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May 25, 2020 - 9:21:11 PM
3 posts since 5/29/2010

Can someone explain to me why on some banjos the spacing on the 5th string is smaller than the other four strings? I always thought all 5 strings were spaced evenly from each other. I have always owned banjos that have equal spacing, but after noticing the difference on some banjos, but not others, I am left with wondering why that is? Is it a speed neck or neck thickness issue? Is it a mistake in production? I would think the 5th string spacing difference would mess up the picking slightly. Any insight would be appreciated. Cheers.

May 26, 2020 - 3:17:40 AM
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4854 posts since 5/14/2007

I suspect poor design/ignorance behind the phenomenon.

May 26, 2020 - 4:27:28 AM

690 posts since 8/26/2009

This is one of the first things I check when I try out a different banjo. Happens on $5,000 plus banjos also.
By the time a pip is installed and slotted the 5th string sets farther from the edge. Helps sometimes to slide the bridge to the right, but then the 1st string is too close to the edge?
That's why I like a spike in place of the pip like Deering uses, except on their Mastertone copies.
I believe Stelling uses a spike also?

May 26, 2020 - 4:42:07 AM

3 posts since 5/29/2010

Now that I have seen it, I can't unsee it and is one of the first things I check for. It seems like the Pip placement is correct but like the neck was cut too thin? On top of being a visual oddity, it seems like it might effect playing. I honestly don't know, but one would think spending 3 to 5k on any banjo that such an imperfection would not be an issue.

May 26, 2020 - 4:45:05 AM

13018 posts since 6/29/2005

They are supposed to be the same, so if they aren't it's a mistake.

The narrower the neck, the less space there is right where the fingerboard flares out at the 5th fret to put in a pip of any dimension, so maybe some builders goose it in to be safe, so the pip doesn't contact the binding, and then the 5th string moves over a little bit.

I don't think anyone plans it deliberately.  A spike is the minimalist solution for sure, and much easier to do, but you still have to get that in the right place.

May 26, 2020 - 6:02:39 AM

3846 posts since 10/13/2005

I have ranted on this issue for years. Yes it is one of the first things I check for when picking up a banjo and if the spacing is cramped I don't look any further. If the builder has failed to make the neck wide enough at the fifth fret he has two choices 1) make strings 1-4 with normal spacing and cramp the 4-5 spacing, 2) make the spaces between all the strings even but you lose a lot of normal neck width, the give away is a lot of banjo fretboard real estate between the fourth string and the edge of the neck. In other words, there is a bigger distance from the fourth string and the edge of the neck between the nut and the fifth string pip. As said above, you can see banjos in the thousands of dollars with this fault. All that time, money and effort going into making a banjo, fancy inlays, first rate materials, and they fail to make the neck wide enough from the fifth fret and above. I just had a custom banjo made and it has #2 fault above. The nut is 1& 5/16" wide but the string spacing at the first fret is no wider than a banjo I have with a nut of only 1&5/32" wide. On the first string side of the neck at the fifth fret it is about a 16th of an inch or so to the edge of the neck (where it should be) but on the fourth string side of the neck it is a quarter of an inch – way off the beam. Mike Ramsey banjos were all over the map on this issue, I'd never buy a banjo of his without a clear view of the fifth neck area. Took me years to figure out that banjos did not have to have this fault, that it was design issue that was either correct or not. I have tried my best to warn other neo-banjo buyers to be aware of this issue, not sure how successful that was, but you are ahead of the curve if you are aware of it early on, saving yourself some grief about why some banjos are harder to play. The narrow neck makes for unintentional muting of the strings with your left hand. Good Luck! banjered

May 26, 2020 - 9:49:27 AM

3846 posts since 10/13/2005

Here is a little test to measure #2 above. If you see normal string spacing from the first string to the edge of neck, but on the 4th string you see a lot of space between the fourth string and the edge of the neck between the nut and fifth string pip/nut, pull (around the 10th fret area) the fourth string toward the edge of the neck such that the string-to-edge-of-the-neck looks pretty similar to the first string spacing and then note how close the fourth string is to the fifth string at the pip. On the banjo I mentioned above with this test, the fourth and fifth string are less than 1/8" apart showing that the builder missed the proper fifth string neck width by almost a quarter inch. The devil is in the details when it comes to musical instruments, building and playing, and this issue is one, but an important one to be aware of because it is found in all levels (cost!) of banjos. banjered

May 26, 2020 - 10:29:13 AM
Players Union Member

Lew H

USA

2515 posts since 3/10/2008

PHILMO I agree with the use of a spike to hold the 5th string ala Deering. An added benefit is that the 5th string rests on the 5th fret, so that if you fret the string farther up or spike it at the 7th or 9th fret, it's in tune, or very close. Pips almost always seem to me to be too tall and two far behind the fret to be of maximum convenience.

