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Nov 6, 2018 - 5:19:27 PM

malarz

USA

276 posts since 1/5/2007

Wondering if anyone has replaced a plastic head with calfskin and your thoughts on the difference in sound.

Thanks.

Ken

Nov 6, 2018 - 6:35:49 PM
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2078 posts since 3/30/2008
Online Now

Skin heads give a musical & rich voice to the banjo . If you want a modern product that is almost indestructible, cheap , & w/ a strident, bland quality then you might try the different mylar heads.

Nov 7, 2018 - 5:59:19 AM

179 posts since 11/1/2006

Banjos are actually more complicated than they look. The particular setup, including head type, bridge, strings, fit of neck, string angle, tailpiece, head tension - this list could go on. And this is just the instrument - when you factor in the hands of the player, the variables expand again.
I like skin heads on most banjos, although the qualities of skin heads are again variable. On other banjos, some of the synthetic heads - especially the fiberskyns - give a great tone, with a little more tuning and weather stability.
I wouldn't care to generalize. If you have the time, money, and interest, experiment and listen.

Nov 7, 2018 - 6:30:16 AM
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5081 posts since 8/28/2013

In my experience, some banjos sound better with skin, others sound better with mylar.

Nov 7, 2018 - 8:22:01 AM

beegee

USA

20886 posts since 7/6/2005

I like the sound of a quality calfskin head. However they are more susceptible to environmental influences. High-quality calf heads are very expensive, less durable and less available than mylar heads.

Nov 9, 2018 - 12:46:49 PM

5081 posts since 8/28/2013

I don't worry about longevity of either skin or mylar. I will add, however, that my PB3 Gibson has needed three heads since I've owned it, and they've all been mylar. I've seen numerous banjos, and even own one, that have the original skins on them, still going strong after 100 years.

However, if the banjo is subjected to many weather changes or if its player tours a lot, I would guess that a skin might not last so long and mylar could be more durable.

Nov 10, 2018 - 2:27:40 PM

51 posts since 1/21/2016

The 1921 Gibson TB that I bought around a couple of years ago from a CL had a busted calf head but also came with two unused semi-translucent calf skins sourced from Pakistan. I replaced the split head with one of the replacements and I think it sounds pretty good, but I have not compared it against a plastic head on the same banjo. I am worried about making it as tight as the mylar head on my 5 string given how hard it was to get the tight fitting rim over the skin, but it sounds fine being not as tight as mylar.

Any slight weather change, even in the house, and it needs retuning. But at least the retuning is predictable. Weather gets dry and cool, then head tightening and the instrument goes sharp. If I take it outside in full blast Northern VA summer humidity, the head can even wrinkle, and I have to tighten it. And I have to remember to loosen it back up when I bring it back into the air conditioned house.

Nov 10, 2018 - 6:41:41 PM

5081 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Ag_econ_man

The 1921 Gibson TB that I bought around a couple of years ago from a CL had a busted calf head but also came with two unused semi-translucent calf skins sourced from Pakistan. I replaced the split head with one of the replacements and I think it sounds pretty good, but I have not compared it against a plastic head on the same banjo. I am worried about making it as tight as the mylar head on my 5 string given how hard it was to get the tight fitting rim over the skin, but it sounds fine being not as tight as mylar.

Any slight weather change, even in the house, and it needs retuning. But at least the retuning is predictable. Weather gets dry and cool, then head tightening and the instrument goes sharp. If I take it outside in full blast Northern VA summer humidity, the head can even wrinkle, and I have to tighten it. And I have to remember to loosen it back up when I bring it back into the air conditioned house.


I once owned a Gibson TB 3 of about the same vintage. It sounded  only okay with the original skin, but when I replaced it with a mylar head, that banjo really came alive.  But it's not a given that you change heads, as a TB1 is different than a TB3.  But it may be something to consider. As I indicated before, I've found that some banjos sound best with skin heads, others with mylar. 

