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Jun 14, 2018 - 12:55:49 AM
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8 posts since 6/13/2018

Good evening, morning, whatever it is wherever you are. This is my first post here. I have been reading a lot of existing threads and trying to pick up what I can. It looks like there is a whole world of knowledge here to absorb.  Anyway, I wanted to say hey and maybe generate a little discussion.

After years of threatening my wife with the idea that I might buy a banjo, I did - on paper.  I bought a secondhand Morgan Monroe Ol' Smokey a while back and am basically just goofing off with it, trying to see what I can learn. This is one of the ubiquitous yellow open back DaeWon clones. Looks identical in every way to the Ozark 2109G they get in the UK, and very nearly identical (other than a differently shaped peghead) to a Gold Tone CC-100. It is a very modest instrument, and I don't have any inclination to make it something it is not, but so far it has been rewarding to invest some time in setup to make it as good as it can be without going to the George Washington's Axe treatment.

Here's what I have done so far, roughly in order, with several of these steps repeated as warranted by other operations.

  1. Replaced the strings
  2. Tensioned the head (probably not tensioned since shipped in 2003)
  3. Adjusted compensator to set action height
  4. Cleaned everything, oiled all wooden components
  5. Adjusted tension rod to set neck relief
  6. Corrected neck-to-pot alignment (fretboard was not level with head)
  7. Removed head to verify presence of tone ring
  8. Reshaped tone ring for roundness and flatness, resoldered ends together
  9. Adjusted coordinator rods to get pot as round as possible (was out by ~1/8")
  10. Removed all hardware from pot and reinstalled with washers under screw heads to allow snug attachment
  11. Filed and sanded 1/16" from bottom of fretboard to eliminate contact with tension hoop
  12. Adjusted tailpiece height away from head (factory setting was as low as possible)
  13. Set bridge position for best intonation according to tuner
  14. EDIT 06/14: Enlarged lag bolt holes in pot, moved neck down 1/16" to better center the strings across the fretboard

 

So far, so good.  This has reminded me of rebuilding and tuning a carburetor; one change affects two more, and even if you start with something that is out of kilter in a dozen different ways, it is rewarding when all the apathy and wear are corrected and the thing works the way it is supposed to.  At this point, it's probably pretty close to optimized for the components involved, but the sound is very bright, and I would like to soften the tone a fair bit to something that is easier on the ear in a quieter home setting.  I'm going to try a Fiberskyn head (current is a frosted top), maybe a different tailpiece.  Probably a heavier bridge, or maybe just add some mass to the existing bridge on an experimental basis.  Some planetary tuners may go on just for fun as well.  They will not likely change the sound, but the current guitar tuners are less than pleasant to use.

Anybody have any suggestions or words of wisdom?  I'm not in this very much, and it's not a museum piece, so I'm not afraid to experiment.

Edited by - Cornan Taters on 06/14/2018 23:13:26

Jun 14, 2018 - 4:48:24 AM

gtani7 Players Union Member

USA

543 posts since 3/22/2017

Let's start with TLA's

First something somethin in Pac Northwest dejunk banjo shaped object?

Jun 14, 2018 - 5:02:27 AM

Ken LeVan Players Union Member

USA

10767 posts since 6/29/2005

ET snd's OK2 me

Jun 14, 2018 - 5:18:39 AM

13432 posts since 12/2/2005
Online Now

First of all, welcome.

Second of all, I tip my tewk at the wit demonstrated in your header and the clarity of your writing. I predict that a) you're going to enjoy this site, and b) its longtime denizens are going to enjoy you.

Third: just start playing the damned thing. I suppose that in NASCAR world there are people who'd far rather work on the cars than drive them, and you might be one of their banjo world doppelgangers. But you're running into the law of diminishing returns. There's only so much that can be done to bring out the best in ANY instrument, and time spent tweaking isn't time spent making music.

I think you should play the snot out of that thing, learn the magic of the instrument and the music, and start saving pennies for your next restoration project.

