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Nov 9, 2018 - 5:58:49 AM
Players Union Member

DC5

USA

2960 posts since 6/30/2015
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My banjo is a Rickard Dobson with a Balch skin head. I purchased the banjo new in the summer of 2017 and the head shortly after that. A couple of months ago I noticed that when fretting the G (third) string it was significantly sharp, as if I was bending the string. No matter how carefully I fret it it plays sharp. This is especially noticeable when I'm capoed at the 2nd fret and fret it at the 3rd fret from there. After copoing, all the strings need a little tweaking, but after re-tuning this G problem still shows up. I thought maybe the string was just wearing out so I replaced all the strings, but the problem is still there. I thought maybe the humidity in August was the problem, but it has not changed with the heating season. The head is tightened to where a dime just slides under a 7" straight edge at the bridge. The intonation at the 12th fret harmony and fretted for the 1st and 4th strings is right on the money using an electric tuner. Any thoughts on why this 3rd string is giving me such problems and any fix? I'm about ready to take off the Balch head and go back to the Ren head to see if that makes a difference.

Nov 9, 2018 - 6:11:53 AM

647 posts since 11/27/2005

Please checking the intonation at the 19th fret. It makes a difference for me.

Nov 9, 2018 - 6:35:32 AM
likes this

75 posts since 8/14/2018
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quote:
Originally posted by DC5

A couple of months ago I noticed that when fretting the G (third) string it was significantly sharp, as if I was bending the string. No matter how carefully I fret it it plays sharp.


I think that means you own a banjo.

Nov 9, 2018 - 6:49:32 AM

Emiel

Austria

8960 posts since 1/22/2003

The G-string is probably in tune, but other strings may be causing non-harmonic tones while vibrating when the G-string is being played. Dampen all other strings and play the G-string and see if it is in tune.

This is common with banjos. Sometimes a higher or more even head tension may help, or set the tailpiece lower.

Nov 9, 2018 - 6:53:47 AM

75 posts since 8/14/2018
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If all else fails, a compensating bridge might help. At least, it did for me.

Nov 9, 2018 - 7:00:07 AM

11276 posts since 10/30/2008

The most common banjo problem! Are you using a wound 3rd string? That usually makes it worse. Changing to a plain 3rd reduced the problem hugely for me, 50 years ago.

Is your action really high? That aggravates the problem (high at the nut may be part of the problem, although a Rickard shouldn't have that problem).

Earl Scruggs himself had this same issue, and developed his playing style to minimize it (the Cripple Creek roll on the 3rd string, in my belief), and he fooled around with a false fret behind the 3rd string at the 4th fret, too.

Compensated bridges and nuts all try to reduce this problem.

Good luck.

Nov 9, 2018 - 7:02:45 AM

2337 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,

The bridge and TP are the most moveable items on a banjo. A case, stand, and us are the reasons why both move.

The 19th fret chime and fret compare is a good method to position the bridge. Next see if the bridge is perpendicular to the head. This should be observed on the tailpiece side.

Next, sight down the third string For straightness and the fifth and first for symmetry.

Do these to steps to ensure the banjo is ready to play after a rough riding or use session. I have gig bag that I have to use this steps.

This is what makes a banjo so unique. Enjoy!

Nov 9, 2018 - 7:15:59 AM
Players Union Member

rudy

USA

12988 posts since 3/27/2004
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I've seen at least one Rickard banjo fitted with what looks to be a very "robust" straight bridge with a wide ebony top.  If that's the case check to make sure the bridge isn't positioned backwards.

If you're experiencing flat or sharp pitch on the third at the same time the first and fourth is intonating correctly it would indicate incorrect bridge position for the third.  There are a few possible causes, but if you capo at the first or second fret and still experience errant pitch it's usually indicative of improper stopping point for the third string at the bridge.

The "stopping point" for the string is changed by using either a straight or compensated bridge, so if the bridge is made with a top shaped to compensate the string position then it might be installed backwards.

Not saying that's absolutely your problem, but it's the first thing to check.  Working through the possibilities of cause isn't that difficult, so I'm sure that you're going to arrive at the answer.  The mechanics involved are fairly simple to understand, so it's going to be a process of elimination.  Check the bridge first, and work form there.

There are some banjos that will respond better to a custom compensated bridge due to string guage selection and preferred action.

Edited by - rudy on 11/09/2018 07:18:42

Nov 9, 2018 - 7:26:11 AM

Jbo1

USA

675 posts since 5/19/2007

When I saw this title I was hoping against hope there wouldn't be any pictures of you guys with a wardrobe malfunction.

Nov 9, 2018 - 10:17:54 AM

301 posts since 10/11/2013

Is there a banjo that doesn't have this problem? This is so typical of most banjos.

Nov 9, 2018 - 10:26:43 AM
Players Union Member

DC5

USA

2960 posts since 6/30/2015
Online Now

Thanks for all the info. The bridge is installed correctly, but I'll check the alignment of the strings. I have not tried adjusting the tailpiece so I will check that, along with all the other suggestions. It is good to know that Earl had the same problem, always knew I would play like him someday - even though I play clawhammer. Also good to know it is a common problem. Weird thing is that it just showed up, so something must have moved, I just need to find it. Thanks again for all the input.