By the way, putting modern heads on some of those early Gibsons can be a little tricky. The neck notches aren't very deep, and they don't have the usual 11 inch head. I actually had to notch the rims of the mylar heads I've used on those ancient Gibsons.

Nov 10, 2018 - 8:36:35 PM

51 posts since 1/21/2016

My Gibson has a wood ring that is part of the pot and is used to keep the flange from riding up towards the tension hoop . To show what I mean, I attached some photos of the banjo. The wood lip on the side of the pot by the the armrest is working fine in keeping the flange in place. However, on the opposite side of the pot, the wooden lip is worn away by some mishandling at some point and does not keep the flange in place. The tension on the head on that side is keep in place mostly by the very tight fitting tension hoop. I am not a big fan of this calf skin head, both for its hassle and that I rather have a white banjo head, but I think that it may have a benefit for this messed up banjo. In particular, I think that it is probably thicker than a mylar head, and this, fits tighter under the tension hop even with hooks that can not be made as tight as I would like.


Alas, it is the later Gibson open back models that use bolts to keep the flange in place instead of this somewhat lame wood lip. If anyone has any good ideas for repairing the worn away lip on the pot, I would appreciate it. I have though of gluing a wood strip in place, maybe further secured with some pins, but I don't really want to drill into this pot. Maybe it is time to post to the repair section of the Hangout.




 

Nov 11, 2018 - 1:18:59 AM

342 posts since 6/4/2015

Malarz,

I own a mandobanjo, inherited from a grandfather, with cow horn tuning knobs (four out of eight preserved) and some kind of animal head. It came into my possession about half a century ago, when I was in my very early teens. It's of unknown provenance, but may well be built sometime in the second half of the 19th century.

It's one of my banjos up for restoration, sometime next year maybe, and I'm hoping that these missing knobs can be replaced with cow horn replicas. As to its sound, I remember it as rich and full. But in wet or humid conditions tuning was invariably hell. I'd be tuning or retuning all day.

Before my father passed that instrument on, he did quite some preliminary work figuring out alternative tuning. He finally settled on ukulele ADF#B. That's how I learned the ropes. So the pro of animal skin is a much warmer sound. But the obvious con lots of extra work, if it's pouring with rain or if you're weathering back-to-back heatwaves. Don't underestimate how annoying that can be, in the long term. But instead of calf skin or mylar, you might also consider nylon mesh, for silent practicing.

In the meanwhile, I have added a picture of my mandobanjo-turned-uke, below. Maybe someone can give me some clue as to its age, approximately, and origin?

Thanks very much.

Veerstryngh Thynner


Nov 11, 2018 - 10:13:51 AM

342 posts since 6/4/2015

Mods,

Should the request in the last paragraph be inserted in the Repair forum, as a separate thread?

Veerstryngh Thynner

Nov 11, 2018 - 12:26:22 PM

5081 posts since 8/28/2013

Veerstryngh,

You could post this in the "Collector's Corner" if you are looking to find information on it's origins.

For restoration advice, try the Repair forum.

Nov 11, 2018 - 11:18:27 PM

342 posts since 6/4/2015

Thanks very much, George, for your advice.

As a matter of fact, I'm visiting the Repair forum regularly, these days. Although not yet a builder myself, the expertise massed in there has been (and still is!) incredibly helpful in shaping and testing out viability of several building plans currently in existence. Abidingly inclined as I am to make fresh and exciting new inspirations far too complicated, ultimately.

However, seeking advice on instrument provenance in "Collector's Corner" never occurred to me. Even though presently owner of a small arsenal of string instruments, I don't really regard myself as a collector. But I'll certainly head to the collector's forum now, for more background on my ancient little mandobanjo-turned-uke.

Veerstryngh Thynner

Nov 12, 2018 - 9:16:09 AM

5081 posts since 8/28/2013

I am not a collector or builder, either, but both the forums mentioned are great resources for instrument repairs. There are quite a few people who not only want their banjo fixed, but also ask about its provenance.

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