YMMV

Jun 14, 2018 - 6:00:39 AM

111 posts since 4/14/2017

A heavier bridge can take some of the shrill quality out of the tone. So can playing nearer the neck than the bridge, of course if you are in danger of keeping little ones awake a mute might be considered. I am with you on raising the tailpiece height, never played a Fiberskyn but I'm sure that would be big. Changing the depth in the pot won't be an issue since it's an open back. Also buy How to set up the Best Sounding Banjo by Roger Siminoff. I agree with Skip that playing and tinkering are two different things, but I say, always be a tinkerer. You'll be the first to know when a banjo doesn't need any more work, even a high line one. And being on the computer, places like this, is a bigger threat to your practice time than making adjustments to your banjo. I don't know your budget, but I'd say buy Gotoh tuners. You can always move them to another banjo if you upgrade, and it'll be like stepping out of an old MG into a new Toyota.

Jun 14, 2018 - 6:20:36 AM

rudy Players Union Member

USA

12286 posts since 3/27/2004
Online Now

If you're new to the banjo world, one word.

Stuffing.

Many archived topics on it; a quick search will turn up lots of topics on the "proper" way to do it.

Jun 14, 2018 - 6:37:12 AM

47844 posts since 12/14/2005

Welcome, Mr. Taters.

You do have ONE advantage as a beginning banjo player, since your mommy & daddy named you after that famous banjo player, Cornan the Banjarian.

As was suggested, you might try to take that banjo and stuff it.

Stuff a folded up washcloth, or a CLEAN diaper, between the bridge and the  co-ordinator rod.

As far as tinkering with the banjo goes, there's no end to it!

Well, there is ONE end to it!


Edited by - mike gregory on 06/14/2018 06:41:10

Jun 14, 2018 - 7:54:33 AM

4630 posts since 8/28/2013

While I can agree with Skip that it's important to "just start playing the damned thing," I'd also stress that it's equally important to have an instrument that you actually want to play; an instrument which doesn't frustrate you with a bad action or a bad sound (a bad sound could also alienate your family). Therefore, I applaud your efforts to improve your BSO. It won't be time wasted, and you will be able to use any knowledge gained should you later invest in a better instrument. After all, every banjo, even the best, is prone to going out of whack a little when the weather changes. You appear to be on the right track. About the only thing you haven't mentioned is checking the depth of the string slots in the nut. Many times they are not cut deeply enough on these BSO's, and that can make for difficult 1st position fingering and intonation issues.

To quiet things down, "stuffing" might be the easiest option. 

Good luck and happy playing.

Jun 14, 2018 - 1:05:49 PM

8 posts since 6/13/2018

quote:
Originally posted by gtani7

Let's start with TLA's

First something somethin in Pac Northwest dejunk banjo shaped object?


FNG = Fff...uh, "Friendly" New Guy.  Sorry.  I can come off a little coarse sometimes.

 

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

ET snd's OK2 me


Ken, I am not sure what you said, but I guess I asked for it!

 

quote:
Originally posted by eagleisland

First of all, welcome.

Second of all, I tip my tewk at the wit demonstrated in your header and the clarity of your writing. I predict that a) you're going to enjoy this site, and b) its longtime denizens are going to enjoy you.

Third: just start playing the damned thing. I suppose that in NASCAR world there are people who'd far rather work on the cars than drive them, and you might be one of their banjo world doppelgangers. But you're running into the law of diminishing returns. There's only so much that can be done to bring out the best in ANY instrument, and time spent tweaking isn't time spent making music.

I think you should play the snot out of that thing, learn the magic of the instrument and the music, and start saving pennies for your next restoration project.

YMMV


 

quote:
Originally posted by stelldeergibber

A heavier bridge can take some of the shrill quality out of the tone. So can playing nearer the neck than the bridge, of course if you are in danger of keeping little ones awake a mute might be considered. I am with you on raising the tailpiece height, never played a Fiberskyn but I'm sure that would be big. Changing the depth in the pot won't be an issue since it's an open back. Also buy How to set up the Best Sounding Banjo by Roger Siminoff. I agree with Skip that playing and tinkering are two different things, but I say, always be a tinkerer. You'll be the first to know when a banjo doesn't need any more work, even a high line one. And being on the computer, places like this, is a bigger threat to your practice time than making adjustments to your banjo. I don't know your budget, but I'd say buy Gotoh tuners. You can always move them to another banjo if you upgrade, and it'll be like stepping out of an old MG into a new Toyota.


