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Feb 1, 2020 - 11:27:47 AM
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848 posts since 11/17/2003

Hey folks!

I thought you guys might be interested in a video I put together comparing a 10 mil Renaissance head to a John Balch "Menzies" hide head.

I painstakingly set this comparison up to be as fair as possible. More details are in the video below.

This is a question I get asked a lot, so I thought you all would enjoy!

Best,

Tom Collins


Edited by - FretlessFury on 02/01/2020 11:28:18

Feb 1, 2020 - 11:49:44 AM

23 posts since 9/23/2018

They are both very pleasing to the ear. Very nice music selection too. The Mylar is slightly brighter, the Hide is slightly earthier. If I was stranded on a tropical island with only one I would choose the Mylar because of the hot humid weather on tropical islands. Here at home I could go either way and be quite content.

Feb 1, 2020 - 12:00:55 PM
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2005 posts since 1/21/2003

I had a hard time distinguishing one from the other, as I usually do in these type of comparisons. I like the sound of both and am not hearing any deficiencies from either. The second time around I listened with my eyes closed and I could not for the life of me tell when you switched from one banjo to the other. Maybe it's just me, although I think my hearing is pretty good for older feller.

By the way, your video instruction series are really well done Tom.

Feb 1, 2020 - 12:01:30 PM

848 posts since 11/17/2003

quote:
Originally posted by vega nut

They are both very pleasing to the ear. Very nice music selection too. The Mylar is slightly brighter, the Hide is slightly earthier. If I was stranded on a tropical island with only one I would choose the Mylar because of the hot humid weather on tropical islands. Here at home I could go either way and be quite content.


Ha! Great reply, and nice observations.

I do wonder though...could you eat the hide head in a pinch? That might make it more useful in a survival situation....

Feb 1, 2020 - 12:20:35 PM
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12 posts since 12/27/2019

I watched the video wearing headphones, with eyes open and then with eyes closed.

I noticed it was easier to tell the difference with eyes open ;>

Feb 1, 2020 - 1:35:27 PM
Players Union Member

rudy

USA

14988 posts since 3/27/2004

Very nice, Tom.  The standard Ren head is made from .008" mylar, though.

Listening with my Beyerdynamic studio headphones I had a different first impression, although I'm going to re-listen a few times.

I felt the Ren head was clearer and more focused while the hide had a distinct ring that was not what I would prefer.  Goes to show there's room in the banjo world for personal preferance!  wink

Edited by - rudy on 02/01/2020 13:50:33

Feb 1, 2020 - 3:00 PM
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7567 posts since 1/7/2005

Beautifully set up and recorded. Maybe the clearest and best comparative recording I have ever heard. Your shift from one to the other did a terrific job of making any tonal differences easy to detect. That said, I found the sound of the two heads nearly indistinguishable. I really wanted to prefer the hide head, for esthetic reasons, but in all honesty, I just don't hear it. Often when comparing banjos, it is difficult to notice tonal differences, yet the physical response ( feel) of the banjo can be quite different, and can color the impression the banjo makes.
I too appreciate consistency in my instruments, and I don't hear enough sound benefit to make me want to sacrifice the stability of mylar. It would be interesting to hear the banjo played in bluegrass style, which is probably the venue that most precipitated the initial migration from calfskin to mylar. I think most bluegrass players drive their instruments harder than do frailers. And I suspect that plastic heads may offer a bit more headroom than do skin heads.
Thanks for putting this together. I was surprised to hear as much brightness with the skin head as I did. If not superior--certainly the equal of the plastic head.

DD

Feb 1, 2020 - 3:25:37 PM
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RV6

USA

1303 posts since 2/3/2012

First class video, as always, Tom.

I had a nice John Balch goatskin (which sounded great) and an Elderly Goatskin that I streched on a JBalch square flesh hoop which turned out perfect.  I sold the Balch (possibly a mistake) and the Elderly head is sitting on the shelf. 

Until 3-4 years ago, we didn't have airconditioning.  We had a whole house attic fan and opened the windows at night to bring in cool air and then turned the fan off and closed up the house around 6:00 am.  This worked well but the humidity in this area is quite high at night and quite low during the day (80% to 15%) and I got tired of messing with head tension so retired the hide heads.

