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Feb 1, 2021 - 8:14:20 AM
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2557 posts since 6/19/2008

I know that most builders use adjustable truss rods - buy why? Shouldn't we focus on building necks that don't need adjustment - stiff, straight, and with the proper relief build in? I know that many buyers expect an adjustable rod, but how many even know what to do with it, or use it for its intended purpose? Shouldn't we educate them on the advantages of non-adjustable reinforcement? Not the least of which, is a stronger neck-to-peg head transition.

If I'm dead wrong, please enlighten me.

Feb 1, 2021 - 8:25:28 AM
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5592 posts since 12/20/2005

I wish I had a banjo that had the kind of neck which you described.

Feb 1, 2021 - 8:54:03 AM
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Bart Veerman

Canada

4893 posts since 1/5/2005

Nothing to stop you from buying a carbon fiber, aircraft aluminum or whatever strong material neck, then you can demand any tech specs your heart desires.

Although if you know how to convince Mother Nature to smarten up and grow mathematically perfect trees with the properties you describe, then we could merrily keep on using wood.

Feb 1, 2021 - 9:05:13 AM
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mbanza

USA

2319 posts since 9/16/2007

It is simple and inexpensive to make an adjustable truss rod that ends at about the first fret. Access is at the heel after removal of the neck, so most folks won't mess with it. It can be withdrawn and turned over to reverse the direction it moves.

Feb 1, 2021 - 9:05:56 AM
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1437 posts since 2/9/2007

If you make a wood neck as slim as a lot of players want, you're going to have a very hard time making it as stiff and stable as it needs to be without an adjustable rod, no matter how perfectly chosen and aged the wood is. Wood is subject to some change of shape in response to changes in temperature and humidity.
Make a beefier neck (which I like) and you have a lot better chance of making those changes small enough to be insignificant, or at least tolerable. I can still see some sense in putting a rod in there for insurance, though. And... if you don't expect to have to adjust it on a regular basis, you can make it accessed at the heel (the head-neck transition isn't weakened, but you have to remove the neck to get to it).
Or you could make the whole thing out of carbon fiber....

Feb 1, 2021 - 9:50:35 AM
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3967 posts since 5/12/2010

I agree with the idea of building the neck so it doesn't need adjustment. I have seen a number of necks nearly ruined by some well meaning owner cranking on the truss rod in an attempt to adjust action, which it isn't really designed for doing.

I have repaired many broken necks where the neck has snapped at the transition between shaft and peghead. That is the weakest point on a neck due to grain runout. When that transition area is hollowed out for a truss rod it becomes even weaker.

I will only install an adjustable rod if the buyer adamantly insists on one. If I do install one the channel for it stops at the first fret area and adjustment is made from the heel. If a potential customer does not like this design I tell them I am not the builder they want.

My preference is to build a laminated neck with careful selection and grain orientation, and I install a flat carbon fiber rod that extends into the peghead so the transition area is reinforced. There is no adjustment with a neck like this, and I tell folks that it it ever develops a bow or twist I will replace the neck. So far, none I have made have had either problem.

I shipped out the last banjo I built on Saturday, and have been playing the very first banjo I ever built since then.

It has a 3 piece laminated neck of black walnut with a white oak center lamination, and a 1/4" square carbon fiber rod full length extending into the peghead. After at least a dozen years under tension that neck is exactly as it was when first strung up. 

The walnut I used in that neck was very well seasoned and straight grained. I got a good stock of that walnut from an estate sale and the son of the woodworker who had died told me that lumber had been in his rack for over 30 years. I am sure the quality and condition of the lumber used has a lot to do with its stability. 


 

Edited by - OldPappy on 02/01/2021 09:58:48

Feb 1, 2021 - 10:05:14 AM
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Alex Z

USA

4188 posts since 12/7/2006

" . . . with the proper relief build in?"

That's it right there.

The "proper" relief depends on string gauge, action height, playing style, and ambient temperature and humidity.  

And on the fussiness and tolerance of the player for precision or lack thereof. smiley

Feb 1, 2021 - 10:15:05 AM

270 posts since 4/17/2011

The guitar builder Ken Parker (formerly of Parker guitars) reinforces his wooden necks with a thin layer (I think?) of carbon fiber. No truss rod needed.