Thanks for the welcome!  This looks like a good place to, uh, hang out, and I've been around long enough to speak earthling pretty well.  Anyway, I bought the dang banjo to have fun with, so there's no point taking it too awful serious.  Still need to figure out which end has the USB input and which'un has the zerk.

You make a fine point about just playing the thing.  That'd be easier if I could play.  No hurry; I am making progress and enjoying it, and so far am still permitted to sleep indoors.  There's no NASCAR content in my world but I am very definitely a car guy, very definitely one of those weirdo tinkerers who enjoys learning about and working on an item as much as actually using it.  Both activities are worthwhile to me.  Correcting someone else's oversights and unwinding the effects of time have proven immensely rewarding with cars, bicycles, firearms, lawn and garden equipment, 'lectric toothbrushes, etc.  I used to set up points-style distributors and triple-throat Weber carburetors because the boss just didn't get it.  The banjo seems to fit right in with this approach.

I'll keep an eye peeled for that book.  Thanks for the suggestion!

While I can appreciate the new/old comparison, I'd be happier in the old MG.  Had a B many years ago and hope to have another someday.  There was more character in the door handle of that car than in a dealership full of new Toyotas (and I am a longtime Toyota owner, incidentally).  It was my car and there wasn't another one just like it.

 

quote:
Originally posted by rudy

If you're new to the banjo world, one word.

Stuffing.

Many archived topics on it; a quick search will turn up lots of topics on the "proper" way to do it.


Thanks.  I have been experimenting a bit with T-shirts and dish towels just to cut the volume down so's I can practice indoors.  I'm sure some open-cell foam will find its way onto the machine at some point.

 

quote:
Originally posted by mike gregory

Welcome, Mr. Taters.

You do have ONE advantage as a beginning banjo player, since your mommy & daddy named you after that famous banjo player, Cornan the Banjarian.

As was suggested, you might try to take that banjo and stuff it.

Stuff a folded up washcloth, or a CLEAN diaper, between the bridge and the  co-ordinator rod.

As far as tinkering with the banjo goes, there's no end to it!

Well, there is ONE end to it!


Thank ye kindly.  That's...quite a...quite a picture.  I'm...honored?  Honored and more than a little disturbed.

 

quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

While I can agree with Skip that it's important to "just start playing the damned thing," I'd also stress that it's equally important to have an instrument that you actually want to play; an instrument which doesn't frustrate you with a bad action or a bad sound (a bad sound could also alienate your family). Therefore, I applaud your efforts to improve your BSO. It won't be time wasted, and you will be able to use any knowledge gained should you later invest in a better instrument. After all, every banjo, even the best, is prone to going out of whack a little when the weather changes. You appear to be on the right track. About the only thing you haven't mentioned is checking the depth of the string slots in the nut. Many times they are not cut deeply enough on these BSO's, and that can make for difficult 1st position fingering and intonation issues.

To quiet things down, "stuffing" might be the easiest option. 

Good luck and happy playing.

 


Thanks for the support.  There's nowhere to go but up.  Thanks for mentioning the nut.  Mine is chipped and should be replaced.  I picked up some bone stock from a local luthier and am going to try my hand at shaping a new one.  Might have to get some specialty saws and/or files to cut the slots.  Never miss an opportunity to buy some new tools.

Jun 14, 2018 - 1:39:09 PM

6644 posts since 1/7/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Cornan Taters
Thanks for the support.  There's nowhere to go but up.  Thanks for mentioning the nut.  Mine is chipped and should be replaced.  I picked up some bone stock from a local luthier and am going to try my hand at shaping a new one.  Might have to get some specialty saws and/or files to cut the slots.  Never miss an opportunity to buy some new tools.

 

Making a new nut is not difficult. Just take your time and be as accurate as you can. Most critical is spacing the string slots accurately. Equally important is the depth of the slots. The bottom of the slot should be the same or very slightly higher than the top of the frets from the fretboard. 

I find it best to fit the nut tightly in it's groove before cutting the string slots. A short straight edge laid across three frets and butted up against the nut will show you where the bottom of the slot should fall. Work up to it slowly. Measure, file, measure again, etc. 

Once the slots are accurately cut, you can finish shaping the nut, rounding the edges and polishing the bone. A small dot or two of glue will hold the nut in place whenever the strings are off the banjo. 

