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Jul 3, 2020 - 5:39:33 AM

Jelle

Netherlands

224 posts since 5/28/2012

Can anyone help me with the intonation for a 12" open back banjo?
After 3 hours of moving the bridge, the harmonics of the first and second string finally seem to match with the fretted notes on the 12th fret. The problem is the fourth string, especially when tuned down to C. The tuning device tells me it's correct, but the note sounds off, like it's pulled sharp. My banjo was set up by the shop I ordered it from and the bridge was installed square on the head. It has a sosebee bridge on it, so I guess that can't be the problem.
The banjo is of very high quality so it's frustrating I can't let it ring to its full potential..

Edited by - Jelle on 07/03/2020 05:40:16

Jul 3, 2020 - 6:34:31 AM

13070 posts since 6/29/2005

Usually the third string is the worst one because it's the stiffest one.  Without some special compensated bridge, you will have a very difficult time getting them all exactly in tune at once.

Jul 3, 2020 - 8:35:49 AM

543 posts since 7/10/2012

Just a suggestion, but if the one string sounds a little sharp, you can "lengthen" it relative to the other strings pretty straightforwardly. If you have a small nail file, bevel the edge of the bridge under that string only on the side of the bridge facing the neck. That's all the compensated bridges are doing anyway. There is loads of info on custom compensation out there, check it out!

Jul 3, 2020 - 9:08:49 AM

978 posts since 1/9/2012

Many acoustic flat-top steel-string guitars have come with thus-beveled bridges for a long time -- just for that reason.

Jul 3, 2020 - 10:59:11 AM

Jelle

Netherlands

224 posts since 5/28/2012

The bridge is compensated at the third slot, so the G string isn't giving me any trouble. The fourth string has to be tuned lower than the tuning device would suggest to create a pleasant sound.. I tried moving the bridge some more; now the fourth and first string sound almost identical to the harmonics. To which extend is it possible to fine-tune it perfectly? Or is it always a matter of compromise?

Jul 3, 2020 - 11:33:31 AM
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151 posts since 11/27/2017

It is always a matter of compromise. And if you go strictly by a tuner set in equal temperament, and you have sensitive ears, the Equal tempered fifths (like from the low c to the g above) will sound wrong, even if they are mathematically exact. Some electronic tuners have "sweetened" or just intonation settings...

Edited by - rfink1913 on 07/03/2020 11:34:39

Jul 3, 2020 - 12:11:01 PM

7414 posts since 8/28/2013

Sometimes string gauge can make a difference. If the strings are old, that can also ruin intonation.

Jul 3, 2020 - 1:02:25 PM
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13122 posts since 10/30/2008

If you're fretting the 4th string at the 12th fret and trying to match it to the harmonic, don't be too hard on yourself. The higher your action is, the worse it will be. You can slant your bridge back a hair on the 5th string side -- yeah it will look "off" but it's about all you can do. All my Mastertones require some amount of slant to keep the 4th string more or less not too sharp on the high frets.

If your e-tuner is telling you to tune the 4th string to a note you don't like, then ignore it. Tune it where you like it.

Good luck.

Jul 3, 2020 - 8:07:05 PM

Bart Veerman

Canada

4674 posts since 1/5/2005

What kind of banjo Jelle? Are you using nylon strings by any chance?

Groetjes uit Canada,

Bart.

Edited by - Bart Veerman on 07/03/2020 20:07:51

Jul 3, 2020 - 10:39:31 PM

1158 posts since 8/7/2017

My experience is that old strings won't give good intonation, no matter where the bridge is placed. Strings will age out (get bad) real quick if you are changing tuning to different keys a lot. This is the best excuse to have multiple banjos - leave each in one of your favorite tunings *grin*. I know a pro who changes strings every 3 weeks - I try to get more play out of mine cause I'm cheap. But eventually, the sound is so hard on my ears, I install new.

It's possible to get a set of bad strings right out of the package. You can email the company, and ask for a replacement set, which I've done. But I think it's a rare occurance. But if you are going nuts, then it's worth a try. My local store sells strings for $5/set, which is below online prices if you factor in the postage, so at least check out your local music stores. Helps if they deal a lot with pros.

The electric tuner is just a starting point. Your ears will tell you better. As far as I know, all the pros deviate from electric tuner to get a sound the player likes better. My ears prefer good harmonics over precise intonation. I will move a bridge (a little bit) every time I play to get pleasant harmonics (sympathetic vibration of the un-picked strings), and especially if I change tuning key. The little movement may be due to string aging, or maybe just due to my day to day changes in hearing. This is true in spades for one banjo, and never needs to be done with another.

I've played both light strings and medium strings (D'Addario). The medium strings give better intonation on one of my banjos (I have 4). On another, light gives fine intonation (have not felt the need to try medium)- each banjo is a law unto itself. Mediums don't sound the same as light (I like light's sound better). So, it's a tossup, try both and see what you like best.

I wrote a long thread (with lots of comments) on tuning according to Just Intonation rules vs Equal Temperament Intonation rules (electric tuners use ET rules). Quite controversial topic, hoho. If you are "cursed" with a form of perfect pitch, JI is the way to go (it's how I roll).
banjohangout.org/archive/341664

Hope this helps.

Edited by - BrooksMT on 07/03/2020 22:44:21

Jul 4, 2020 - 4:26:57 AM

AndyW

UK

535 posts since 7/4/2017

Slant your bridge. A taller bridge tends to need more slant.

