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Silent Banjo Project

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

I've been looking for a way to practice quieter. Mike's Banjo Mute is great, but even that is a little too loud when the rest of the family is sleeping. I also wanted something lighter, and more portable, and ideally something I could listen to with earphones. I find that when I practice a lot with a mute, playing without it is a whole different thing that mute practice hasn't prepared me for.
I came across the Silent Banjo website, but these mesh heads are no longer available. 

http://www.silentbanjo.com

The Tranjo silent option looks good too, but not in stock that I could find, and would cost way more than I wanted to spend. 

http://www.tranjo.com/silent.php

So I took inspiration from these, and decided to install a mesh head the way skin heads are installed. I found that method here:

https://www.stewmac.com/How-To/Online_Resources/Learn_About_Building_Instruments_and_Kits/How_to_install_a_skin_banjo_head.html

I wanted to make sure to use the right kind of mesh, so I bought a Pearl Muffle drum head, which looks like the same head used in the unavailable Silent Banjo head. I couldn't find a source for a flesh hoop, so I bought a banjo head with a metal rim to remove and use.


Here are my supplies:

Goldtone AC-1 banjo $212

Pearl 16" Muffle Head $20

Remo 11" Fiberskyn Banjo Head $26

K&K Hotspot Pickup $44

Vox Amplug 2 Clean $41

Total: $343


Step 1 - First I  removed the hoop from the 11" banjo head 

 


 

Step 2 - I sanded the inner cut edge because it was a little rough

 

Step 3 - I removed the mesh from the Muffle drum head 

 

Step 4 - This was the hardest part because the mesh was very springy and didn't want to stay in place. I found it easiest to pull some mesh through one spot at a time, and install a hook there to hold it. Then, following the skin head instructions, got all of the head in place with a few hooks holding it. Then I installed all of the hooks, tightened  a little, but not too much, pulled out all the wrinkles, while tightening more and more until it was tightened down so the top of the tension ring was level with the top of the head.


 

Step 5 - I trimmed the excess mesh...VERY carefully

 

Step 6 - I reinstalled the tailpiece and re-strung the banjo


Step 7 - I installed the pickup under the bridge.

 


So far, I like it, it's really quiet from the outside, but plenty loud in the headphones. And the headphone amp has an Aux-in port, so I can pipe in a backing track to play along with, and hear the banjo in the headphones at the same time. Also, the Aux port seems to be pass-through, which is nice because I can control that volume separately from the source.

The main problem with the instrument is it's difficult to tune because a) the mesh is springier than a standard Mylar head, so tuning one string changes the tuning of all the other strings, and there's a lot of back-and-forth to get it in tune, and b) very little sound vibration transmits through the mesh, so a clip-on tuner doesn't work well. I have an old guitar jack plug tuner that I use instead.

A couple other solvable issues: the trimmed mesh edge sticks up a little and irritates my arm. I am looking for an armrest that works with this banjo. Also, this banjo is very light and needs a strap to hold it in place while playing.

Here is a video of the different head setups on this instrument.

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