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String spacing at nut on a SS Stewart

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Sep 20, 2020 - 4:53:21 AM
22 posts since 9/20/2020

Hello All. I just brought home my first banjo. It’s a SS Stewart. It looks in sound condition, no cracks. But the spacing on the nut for the strings makes It impossible for me to not touch the bottom string with the palm of my hand. And the gap under the 5th string is much wider than then rest of the strings. It looks like if I could take the nut out and flip it around this problem would be solved. Should I try to do this?

Sep 20, 2020 - 5:36:09 AM

10836 posts since 4/23/2004

quote:
Originally posted by ruthikweldin

Hello All. I just brought home my first banjo. It’s a SS Stewart. It looks in sound condition, no cracks. But the spacing on the nut for the strings makes It impossible for me to not touch the bottom string with the palm of my hand. And the gap under the 5th string is much wider than then rest of the strings. It looks like if I could take the nut out and flip it around this problem would be solved. Should I try to do this?


The nut is not original, I wouldn't hesitate to make a new one...or re-space it as necessary.

5th string spacing isn't nearly as critical, nor its height...unless you're fretting it a lot. Just be careful if you do choose to mess with it.

Sep 20, 2020 - 5:42:54 AM
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csacwp

USA

2690 posts since 1/15/2014

This sounds like a technique issue to me - the nut looks fine in your photo. How are you trying to hold the neck?

Sep 20, 2020 - 5:50:57 AM

BugsyJR

USA

22 posts since 9/20/2020

Ah, there in May be the rub...I have no idea. Probably not correctly! However the space between the 5th string and the one next to is is about 1/8” wider than the spacing between the rest of the strings

Sep 20, 2020 - 5:54:45 AM

BugsyJR

USA

22 posts since 9/20/2020

csacwp see new photo uploaded

Sep 20, 2020 - 6:03:18 AM

csacwp

USA

2690 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by ruthikweldin

Ah, there in May be the rub...I have no idea. Probably not correctly! However the space between the 5th string and the one next to is is about 1/8” wider than the spacing between the rest of the strings


That isn't necessarily a problem. Some players prefer extra space there. 

Sep 20, 2020 - 6:06:08 AM

csacwp

USA

2690 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by ruthikweldin

csacwp see new photo uploaded


I just looked at the new photo. It looks fine to me. Are you placing your thumb on the back of the neck or hooking it over the side?

Before swapping the nut, I would work out whatever technique or posture issue is causing your problem. I live in D.C. and would be happy to sit down with you and troubleshoot sometime soon (I'm currently out of town and won't return until early October).

Sep 20, 2020 - 6:15:15 AM

BugsyJR

USA

22 posts since 9/20/2020

Thank you, I will work on how I hold it. I am now convinced that is most likely 90% of the problem. I am just south of DC, and perhaps by the time you get back in town, and some of this stuff going around is gone, I’ll have more questions, and a visit will be worth our time and effort ??

Sep 20, 2020 - 6:16:38 AM
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409 posts since 1/28/2011

The nut is the problem. The distance from the string to the edge of the fingerboard should be the same on the 1st string and the 4th string. Both should be 1/8" or a little less. Flipping the nut around won't fix it but you could slide the nut over until the strings are centered. Of course if you do that the nut will stick out on one side, so the right way to fix it is to get a new nut.

Sep 20, 2020 - 6:29:04 AM

csacwp

USA

2690 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by latigo1

The nut is the problem. The distance from the string to the edge of the fingerboard should be the same on the 1st string and the 4th string. Both should be 1/8" or a little less. Flipping the nut around won't fix it but you could slide the nut over until the strings are centered. Of course if you do that the nut will stick out on one side, so the right way to fix it is to get a new nut.


I disagree - the nut is fine. Some players prefer the 5th string to be close to the edge of the board with nylon strings. It prevents it from getting hit by the fourth string when playing hard. 

Sep 20, 2020 - 6:41:15 AM
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csacwp

USA

2690 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by ruthikweldin

Thank you, I will work on how I hold it. I am now convinced that is most likely 90% of the problem. I am just south of DC, and perhaps by the time you get back in town, and some of this stuff going around is gone, I’ll have more questions, and a visit will be worth our time and effort ??


