perfection anytime. Mine is set to around 210Hz using this method.
2. The tailpiece is VERY sensitive to adjustments on a Stelling. It will depend on the tension hoop height but assuming you have the stock Ludwig I set mine with just slight downward pressure. Just snug up the tension screw a little bit. The TP should be almost parallel with the head. I have found that putting too much downward pressure will choke off the volume and sustain and even a half turn on the tension screw can make a big difference. Adjust the pivot pin screws out about 5/32 gap from the tension hoop.
3. I never liked the stock Stelling bridges. Instead I use Sullivan roasted bridges on everything. I used to use Scorpions but find the Sullivan's give a more well-rounded tone and really bring out the depth and clarity. You may need to slightly thin them down a bit. They are only $10 so buy a couple to experiment with.
4. Use light gauge strings. 10-20-13-10-9.5 They give a sweetness and sustain that heavier gauge strings don't. This is especially true on a Stelling which by its nature is crisp and sharp.
5. Make sure the neck has enough relief in it so you aren't choking off the volume or creating buzz with the lighter strings..
That's about all the major stuff I can think of for now. Good luck with your Stellings!!
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