DD


Edited by - Dan Drabek on 06/14/2018 13:39:37

Jun 14, 2018 - 5:50:36 PM

47844 posts since 12/14/2005

If you weren't PREVIOUSLY disturbed, that your parents named you after Cornan, why feel disturbed NOW?

You've had  YEARS during your childhood and adolescence to ask THEM their reasons.  cheeky
 

Jun 14, 2018 - 11:11:41 PM

8 posts since 6/13/2018

quote:
Originally posted by Dan Drabek
quote:

Making a new nut is not difficult. Just take your time and be as accurate as you can...


Dan, thank you for the walkthrough. There's another thread on the same topic right now within this same forum, and it has some pretty slick ideas, such as wrapping sandpaper over the edge of a putty knife to create a makeshift file.  This should be a test of discretion.  My normal approach is sometimes ham-fisted.

 

quote:
Originally posted by mike gregory

If you weren't PREVIOUSLY disturbed, that your parents named you after Cornan, why feel disturbed NOW?

You've had  YEARS during your childhood and adolescence to ask THEM their reasons.  cheeky
 


Whoever said I wasn't previously disturbed?  All I'm sayin' is that pic doesn't do much to undisturb me.

In other news, we can add lateral realignment of the neck to the list of Things What Has Been Done.  Evidently the holes drilled in the pot for the neck and hardware just weren't located all that precisely.  If the neck is centered between the two nearest hooks, the strings were stuck way over to the uphill/five side of the fretboard.  This was verified with careful gunsighting to make sure the #3 string was straight across the tailpiece, bridge, and nut.  Either the tailpiece or the neck could have been moved to center the strings over the fretboard, but moving the neck was easier, and required a smaller adjustment to affect a greater change in geometry.  Fifteen minutes with a rattail file plus reassembly, and it is now closer to better.  Or at least it's better if the goal is to have the #3 string roughly centered across the 22nd fret.

I'd like to post pictures of this miserable little thing, but good grief, it's kindly ugly at the moment.  It's my fault.  Last time the head was off I found an inch-long split at the edge, and figuring the head needed to be replaced and there was nothing to lose, I sprayed the backside of the head with several coats of PlastiDip as an experiment.  It probably did dull the tone a little, but the only color I had was black, and it shows right through the frosted head and makes the whole thing look pretty miserable.  Hopefully I can get a new head fairly quickly.  I'm having a hard time getting in touch with the owner at the local shop to exchange the high crown Fiberskyn for the correct low crown variant.

Speaking of heads, the tone ring on this is a rolled brass affair, sort of trapezoidal in cross-section, with a flat outer wall and a really narrow top surface where it contacts the head.  Is this sharp edge typical?  It seems that such a sharp edge would unnecessarily stress the head as it wraps from the flat surface over the walls of the tone ring.  I know nearly nothing about what makes things resonate and sound the way they do, but it's tempting to swap it for a ring made of simple round rod just to get rid of that sharp edge.  Cause for alarm, or just the way things are up here in the cheap seats?

Jun 14, 2018 - 11:30:45 PM

8 posts since 6/13/2018

One more issue - apparently the frets aren't really as flat as they could be. I'll have to do a little research before changing anything. Maybe there's supposed to be a little crown across them.

Jun 15, 2018 - 4:37:08 AM

2299 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,

The Flatness on the frets is two things. 1 thing is level across the tops. 2nd thing is the process to level causes the fret to be flattened as material is removed. Recrowning frets is a process. Search the resources for replacing frets on a banjo then examine the frets before doing anything.

Feel free to post pictures of what you may have questions on. Messing up a fretboard gets very expensive. Buying another banjo maybe more expensive.

Nothing wrong with learning. To learn to play requires a banjo. To learn a banjo Luthiers’s trade requires a banjo. If only one, the two are mutually dependent on banjo. Do changes which allows playing the banjo to learn.

Jun 15, 2018 - 5:15:38 AM

gtani7 Players Union Member

USA

543 posts since 3/22/2017

re: fret level/crown/polish. First you have to get frets at least a little polished on top so you ccan see the string reflections off them, and that lets you see neck relief, high frets, hump over neck joint, twist/uneven bow etc: youtube.com/watch?v=gBzirIfsQPo

To polish, make/buy plastic guard to keep wood from getting scratched stewmac.com/Luthier_Tools/Tool...ards.html

and try synthetic steel wool first, then sandpaper if that doesn't let you see string curve.

