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I can't hear the head's note. Here's how to do it!

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Sep 6, 2020 - 12:20:36 PM
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774 posts since 11/27/2005

I got this method from Joe Zalik, banjoez here on the hangout.

Link to banjoez's member page

Joe is an expert at banjo setup! Listen to his videos. Read his blog entries about setup.

Here is all you do:

Get a free app for your phone named "PitchLab".

Lay your phone along the top of your strings. I find I like making sure it rests on the bridge too.

Mute your strings with one hand. With the other hand tap the head with a pencil.

Get the reading on the app. That's it!

Joe found that my banjo's setting is 214 - 218hz (A). Boy, is it ever! (He feels most Stellings like this setting.)

Please give it a try and see what you think!

Mike Rowe

Sep 6, 2020 - 1:19:30 PM
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262 posts since 10/4/2018

I just tried it with Pro Guitar Tuner and gStrings apps and they both came up with G#. I tune my head to A flat, but G# is close enough.

Sep 6, 2020 - 3:50:33 PM
Players Union Member

R Buck

USA

2826 posts since 9/5/2006

quote:
Originally posted by Good Buddy

I just tried it with Pro Guitar Tuner and gStrings apps and they both came up with G#. I tune my head to A flat, but G# is close enough.


G# and Ab are the same note.

Sep 6, 2020 - 4:00:54 PM
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7743 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by R Buck
quote:
Originally posted by Good Buddy

I just tried it with Pro Guitar Tuner and gStrings apps and they both came up with G#. I tune my head to A flat, but G# is close enough.


G# and Ab are the same note.


I think Good Buddy is joking.

However G# and Ab are NOT the same note if you're using just temperament. 

Sep 6, 2020 - 4:42:47 PM
Players Union Member

R Buck

USA

2826 posts since 9/5/2006

quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie
quote:
Originally posted by R Buck
quote:
Originally posted by Good Buddy

I just tried it with Pro Guitar Tuner and gStrings apps and they both came up with G#. I tune my head to A flat, but G# is close enough.


G# and Ab are the same note.


I think Good Buddy is joking.

However G# and Ab are NOT the same note if you're using just temperament. 


We are talking banjo here so who the heck cares?

Sep 6, 2020 - 4:52:57 PM
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rcc56

USA

3173 posts since 2/20/2016

As far as equal, just, or "well" temperament are concerned; banjos are not well-tempered. Matter of fact, some are positively ill-tempered.
Mandolins are even worse.

Edited by - rcc56 on 09/06/2020 16:53:27

Sep 6, 2020 - 5:01:41 PM

2176 posts since 2/7/2008

I downloaded the app, but I don’t see any option for the app to display the frequency detected. It only appears the generate tones for a variety of instruments.

Am I missing something?

Sep 6, 2020 - 5:45:12 PM

Owen

Canada

6498 posts since 6/5/2011

Is the actual "PitchLab" app currently available for download?  I couldn't find it on Google playstore.  [I'm no computer whiz....so there's a good chance I'm missing something.]

Sep 6, 2020 - 6:06:33 PM
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262 posts since 10/4/2018

I couldn't find the app either, that's why I suggested alternatives. I think any tuner app will do. Just put it on the strings over the bridge and tap close to the rim.

Sep 6, 2020 - 6:52:23 PM
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774 posts since 11/27/2005

Quickstep192 When I open the app it shows the hz right under the note.
Okay, I set it to "factory defaults". To get back to where I was, I tapped the screen until it shows a rectangle screen with a "waterfall" effect.

Owen I'm using an iPhone. Maybe that's it. Maybe you can try the app that Good Buddy included.

Sep 6, 2020 - 7:19:47 PM

2176 posts since 2/7/2008

I just tried Pro Guitar Tuner and it doesn’t seem to settle on any specific note.

Sep 6, 2020 - 7:34:27 PM
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7743 posts since 8/28/2013

Many banjos are, indeed, ill-tempered, as Bob says. I can add that many banjo players can also be ill-tempered.

As one of those "ill-tempered" players, I just tighten heads to where the banjo itself sounds good, and leave "tap tones" to the likes of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelley. I also don't really believe there's an optimum drum dial reading for every banjo. Each banjo, to me, anyway, has its own individual personality and should be treated individually, and each banjo player has his or her own personality, and should also be treated as individuals. 

Sep 6, 2020 - 8:44:40 PM

2176 posts since 2/7/2008

When I open the pitch lab app on my iPhone, I only get screens that look like the attached screen shot. It plays the notes, but that’s it (for me)

Sep 6, 2020 - 8:46:31 PM
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rcc56

USA

3173 posts since 2/20/2016

I once asked Curtis McPeake about his technique for adjusting a head on a Mastertone. His reply was that he roughed out the adjustment by tuning the head to G#, then played the banjo to judge its response. Then he would loosen or tighten the head until he got what his ear told him was the best tone. I don't believe that he ever used drum dials.

In other words, it's an art, not a science.

For those who can't hear the note, the dime under a six inch rule with the 2 inch mark at the bridge seems to be a reasonable place to start, then loosen to open up the bass or tighten to sharpen the treble response. For those who haven't heard of the 6 inch rule method, just do a forum search-- it has been discussed many times.