We have A/C now but, though I've been tempted to put a hide head on one banjo, I've resisted.  The really good O.T. players I play with every week have hide heads on their banjos and they sound really good.  But, they're playing banjos that cost 3-4 times more than my Sagmoen and Reiter A flat and they're really good banjo players (and fiddle, and guitar and they can sing, to boot).  I decided to enjoy the sound of their banjos and stick with plastic for myself.   One advantage to plastic ---  they're very consistant.  Not so with hide heads.

Also, one thing that I think I noticed is that hide heads perform better with steel strings.  But, my experience is limited as I've only been playing 8 years.  I have Nylgut's on my two players.

On my Reiter A flat, I have a Ren. head that I painted on the inside with Krylon for Plastic spray paint (Dover White, the "on the shelf head" is black).  The paint added about 3 grams to the weight of the head but took away some of the "plastic" tones that I didn't care for.  The Sagmoen Dobson has an amber Elite, un painted.  I don't stuff either banjo.

Feb 1, 2020 - 3:59:26 PM

1413 posts since 4/29/2013

I agree, the Renaissance head is more focused, and is what I prefer sound-wise for a banjo set up with steel strings (plus being lightly stuffed). The skin head to me was "airy" which I would probably stuff and maybe switch to nylon strings. 
 

Edited by - Noah Cline on 02/01/2020 16:00:37

Feb 1, 2020 - 4:18:30 PM

848 posts since 11/17/2003

quote:
Originally posted by Dan Drabek

Beautifully set up and recorded. Maybe the clearest and best comparative recording I have ever heard. Your shift from one to the other did a terrific job of making any tonal differences easy to detect. That said, I found the sound of the two heads nearly indistinguishable. I really wanted to prefer the hide head, for esthetic reasons, but in all honesty, I just don't hear it. Often when comparing banjos, it is difficult to notice tonal differences, yet the physical response ( feel) of the banjo can be quite different, and can color the impression the banjo makes.
I too appreciate consistency in my instruments, and I don't hear enough sound benefit to make me want to sacrifice the stability of mylar. It would be interesting to hear the banjo played in bluegrass style, which is probably the venue that most precipitated the initial migration from calfskin to mylar. I think most bluegrass players drive their instruments harder than do frailers. And I suspect that plastic heads may offer a bit more headroom than do skin heads.
Thanks for putting this together. I was surprised to hear as much brightness with the skin head as I did. If not superior--certainly the equal of the plastic head.

DD


Thanks very much, Dan!

You nailed what really surprised me. I always associated hide heads with a duller sound, and this head has brightness and attack for days.

I'll film an update video in a month. I feel like the head has really settled in now, and it sounds even better. 

Thanks for your comment. I agree that the Ren head sounds fantastic. Horses for courses!

Edited by - FretlessFury on 02/01/2020 16:18:58

Feb 1, 2020 - 4:23:01 PM
Players Union Member

rudy

USA

14988 posts since 3/27/2004

quote:
Originally posted by Noah Cline

I agree, the Renaissance head is more focused, and is what I prefer sound-wise for a banjo set up with steel strings (plus being lightly stuffed). The skin head to me was "airy" which I would probably stuff and maybe switch to nylon strings. 


A great description of what I was hearing.

I do recording on the side, and what I heard was what I typically describe as "room sound" and something I try to avoid.  It's interesting here that the ambience that I perceived was totally due to the head and not the result of recording technique or type of microphone.

Tom, Your "Banjo Recording" video that you posted on your Youtube channel is most excellent and should be a "must see" for anyone wanting to record thier banjo.

Edited by - rudy on 02/01/2020 16:28:37

Feb 1, 2020 - 5:11:34 PM

beegee

USA

21535 posts since 7/6/2005

When I got my 1928 TB-Granada it had a skin head. Over the years, I've tried every king of head on it and 6 months ago, I installed a vintage hide head. The sound was amazing. Unfortunately, it only sounded good with continual tightening. I live in the humid coastal plain of NC. The good sound only lasts until the head stretches again.I will be going back to a Remo very soon. The effort is keeping it tensioned isn't worth it. Quality vs. consistency? Consistency wins.

