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Apr 20, 2021 - 12:32:16 PM
3 posts since 4/20/2021

I purchased a 70's Martin Sygma in excellent condition and at what I considered to be a reasonable price. This is one of the Japanese models. Got it home, trying to teach myself to play (age 70...53 years of it on guitar), and I noticed two brads in the fretboard. One is behind the 7th fret and one is behind the 9th fret.

It appears that they are meant to trap the string and mute it from playing. Either that or something else, but it appears that they belong there (?).

The individual I purchased it from said to bring the banjo back and I got the impression she was just thinking of pounding the brads into the fingerboard, but I get the feeling that at least one of the brads would go through the neck and project into the back of the neck. That WOULD create a problem worse than I currently have.

Looking for answers to the following:

1. What is the purpose of these brads?
2. If they are not supposed to be there, what is the best way to remove them?
3. If they are supposed to be there, how are they supposed to be used?

Keep in mind...it appears that I am about 6 weeks into a 30-day "learn how to play the banjos in 30 days" and I am on day 9!!! l

Istdoc

Apr 20, 2021 - 12:55:53 PM

8447 posts since 8/28/2013

Are you sure these are brads? Do they have brad hjeads or do they have ab "L" shape? A picture showing the exact location and the exact appearance would be helpful, but from their location and the fear that one of them could be driven through the back of the neck indicates that these may actually be 5th string spikes used to raise the pitch of the 5th string when the rest of the strings are capoed to change the key you need to play in.

Apr 20, 2021 - 12:58:58 PM

4561 posts since 9/7/2009

They are used for changing the tuning of the 5th string when using a capo. Leave them. People pay to have them installed on their banjo. With standard open 'G" tuning, and with a capo on the second fret, the banjo is in tune with the key of "A". The 5th string is placed under the head of the tack at the 7th fret to change the pitch of it for the key of "A". Later on, as you learn to play, you will be glad that you have them.

Apr 20, 2021 - 1:02:17 PM

2463 posts since 5/2/2012

These are more commonly known as "spikes" because they are spikes used in model train sets.

Purpose? When you want to play in a different key, let's say A, you can capo strings 1-4 with a capo and use the spike to capo the 5th at the 7th fret.
Remove them? Leave them be if they work well. DON'T pound them in. Depending on how they were put in (just "hammered" in, or added glue, etc.) they may be easy to get out or you may damage the fretboard when you remove them
You slide the 5 string under the spike, effectively shortening the string and raising it up a tone (from g to a if in standard tuning)

There are other options to capoing the 5th string, but spikes are the most inobtrusive.

If you eventually sell this banjo, then next owner will probably appreciate the spikes

Apr 20, 2021 - 1:28:25 PM

2463 posts since 5/2/2012

Welcome to the HO, by the way. I started playing banjo after I retired. Started with clawhammer, didn't make the progress I wanted, and switched over to 2 finger thumb lead. Took me a whole month (yes 4 weeks) to learn, memorize and play the first tune at a decent tempo. Hang in there. If you are using Eli's videos/lessons you are in good hands. Take all the time you need, it will get easier as you progress.

Apr 20, 2021 - 2:12:16 PM

1030 posts since 1/26/2011

This video might be helpful.  It explains capoing, including the 5th string using spikes.


https://youtu.be/YrgkF6QtUIU

Apr 20, 2021 - 2:26:34 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

13941 posts since 8/30/2006

istdoc I always like to welcome a new person, I had a customer contact me, she didn't see the spikes, neither. So I told her I had overestimated her growth rate.
Very happy to have you, I hope this is a good and rapid solution.

Apr 20, 2021 - 2:41:22 PM

57150 posts since 12/14/2005

Welcome to the HangOut.
If you're ever 30 miles north of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, let me know.
I'll meet you for a beverage at the ATLAS BBQ.

Apr 20, 2021 - 2:50:07 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

13941 posts since 8/30/2006

The Atlas? Aw heck yes.