Jul 4, 2020 - 5:31:54 AM

2672 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,

The type of head and tailpiece type hasn’t been described yet. Retuning the 4th string down and it goes flat is movement of the bridge. The causes of bridge movement are limited to 4.

Old strings

Slack head tension

Slack tailpiece pressure

Slick surface

Old strings has been discussed. Slack head tension requires more tailpiece pressure to lock the bridge in place. This works for Presto style tailpieces. No KNots Styles do not provide any support.

A 12” head cannot be like an 11” Bluegrass banjo. This leaves head tension to be limited to as tight as possible. Nor should an owner try.

This leaves head surface type as the final problem. Clear heads look cool, but don’t keep the bridge in place. Worn or frosted under heads are cool, but don’t keep the bridge in place.

What is in place? The 3rd string is the center line of a 5 string banjo. Look down it. A straight line is in place. Tuning down the 4th string relives balance and causes the bridge to slide to the 1st string side. This should be scene in the 3rd line.

In this new steady state, readjust the intonation to match the shift. A price is paid with non Bluegrass banjos. Fire and forget is not part of the package with No Knot tailpieces and large diameter heads. Any retuning among any string causes imbalance.

Different tailpiece types called straight line makes all strings straight to the bridge. This reduces the pull. It is still there but not noticeable. Non Fixed bridge instruments are fraught with movement.

Jul 4, 2020 - 7:27:17 AM

7414 posts since 8/28/2013

Wound strings can be a real issue, sometimes even the brand new ones. The tiniest slip-up in winding can make for uneveness, and uneveness means the string will never be true in pitch. I've had this happen with brand new strings; they simply couldn't be tuned because one end of the string vibrated differently than the other end. Old strings are worse, of course, because of spots of corrosion, dents in the winding from being pressed againts the frets, and simple skin cells clogging the windings.

I would never tune a banjo to just temperament, because the frets are spaced for equal temperament.

Jul 4, 2020 - 10:01:24 AM

Jelle

Netherlands

224 posts since 5/28/2012

Thanks for the replies! The banjo is an Ome Tupelo, brand new. It has a renaissance head with a 'sweettone' tailpiece, something between a no-knot and a presto. I wil check if the third string has a straight line, I switch between open G en double C quite often, so perhaps that affects the intonation like you suggested. With my other banjos I never have these problems though, and they are all of less quality..

I'm pretty confident the bridge is in the correct position now, the harmonics seem spot on. The only thing that confuses me is the fourth string that has to be tuned flat (according to the tuning device) to make it sound it tune with the other strings. Also when I pluck the fourth string and listen to the reverb, the sound seems to change in pitch..

Jul 5, 2020 - 5:07:55 AM

2672 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello

Something cool about banjos is that the 4th and 1st strings matter with harmonic bridge placement. Use both to reset the bridge. Then retune the banjo to its new bridge placement. Movement left or right from in-place always requires intonation changes.

Jul 5, 2020 - 6:06:30 AM

7414 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Jelle

Thanks for the replies! The banjo is an Ome Tupelo, brand new. It has a renaissance head with a 'sweettone' tailpiece, something between a no-knot and a presto. I wil check if the third string has a straight line, I switch between open G en double C quite often, so perhaps that affects the intonation like you suggested. With my other banjos I never have these problems though, and they are all of less quality..

I'm pretty confident the bridge is in the correct position now, the harmonics seem spot on. The only thing that confuses me is the fourth string that has to be tuned flat (according to the tuning device) to make it sound it tune with the other strings. Also when I pluck the fourth string and listen to the reverb, the sound seems to change in pitch..


That change in pitch while it reverberates is most likely due to a bad string that doesn't break into even sections (those sections are what produce the harmonics. If, for example, the string doesn't break into two equal sections, but instead is at a 51 to 49 ratio, it will produce two slightly mis-tuned octave overtones which compete with each other and sound out of tune and sometimes make an audible "wah-wah" sound  (all the other overtones are also affected). This is not very common with banjo strings, but is one of the major problems in tuning the wound bass strings of a piano. The answer is, oddly enough, the same thing you are doing with your 4th string: to tune the string slightly flat. It isn't strictly correct, but it usually sounds decent enough except maybe to those who have very sensitive ears. 

I suggest you try a new string; it may end your intonation issues.

Jul 6, 2020 - 6:45:24 AM

Jelle

Netherlands

224 posts since 5/28/2012

Changing the string solved the changing pitch, thank you! I fiddled some more with the intonation, which was now way easier to adjust. The tuning device still lets me tune the low D string a little flat, but much less than before. I wonder if the bridge still needs altering to solve it completely..

Also when I capo the banjo the fourth string sounds miles off, very annoying. I have an adjustable capo, but even on its most loosened setting it pulls the string sharp. My other banjos also have this problem, but the thick neck of the Tupelo accentuates this.

Jul 6, 2020 - 12:31:56 PM
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Jelle

Netherlands

224 posts since 5/28/2012

Update: changing the strings and spending another 3 hours on the intonation did it, the banjo now sounds like it should (thank god)!
Thanks for the advice everyone. Spending so much time on matching the harmonics was very frustrating, but quite educational as well. In the end I didn't even look at the tuning device and just went by what I heard. I will post a video this week to let you hear how it sounds.

Thanks again!

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