Feb 1, 2020 - 5:29:16 PM

9369 posts since 2/22/2007

I cannot play the video at this moment (someone sleeping in this room) so asking: was one louder than the other?
When I put a Balch goatskin on my 12"Ramsey Woody I was expecting a loss in volume. If anything, it is louder.

Feb 1, 2020 - 6:32:15 PM

848 posts since 11/17/2003

quote:
Originally posted by banjo bill-e

I cannot play the video at this moment (someone sleeping in this room) so asking: was one louder than the other?
When I put a Balch goatskin on my 12"Ramsey Woody I was expecting a loss in volume. If anything, it is louder.


I was expecting the goat skin to be softer too. In the video they're equivalent loudness according to my measurements, but I do feel like now that the goat skin has settled more it is louder. 

When you can watch it, let me know what you think!

Feb 1, 2020 - 6:34:18 PM

jbalch

USA

8680 posts since 11/28/2003

Tom: I really appreciate this video and your comments. Thank-you!

Your playing and that banjo sound great - set up both ways.

I wanted to comment that those Jeff Menzies goat hides are truly special. They are hand-processed (by Jeff) and sun-dried in Jamaica (without chemicals). The thickness is even and ideal. The colors are 100% natural. Each one id completely unique.  Jeff selects them with an artist's eye. I've mounted five or six of them now and couldn't be more pleased. 

Edited by - jbalch on 02/01/2020 18:37:26

Feb 1, 2020 - 7:46:22 PM
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23 posts since 9/23/2018

I listened to the actual playing in the comparative video 2 more times with my eyes closed. I thought that with a little practice I would be able to ID the change overs and peek to see if I guessed right. During the 2nd listening I gave up on the comparison and found myself lost in the song which is very calming and melodic. The kind of banjo music I can listen to all day. Thanks.

Feb 1, 2020 - 10:06:48 PM

mjt0229

USA

325 posts since 4/20/2015

I tried listening with my eyes closed and would open them when I thought I heard a change; I am not sure I heard every change but I heard several and correctly identified the head I was hearing most of the time. To my ear, the hide head has more bass response and a rounder tone; the ren head was a little more compressed sounding. In those skilled hands both sounded good, but I'd take the hide head.

Feb 2, 2020 - 1:11:46 AM

RevD

USA

74 posts since 4/8/2019

The hide head did surprise me. To my ear I also hear that ring on the hide, I don't hear quite the same little ring on the Ren. head. That said the sound is fuller without question to me with the hide. Thanks for a eye opening comparison, I can't wait to hear it settled in down the road!

Feb 2, 2020 - 5:01:45 AM

2584 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,

Thank you for the responses of living with Mylar and hide. In the early recordings of our banjo mentors, all were hide heads. I could hear the difference between hide and Mylar. As a Bluegrass player, having the dry sound is important. Mylar, depending on the coating maker, kind of gets there. Hide and dry is there.

Today, recordings are more controlled to the needs of the artist. Dryness can be achieved easily electronically. Bela Fleck gets more out of his banjo. Having a varied banjo experience with a hide head looks promising. However, infinite tinkering leads to busted heads. Our mentors said that plagued them also when hide heads were cheaper. JD said a change out of less the two a week was ideal.

Thank you for sharing this comparison between Mylar and hide.

Feb 2, 2020 - 9:02:38 AM

3784 posts since 10/13/2005

Very interesting, excellent and thanks! I have 4 banjos, 3 hide, one Ren. I think I preferred the Ren on this one but of course we are listening through computer/tech, and live might be a whole'nother ball game. The hide head sounded more "echoey" to me, more of a sound I would tend to attribute to a plastic head. The hide head sounded like , for me, it needed to be made more mellow by lessening the tension to get the sound I would prefer. The one banjo I have a Ren head on is my Jason Mogi 12" that I use for jams. It sounds so good with a Ren head that so far I have not been tempted to put a hide head on it. Listening to how close these two heads sounds confirms for me that my ears are not lying ( to me at least) and that a plastic Ren head can be perfectly acceptable sound wise. Thanks again! banjered

Feb 2, 2020 - 9:58:25 AM

12713 posts since 6/29/2005

The difference is extremely subtle and I had to play the thing through once before I realized it was switching back and forth, so I played it again.  Of course it was frailing and in first position, so there are other banjo sounds we don't get to hear.  ALSO, and this is a big "also", this is in a humidity controlled studio, where we don't get to hear what happens to a skin head when the weather gets humid-you know, outdoors in the summer on the east coast.

