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Zen and the art of banjo maintenance. Ooooommmmm....

Sunday, September 9, 2012

I don't get around to this very often. I suppose having Tom Nechville around has focused my attention. Tom is in the middle of his 2012 European tour. He has been over here in the UK and will be again on Tuesday, meanwhile, he is in Norway and has left me looking after some of his banjos. One of these banjos was in bits, Tom had been demonstrating this banjo and did not have the time to put it back together. A case of 'here's one I put together earlier.'

Today I had a bit of time and decided to have a go at putting it together. The banjo was essentially in two parts, the neck and the pot assembly. I thought it was too inviting so I set about disassembling the pot. I marked off the rotating ring that holds the pot together with a bit of tape, this is so I could get it back to the same position when re-assembing. I fetched the two wrenches that Tom supplies with every Heli-Mount banjo, located them in the rotating ring and turned them clockwise to loosen the ring off. After little more than a minute I was able to take the pot and tone ring out, being careful not to lose any of the stainless steel balls (Tone sphere's) that facilitate the construction.

At this stage, I could have easily changed the head if needed. Bear in mind I could have done all of this with the neck and the strings still in place. I gave everything a quick blow over with a duster and reversed the process, putting it back took me slightly longer. Naturally enough, more effort is required to tighten than loosen.

Now it was time for the neck. There is a brass gizmo on the side of the Heli-Mount  where the neck joins. Having made sure the gizmo was correctly oriented, I married the gizmo with the corresponding hole in the neck, all that was needed now  was to tighten the discrete grub screw in the heel of the neck with an Allen key. Neck adjustment would have to wait until the strings were on.

The neck still had the strings on. The tail piece is totally held in place by the tension of the strings, It makes it a little bit  tricky getting that first string on. It does have its advantages though, with practise the neck, strings and tailpiece can be removed, as one, in less than a minute and attached almost as quickly. This means you can pack your Nechville in you normal luggage. When you arrive at your destination, your banjo is back in one piece and ready to play inside a few minutes!

Having strung it up and replaced the bridge, I noticed that despite having a 11/16" bridge the action was way too low. This was quickly remedied. Placing the banjo face down on my lap, I loosened the grub screw on the heel. Once it was loose the tension of the strings naturally pulled on the neck. I applied gentle pressure on the point of join until the neck was where I thought it would be at the correct angle. Turning the banjo over, I was still unhappy with the action, I tried this a couple of times until I was completely satisfied. Then it was just the simple matter of tuning it up. All this and not a coordinator rod in sight, also no risk of distorting my pot.

Whoop de doo! the banjo was now ready to play.

Thank you Tom Nechville for making banjo maintenance such a breeze! More like a meditative experience than the nerve wracking experience of taking a traditional banjo apart.

The experience was so cathartic I stripped down my own banjo. Why? to clean it of course! Nothing beats a shiny tone ring :-)



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Playing Since: 2004
Experience Level: Purty Good

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Occupation: Guitar/Banjo/Mandolin Tutor

Gender: Male
Age: 69

My Instruments:
Mahogany Nechville Nextar.

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
Primarily I love the Lonesome River Band, Ronnie Bowman and The Nashville Bluegrass Band. My favourite musicians are David Grier, Tony Trischka, Sammy Shelor, Lou Reid, Terry Baucom the list is endless.

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Created 3/9/2006
Last Visit 11/5/2023

Guy Rogers has been performing on the acoustic music scene for close on 40 years. Originally captivated by the thriving folk scene in the early seventies Guy soon got drawn into bluegrass music and has pretty much been playing it ever since. Guy sings and plays an eclectic mix of music ranging from Bluegrass, Folk, Americana and Country, from murder ballads to humour, all played on a variety of instruments such as flat picked guitar, 5 string banjo and mandolin. Guy also writes his own songs and instrumentals and is currently planning a solo CD.

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