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7071 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: - banjotailpiece.com
SKIP TO MEAT AND POTATOES IF YOU DO NOT WANT THE ENTIRE NARRATIVE
Let me first start by saying that I am fairly new to banjos. I do not know anything about pre-war sound, or really care either. I just want to play my banjo easily and clearly and do so absent of any detractors from the banjo being able to produce it's natural tones, or playability. So I am writing this review from a new banjo player's perspective, however I have played guitar off and on for 30 years, so I do have a pretty good ear.
If you look at my review of the Presto tailpiece, you will see where this review begins, and the problems I was encountering. Now, on to my new experience with the Fults Pro 5 tailpiece with XYZ mount.
I was surprised there were not many reviews for the Pro 5 but I stepped out on a limb, and based on all the information I read, and what I saw on the product website, and I went with the Pro 5.
My purchasing experience was typical, in that I selected the product and paid online on the website. I got the requisite email response for my order. A day later I got a message from Bob Fults, personally, (which I thought was remarkable) letting me know that my item had shipped, which included a tracking number. A few days later it arrived in the mail. No problems. It was packaged well and in a very professional box with a professional store type label on it, and a set of excellent instructions on installation, operation, and set up.
The unit arrive pre-assembled with the Pro 5 head and XYZ mount together. The mount actually is ordered, by width, to mount on your bottom two tension hooks, so they have to come off. I removed the resonator, and the Presto junk, tail piece. The screw the Presto mounts to was bent, no surprise there. I took of the two tension hooks after marking their location on the flange with a sharpie, so I could tighten them back to where they were.
The XYZ mount has some spacers where you can set the distance from the rim in one of three settings. Those settings are made by moving three spacers. You can set it close to the rim, far from the rim, or in between close and far. I selected the middle setting for starters.
I placed the hooks back on the banjo and tightened them back up to where they were and put the resonator back on. Next I set the side to side adjustment so that the center slot lined up visually with the third string slot on the nut. This centered the unit to the neck.
I held everything in place and tightened the set screws a bit and set the height so there was about 1/16 inch gap between the bottom of the tailpiece and the top of the tension hoop. Then i tightened the set screws on down. This was just a starting place based upon what I read in the tone adjustment instructions.
Stringing up is a little more difficult as the front area, where the strings usually just hook under, now has a sterling silver bar the strings have to pass beneath. It was different but not a problem. I just put some plain Martin light strings on it. Nothing fancy, just what was available locally.
MEAT AND POTATOES
Design: I have always been perplexed about why the third string gets different treatment. If you look at most tailpieces, the distance of free string between the bridge and the tailpiece is longer than the other four strings. Now incidentally, I, and based upon what I read, so do a lot of other people, have had a difference in performance on the third string. This difference in free string distance could be a contributing factor, I propose. I have never been able to get a satisfactory tone when performing a slide on the third string. It always sounds more dead.
Well, the Pro 5, is different. All five strings run under a sterling silver bar that spans the full width of the tailpiece front. It is brilliant, yet so obvious, at the same time. Also the tailpiece is well polished, and quite solid and has reinforcements for strength. It is a very well made piece.
Performance: This tailpiece has really helped my banjo come alive. It is far more loud that before, and I cannot be more pleased to tell you that the third string performance is now 100% on par with the other four strings. It is so new to me to be able to hear it just ring and come alive and sustain so well. The banjo as a whole has much more of a clear ring, and sustain. I hear no imbalance. There are no buzzes. The head just really vibrates in a way I have never felt before.
I hold the belief that this tailpiece, set up the way I have it, has allowed my banjo to do what it has wanted to do all of its life, but was being held back by the previous tailpiece.
So in summary, set up is everything. The XYZ mount allows you the adjustability to set up the tailpiece to change properties to exactly how you want them based on the sound you want, just follow the recommendations in the instructions.
