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Mar 29, 2020 - 3:58:33 PM

JohnRiley

Canada

6 posts since 3/29/2020

I hate being the complete newbie but I have just been given a peerless 4 string banjo and I would like to start learning to use it but I cant get it to stay in tune for more than seconds. I have tuned it to CGDA but im wondering if the previous owner (Not available to ask) tuned it differently and im just pushing the strings to places they shouldn't be. Im familiar with guitar, mando and Uke, but this is new and I don't want to blame the instrument yet.
Can I figure this out without visiting a shop (difficult to do in the Covid-19 era)?
To my ear, the instrument sounds dead.

Mar 29, 2020 - 4:19:24 PM
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Chris Meakin

Australia

2899 posts since 5/15/2011

Check the little screw in the top of the tuner knobs is tight enough. Doesn't have to be real tight, but they can loosen over time.

I'm assuming with your prior experience with stringed instruments the banjo strings are tied on properly.

Mar 29, 2020 - 4:22:23 PM
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Banjo Lefty

Canada

1880 posts since 6/19/2014

Start with some new strings. Replace them one at a time, so you don't lose the bridge. Unlike guitar, mando and uke, a banjo bridge is only held on by string pressure, so if you remove all the strings at once, the bridge will just fall off.

Once you have all the new strings in place and they've stretched out, check the bridge placement. The distance from the nut to the 12th fret should be almost the same as the distance from the 12th fret to the bridge. Play each string open, and then fretted at the 12th -- you should have a true octave. If you don't, you can make minor adjustments by moving the bridge back and forth a tiny amount. When the bridge is in place and the strings are intonating properly, check your head tension. There is a simple ruler-and-dime method which you can find here on the hangout (look up head tension in the search box).

Unless there's something mechanically wrong with the instrument, these three things should do it.

Mar 29, 2020 - 4:39:27 PM
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Kimerer

USA

931 posts since 2/17/2006

Staying in tune and sounding dead are two different problems.

If it won't stay in tune, the strings or tuning machines are slipping somehow.

If it sounds dead, that could be a loose head or bad strings or any other number of causes.

Is there an old T-shirt stuffed into the pot?

More information plus some photos of the banjo would help.

Mar 29, 2020 - 5:41:22 PM

JohnRiley

Canada

6 posts since 3/29/2020

I appreciate all the responses so far. If i took some pictures, what would help?

Mar 29, 2020 - 5:58:36 PM
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7057 posts since 8/28/2013
Online Now

Make sure all screws are tight. Change old strings. Check the head tightness.

I believe that the Peerless is a Bacon model, and will have a wooden "dowelstick" across the round part of the banjo (usually referred to as the "pot") and there should be U-shaped metal piece over that dowelstick where the neck meets the pot. There should be a screw in that metal piece. Tighten that screw snugly (don't over-tighten) to keep the neck from wobbling.

Mar 29, 2020 - 6:14:04 PM
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rcc56

USA

2744 posts since 2/20/2016

Two other things to check:

1. Confirm that it is a tenor banjo, not a plectrum banjo. A tenor will have a scale length of no more than 23", often quite a bit less. Measure the distance from the nut to the 12th fret. It should be no more than 11 1/2 inches.

2. It is possible that the previous owner might have strung it for "Irish" tuning [G D A E] or something else. Tenors strung for stamdard tenor tuning should be strung somewhere in the neighborhood of .009" or .010" for the first string, .028" or .030" for the fourth. If it is indeed strung heavier, it will sound dead and not want to stay in tune. If in doubt, order a fresh set of strings.

And yes, check that head and make sure it is reasonably tight and doesn't have a tear around the edge. If the bridge sinks into the head more than the thickness of a nickel, tighten it slightly.

Mar 30, 2020 - 2:48:15 PM

JohnRiley

Canada

6 posts since 3/29/2020

So... I checked the length and it is 11 1/2" to the twelfth fret. Then I started to wonder... If i was trying to tune the strings to standard, but they were designed for Irish tuning, that would be a problem. I also think that I had not tuned them tight enough, explaining the lack of brightness to the strings - and the fact that the strings might very well be original. I have ordered new ones -CGDA that should arrive tomorrow.

Mar 30, 2020 - 3:10:34 PM

JohnRiley

Canada

6 posts since 3/29/2020

I have discovered that I like this tuning. Since I play a bit of mandolin, I realised it was the same tuning and I can use the same chords.
To adjust the head, I assume I take the resonator off? The bridge is sinking in a bit more than is suggested above.

Mar 30, 2020 - 4:00:07 PM
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rcc56

USA

2744 posts since 2/20/2016

Yes, remove the resonator, snug up any hooks that are obviously loose, then go all the way around the banjo once and tighten each hook just a little-- maybe an eighth of a turn. You may have to repeat the operation once or twice, but . . .
Do not over tighten or you will break the head.

Mar 31, 2020 - 7:43:32 AM
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1737 posts since 2/10/2013

On Youtube there are some videos on changing strings and setting up a banjo.
Sometime a small piece of advice can be a big help.

Apr 2, 2020 - 5:04:16 AM

JohnRiley

Canada

6 posts since 3/29/2020

following the directions I found about the tightening of the head, I measured the string height and they are just where they should be - 1/8" above the last two frets. Even though I see some deflection on the head, I assume I should not adjust, just check for any that are loose? The dead sound has been somewhat resolved by a different and tighter tuning. Im still waiting on new strings.

Apr 2, 2020 - 9:00:06 AM

rcc56

USA

2744 posts since 2/20/2016

Yes, the bridge should still deflect the head slightly. If you adjust to the point of no deflection, the head will break.

There are long discussions on the optimal tension for a head, some involving tuning the head to a note [but not everybody agrees on what the note should be], some using a measuring device called a drum dial, some using a ruler and a coin. Any of these methods will get the tension "in the ballpark," but the better luthiers still do their final adjustments by ear and feel by listening to the tone of the banjo and feeling the head with their fingers. It's not necessary to drive yourself crazy trying to figure out the absolute best tension.

Snug up any loose hooks and wait for your new strings before you do anything else. It's not a good idea to adjust further without fresh strings of the proper gauge for the tuning you want.

When you get your strings, tune it up. Then, if you want the instrument a little brighter, you can try to tighten the head only slightly and see what that does. If the sound doesn't change much, you've probably reached the limit.

Tight head, tight sound. Loose head, loose sound.

Apr 2, 2020 - 11:11:24 AM

7057 posts since 8/28/2013
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by JohnRiley

following the directions I found about the tightening of the head, I measured the string height and they are just where they should be - 1/8" above the last two frets. Even though I see some deflection on the head, I assume I should not adjust, just check for any that are loose? The dead sound has been somewhat resolved by a different and tighter tuning. Im still waiting on new strings.


String height at the last few frets is not the way to measure head tightness. Other factors, like bridge height and neck bowing will affect that measurement far more than head tension, so basically height at the last two frets is meaningless for tightening the head.

I suggest you re-read what Bob has to say about obtaining the optimun head tension.

Apr 2, 2020 - 3:04:59 PM

JohnRiley

Canada

6 posts since 3/29/2020

I have just re-read what Bob said. It makes more sense now that I have taken the deflector off and tightened to the point that a nickel will just slide under a straight edge. I also noticed that the bridge was leaning towards the tuning pegs and I straightened that with a few gentle taps.
The head required 3 adjustments of about an 1/8” to get to where it is.
Strings are due tomorrow. :-)




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