Feb 1, 2021 - 10:24:10 AM
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3967 posts since 5/12/2010

quote:
originally posted by BigFiveChord

The guitar builder Ken Parker (formerly of Parker guitars) reinforces his wooden necks with a thin layer (I think?) of carbon fiber. No truss rod needed.


 

An adjustable truss rod only resists back bow, and can be used to adjust for that.

A flat carbon fiber rod not only resists bowing, it also resists twisting, which is something no adjustable truss rod can resist or correct.

Feb 1, 2021 - 10:32:58 AM
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7915 posts since 1/7/2005

Good or bad, the current market demands truss rods. I tend to prefer reinforcement, but I don't build to sell.

Interestingly, the slimmer the neck, the less force it can bring to bear against reinforcement. A 'D'-shaped carbon fiber insert has relatively small wood to reinforcement ratio, and may well be the strongest, reasonably lightweight method. I believe that a steel bar is the stiffest of all materials for it's size (not it's weight), and since I make my necks fairly thin, I like the steel. So far (knock on wood), I've not experienced warping or twisting. but I'm sure I'm in the minority. Do what makes best sense to you.

DD

Feb 1, 2021 - 11:12:56 AM
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ChunoTheDog

Canada

707 posts since 8/9/2019

Living somewhere with wild temperature and humidity swings makes me grateful I can tweak the neck's back bow with the use of the truss rod. Without it, i'd have too much bow in the neck 6 months out of the year.

I never understood the people who are afraid to use it. It's there for a reason, and that reason isn't to lower action.

Feb 1, 2021 - 12:11 PM

270 posts since 4/17/2011

quote:
Originally posted by OldPappy
quote:
originally posted by BigFiveChord

The guitar builder Ken Parker (formerly of Parker guitars) reinforces his wooden necks with a thin layer (I think?) of carbon fiber. No truss rod needed.


 

An adjustable truss rod only resists back bow, and can be used to adjust for that.

A flat carbon fiber rod not only resists bowing, it also resists twisting, which is something no adjustable truss rod can resist or correct.


When Ken was making the Parker electric guitars, he was actually covering the entirity of the back of the neck with a thin layer of carbon fiber. With the archtops he's building now, I'm not 100% sure. His site says "carbon fiber neck reinforcement thread 'fingers' around..."

Edited by - BigFiveChord on 02/01/2021 12:11:29

Feb 1, 2021 - 12:17:15 PM
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2557 posts since 6/19/2008

To be clear, I always reinforce my banjo necks, if I make them for steel strings. I've used steel, carbon fiber, and aircraft grade aluminum. I haven't made hundreds of banjos, but I've made dozens of them. I haven't had any problems - but then again, I live in an arid part of the country where the humidity swings are from dry to very dry.

I saw on another discussion those D-shaped reinforcement rods from Dragon Plate. Pretty nice, but pretty pricey.

Feb 1, 2021 - 1:43:53 PM

650 posts since 11/21/2018

I built necks with a steel T bar 40 yrs ago. They were maple and didn't go anywhere in the time I had mine but I would be loath to own one without an adjustable neck especially if traveling or touring. One of the reasons I could never warm up to the Goodtime banjos were because of the lack of adjustment.
I live in the damp Pacific NW and if I took my banjo to the Southwest for awhile I feel it would be tempting things. Carbon fibre and similar materials might be fine.
There are a lot of pre war Martin guitars that didn't have adjustable rods but a lot of them have been steam straightened over the decades too. All things to weigh and consider.
If a truss rod is easily adjusted from the peg head instead of "buried" in the heel, you have options.

Feb 1, 2021 - 2:33:57 PM
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jbalch

USA

8755 posts since 11/28/2003
Online Now

After 40+ years of owning and trading all kinds of instruments, I would not buy a new (steel-strung) banjo without a two-way adjustable truss rod.

Feb 1, 2021 - 3:17:16 PM
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3035 posts since 2/18/2009

My very first banjo neck I made in 2005 did not have a truss rod or any reinforcement, and it stayed playably straight all 5 or so years till I started making whole banjos, through wild annual humidity swings. It was an ugly neck, but it made me able to learn to play 5 string. All 200+ necks I have built since 2010 have had two way truss rods, and I would not build a neck without one now. Most of them are adjustable at the heel, which is a bit of a pain, but it leaves the neck a bit stronger and looks better for an open back banjo in my view. I started building them adjustable from the heel because I saw a Bart Reiter banjo and was told that was how it was made, and I figured that anything that was good enough for him was more than good enough for me.