OK, I'll readily admit that I am totally finished with skin heads, and there is virtually nothing whatsoever that would tempt me to use one again, but I like to think of myself as being open minded, and I really didn't hear anything that changed my mind about skin heads.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 02/02/2020 09:58:43

Feb 2, 2020 - 1:06:46 PM

6860 posts since 8/28/2013

I've always found that the actual banjo makes a difference. I've had banjos that sounded best with mylar, while others sounded best with skin.

In these recordings, I did detect some difference in bass response and focus, (skin had more bass, mylar more focus) but deciding which is the better of the two is pretty much a subjective question. I also doubt that those differences would be true for all banjos.
 

Feb 2, 2020 - 2:14:04 PM
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12713 posts since 6/29/2005

For years and years, as part of my design business, I did commercial photography, and I used a Deardorf 8X10 camera with Schneider Kreuznach lenses and sheet film.  The images were wonderful, with amazing resolution—some of them became industry standards for color calibration in the printing industry.  Being an artist, I never thought that digital photography could ever amount to anything in the commercial world because the resolution wasn't there.  One of my favorite songs was Paul Simon singing "Momma don't take my Kodachrome away".

Fast forward—want to buy my Deardorf and all the Schneider lenses?  Film photography has now become "art", and I could teach people how to do it in art school, but 99.99% of all the photography today is digital—you can't see all the detail in the shadows, and the resolution sucks compared to film, but the average viewer can't tell the difference and doesn't care even if they have the eyes of a 20 something—it works, it's easy, and you can edit it with a computer—people look at the Monet water lily paintings through a cell phone and that's the way they see the world, in a minimized way.  My wife is a painter and the way gallery owners see her paintings, even though they might be very large, is through the image area of a cell phone, or maybe a computer.  What informs banjo players of the sound of the music?  The funky sound preferred by many is what you hear from old "lo-fi" recordings.

You can see where I am going with this—I think that skin heads are the 8x10 Kodachrome film of the banjo world— I sincerely hope people will keep up the tradition forever— it needs to be preserved, but to quote Bob Dylan, "it ain't me babe".

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 02/02/2020 14:20:57

Feb 2, 2020 - 2:44:12 PM

489 posts since 8/14/2018

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

 

Fast forward—want to buy my Deardorf and all the Schneider lenses?

 


I don't have room for a Deardorff, sadly, but if you've got anything that would work for 4x5, maybe. Some years ago I sold my 210 Symmar and now I kind of regret it.

Feb 2, 2020 - 4:00:55 PM
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12713 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by MacCruiskeen
quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

 

Fast forward—want to buy my Deardorf and all the Schneider lenses?

 


I don't have room for a Deardorff, sadly, but if you've got anything that would work for 4x5, maybe. Some years ago I sold my 210 Symmar and now I kind of regret it.

 


I gave my 4x5 and all my darkroom stuff to my sister-in-law.  I have a 4X5 back for the Deardorff, and those big super-angulon lenses provide the sharpest part of the image in the center area (depending on how you have the boards tilted).  I also have a Hasselblad of the moon landing vintage with some lenses.  I'm actually going to leave all that stuff to my son, who went to art school,  knows about it and is ambivalent, but may decide to take it up later on—everything that goes around comes around, which explains the interest in skin banjo heads.

Feb 5, 2020 - 3:11:50 AM
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mdthib

Hong Kong

517 posts since 8/22/2013

I play two banjos, both with skin heads. I listened with nice studio speakers and could hear the difference and preferred the "EQ" of the hide head.

One key caveat: many types of taste tests reveal that people put a bit more preference towards what they're used to hearing. I like the particular sound of hide, but when I first got it I remember not liking it as much as I thought I would. I think over time our ears acclimate to and expect the sounds we're used to making.

But the big takeaway is that, in your situation, the difference is small, and most people could easily be happy with either head.

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