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Sep 27, 2020 - 10:35:44 PM
392 posts since 5/30/2016

I have heard it said before that on some flatt and Scruggs recordings, the banjo was actually tuned to a G#. I decided to try it and I love the sound of my 5 string banjo tuned up a half step. Question, do I have to turn it back down when I put it away? I think I will try this timing for a while and just curious if it harms to the banjo to leave it tuned up a half step. Will it harm the neck? Tailpiece or anything else being turned up just a half a step? My banjos seem to be well-built, both with dual coordinator rods. I have a recording king R 35 flat head, and an Alverez white eagle arch top. Do you think I should detune when I put the banjo away? Just curious.

Sep 28, 2020 - 3:28:42 AM

3666 posts since 12/6/2009

no different then when someone tunes a banjo by ear and maybe up or down a 1/2 step or more so off.....no harm done.

Sep 28, 2020 - 4:15:16 AM
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Eric A

USA

845 posts since 10/15/2019

You're fine.

Sep 28, 2020 - 5:27:29 AM
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484 posts since 2/15/2015

I had this Vega rambler which sounded really good tuned to F.

Sep 28, 2020 - 7:13:36 AM

392 posts since 5/30/2016

Thanks everyone for your replies!

Sep 28, 2020 - 8:10:35 AM

ChunoTheDog

Canada

407 posts since 8/9/2019

You're talking about the head right?

Sep 28, 2020 - 8:33:27 AM
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3349 posts since 5/29/2011

quote:
Originally posted by ChunoTheDog

You're talking about the head right?


No, the strings are tuned to that pitch. It was said that Flatt & Scruggs would tune a little sharp because it suited Lester's singing voice better.

I learned how to play The Bluebirds are Singing and Down the Road in Bb because I didn't know at the time that they were tuned up a fret.

Sep 28, 2020 - 8:38:54 AM

489 posts since 2/21/2005

I would advise against tuning sharp for long periods of time. The neck of the 5 string banjo is very long and thin and therefore prone to warpage despite truss rods. If you use medium gauge strings, you’re compounding the problem.

With the exception of “Pain In My Heart”, Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys tuned their instruments to approximately G# from their start until 1959, after the session that yielded “Groundspeed”. For the Groundspeed session, Earl was playing a borrowed RB4 because his Granada was being repaired. One the problems with the Granada was a warped neck. I believe that tuning to G# for so many years was part of the problem. I also think that the change to standard G after he got the Granada back was no coincidence.

Sep 28, 2020 - 8:39:05 AM

13375 posts since 10/30/2008

I've done that off and on through the decades. It REALLY brightens the sound of the banjo IMHO. Especially in the calfskin head days.

I believe it is harder on the thin top pre-war Martin guitars, and fiddles, though.  I understand you could easily slide all of your fingers under the strings at the 12th fret of Lester's old D-18.   

The banjo is the toughest instrument of them all, I don't think you can hurt it doing this.

Edited by - The Old Timer on 09/28/2020 08:40:07

Sep 28, 2020 - 9:59:41 AM
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Alex Z

USA

3951 posts since 12/7/2006

Tuning up 1/2 step (g to G#) raises the tension on the strings about 12%.

Increasing the gauge of the strings (10,11,12, 20,10 to 10,12, 14,22,10) increases the tension on the strings about 15%.

May or may not need a slight tweak in the truss rod.  Other than than, should be no harm.

Sep 28, 2020 - 2:18:59 PM

Turpen1

USA

69 posts since 2/5/2011

Lester's D18 has a very slight bow, but certainly not close enough to get fingers under the strings. The '42 D18's had non-adjustable ebony truss rods, as steel was not used due to the war...thus their extreme light weight. Lester himself, also did a small amount of shaving on the bridge which lowered the action. With the exception of new strings, the guitar, case, and contents (red songbook) are exactly as Lester had it when Tut got it (Lester had replaced the original ivory buttoned tuners, when one cracked and another broke in about 1950, with steel button tuners). I'm not sure about the truss rods in original banjo necks of that period.....were they steel and adjustable?

Sep 28, 2020 - 5:01:06 PM

13375 posts since 10/30/2008

Turpen1 I hope you will excuse my poetic license. It has been said that in later years Lester had to avoid capoing above the 2nd fret because his action had gone high. I asked Earl Scruggs Music one time what kind of guitar strings Lester used and the answer came back "Gibson Heavy". There are LP cover photos showing Lester's D18 with obvious high action (allowing for tilt of the guitar in the shot).

I do hope you will elaborate on how you have such familiarity with Lester's D18. Lots of us would like to know more.

Yes, banjos had steel adjustable truss rods as far back as the mid 1920s.

Sep 28, 2020 - 5:01:15 PM

ChunoTheDog

Canada

407 posts since 8/9/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Culloden
quote:
Originally posted by ChunoTheDog

You're talking about the head right?


No, the strings are tuned to that pitch. It was said that Flatt & Scruggs would tune a little sharp because it suited Lester's singing voice better.

I learned how to play The Bluebirds are Singing and Down the Road in Bb because I didn't know at the time that they were tuned up a fret.


Thanks for the clarification. Would this be similar to tuning to open G with concert A at 431 instead of 440?

Sep 28, 2020 - 6:34:04 PM

150 posts since 4/1/2016

Why don’t you just put a capo on the first fret?