I generally prefer a looser head on open backs, which is what I generally play. Many of the archtop players on the forum have also expressed a preference for a little less head tension than what is considered "optimal" for a flat head.

The original recordings of Foggy Mountain Breakdown might be considered somewhat "ill-tempered," since Lester Flatt insisted on playing an E major chord behind Earl's e minor.

And then there's the library of Schoenberg's atonal compositions . . . I never understood why they considered that stuff to be so important in music school . . . I'll say no more . . .

Sep 6, 2020 - 9:24:46 PM

774 posts since 11/27/2005

Yep, you can bet I won't say anymore. I never learn.

Sep 7, 2020 - 5:45:45 AM
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4540 posts since 9/7/2009

I have one of these, and it works for me.... Tune Bot.  I thought that I had my head at a G# by ear, and when I checked it with the Tune Bot, I was purty darn close!

Sep 7, 2020 - 6:08:06 AM

banjoez

USA

2368 posts since 7/18/2007

Look for PitchLab Lite.

Edited by - banjoez on 09/07/2020 06:08:32

Sep 7, 2020 - 7:29:38 AM

2176 posts since 2/7/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Mike Rowe

Yep, you can bet I won't say anymore. I never learn.


 

Don't quit on me now! I definitely lack the ability to hear the tap tone and the skill to set up the banjo without some kind of metrics or data. Your post encouraged me to think there might be a way to compensate for my lack of talent. Let's keep experimenting!

Sep 7, 2020 - 10:02:44 AM
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O.D.

USA

3511 posts since 10/29/2003

quote:
Originally posted by Mike Rowe

Yep, you can bet I won't say anymore. I never learn.


Hey Mike 

If a banjo player  post on a thread and no one replies  is he still wrong? LoL!

Everett 

Sep 7, 2020 - 11:54:59 AM

774 posts since 11/27/2005

BNJOMAKR that's nice! I'm for anything to be able to take me right back to where I like it.

Sep 7, 2020 - 5:09:35 PM

2176 posts since 2/7/2008

Mike,

Thanks for starting this thread. As a relative newbie, I use all the setup tools and tricks I can find. Hopefully one day I’ll be one of those experienced players who knows when it’s “just right” but for now I’ll take all the help I can get.

Bnjomakr, thanks for the lead on the TuneBot. Another tool in the arsenal.

Sep 13, 2020 - 6:40:03 AM

lanemb

USA

134 posts since 3/11/2018

Try all the methods you want. You’ll find what works best for you and your instruments.

I have been a tool addict most of my life. That said I don’t see much use in any of the devices used for head tension. The whole goal is to get the sound you like and only your ears know that.

I have found I generally like the head on the tight side. When my banjo starts sounding a little dead or dull with new strings then I give the head a little more tension.

I use to tighten a little more often and that leads to cracked heads. I don’t worry about that so much now that I have more than 1 banjo. It is a bummer when you only have 1 banjo and don’t keep a spare head!

Sep 13, 2020 - 10:38:21 AM

2176 posts since 2/7/2008

I need all the tools I can get!

My banjo sounded lousy and I didn't know why. I thought my head was REALLY tight - it turned out that the tap note (which I couldn't hear) was something like a "D". Taking it to G# (and being able to know that I had) made all the difference. Measuring the tension with a Drum Dial gives me an idea of how to repeat the tension. I also used a torque screwdriver to ensure even nut tension, but it tops out at 100 in-ounces, so I had to do the rest by feel.
I'm now in search of a reasonably priced torque screwdriver with a broader scale, but it seems that "reasonably priced" and "torque screwdriver" aren't found in the sam sentence very often.

Maybe one day, I'll develop the ear that you experienced guys have, but for now, I'll rely on science. Come to think of it, I think I'll stick with the science, 'cause I don't see my ears improving from this point forward!

Sep 13, 2020 - 12:30:25 PM

11138 posts since 6/2/2008

Looking forward to trying PitchLab.

My ability to match the head note comes and goes. Got a DrumDial and my ability to adjust and keep a head to my liking immediately improved. I've learned that 91 produces the sound at which all three of my flatheads sound best. I know that it would make sense for different tone rings, rims, neck wood and bridges to have different DD readings, but to my ear, it's 91.

Whenever I think one of my banjos is losing its sound, if it's not strings going old it's head needing tightening. 

Sometimes I hear the 91 note as A. Sometimes G, which I think makes no sense.

Sep 13, 2020 - 3:51:39 PM
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2176 posts since 2/7/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory

Looking forward to trying PitchLab.

 

Sometimes I hear the 91 note as A. Sometimes G, which I think makes no sense.


When I was trying to hear the head note, I'd fret the first string at the 6th fret, play that note and then tap the head. Sometimes everything sounded like G# and sometimes nothing sounded like G#.

 

By the way, I wasn't able to get PitchLab to work for me, but iDrumTune Pro seems to work well. It's $6. I wasn't crazy about spending that, but it does seem to work well. I'd love to have the TuneBot that Bnjomakr mentioned, but it's $100; that's going to need to be an impulse buy! 

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