Sounds good. For now, I've attached a couple of photos showing left hand posture that should help. I've also attached a photo showing my string spacing which is original to my banjo (circa 1890). 






Edited by - csacwp on 09/20/2020 06:47:33

Sep 20, 2020 - 8:27:47 AM

BugsyJR

USA

22 posts since 9/20/2020

WoW! Thank you! Yeah, I did not have my left hand held correctly. But as trapdoor2 mentioned above, this is not the original nut. Upon closer inspection, it (the nut) extends beyond the neck on the lower side, and the spacing is so narrow that no matter how I hold my fingers, I deaden the string below unless I push up. In addition to this, the current Position of the strings do not match the wear on the frets. The second string down (just under the top 5th string) is visibly more than 1/16” lower than the wear on the fret. This has crunched the rest of the strings together. I may end up taking it to a luthier, I understand there are two very good ones in eastern VA, and I could always make a trip to Stelling (leave my credit cards at home, and bring a bib for my drool.)

Sep 20, 2020 - 8:48:14 AM

csacwp

USA

2690 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by ruthikweldin

WoW! Thank you! Yeah, I did not have my left hand held correctly. But as trapdoor2 mentioned above, this is not the original nut. Upon closer inspection, it (the nut) extends beyond the neck on the lower side, and the spacing is so narrow that no matter how I hold my fingers, I deaden the string below unless I push up. In addition to this, the current Position of the strings do not match the wear on the frets. The second string down (just under the top 5th string) is visibly more than 1/16” lower than the wear on the fret. This has crunched the rest of the strings together. I may end up taking it to a luthier, I understand there are two very good ones in eastern VA, and I could always make a trip to Stelling (leave my credit cards at home, and bring a bib for my drool.)


The spacing should be  quite narrow by modern standards. Your first string is closer to the edge of the fingerboard though than I would personally like. I would not bring an antique open back to a bluegrass maker like Stelling. When I get back to D.C. I'd be happy to take a look at it (we can socially distance) and diagnose any issues . It'll save you a lot of trouble since many banjo makers don't know how to set up these old banjos and would end up doing more work than necessary. 

Edited by - csacwp on 09/20/2020 08:52:05

Sep 20, 2020 - 8:56:31 AM
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10836 posts since 4/23/2004

quote:
Originally posted by ruthikweldin

WoW! Thank you! Yeah, I did not have my left hand held correctly. But as trapdoor2 mentioned above, this is not the original nut. Upon closer inspection, it (the nut) extends beyond the neck on the lower side, and the spacing is so narrow that no matter how I hold my fingers, I deaden the string below unless I push up. In addition to this, the current Position of the strings do not match the wear on the frets. The second string down (just under the top 5th string) is visibly more than 1/16” lower than the wear on the fret. This has crunched the rest of the strings together. I may end up taking it to a luthier, I understand there are two very good ones in eastern VA, and I could always make a trip to Stelling (leave my credit cards at home, and bring a bib for my drool.)


I'm with you. I think the nut looks wonky, the spacing is definitely not right. If it were mine, I'd change it out. It appears that someone may have installed it to use the thicker modern-style nylgut/nylon strings...but did a poor job on the spacing. I wouldn't touch the 5th string nut. It looks fine to me.

I do agree with John on improving your position to minimize string interaction...but when I get a new banjo, I always want to give myself the best chance to succeed with it. If that means making adjustments, I do it (or have it done).

Do not go visit Stelling. You'll just come home with a nasty psychobabble condition (Stellingitus is very damaging to your bank account). My Sunflower was my first "professional grade" banjo...thankfully, it pretty much slammed the door on my need for "a better banjo". laugh

Congrats on the Stewart, BTW. My favorite style of Classic Banjo (I have several). Come visit us over on Classic Banjo, we'll teach you how to play her just like she was played when new! https://classic-banjo.ning.com/

Sep 20, 2020 - 9:53:11 AM

409 posts since 1/28/2011

quote:
Originally posted by csacwp
quote:
Originally posted by latigo1

The nut is the problem. The distance from the string to the edge of the fingerboard should be the same on the 1st string and the 4th string. Both should be 1/8" or a little less. Flipping the nut around won't fix it but you could slide the nut over until the strings are centered. Of course if you do that the nut will stick out on one side, so the right way to fix it is to get a new nut.


