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Hello! A new player needs setup advice

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Aug 11, 2020 - 6:13:02 AM



2 posts since 2/14/2020

Greetings from the far south of Western Australia.

I've recently bought my first banjo - a Deering Goodtime Americana with 12" pot and scoop. It was posted to me from Banjo Studio in New Orleans. I've been playing nearly two months, focusing on clawhammer, and it's been great.

I don't have many resources locally, so I'm looking for some basic info. The Americana came setup, and I've changed the tuning quite frequently. When I'm playing, the pitch of the strings seems too easily affected by any pressure on the neck. This means I'm going out of tune when gripping the neck or just fretting notes.

Is this a setup issue? I don't want to mess with the truss rod until I understand better. If I'm pointed in the right direction I'll figure it out.

All the best, Martin.

Aug 11, 2020 - 6:55:17 AM
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1581 posts since 10/12/2011

Banjo necks need a light touch, compared to say a guitar. Your set up may be fine, but it may be your grip on the banjo. Just cradle the banjo in the web of your hand. This is why many folks suggest wearing a banjo strap while playing both sitting and standing. This way the weight of the banjo is supported by the strap and not your hand. The slight flexing of the neck will make your note off. Also try to fret with just enough pressure to make the note clean and clear. I was guilty of this at first and was fretting way to hard. With practice you can lighten your touch.

To summarize my thoughts is to get a strap, and use it both sitting and standing. Don't strangle the neck and lighted your touch.


Aug 11, 2020 - 7:02:48 AM
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7627 posts since 8/28/2013

Don't mess with the truss rod.

Check inside the pot to see if whatever holds the neck in place is tight enough.

Aug 11, 2020 - 7:06:59 AM

2228 posts since 5/2/2012

My knowledge of setup is pretty limited, but based on my experience and what I've read here on the HO, I would suspect that the string(s) are getting hung up in the slots of the nut (or bridge). Start by loosening the strings and rubbing some graphite (pencil lead) in the slots. If that doesn't take care of the problem you might need to do some (careful) filing of the slot. There is help here on the HO if you ask. If the problem effects all of the strings, though, I might check the tension on the nut (by the neck) on the coordinator rod. I doubt if the truss rod is the problem. All that said, I'll leave any corrections to my suggestions to the experts.

Aug 11, 2020 - 7:29:03 AM



2756 posts since 11/29/2007

The truss rod is in the neck so you need to leave it alone. The coordinator rods are in the pot of the banjo, under the head and inside the resonator if your banjo has one. You need to check the coordinator rods or rod and snug them up against the neck if they have loosened a bit from shipping, etc. You do not need to torque the rod but just tighten them a bit to get a snug fit of the pot against the neck. First loosen the nut or nuts (based on number of coordinator rods), that are under the tailpiece first. Then check the tightness of the nuts on the opposite end of the rod or rods where the rods pull the neck against the pot. Tighten them with your fingers if you can and then just snug them up a bit to remove any play in the neck. Do not torque the neck against the pot, that is unnecessary and can damage your banjo in a bad way. After that tightening is done, go back and do the same procedure under your tailpiece. Tighten but do not torque as this will pull your rim out of round and can negative effect the tone of your banjo.  It is normal to feel a bit of play in a neck of a banjo but not to the point of it losing its ability to stay in tune. 


Edited by - BobbyE on 08/11/2020 07:31:01

Aug 11, 2020 - 8:12:20 AM
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13271 posts since 10/30/2008

Even Gibson Mastertones are subject to this issue, particularly if they have thin necks. Sometimes just the pressure you exert while TUNING the string, has an effect on the pitch of the string. Sounds perfect while you're holding the tuning peg; when you let go it's not in perfect tune any more!

Very gentle touch with the left hand is need.

NEVER hook a strap to the peghead area. That guarantees you'll never get or stay in tune. Straps are hooked to the pot only.

I'm not sure how a Goodtime is built, but if you see a metal rod or two inside the pot, check the area neartest the heel of the neck. If the nuts there are loose to your fingers' touch, then they are too loose, and it's possible the neck is not securely affixed to the pot. This also guarantees tuning problems. Tighten them up finger tight, and then just "snug" them a little with a short wrench/spanner. You want them just tight enough that they don't loosen on their own during normal handling, travel and picking.

Good luck.

Aug 11, 2020 - 8:27:16 AM
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11094 posts since 6/2/2008
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Originally posted by martinx

Is this a setup issue? I don't want to mess with the truss rod until I understand better. If I'm pointed in the right direction I'll figure it out.

Welcome to banjo and to the Hangout.

