I have a c.1891 banjo with what I believe may possibly be the original head, or at the very least, a very old head. Does anyone have experience using automotive leather conditioners or similar to keep them supple and flexible? I've read a few archived threads but haven't gleaned much.
Sounds good in theory but not something I would not do. Maybe just beware of storage and keep away from heater
A quick check of their MSDS shows that some of their leather conditioners including the “gold” have silicone. That is a big no for banjos. Even if only on the head, it will eventually get everywhere.
You will find that most car products have silicone.
A banjo is not a car.
Some period correct advice is to take a small drop of almond oil on a piece of tissue paper and rub the head with it.
I’d just change the head if it was past it’s life.
It is just a banjo head. They were and always will be disposable items, much like strings.
OTOH, if this is a wall hanger and you want to keep the head, etc., you might try some Saddle Soap (neither Fieblings nor Kiwi appear to have silicone in them).
I'm not sure why you'd want a banjo head to be supple and flexible.
Clean it with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and call it good. If it's too stretched out or torn, replace it with a quality calfskin head.
Hide banjo heads are not tanned leather that is soft and supple like jackets or car seats, they are rawhide. They need to be hard and stiff in order to resonate properly. This is why hide heads need to be tightened in humid weather- they soften up in the humidity and don't resonate as well.
I think what Terry means is that if a vintage head is soft and supple it could be tightened to a good tension without splitting.
Renaissance Wax is made for protecting antiquities - including leather. I use it on new hide heads with great results.
You're all giving great info, here. This had is still tight and has good sound, and I will be playing it. It seems it was stored somewhere that helped preserve it. I'm just looking to prolong it's life. I will avoid the car products.
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