I disagree - the nut is fine. Some players prefer the 5th string to be close to the edge of the board with nylon strings. It prevents it from getting hit by the fourth string when playing hard. 


The nut is not fine.  He is not talking about his palm hitting the fifth string, he is saying his palm is hitting the bottom string which is the first string.  Look at his picture and look at how close the first string is to the edge of the fingerboard, then look at how far away from the edge the forth string is.  They should be equal distance from the edge.  Look at the slots in the nut.  The slot for the fourth string is a lot farther from the end of the nut than the first string is from the other end of the nut.  If the nut was slotted correctly the first four strings would all be moved over slightly, the first and fourth strings would be an equal distance from the edge and the gap from the fourth string to the fifth string would close up and all strings would be an equal distance apart.

Sep 20, 2020 - 10:01:45 AM

csacwp

USA

2690 posts since 1/15/2014

I see what you mean, but I don't understand why his palm would be anywhere near that part of the fingerboard. If his fingers are curved and his thumb is in a good position, the palm never touches the neck at all.

Sep 20, 2020 - 10:06:52 AM

csacwp

USA

2690 posts since 1/15/2014

The three luthiers in our area to consider are Kevin Enoch, Bob Smakula, and Pete Ross (not in any particular order).

Sep 20, 2020 - 11:09:57 AM

Alex Z

USA

3943 posts since 12/7/2006
Online Now

I'd agree to have someone look at it who is familiar with the older banjos.  But it is a simple fix if the nut can be removed.

For someone new to the banjo, the tendency is to hold the neck up with the left palm, and that can cause interference with the string.  Could be that's what she is doing and what is happening with her banjo.  smiley

Ruthi, as an electrician, you're pretty good with tools.  You can remove the nut by scoring around each side;  then, having removed the strings, place a block of wood at the nut from the string side, and tap gently.  Don't have to knock it out, just loosen it a bit.

Then, either it will lift out, or you can tap it gently from the side, to slide out.

As a fix, don't rotate the nut.  Rather, slide it a bit toward the 4th string side to get the spacing you want.  Then put one tiny drop of white glue on the face of the nut,  toward the fingerboard.

The 4th string side of the nut will be sticking out a little.  File it down.

Because the 4th string will have been moved over, the distance between the 4th string and the 5th string will be less, and that will solve that issue of perception without messing around with the 5th string, which I agree is OK.

Hope this helps.

Edited by - Alex Z on 09/20/2020 11:12:53

Sep 20, 2020 - 11:34:57 AM
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7712 posts since 8/28/2013

Get a new nut made. Not only is the nut shown cut off center, but the slots (especially strings 2 and 4) are way too wide. There's also no telling if these slots are even the correct depth.

Simply sliding this nut to one side and trimming the excess off the bass side is just a sloppy way of fixing it which may not even work and will result in a strange gap on the treble side. Making a new nut, or having one made, is not expensive enough to just simply make do with a poorly made one.

Also, do work on the way you hold the banjo. One's palm should never contact the neck.

And by the way, I read your profile, and have to apologize for my fellow members who referred to you as "he."

Edited by - G Edward Porgie on 09/20/2020 11:35:41

Sep 20, 2020 - 12:23:59 PM

Alex Z

USA

3943 posts since 12/7/2006
Online Now

" . . . just a sloppy way of fixing it . . . "

It does work, though.  smiley    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Then when the poster can get a permanent fix after the fixer carefully assesses in person the height of the strings and the shape of the slots, so much the better.