You've already been set straight that a "truss rod" is inside some banjo necks and "coordinator rods" (sometimes called "rim rods") are inside the pot running from the neck to the tail.

Your Goodtime has no truss rod. The neck has no interior reinforcement against string tension, which is why you should never use heavier gauge strings than it came equipped with new.

Your Goodtime has a single coordinator rod, attached to the lower lag bolt of the neck. It has a simple nut attached to the upper lag bolt.

Check to see if the neck feels at all loose. If the banjo goes out of tune simply by the pressure of pushing up on the neck (from the first string side) then it might need a little tightening. I think it's perfectly safe to tighten the coordinator rod and the upper nut to be sure the neck is snug.  If you do that, then you might also want to loosen the outer nut at the tailpiece end by the same amount that you tightened the co-rod at the neck end. And then tighten the inside nut the same amount.  Do it all in that order.  The point is to not increase or decrease the effective length of the co-rod inside the pot -- which is what raises or lowers string height by pulling or pushing the neck, which distorts the rim a little.

Good luck.

Aug 11, 2020 - 8:51:49 AM

578 posts since 8/14/2018

Deering has some videos on the Youtube demonstrating how to adjust the coordinator rods and make sure all the things that are supposed to be snug and tight actually are. The key is only make adjustments a little at a time, and no more than you need.

Aug 11, 2020 - 9:14:08 AM

1275 posts since 2/4/2013

It will definitely be a miracle if you can mess with the truss rod on a Goodtime Americana. Certianly check the neck attachement is tight and the tailpiece isn't loose and the nuts and brackets holding the head tight aren't too loose.

Aug 11, 2020 - 1:37:47 PM



294 posts since 3/20/2011

Is the neck actually loose? If not, and fretted notes are out of tune, could your bridge be in the wrong position?

Aug 12, 2020 - 1:00:52 AM



2 posts since 2/14/2020

Thanks to all you good people. Sorry for the delay - I'm 12 hrs difference from Eastern US, and posted late.

I'll definitely have a look at those Deering vids, and proceed in tiny increments if adjusting. I already use a strap whenever playing.

It's good to know that a certain amount of variation is normal. I heard it first right here!

Cheers, Martin

Aug 12, 2020 - 12:51:29 PM

73304 posts since 5/9/2007

If you can flatten the notes by pushing the neck, the neck is too loose at the heel.

Aug 12, 2020 - 2:50:30 PM
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11094 posts since 6/2/2008
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Even a properly snug banjo neck will alter a note if you push on it.

Jens Kruger demonstrates how to use this aspect of banjo performance to great effect.

Aug 12, 2020 - 3:15:55 PM

231 posts since 12/9/2009

Didn't Earl use slight forward neck pressure on a couple songs to "bend" the string a little flat when playing an ending? Seems to ring a faint bell...

Aug 12, 2020 - 3:17:37 PM

225 posts since 10/4/2018

Make sure you have proper intonation before doing anything. 99 times out of a hundred, that's the problem. Use your electronic tuner to check the open notes to the fretted notes up and down the neck. It's a process of fine tuning the position of your bridge and finding the proper angle as well. Next step would be to check the connection from the pot to the neck - That hex nut above the co-rod, make sure it's tight, but not extremely tight or the bolt might pop out.

Aug 12, 2020 - 4:42:06 PM

7789 posts since 1/7/2005

I agree with Old Hickory. You can often tune a banjo when it's lying on the bench, and if you bring it up to playing position, some of the strings can be out of tune. The banjo is a heavy instrument, and the neck is thin, so there can be a lot of torque if you change position. And the truss rod slot makes it even more flexible. If you change your playing position, you may well need to re-tune. Or if you stand up after playing sitting down. Same thing. I would live with it for a while before making any serious adjustments.


Aug 13, 2020 - 9:51:18 AM

73304 posts since 5/9/2007

I don't leave anything loose in my banjo rims.
Some say not to go too tight on the co-rod nuts,but I give them an extra cinch to make sure they don't change and my banjo doesn't like being flattened by moving the neck.

When I tune it laying down it's still in tune when I pick it up.

Aug 17, 2020 - 4:13:59 AM

4891 posts since 5/14/2007

Your banjo doesn't have a truss rod. That refers to a metal rod in the neck, often adjustable, to to take care of warp.

You do have one connecting rod and a nut which hold the neck snug to the rim. That connecting hadware may be loose and that may be the source of your tuning problem. Make sure they are firmly holding the neck snug to the rim and that may help with your problem.

Once in a while a neck can be too springy, too flexible to play in tune. If your connection is snug and you still have a problem, contact Deering. Not all pieces of wood are created equal.

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