While this dampener was originally designed to replace the obligatory old rag, sock, or sponge many old time players stuff between the dowel stick and the head to mellow their tone a touch, this adjustable device ended up providing a remarkably wide spectrum of tone and volume control options, making it unique among mutes and dampeners available today.
When placed directly beneath the bridge it serves as a fantastic practice mute, almost completely eliminating vibrations of the bridge and head--thus serving the purpose of other over-bridge mutes, but with less intrusiveness and more adjustability. A delicate touch to the head under the bridge, provided by the exact and easy control over the height with just a little spin, allows its effective application without the strings going sharp in pitch.
From there a whole spectrum of tones and volumes can be achieved by the dampener's proximity to the bridge--the further away, the more vibrations you allow to transfer into the head, thus effectively controlling volume. It's almost like an acoustic volume knob, and provides subtle volume and tone control without sacrificing anything from the right hand's attack.
While the raw brass version excels at giving excellent volume control while maintaining your banjo's clarity and brightness, the leather-capped version applies just a slightly softer touch and imparts a bit more of a rounded old-timey sound, along the lines of what calfskin heads or nylguts strings might, but without sacrificing the stability and volume of steel strings and synthetic heads. That said, the leather version also works perfectly well as a practice mute, and the difference is subtle--yet marked to a good ear. This is the design I recommend to mimic the commonly used rag stuffed behind the dowel, and it has the added benefit of looking appropriate and aesthetic used behind transparent heads.
These come in three different sizes so far--one or the other should fit nearly all banjos with dowel stick construction. The tallest fits all Vegas I've tried, the middle size works for my Slingerland / May Bells, and the smallest I developed for a very shallow-potted Bay State with spunover rim, and may be useful for mando-banjos or possible even banjo-ukes.
In order to determine which size will work best for you (they overlap a bit, so there is wiggle room) you'll need to measure two spots between the dowel stick and the back of your head--once right under the bridge, and again as near to the neck joint as possible. (Eventually I'll get these more standardized but for now that's the easiest way to get you the right dampener.)
All fit easily in a pocket or the accessory panel of your case, and feature interchangeable parts if a variety of banjos is on hand (lucky you!)
Raw brass is available for $27
Leather capped is available at $32
Both shipped free within the lower 48!
(Inquire for interchangeable parts or custom design.)
Please note that as of now leather color is random, but feel free to specify your preference and I'll see what I can do.
For an extra $1 I'll provide a thin adhesive-backed cork buffer to protect the dowel stick from the underside of the mute--just in case.
Keep an eye out for video demonstrations and other products on the way--including some very nice dual-action, internally threaded spool clamps for guitar, mandolin, violin, viola, or cello; and possibly a line of lightly arched banjo bridges to allow for playing banjo with a bow ("bowjo").
Please shoot me any questions you may have! Thanks for your time and I sincerely hope you enjoy this gizmo in your tool kit!
(Note: I could use some more measurements to develop a model suited to coordinator rods, but it's simply a matter of changing the hardware.)
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