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Feb 16, 2020 - 5:52:18 PM
46 posts since 6/22/2019

Hi all short and sweet ;

I've seen velum heads range from £5 to £30 to £50 here in the UK

Is there really such a difference in these John Balch and other expensive heads?

banjohangout.org/archive/157994

This guy seemed enthusiastic about his.

Thinking of taking off my renaissance head for a velum. I am getting a banjo soon with velum anyway, however, I really have never like the plastic sound of non velum heads. It's OK. but not for me. I leant towards fiberskin if anything, as it sounded sort of more like real skin to me. But I don't think it's worth putting fiberskin as I believe it's a lot more dead than real skin.

 

https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/678416303/goat-rawhide-skins-unbleached-goatskin?gpla=1&gao=1&&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=shopping_uk_en_gb_d-books_movies_and_music-other&utm_custom1=d0d96066-6d75-4498-a95c-1f374bc59574&utm_content=go_326241768_20237071128_88513295208_pla-106552219955_c__678416303engb

 

I noticed here, you can get 'thin, medium, thick' - so what's the deal there? I guess we want it pretty thin?

 

I should add - I'd like an old-timey banjo for nylon strings...my Grafton is a tubaphone, bit heavy, but it's my only other banjo right now, and can't afford any more...just wonder what sort of banjo combination would give me a Clifton Hicks style sound. Thinking walnut rim, nylon strings, velum head.. not sure about what tone ring. But I don't like the weight of the tuba! though I do like the sound

Edited by - DeepRiverRuse on 02/16/2020 17:58:40

Feb 16, 2020 - 7:07:23 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

23212 posts since 6/25/2005

Boils down to thin=sharp, crisp tone; thick =softer, thudding tone. Depends on your preference. The more expensive heads do they’d to be better—more consistent thickness, tone and they last longer.l

Feb 16, 2020 - 7:31:01 PM

12655 posts since 10/30/2008

Other things that go into the price of a skin head include the "clarity" or uniformity of the piece of hide. It can be filled with "veins", or it can be a uniform opaque white (like a frosted plastic head) with no translucent spots, curves, variations or lines in it. Really clear, uniform opaque white hide is not that plentiful, so it costs more. I gladly paid John Balch his maximum price for a REALLY uniform white hide head. Once you compare a perfect uniform white hide to a "vein-ey" hide, you'll know the difference. Even in the old days, the hide head makers offered different grades at different prices.

Feb 16, 2020 - 7:42:26 PM
like this

jbalch

USA

8680 posts since 11/28/2003

Inexpensive hides can sound great and last a long time. But please be aware that some of the prices you mention are probably for un-mounted raw skins...not completed banjo heads (my prices are for finished, custom, pre-mounted, banjo heads). If you are prepared to mount a flat rawhide from scratch and you have the additional materials that are required - then you can cut the cost significantly and get great results! Also note that the quality of rawhide varies widely.  If you are buying cheap hides one piece at a time - you can be at the mercy of your supplier - and results may vary. 

Hide quality (IMHO) is a function of thickness, evenness, and that absence of visible flaws that might sooner-or-later compromise the head.  Appearance is a big factor too (some hides are just more beautiful than others).  I order hides in bulk - from  a source that pre-screens them for me.  Even then, I scrap a significant percentage of my supply because they just don't meet my standards. Of the hides that I select, I grade them according to a number of factors. 

The BEST hides (Stern Tanning Co. or Jeff Menzies goat hides) are sanded by machine or scraped by hand for ideal thickness.  This extra processing from the supplier results in a very responsive head - but it adds a lot to the cost too. 

FYI: I recommend thickness in the range of .014-.018 in. for goat hides.  Calf skins can be a little thinner (I think .012 in. is ideal).

Best Wishes!

Feb 17, 2020 - 12:34:47 AM

Nickcd

UK

195 posts since 1/28/2018

See you are in the uk - Notice those heads ship from USA but otherwise seem reasonably priced.
You could try Clifford essex (when I bought one from them - they sent an extra one to practice on - this was a bit thicker than the 'selected' one). Or Andy Banjo - you may be able to ask them to provide a given thickness. Hobgoblin also sell heads and if a shop nearby you can go in and select the one you want.

Feb 17, 2020 - 7:55:48 AM

283 posts since 12/28/2014

Part of the price is from the seller buying those skins from the distributor and filtering/ grading them. You could go to the tanner and buy the same skins for 3.5£ a piece but if your lucky 3 out of 10 are going to have cosmetic to completely non functional defects.
I buy 50 heads at a time and I tend to throw 10 of them to the dog for chew toys due to glaring defects.

Feb 17, 2020 - 8:37:25 AM

963 posts since 1/26/2012

You can buy whole goat hides online for very good prices, but you'll have to do some work to get them right for a banjo, because they're not even thickness or well cleaned. It takes is stretching it on a board and sanding it down.