Nov 9, 2018 - 10:43:26 AM

301 posts since 10/11/2013

Yes, it is strange if it's worse than before. How does the intonation sound on the 1st and 4th strings when you don't use a tuner and just listen?

Nov 9, 2018 - 11:06:35 AM
Players Union Member

DC5

USA

2960 posts since 6/30/2015
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quote:
Originally posted by Jim Shank

Yes, it is strange if it's worse than before. How does the intonation sound on the 1st and 4th strings when you don't use a tuner and just listen?


To my ear they sound fine.  The G string was always a little harder to tune, probably due to all the things that were mentioned, but it never sounded really out when I fretted it. They all go a little sharp when fretted, but the G string is way out and quite noticeable.  I thought I was maybe not hitting the string straight and was bending it, but this was not the case.  

Nov 9, 2018 - 11:43:42 AM

301 posts since 10/11/2013

Again that's weird that it's more noticeable now than before.

How do you tune all the strings? According to an electronic tuner?

Personally I tune the 1st and 4th to an electronic tuner then tune the B (2nd) string so it sounds like the 1st string when I fret it at the 3rd fret. Then I tune the G string so it sounds in tune when I play the 1st string open. I also check it with the 4th string, 5th fret. Finally I tune the 5th string so it sounds good with the 1st, 5th fret and the 3rd open. Usually it's ever so slightly flat but sounds good that way.

Basically I want everything to sound good but not necessarily "in tune" according to a tuner. The D strings are my reference point though.

I also adjust the bridge so the D strings are in tune when capoed at 2nd and 4th frets. I don't want them to be sharp when I capo.

I use an adjustable pressure capo and capo close to the fret with "fretting" pressure.

Nov 9, 2018 - 11:53:12 AM

5081 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by DC5
quote:
Originally posted by Jim Shank

Yes, it is strange if it's worse than before. How does the intonation sound on the 1st and 4th strings when you don't use a tuner and just listen?


To my ear they sound fine.  The G string was always a little harder to tune, probably due to all the things that were mentioned, but it never sounded really out when I fretted it. They all go a little sharp when fretted, but the G string is way out and quite noticeable.  I thought I was maybe not hitting the string straight and was bending it, but this was not the case.  


If they all go sharp, your bridge is probably not properly positioned, or the nut isn't cut deeply enough (I doubt the nut is the problem with this banjo, however). If the bridge is further off than it was in the past, it can affect some strings, like the G, more than it affects other strings.

One other thing you might try is lighter finger pressure with your fretting hand.

Nov 9, 2018 - 12:36:21 PM
Players Union Member

DC5

USA

2960 posts since 6/30/2015
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I think I found the problem, thanks to all of you. The bridge was tilted ever so slightly forward, not perpendicular to the head. Old eyes and old ears make this difficult. When I straightened out the bridge and then re-tuned and set the intonation on 1 & 4 it all seems to work. The fretted G no longer sounds sour when playing. Thank you all, this was driving me nuts.

Nov 9, 2018 - 12:43:04 PM

301 posts since 10/11/2013

Glad you fixed it!

Nov 9, 2018 - 12:44:07 PM
Players Union Member

DC5

USA

2960 posts since 6/30/2015
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by Jim Shank

Again that's weird that it's more noticeable now than before.

How do you tune all the strings? According to an electronic tuner?

Personally I tune the 1st and 4th to an electronic tuner then tune the B (2nd) string so it sounds like the 1st string when I fret it at the 3rd fret. Then I tune the G string so it sounds in tune when I play the 1st string open. I also check it with the 4th string, 5th fret. Finally I tune the 5th string so it sounds good with the 1st, 5th fret and the 3rd open. Usually it's ever so slightly flat but sounds good that way.

Basically I want everything to sound good but not necessarily "in tune" according to a tuner. The D strings are my reference point though.

I also adjust the bridge so the D strings are in tune when capoed at 2nd and 4th frets. I don't want them to be sharp when I capo.

I use an adjustable pressure capo and capo close to the fret with "fretting" pressure.


What capo do you use.  I was using an adjustable pressure capo that I use to use on my Goodtime Classic, but due to the shape of the Rickard neck it pulled the strings to the side.  I think it's a Dunlap.  I'm currently using a Kyser spring clamp type and I place it right on the fret.  I'm not totally happy with it so I'm looking for another solution.  The Keyser puts too much pressure when I place it behind the fret.

I initially use the electronic, then tweak it so it sounds good.  My ears ain't what they use to be and I have difficulty hearing if it's sharp or flat, just that it's out so I rely more and more on the tuner.  In fact, when this problem first showed up I thought the string was flat when I fretted, the tuner showed me it was sharp.

Getting older is not for wimps.

Nov 9, 2018 - 3:10:54 PM

2337 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,

Fantastic! Glad we could assist you.

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