"Sloppy way," "may not even work," "strange gap,"  "poorly made" -- lighten up, man.  It works.  What did you have for breakfast this morning?  smiley

Sep 21, 2020 - 7:05:26 AM

BugsyJR

USA

22 posts since 9/20/2020

WoW! Thank you all so much for the input! I appreciate it.
I believe I will take it to a luthier first. Although I have confidence that I can change the nut on my own, even put the groves in it, I'd like to see someone else do it first.
Yes, I am a complete newbie to banjos, or string instruments. I feel that if the nut was grooved differently, to match the wear pattern in the frets, then my fingers would have a better chance of not deadening the other strings.
I'm still a 'tender-finger', I don't know if that's a term...like 'tender-foot', I can only try to press on the strings for short periods of time right now without breaks. I'd really like to know more about the technical side of the instrument, like figuring out where the bridge goes, and the tightness of the head/drum...the correct terms that I'm certain I'm not using yet.

ps: I only mind being referred to as a 'he' after I've met someone in person. Being referred to as "It" was only OK when I had long hair, and then it was "Cousin It".

Sep 21, 2020 - 7:11:51 AM
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5586 posts since 9/21/2007

Be careful with "luthiers", most do not know antique banjos. Don't let them touch the action if it is correct-- 1/2" bridge and 3/16" to 1/4" at the 12th fret is correct. There should be 0 back angle to the neck, if the luthier says otherwise, say no thank you and find another.

If the frets need replacing do not let the repair person go bigger. They won't be able to match the original frets but they can get close. Large guitar frets are the wrong choice.

Sep 21, 2020 - 7:34:52 AM

BugsyJR

USA

22 posts since 9/20/2020

Thank you! I will keep this in mind. The luthier I have spoken with works extensively on banjos, and older instruments.
I sure some of the frets may need replacing, but I'm not nearly as worried about that right now (maybe I should be) as I am the nut spacing. I will worry about addressing the frets later. I think with the extra narrow spacing right now, if I think I can't get my digits in there without hitting other strings, it will dishearten me. If I pull the strings to where they are over the wear on the frets, I can get my fingers on the string without hitting the others. I'd rather address one 'problem' at a time, and the frets are not worn down to the wood on the neck. I might have to press harder on some than on others, but that is less of a worry to me.

Sep 21, 2020 - 7:48:27 AM

7712 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Alex Z

" . . . just a sloppy way of fixing it . . . "

It does work, though.  smiley    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Then when the poster can get a permanent fix after the fixer carefully assesses in person the height of the strings and the shape of the slots, so much the better.

"Sloppy way," "may not even work," "strange gap,"  "poorly made" -- lighten up, man.  It works.  What did you have for breakfast this morning?  smiley


It may work, but in my opinion, it would still be sloppy.  People don't get married wearing frayed neckties or tattered gowns, even if those items do cover their naked butts.

Also, that original nut, as just about anyone would agree, is poorly made, or it wouldn't even be an issue. 

My breakfast is none of your business!

Sep 21, 2020 - 8:18:22 AM

BugsyJR

USA

22 posts since 9/20/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Be careful with "luthiers", most do not know antique banjos. Don't let them touch the action if it is correct-- 1/2" bridge and 3/16" to 1/4" at the 12th fret is correct. There should be 0 back angle to the neck, if the luthier says otherwise, say no thank you and find another.

If the frets need replacing do not let the repair person go bigger. They won't be able to match the original frets but they can get close. Large guitar frets are the wrong choice.


Speaking of the frets, since on this banjo, I can not play the 3 or 4 frets closest to the head because the strings hit the rim first, is it possible to use those fret bars to replace the worn ones? 

Sep 21, 2020 - 10:47:30 AM
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5586 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by ruthikweldin
quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Be careful with "luthiers", most do not know antique banjos. Don't let them touch the action if it is correct-- 1/2" bridge and 3/16" to 1/4" at the 12th fret is correct. There should be 0 back angle to the neck, if the luthier says otherwise, say no thank you and find another.

If the frets need replacing do not let the repair person go bigger. They won't be able to match the original frets but they can get close. Large guitar frets are the wrong choice.


Speaking of the frets, since on this banjo, I can not play the 3 or 4 frets closest to the head because the strings hit the rim first, is it possible to use those fret bars to replace the worn ones? 


That sounds like you need a higher crown head on it.  The stretcher hoop should be level with the fingerboard. If it has not been notched, don't notch it!  Get the right size head or fit a calf skin head with the correct crown position.

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