Sep 28, 2020 - 9:10:31 PM
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3349 posts since 5/29/2011

quote:
Originally posted by ChunoTheDog
quote:
Originally posted by Culloden
quote:
Originally posted by ChunoTheDog

You're talking about the head right?


No, the strings are tuned to that pitch. It was said that Flatt & Scruggs would tune a little sharp because it suited Lester's singing voice better.

I learned how to play The Bluebirds are Singing and Down the Road in Bb because I didn't know at the time that they were tuned up a fret.


Thanks for the clarification. Would this be similar to tuning to open G with concert A at 431 instead of 440?


Yes. Or, in common parlance, the banjo is tuned in Ab.

Sep 29, 2020 - 4:26:57 AM

3666 posts since 12/6/2009

While on the subject of string tension there was a time when we were told to loosen strings on a guitar when not playing it or if we put it away for any length of time. Then was told necks are built to withstand tensions…..Also told not to remove all strings at once when putting a news set on. I still change them one at a time. But it’s ok to take them all off. I suppose if you take them all off and don’t have access to a tuner you’ll have to guess the pitch. Another reason I do one at a time. Anyway necks are built to withstand tremendous pressures…….I will say though….I had left my 12 string tight and hadn’t played it in over a year or more…..opened the case….and the trapeze tail piece was blown apart and my strings a jumbled mess……don’t know if it was the tension or the cheap tail piece.

Sep 29, 2020 - 8:56:46 AM

Turpen1

USA

69 posts since 2/5/2011

Hi Mr. Bowden,
I certainly understand the skepticism. My close friend (like a brother) owns Lester's D18....it has been in his family since '79....essentially kept out of public view for 45 years since it was last displayed at a Fiddle contest in '76 by Dan Jones. Back in 2011, we had it in Gruhn's 3rd floor office for an updated appraisal and authentication, (Vince Gil was there and played it) and then, at George's encouragement, drove over and spent an evening at Tut Taylor's home (Tut got it directly from Lester in what he remember's to be 1960) in Wilkesboro for more history and documentation (you may know that Tut often traveled on the bus with Lester and Earl throughout most of the '50's...he and Lester became close friends), .....Mike Palmer was also there taking pictures, and an article was published in the Wilkesboro paper. Tut did comment about Lester using heavier strings, but Tut put mediums on in while he had it. Tut had to sell it in '69, and George handled the sale. It went to Dan Jones, who then sold it to my friend's Father in '79...despite an offer from Randy (RC) Snoddy from California. It has been in the family since. We have spoken to many folks and researched/documented the life of the instrument. There's much more to the story, and I certainly appreciate your interest. The owner is now planning to sell the guitar in the near future, but has not yet determined how to best go about it. He certainly does not want to see it leave the country (Tsumura's son is collecting prominent guitars, so an auction would be risky). I'm blessed to be close to something so special, and am happy to email my phone number to talk more. I have also asked the owner for some pictures to post.

Sep 29, 2020 - 9:30:23 AM

13375 posts since 10/30/2008

Thank you Scott!

Sep 30, 2020 - 4:52:13 PM

484 posts since 2/15/2015

quote:
Originally posted by The Old Timer

I asked Earl Scruggs Music one time what kind of guitar strings Lester used and the answer came back "Gibson Heavy". There are LP cover photos showing Lester's D18 with obvious high action (allowing for tilt of the guitar in the shot).

I do hope you will elaborate on how you have such familiarity with Lester's D18. Lots of us would like to know more.
 


My Uncle played in several territory bands, and early radio, dance band stuff, jazz etc... He told me that Gibson heavy strings were used for projection in those days.

An old friend had a D-28 that he claimed was a Flatt guitar and it was pretty high on the 12th fret. In those days and up into the 70s Martin did not use truss rods. With heavy gauge strings perhaps neck tension was partly responsible for increased neck relief.  

High action at the 12th does sound better and if your fretting a lot of open chords high action probably isn't an issue.

I put Gibson Heavy guage on an L-48 archtop of my dads back in the late 60s and they were pretty rugged. 

Sep 30, 2020 - 6:06:05 PM

13375 posts since 10/30/2008

Martins have had truss rods of ebony or steel since early in the 20th century o earlier. They weren't ADJUSTABLE until like 1990 maybe. Lester's D18 had the wartime ebony truss rod due to metal shortages, so it is said. Not as stout as the steel rod obviously.

Martin used to SHIP D18s, D28s and D35s with heavy gauge strings until they brought back the scalloped braced models in the 1970s. (My dad bought a new 1967 D35 and loved it and wrote a letter to Martin to ask what strings were on it. They sent a nice letter back specifying Martin heavy gauge bronze.) Then after 1975 or so they shipped with medium gauge strings and a woodburned stamp inside the guitar saying "Light or Medium Gauge Strings Only" or something to that effect. Because they had warranty-repaired so many bent necks, and pulled-up bridges and tops.

It is a revelation if you put heavy gauge bronze strings on a pre-1975 Martin Dreadnought! The fingers of your left hand will pay the price though.

When word got out Tony Rice played light gauge strings, people began to understand raw power wasn't the most important thing. But it's one reason Flatt's runs sounded like "punctuation" in the overall sound.

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