 Also there's 3 books on setup, the ones by Roger Siminoff and Larry Sandberg are pretty good, if long reads.  I haven't seen Nechville's.  Check your library. Maybe yours could be #4, but you'll have to have a table of 3 Letter Acronyms in there.

Edited by - gtani7 on 06/15/2018 05:20:32

Jun 15, 2018 - 5:25:32 AM

4630 posts since 8/28/2013

Before doing any fret filing or crowning, make sure they are all seated properly. Sometimes a few frets rise slightly from their slots and need to be tapped back down.

Jun 15, 2018 - 9:50:58 AM

8 posts since 6/13/2018

Thanks for the insight on the frets. It does make sense to verify that they are fully seated before trying to reshape anything. Odds are good that they're just fine, and there are probably half a dozen other things that need more attention. The lawn, for example.

The whole neck-to-pot, centered-string issue got me to thinking last night. Given that most or all of the cutting and drilling was probably done on CNC machines, so it seems unlikely that the holes in either the pot or neck are placed incorrectly. I think it's more likely that the heel is meeting the pot at the wrong angle. This seems to be validated by the fact that, when the neck is slid clockwise around the pot to center the strings, it's visibly closer to the adjacent hook on its right than to the one on its left. I'll have to verify the geometry before removing any more material.

Also been thinking about that tone ring. Making a wooden tone ring might be a good opportunity to make the tone a little plunkier. Food for thought.

Jun 15, 2018 - 6:46:38 PM

4630 posts since 8/28/2013

Don't trust the hole spacing on a BSO. Just because you think they've been drilled with CNC equipment does't mean that they weren't really drilled by a tired, bleary-eyed factory worker with a wonky drill press. If the heel isn't precisely spaced, you may just have to live with it. The important thing is that the strings are lined up properly (3rd string straight across all points; nut, fret 22, and the bridge).

Jun 15, 2018 - 7:41:37 PM

8 posts since 6/13/2018

quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

Don't trust the hole spacing on a BSO. Just because you think they've been drilled with CNC equipment does't mean that they weren't really drilled by a tired, bleary-eyed factory worker with a wonky drill press. If the heel isn't precisely spaced, you may just have to live with it. The important thing is that the strings are lined up properly (3rd string straight across all points; nut, fret 22, and the bridge).


George, I sure appreciate the advice.  I will verify geometry before altering anything further.  The lag bolts are markedly off-center on the heel, so much so that it looks like a design choice rather than an error, but at this price point ($200 retail in 2003, $140 to me this year), absolutely anything is possible.  It would not be surprising if current examples of the same model (still sold today under different labels) were built much better than this one.

Anyway, back to geometry.  Am I correct in assuming that with the 3rd string straight across all points, it should also be centered across the 22nd fret?  Or is that a matter of preference?

Meanwhile, I picked up a bamboo 12" embroidery hoop on the way home for the princely sum of $2.49 and am going to attempt to turn it into a new tone ring.  The wood is so very nearly identical in width and height to the existing tone ring that it looks like it was meant to be.  For minimal cost and effort, it's worth a try just to see what happens.

Jun 16, 2018 - 5:25:44 AM

4630 posts since 8/28/2013

Yes, the third string should also be centered over the 22nd fret.

Jun 17, 2018 - 6:08:09 PM

8 posts since 6/13/2018

Geometry has been checked. I located the center of the head, and the third string is biased about 1/16" low. This is  with the neck clocked about 1/8" closer to the low side hook than the high side (to recap, I clocked the neck low in ordet to more or less center the strings across the frets). This all indicates that the angular alignment of the neck to the pot is incorrect.

I am going to have the banjo apart to replace the head and pegs. That's as good an opportunity as any to try to adjust the neck so that it joins the pot at the correct angle. There's a good 9/16" of fretboard below #22 so there's plenty of room for a little shave and haircut.

The embroidery hoop tone ring - or maybe tone ring eliminator - came out great. Fits just like store bought. I'm not sure if it will stay in place. We'll see how it sounds with the new head and tailpiece before passing judgement.

Edited by - Cornan Taters on 06/17/2018 18:10:22

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