Feb 1, 2021 - 4:19:20 PM

taiger

USA

173 posts since 3/11/2012

Jonnycake White

I’m a firm believer in a solid reinforced neck as well. It’s a tone thing.
Recently saw a video on McPherson guitars on YouTube They’ve been using carbon reinforced necks for awhile because of superior tone. Worth checking out!
I’ve been using 7075 aluminum for the last handful of banjos including a bass banjo w no problems.
Have some carbon fiber in the mail for one of the next ones.
Have you noticed any tonal differences in your carbon fiber vs aluminum reinforcements?

Feb 1, 2021 - 6:08:31 PM
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13470 posts since 6/29/2005

One need only to follow the history of the Martin guitar company, arguably one of the two most famous American acoustical guitar companies.  They started with an ebony strip, then went to a steel T-bar, then to a hollow steel tube then finally, after a long long stubborn history of kicking and screaming trying to not use truss rods, and with a reputation for neck issues, they now (reluctantly) use truss rods.

Gibson, the other most famous American guitar company, used truss rods as soon as they were invented and always had a reputation for good necks and easy to play.

If you are making a banjo or guitar for yourself, you can and should do whatever you want to suit yourself, but nowadays, if you are selling it to someone else, you would be foolish not to make it adjustable.  A truss rod costs $10 or less—I don't understand the resistance. 

Feb 2, 2021 - 8:30:47 AM

2557 posts since 6/19/2008

quote:
Originally posted by taiger

Jonnycake White

I’m a firm believer in a solid reinforced neck as well. It’s a tone thing.
Recently saw a video on McPherson guitars on YouTube They’ve been using carbon reinforced necks for awhile because of superior tone. Worth checking out!
I’ve been using 7075 aluminum for the last handful of banjos including a bass banjo w no problems.
Have some carbon fiber in the mail for one of the next ones.
Have you noticed any tonal differences in your carbon fiber vs aluminum reinforcements?


No difference that I can hear. Some people have more sensitive ears that me, though.

Feb 2, 2021 - 8:45:20 AM

2557 posts since 6/19/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

One need only to follow the history of the Martin guitar company, arguably one of the two most famous American acoustical guitar companies.  They started with an ebony strip, then went to a steel T-bar, then to a hollow steel tube then finally, after a long long stubborn history of kicking and screaming trying to not use truss rods, and with a reputation for neck issues, they now (reluctantly) use truss rods.

Gibson, the other most famous American guitar company, used truss rods as soon as they were invented and always had a reputation for good necks and easy to play.

If you are making a banjo or guitar for yourself, you can and should do whatever you want to suit yourself, but nowadays, if you are selling it to someone else, you would be foolish not to make it adjustable.  A truss rod costs $10 or less—I don't understand the resistance. 


I confess that the vast majority of my banjos have been made for myself, though some have gone on to others since.  The resistance on my part is probably not so much on the price (though I am a notorious cheapskate), but on the weakening of the neck-peg head transition.  Somewhere there must be a solution to that problem that doesn't involve removing massive amounts of wood and doesn't involve removing the neck to adjust it.  If you can only adjust it with great effort, is it truly adjustable?  I'm thinking maybe a pair of bevel gears buried in the heel with an access hole for a hex key through the heel cap.

Also, it seems that adjustabilty implies instability.  I.E. when you adjust the neck, you change the shape of it.  If the neck was rigidly constucted in the first place, would it need to be adjusted?  Or have we just been compensating for inadequate reinforcement all these years?

There are compelling arguments here on both sides of the issue.  Thanks for the thought-provoking conversation.

Edited by - Jonnycake White on 02/02/2021 08:46:02

Feb 2, 2021 - 9:59:05 AM
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13470 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Jonnycake White
quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

One need only to follow the history of the Martin guitar company, arguably one of the two most famous American acoustical guitar companies.  They started with an ebony strip, then went to a steel T-bar, then to a hollow steel tube then finally, after a long long stubborn history of kicking and screaming trying to not use truss rods, and with a reputation for neck issues, they now (reluctantly) use truss rods.

Gibson, the other most famous American guitar company, used truss rods as soon as they were invented and always had a reputation for good necks and easy to play.

If you are making a banjo or guitar for yourself, you can and should do whatever you want to suit yourself, but nowadays, if you are selling it to someone else, you would be foolish not to make it adjustable.  A truss rod costs $10 or less—I don't understand the resistance. 