May 26, 2020 - 10:34:04 AM

97 posts since 12/9/2018

As others have mentioned, it comes down to poor design. When I see this particular issue, I just assume that since the builder couldn't be bothered to do it correctly that there are probably other aspects that have been overlooked as well.
Even without the aid of CAD or similar, it doesn't take much to do a proper layout. If you know the rim size, scale length, bridge spacing, and nut width, you can do a full design with a tape measure and a long straight edge and know exactly what the dimensions should be.
That being said, the design needs to be turned into an actual instrument and that's what separates the true craftsmen from the folks just going through the motions. And to paraphrase a luthier friend, everyone will make a few stinkers, but not everyone will try to sell them.

May 26, 2020 - 12:10:27 PM

3846 posts since 10/13/2005

Chuck Lee posted years ago that in the beginning he "made a lot of neck firewood" or something to that effect. banjered

May 26, 2020 - 12:33:19 PM

17 posts since 12/12/2019

My first banjo was a cheap Jida import 5 string banjo. The spacing was terrible and tight. The spacing at the nut didn't look exactly right either.I picked up a Deering and immediately could feel the difference and playing it was a pleasure. I figured it was just because the Jida was cheap and I didn't know what to look for when I purchased it.

May 26, 2020 - 1:17:59 PM

13018 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by banjered

I have ranted on this issue for years. Yes it is one of the first things I check for when picking up a banjo and if the spacing is cramped I don't look any further. If the builder has failed to make the neck wide enough at the fifth fret he has two choices 1) make strings 1-4 with normal spacing and cramp the 4-5 spacing, 2) make the spaces between all the strings even but you lose a lot of normal neck width, the give away is a lot of banjo fretboard real estate between the fourth string and the edge of the neck. In other words, there is a bigger distance from the fourth string and the edge of the neck between the nut and the fifth string pip. As said above, you can see banjos in the thousands of dollars with this fault. All that time, money and effort going into making a banjo, fancy inlays, first rate materials, and they fail to make the neck wide enough from the fifth fret and above. I just had a custom banjo made and it has #2 fault above. The nut is 1& 5/16" wide but the string spacing at the first fret is no wider than a banjo I have with a nut of only 1&5/32" wide. On the first string side of the neck at the fifth fret it is about a 16th of an inch or so to the edge of the neck (where it should be) but on the fourth string side of the neck it is a quarter of an inch – way off the beam. Mike Ramsey banjos were all over the map on this issue, I'd never buy a banjo of his without a clear view of the fifth neck area. Took me years to figure out that banjos did not have to have this fault, that it was design issue that was either correct or not. I have tried my best to warn other neo-banjo buyers to be aware of this issue, not sure how successful that was, but you are ahead of the curve if you are aware of it early on, saving yourself some grief about why some banjos are harder to play. The narrow neck makes for unintentional muting of the strings with your left hand. Good Luck! banjered


The tapering of the space between the 4th string and the edge of the fingerboard as it approaches the 5th fret is a deliberate thing that goes back to the 19th century.  It has to do with the fact that the 4th string is more flexible than the others and you don't want to override the fingerboard in 1st position, which is where many people play.

Joel Hooks pointed this out along with accurate nut and string spacing measurements from a series of important banjos of that era made by different makers—absolutely done on purpose and the mark of a good banjo made by someone who knows what they are doing.  Of course, you will see banjos worth a lot of money with this detail.

The drawing below is based on some of Joel's measurements, and you can see the taper. Beyond the 5th fret, the 5th string should be the same distance from the edge of the fingerboard as the 1st string and all strings should be equally spaced right up to the bridge.

 

May 26, 2020 - 1:29:21 PM

7677 posts since 1/7/2005

I think it's an important point and I make an effort to come as close as possible to even spacing on all five strings. If you never or rarely fret the fifth string, it probably doesn't much matter, but I'm sure most technical pickers notice the difference.
It's important to do a full size drawing of a proper fretboard and use it as a guide to avoid painting yourself into a corner.

DD

May 26, 2020 - 2:58:44 PM

3846 posts since 10/13/2005

I understand and agree with Ken and Joel about the extra space needed between the fourth string and the edge of the fret board at 0-5 frets because of the tendency to "push" the 4th string off the fretboard. However, there is proper allowance and then there is just plain sloppiness which is what I am objecting to. It is perhaps a bit subtle for new buyers to be aware of because they haven't bought banjos where their fretting fingers keep sliding off the fret board in that fourth string area. The drawing looks pretty spot on in terms of design. Using the drawing as a guide, and applying the test I said, my banjo still flunks. The neck was made too narrow at the fifth fret area. Buyer beware! Proceed with caution! Do NOT fall into the vat! banjered

May 28, 2020 - 10:17:57 AM

71986 posts since 5/9/2007

I prefer a railroad spike and frets that go all the way to the outer edge of the binding.
As of this writing my 5th string is on the binding edge of the spike,not even hooked underneath...just resting on the 5th fret.
In this way I have a bit greater space between 5 and 4 than 4 to 3 and very near the end of the fret making thumbfretting of the 5th string very comfortable and truer noting of the same.

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