Feb 17, 2020 - 8:54:48 AM

2459 posts since 4/29/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Nickcd

See you are in the uk - Notice those heads ship from USA but otherwise seem reasonably priced.
You could try Clifford essex (when I bought one from them - they sent an extra one to practice on - this was a bit thicker than the 'selected' one). Or Andy Banjo - you may be able to ask them to provide a given thickness. Hobgoblin also sell heads and if a shop nearby you can go in and select the one you want.


I'd second that. My regular player has a calf skin from Clifford Essex. My reskinned irregular players have goat from Andybanjo. I think I also got my previous main banjo skin from John Alvey Turner.  A skin lasts effectively forever if you occasionally rotate it, so no need to skimp. I never rotated my main banjo skin so eventually (after about 15 years) my thumb wore through the head. This may not happen if you play over the neck and/or remember to trim your thumbnail. Premounted heads seem a good idea - But most of the work in changing a head is unscrewing and retensioning the hooks, which you have to do whatever type of head you choose. The cheap goatskins you see that are not specifically sold as banjo heads are usually for traditional drums. May take the extra tension needed on a banjo but its a gamble.

Feb 17, 2020 - 6:03:55 PM

59 posts since 9/17/2012

I own several John Balch heads. The quality is superb. You would not be disappointed with any of Johns offerings.

Feb 18, 2020 - 12:06:32 PM

66 posts since 5/25/2015

quote:
Originally posted by AndrewD
quote:
Originally posted by Nickcd

See you are in the uk - Notice those heads ship from USA but otherwise seem reasonably priced.
You could try Clifford essex (when I bought one from them - they sent an extra one to practice on - this was a bit thicker than the 'selected' one). Or Andy Banjo - you may be able to ask them to provide a given thickness. Hobgoblin also sell heads and if a shop nearby you can go in and select the one you want.


I'd second that. My regular player has a calf skin from Clifford Essex. My reskinned irregular players have goat from Andybanjo. I think I also got my previous main banjo skin from John Alvey Turner.  A skin lasts effectively forever if you occasionally rotate it, so no need to skimp. I never rotated my main banjo skin so eventually (after about 15 years) my thumb wore through the head. This may not happen if you play over the neck and/or remember to trim your thumbnail. Premounted heads seem a good idea - But most of the work in changing a head is unscrewing and retensioning the hooks, which you have to do whatever type of head you choose. The cheap goatskins you see that are not specifically sold as banjo heads are usually for traditional drums. May take the extra tension needed on a banjo but its a gamble.


Slight thread drift but how do the Clifford Essex and Andybanjo skins compare? Looking at getting one at the moment and they both look ok.

Feb 18, 2020 - 1:32:38 PM

Nickcd

UK

195 posts since 1/28/2018

I have only bought Clifford Essex ones to date - but do have an Andy Banjo one on its way to me.
Re the Clifford Essex - they obviously select the prime skins out as certainly with me (& I beleive others) they included one they had rejected for me to "practice on". I actually have used this one as well!
The other one was put on a Jedson - & is ok. I may replace simply because I put it on a little too loose & the way the Jedson works there is a limit too how much you can tighten the hooks.
Not sure will notice any real difference with the Andy Banjo one - going on a different banjo. But they are cheaper (but only get one) plus assume they are the same source they use for putting vellum heads on the Banjos they sell.

Feb 19, 2020 - 11:51:03 AM

108 posts since 7/14/2017

I fitted an Andy Banjo vellum to a tenor banjo. It works fine.

It seemed to me to be pretty even in thickness, but it's far from even in colour - some parts are white, some were almost clear.

That was 18 months or so ago, and time has turned the entire head opaque and a greyish white. However, variations in colour are still visible.

So it works well, and I like its uneven appearance on a cheap 1920s tenor. If you want even, pearly white, then from other posts it looks like Clifford Essex supplies these, but naturally charges more.

Edited by - Profchris on 02/19/2020 11:51:36

Feb 19, 2020 - 12:23:40 PM

Nickcd

UK

195 posts since 1/28/2018

I received an Andybanjo one today - on first look as said above not as an even colour as the CE one - but intended to try a tea dye anyway so quite like this and may not dye after all - though on first look seems a little more stretched
/slightly wrinkly in one area - but haven't taken it out of the packing yet and this was on quick cursory examination - so sure it will be fine.

Edited by - Nickcd on 02/19/2020 12:24:19

Feb 20, 2020 - 6:03:41 AM

Nickcd

UK

195 posts since 1/28/2018

Pictures of Andybanjo vellum - "out of the packet" I. E not soaked for mounting yet.


Feb 22, 2020 - 4:40:10 AM

66 posts since 5/25/2015

quote:
Originally posted by Nickcd

Pictures of Andybanjo vellum - "out of the packet" I. E not soaked for mounting yet.


Just ordered one. Will be my first attempt at mounting one of these but I've salvaged a nice old brass flesh hoop which should help keep it nice and tight.