Apr 20, 2021 - 3:56:14 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

13941 posts since 8/30/2006

These are little galvanized tacks. I haven’t removed them yet


 

Edited by - Helix on 04/20/2021 15:57:58

Apr 21, 2021 - 5:18:17 AM
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13527 posts since 6/29/2005

As has been said, they are there to capo the 5th string so you can play in other keys without overstressing the string.

They started off, probably in the 1950s as HO gauge railroad spikes purchased from hobby shops as shown in the picture below, but now special ones are made for banjo fingerboards. The most common placement is at the 7th, (sometimes) 9th, and 10th frets.

Apr 21, 2021 - 5:42:40 AM
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Players Union Member

Helix

USA

13941 posts since 8/30/2006

This is Ken's private stock which can be used with the tapered bit from StewMac, but so many here use small drill bits.

The new ones from StewMac are round.

Apr 21, 2021 - 9:42:21 AM
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13527 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Helix

This is Ken's private stock which can be used with the tapered bit from StewMac, but so many here use small drill bits.

The new ones from StewMac are round.


I use a round drill un-tapered bit. The square shanks of the spikes dig into the round hole like old cut nails, and preclude the need to put super glue in the hole.

I also use round spikes, which are what you can get nowadays, not having found a supplier for the square ones after considerable searching. With the round spikes, you need to coat the tip with CA before driving them into the hole.

Stewmac sells tapered bits, which they recommend for spikes, and I bought 6 of them, but don't really like them all that much, or at all.

Apr 21, 2021 - 12:09:45 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

13941 posts since 8/30/2006

Swell

Apr 21, 2021 - 1:36:38 PM

3 posts since 4/20/2021

Answering my own question: These Deering Banjo Spikes are used to capo the 5th string of your banjo. Tiny and unobtrusive these spikes will allow you to capo the 5th string of your banjo easily. The most common approach is to install spikes at frets 7, 9, and 10. They are installed by drilling a tiny hole in the finger board and carefully tapped into the hole.

Sold in packets of 12.

**If you have not installed these previously please contact Deering or a local luthier.**

One further bit of information: They are apparently HO Miniature Railroad Spikes used for the purpose described above. Who knew?

-ISTDOC-

Apr 21, 2021 - 2:14:51 PM

13527 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by istdoc

Answering my own question: These Deering Banjo Spikes are used to capo the 5th string of your banjo. Tiny and unobtrusive these spikes will allow you to capo the 5th string of your banjo easily. The most common approach is to install spikes at frets 7, 9, and 10. They are installed by drilling a tiny hole in the finger board and carefully tapped into the hole.

Sold in packets of 12.

**If you have not installed these previously please contact Deering or a local luthier.**

One further bit of information: They are apparently HO Miniature Railroad Spikes used for the purpose described above. Who knew?

-ISTDOC-


I have always thought that whoever (whomever?) came up with the idea of using HO gauge railroad spikes to capo a banjo was really thinking outside the box, or maybe in two boxes.  Pete Seeger told us to use a roundhead screw in his book that we all have copies of—the spikes are way better. A happy cross-purposing of a pretty arcane thing.

In the early 60s there were still "hobby shops" and you could buy 1000 of these tiny things for very little.  I thought you'd always be able to buy them, and wish I had bought many bags of them instead of just one—who'da guessed they would stop making the square-shanked ones that look like little railroad spikes.

I periodically serarch on eBay for "vintage HO gauge railroad spikes" with no luck—somebody somewhere has to have a bunch of them, but they are just too small and insignificant.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 04/21/2021 14:16:53

Apr 21, 2021 - 2:41:07 PM

3 posts since 4/20/2021

Ken:

Not sure if my "woulda, coulda, but..." post made it to this conversation. Let me know if you saw my post about buying shares of Amazon stock! My computer decided to do something odd when I pressed the RETURN button.

-Kurt-

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