I confess that the vast majority of my banjos have been made for myself, though some have gone on to others since.  The resistance on my part is probably not so much on the price (though I am a notorious cheapskate), but on the weakening of the neck-peg head transition.  Somewhere there must be a solution to that problem that doesn't involve removing massive amounts of wood and doesn't involve removing the neck to adjust it.  If you can only adjust it with great effort, is it truly adjustable?  I'm thinking maybe a pair of bevel gears buried in the heel with an access hole for a hex key through the heel cap.

Also, it seems that adjustabilty implies instability.  I.E. when you adjust the neck, you change the shape of it.  If the neck was rigidly constucted in the first place, would it need to be adjusted?  Or have we just been compensating for inadequate reinforcement all these years?

There are compelling arguments here on both sides of the issue.  Thanks for the thought-provoking conversation.


There is a concept probably invented by electric guitar players, called "relief", wherein there is a very slight deliberate upbow in the neck which facilitates fretting at the upper end.   This is important to bluegrass players and people like Bela Fleck and Noam Pickelny, and a recent conversation with Dan Gellert indicates that he likes a very low action as well.   The standard "relief" is to have the upbow be .028" at the 7th fret if you have a straightedge on the fingerboard.

In the diagram below, compressed to make it easier to understand, you see that you give something up at the octave in return for a lower action farther up, plus, it's a kind of compensation for the way a string vibrates, that should be of special significance to those who like short scales and slack strings.

The old guitars and banjos like Martins and Vegas would reinforce the neck with an ebony strip, and assume it was going to upbow a little bit from string tension, thus naturally achieving the right amount of upbow.  Early Gibson "truss rods" were really tension rods that only corrected for upbow, and they used really thin necks, so the inevitable upbow could be adjusted down.  ANY kind of backbow on a banjo neck is death and can only be fixed by a two-way truss rod.  Nowadays, most players want to be in control of it and be able to get it the way they want. I saw an interview with James Taylor where he said he wants the action to be as low as possible just short of buzzing—you can't leave that up to chance.

In terms of neck strength,  don't think that's an issue that warrants a whole lot of concern unless you are making really thin necks.  Truss rods have been around for a long time—you can reinforce an iffy joint with short carbon fiber strips epoxied into dadoes on either side of the truss rod.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 02/02/2021 10:03:54

Feb 2, 2021 - 10:21:53 AM

7915 posts since 1/7/2005

Looks really secure, Ken. Does the truss rod require more force to adjust with the added stiffness?

DD

Feb 2, 2021 - 10:29:42 AM

6078 posts since 9/21/2007

"Relief" goes back to the classic era of banjo playing. I have read about it, specifically in British publications like the BMG magazine, but I seem to remember reading about it in US magazines too, I just don't recall where.

The truss rod was invented by Gibson. One major point of the patent has always caught my attention as the true motive (and is consistent with the motive of other designs of Gibson banjos).

patents.google.com/patent/US1446758

From the patent...

"By this arrangement of parts, I am also enabled to use wood which has not been heretofore considered satisfactory for the manufacture of necks, on account of its not having sufficient strength and rigidity, and further, great care in selecting stock is not necessary."

In other words, they invented the truss rod so that they could turn out necks without worrying about selecting the best cuts of wood for the job, and perhaps use cheaper wood.

Feb 2, 2021 - 11:05:17 AM

3035 posts since 2/18/2009

It seems like curly maple should be weaker, and yet it's used on higher-end instruments and plain maple for cheap ones, mostly. It's an interesting debate, for sure.

Feb 2, 2021 - 11:22:24 AM

13470 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Dan Drabek

Looks really secure, Ken. Does the truss rod require more force to adjust with the added stiffness?

DD


It probably does—I only do that on longnecks, mostly to prevent twisting, which is a problem with them, and hard to correct, and use an electric bass truss rod because of the long neck length.

Feb 2, 2021 - 11:40:40 AM

212 posts since 8/11/2015

I don’t think comparing a banjo neck to a steel string guitar neck is a very fair comparison. There’s an enormous amount of pressure at work on the guitar compared to on the banjo.

I’m going to try carbon fiber for my next neck. I have bought a couple of thin rods and the strength of them are incredible. And you need to take out less wood. I figure that as long as I get the neck right to begin with, it’s going to take a lot of bad luck for it to change with a reinforcement like that inside.

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