Feb 23, 2020 - 2:07:23 AM

Nickcd

UK

195 posts since 1/28/2018

Ok I have mounted the Andybanjo head - yet to string up and see how it sounds. Prefer the looks to the CE one I have. But (thought I was being careful) seem to have mounted it wrong side up - but even though a bit rough surface presume will sound sort of the same!
I also have a goatskin head (Was for a bodum) which I might try next - perhaps replace the CE one.


Feb 23, 2020 - 2:37:08 AM

Nickcd

UK

195 posts since 1/28/2018

quote:
Originally posted by gentrixuk
quote:
Originally posted by Nickcd

Pictures of Andybanjo vellum - "out of the packet" I. E not soaked for mounting yet.


Just ordered one. Will be my first attempt at mounting one of these but I've salvaged a nice old brass flesh hoop which should help keep it nice and tight.


Btw - I find the instructions on AB's site quite good - especially the punching of holes round the perimeter and threading a draw string through them. 

Also in the past (well the 3 heads I have done) trimmed the vellum when wet but this time did after drying - actually found trimming once dry was easier + if you wait until this point there is still the option of starting all over if say tension too loose. 

Feb 23, 2020 - 4:09:43 AM

1317 posts since 4/25/2007

quote:
Originally posted by DeepRiverRuse

Hi all short and sweet ;

I've seen velum heads range from £5 to £30 to £50 here in the UK

Is there really such a difference in these John Balch and other expensive heads?

banjohangout.org/archive/157994

This guy seemed enthusiastic about his.

Thinking of taking off my renaissance head for a velum. I am getting a banjo soon with velum anyway, however, I really have never like the plastic sound of non velum heads. It's OK. but not for me. I leant towards fiberskin if anything, as it sounded sort of more like real skin to me. But I don't think it's worth putting fiberskin as I believe it's a lot more dead than real skin.

 

https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/678416303/goat-rawhide-skins-unbleached-goatskin?gpla=1&gao=1&&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=shopping_uk_en_gb_d-books_movies_and_music-other&utm_custom1=d0d96066-6d75-4498-a95c-1f374bc59574&utm_content=go_326241768_20237071128_88513295208_pla-106552219955_c__678416303engb

 

I noticed here, you can get 'thin, medium, thick' - so what's the deal there? I guess we want it pretty thin?

 

I should add - I'd like an old-timey banjo for nylon strings...my Grafton is a tubaphone, bit heavy, but it's my only other banjo right now, and can't afford any more...just wonder what sort of banjo combination would give me a Clifton Hicks style sound. Thinking walnut rim, nylon strings, velum head.. not sure about what tone ring. But I don't like the weight of the tuba! though I do like the sound


Interesting post. I have a couple of John Balch heads, they are particularly high quality work from a reknowned maker. Fit and forget no worries.  While i would encourage most folks to have a go themselves  and there's a huge amount of helpful advice and videos available. It can be a very time consuming and expensive learning curve. There's a reason Clifford Essex send a practice vellum second for newcomers to the sport. Given a decent quality vellum i can fit one fine these days, but getting to that stage took time, expense and patience.

Feb 29, 2020 - 4:18:44 AM

66 posts since 5/25/2015

quote:
Originally posted by Nickcd
quote:
Originally posted by gentrixuk
quote:
Originally posted by Nickcd

Pictures of Andybanjo vellum - "out of the packet" I. E not soaked for mounting yet.


Just ordered one. Will be my first attempt at mounting one of these but I've salvaged a nice old brass flesh hoop which should help keep it nice and tight.


Btw - I find the instructions on AB's site quite good - especially the punching of holes round the perimeter and threading a draw string through them. 

Also in the past (well the 3 heads I have done) trimmed the vellum when wet but this time did after drying - actually found trimming once dry was easier + if you wait until this point there is still the option of starting all over if say tension too loose. 


Just finished mine and very happy with it. I tried the AB approach but the tension hoop is so big on this Dallas that it didn't leave enough room for tightening. After 3 attempts and some improvising it settled down nicely.


Feb 29, 2020 - 7:10:40 AM

johnedallas

Germany

120 posts since 2/18/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Nickcd

 But (thought I was being careful) seem to have mounted it wrong side up - but even though a bit rough surface presume will sound sort of the same!
 


I did that too, the fist time I fitted a new head!

Although the inside and outside of the skin look and feel different when dry, the difference just vanishes when wet. However, being inside-out seems to make no difference to the tone, and the skin wraps just as tight round the flesh-hoop. The only difference I noticed was that the "flesh" side of the vellum perhaps picks up the dirt from your pinkie more quickly than the "hair" side.

BTW, I made a mental note to mark my next vellum in such a way as to be able to distinguish inside and out. I thought of writing a letter "R" in indelible pen on the outside, somewhere near the edge (where it would later be trimmed off). If this "R" is the right way round when the wet vellum is laid on the pot, then the vellum is the right way round, too.

Cheers,

John

Feb 29, 2020 - 8:40:13 AM

Nickcd

UK

195 posts since 1/28/2018

The clifford essex ones actually mark which side up for you. The AB one though looks fine and plays really nice.

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