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Adapted neck and fingerboard for deficient chord hand

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Sep 15, 2019 - 7:09:36 AM
620 posts since 6/4/2015

Hi all,

 

May I ask your advice?

 

I have been playing tenor banjo since about 1975 and hoped to continue until shuffling off this mortal coil. However, I now have a problem with my left (chord) hand that may mean that playing banjo becomes impossible. I haven’t seen a doctor yet, but I’m planning to work on that very soon. And I don’t remember when exactly this started, but it is an issue of some concern.

 

I can’t make a full fist of my left hand (chord hand) any longer. And so making chord shapes on the instruments I own may now be a thing of the past – unless neck/fingerboard can be adapted, in some way or other. I’m hoping to have prototypes of an electric banjo of my own design built sometime in the first half of 2020, so if some solution exists, incorporating it into my design might be a good idea.

 

Thanks very much for any help or advice given.

 

Veerstryngh Thynner

Sep 15, 2019 - 7:45:59 AM
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52305 posts since 12/14/2005

The first thought that floats to the surface of the swamp inside my skull, is that you MIGHT have to tune it to an open chord, and play by barring across the entire neck with one finger, for the major chords, and adding a finger somewhere for the minors.

In any event, Best Wishes for a positive outcome.

Sep 15, 2019 - 7:55 AM

Fathand

Canada

11448 posts since 2/7/2008

quote:
Originally posted by mike gregory

The first thought that floats to the surface of the swamp inside my skull, is that you MIGHT have to tune it to an open chord, and play by barring across the entire neck with one finger, for the major chords, and adding a finger somewhere for the minors.

In any event, Best Wishes for a positive outcome.


I had a student with a damaged finger do that.

Sep 15, 2019 - 8:09:53 AM

14 posts since 6/14/2007

I've got the same problem and I'm very interested to hear what this group has to say. For me, lifting the peghead so that my chording fingers come more from the nut than from the side helps, but is not a perfect solution. I'm also using my left thumb more on the low strings. Ultimately, I fear, I will have to learn to play with the banjo in my lap, like a Dobro, which really means starting all over. Someday, maybe, there will be knuckle replacements like knee replacements and we will be able to bend our fingers fully again!

Sep 15, 2019 - 8:16:48 AM

12136 posts since 6/29/2005

Not knowing exactly what your range of motion limitations are, It's impossible to offer any specific advice, but I would explore the idea of an asymmetrical neck.

In my career as an industrial designer, I designed a lot of handles and I know something about grips for people with limited range of motion, children, etc.  Your hand is not symmetrical, and a banjo neck should not be symmetrical, either.

You might want to consult with a physical therapist or an occupational therapist in order to determine if a better shaped neck could help you out.

 

Here are couple of pictures of a little work I have done in this area—it's possible to make it easier to get your fingers around the neck, and if you are having difficulty making a fist, a thicker profile might be better (I know that sounds counterintuitive, but).

Sep 15, 2019 - 9:19:42 AM

353 posts since 1/28/2013

A neck that is angled an thicker should do the job.

Sep 15, 2019 - 9:50:32 AM

1910 posts since 5/2/2012

Strandberg guitars makes "ergonomic" guitars with a neck profile that looks similar to Ken's examples, link here  http://strandbergguitars.com/ One of the builders (like Ken) might work with you to make a custom neck/banjo.   

Sep 15, 2019 - 1:30:59 PM

95 posts since 8/25/2009

I took guitar lessons before I found a banjo teacher, and since I learned to make chords on the guitar by bracing my thumb against the back of the neck, I transferred that to the banjo. It leaves the hand in a more open position, so it might work for you.

You might be amused that I have the opposite problem. I have arthritis in my thumbs and can no longer brace my thumb against the neck without a great deal of pain. So, I will have to learn to fret the banjo wraping my hand around it like most banjo players.

Good Luck,

Bill

Sep 15, 2019 - 6:35:19 PM

4723 posts since 5/14/2007

First, go see a doctor. Find out what exactly the problem is. Then you will know if there's a need for a new or modified banjo neck.

Sep 16, 2019 - 7:53:53 AM
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12136 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by John Gribble

First, go see a doctor. Find out what exactly the problem is. Then you will know if there's a need for a new or modified banjo neck.


Agreed.  I seriously broke my finger and went to a hand specialist plastic surgeon.  After surgery, he sent me to an occupational therapist, who was very good at assessing range of motion exercises, and ergonomic kinds of things.

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