The tailpiece itself is made the way it should be with all strings being treated equally as far as free string distance to the bridge. It is also sturdy enough to stay where you put it, and there is no way it will bend over time. I am unsure what the sterling silver does for the system, but I am certain that many experiments were tried and this must have given the best performance.
Will this tailpiece transform your banjo into a pre-war super banjo sounding machine? Probably not. Will it let your banjo express itself the way it always has wanted to? I believe that so long as you have worked all the other set up problems out of your banjo, that yes, this tailpiece will definitely give you something to smile about.
Overall Rating: 10
Where Purchased: Bob Fults
Review of Fults Pro-5 banjo tailpiece:
Bob Fults has again advanced the banjo tailpiece to make others obsolete… possibly, even his own previous models!
Previously I was using the setup technique of having the tailpiece close to the head for best tone. I replaced my Fults 1934 Parallel with the presto-design Pro-5, and set the Pro-5 close to the head as I had done previously... and was disappointed with the results. Too bright and thin on tone. I notified Mr. Fults, who got word back to me through a local banjo / Fults tailpiece expert. His suggestion: back the tailpiece off further from the head; I was choking the sound. On doing this… having the head of the Pro-5 with only light downbearing pressure on the strings… the banjo came alive like it has never been before. For comparison, I again installed the 1934 Parallel, in this same higher-tailpiece configuration, and the Pro-5 was still the tone winner. How I think it does it: This new model is a lighter-weight presto design, and now incorporates a silver strip under the tailpiece head (where the strings make contact). The result is a brighter sound. Normally, this brighter sound might be offensive, as one wants some good low-end frequencies to come through. However, with the tailpiece tilted away from the banjo head, the high-frequency sound is decreased to the right amount, the low frequency comes through… and the banjo head is now more free to vibrate!
Benefits: The banjo head can now be lowered in tension, if desired, allowing the head to vibrate yet more freely. Apart from that, there is a lot less pressure on the bridge, giving less tendency to warp the bridge… even though the tailpiece is not of the parallel design. The instrument has better resonance and more “open sound.” I now get the beautiful higher end clarity, along with the lower end bass frequencies. I am impressed. I tried this on both my bluegrass banjo and my openback, and both sound “top in their class” with the Pro-5. I have already put on order a second Pro-5, so both of my instruments can have this upgrade. The first Pro-5 I got was chrome plated: the next is to be with gold plating. Gold not only dresses up the instrument, but is considered a tone metal, and might give yet better tone. The area where the strings make contact appears to be plated, possibly affecting the tone benefits of the strip of silver. Will gold make it sound better? We’ll see...
Downside? Stringing is just a bit more involved, as there are holes for the strings to go through; the 1934 Parallel had slots for the strings to slip under during installation. I am not offended at this, as the increase in tone more than compensates for the minor trouble.
The Pro-5 appears to have less downward range of motion available, as compared to the 1934 Parallel. (The Pro-5 head will bottom out on the tension hoop of my bluegrass instrument, before complete tailpiece contact could have been made with the banjo head. My openback appears to have a shorter tension hoop, and doesn’t have this problem. However, I do not consider this to be of consequence, as one doesn’t want to have the tailpiece extremely close to the head now anyway.
For a mount, I strongly recommend the XYZ mount. For only a few dollars more, it is Bob’s best mount. I started with the F-20 mounts, and replaced both of them with the XYZ. Incidentally, Mr. Fults is currently recommending the use of the upper mounting hole in his tailpiece, at installation. There are two holes on each side, where the tailpiece is attached to the mount. Using the higher hole will have the tailpiece sit lower in the mount..
In summary: If you are wanting to upgrade your instrument, buy the Pro-5 with XYZ mount. I may even end up selling my 1934 Parallels!
I appreciate the work Bob Fults has done in vastly advancing the design of the banjo tailpiece.
- Ken W in Portland, Oregon March 28, 2011
Overall Rating: 10
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