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May 15, 2021 - 10:25:03 AM
2015 posts since 8/10/2005

I've been playing banjo since the mid-70s and have never had this issue before- not a horrible problem, but a very distracting one.

The third string picked unfretted sounds wavery. It is hard to describe sound but all other strings sound solid and normal. The third string sounds ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ like. Fretted it sounds normal. Unfretted it is wavery.

Thinking it might be a weird string issue I changed the strings- problem persists. Thinking maybe the string is somehow resonating with the head tension, I tightened the head- problem persists. The tailpiece is solid and the strings intonate correctly. Nothing has changed, same head, same bridge, same strings, same picks. I play this banjo a few hours a day, so it is not an instrument that sits in the closet all year.

Anybody have any advice? Weird and distracting but now impossible to keep playing it.

May 15, 2021 - 11:00:48 AM

8547 posts since 8/28/2013

If it sounds normal when fretted, chances are the issue is with the nut slot. It could be that wear and tear has widened the slot somewhat and it is no longer effectively delineating the vibrating (speaking) length of the string.

May 15, 2021 - 11:43:36 AM



3521 posts since 2/20/2016

I also suspect the nut slot. The slot should angle back so that the string sits higher at the front of the nut, and lower where it exits the neck going back toward the peghead. 2 or 3 strokes with a slotting file in the hands of a competent repairman may be enough to take care of the problem. If not, the slot can be filled and re-cut.

May 15, 2021 - 12:15:26 PM

2015 posts since 8/10/2005

But would the nut slot just spontaneously wear out? It was fine and then suddenly it sounded wavery.  Strings hadn't been changed- nothing had been changed.  Played fine one day, the next the G was wavery sounding. So do you all think that somehow the nut just wore down and one string spontaneously?   I have never had a nut go bad in all the years I've played.  Shoot, I have two banjos from the 1920s with original nuts and they don't do this.  I have never experienced a nut going bad, so am asking.

Edited by - budbennett on 05/15/2021 12:18:42

May 15, 2021 - 12:43:56 PM

Alex Z


4278 posts since 12/7/2006

Not that all the wear occurred overnight or between notes. Rather, something changed within a very short period of time. For example (and I'm not diagnosing this), a chip occurred on the front edge of the nut slot, such that the string no longer comes off the front edge but rattles around in the slot.  Real tiny. Doesn't affect intonation but does affect vibration. 

One piece of information that may help the knowledgeable people here is if the wavering occurs both on loud notes and soft notes , and if the same type of wavering occurs with thumbpick and fingerpick. 

Also, is the wavering tied to the pitch or the string --  is there wavering on the 4th string at the 5th fret?


Again, I'm not suggesting this. Only getting evidence that can eliminate some possibilities. 

Edited by - Alex Z on 05/15/2021 12:47:47

May 15, 2021 - 2:13:16 PM

13964 posts since 10/30/2008

Makes me think of loose metal somewhere vibrating sympathetically with open G, and adding sustain/vibrato. Check all pot hardware maybe.

May 15, 2021 - 2:36:27 PM

Alex Z


4278 posts since 12/7/2006

Sympathetic vibrations certainly possible. Have to distinguish frequency source from string source. 4th string 5th fret G will help do this. 

May 15, 2021 - 3:27:50 PM



22371 posts since 7/6/2005

It is quite possible the head has torn, which can cause weird sounds at certain frequencies.

May 15, 2021 - 6:47:52 PM



3521 posts since 2/20/2016

You might try to lay the banjo flat on the couch, and pluck the offending string while dampening various parts of the hardware [tailpiece, arm rest, tuners, etc.] with your other hand, and see if the vibration goes away. If not, remove the resonator [if it has one] and repeat. See if you can narrow it down. It may take some time and patience.

If it is not a loose piece of hardware, something vibrating against something else, or a split head, the nut is a likely candidate. If you can't figure it out, you may have to have it looked over by a sharp minded repairman.

A luthier's search for your area yields two fellows, both of them builders, within driving distance of you:  Greg Galbreath in Eggleston, and Mac Traynham in Willis.  If you can't figure it out, hopefully one them will be able to.

Edited by - rcc56 on 05/15/2021 19:03:27

May 15, 2021 - 7:48:10 PM

2015 posts since 8/10/2005

Ok thanks all for the suggestions.

May 15, 2021 - 8:01:35 PM

Bart Veerman


4949 posts since 1/5/2005
Online Now

Bud, is the sound also off/wavy in other tunings like open D tuning?

May 15, 2021 - 8:59:25 PM

1248 posts since 8/7/2017

Loosen the string, and put something between it and the nut. Matchbook covers used to be popular with guitar players, I believe. If still wavey, then nut may be ok. The 40 yr old nut on my Stelling developed chips on a couple slots, no idea why. Only saw them when I changed strings.

I like the sympathetic rattle of loose parts of banjo idea; I've had something like this happen (weird vibrations/sounds heard when certain string/fret sounded), and found a loose nut on a bracket. The same nut rattled loose several times, but then mysteriously quit loosening. The pattern of vibrations on the head of a drum (or banjo head) can be quite interesting: sand on the head will show different pictures with different effects applied to the drum, for instance.

Hope this helps.

Edited by - BrooksMT on 05/15/2021 21:02:23

May 15, 2021 - 10:26:48 PM

Alex Z


4278 posts since 12/7/2006

Originally posted by Bart Veerman

Bud, is the sound also off/wavy in other tunings like open D tuning?

This is how to proceed -- narrow down to a smaller number of possibilities.  There are exactly 942 things that can go wrong with a banjo.   Can try them one at a time and hit it lucky on #12 or hit it on #937.  Or can eliminate hundreds at a time with a few simple tests. 

The poster has not eliminated the nut slot yet (the most likely cause from the actual evidence at this time), only asserted that it could not be the nut slot. Mr. Bart's test will either affirm the nut slot possibility and eliminate the sympathetic vibration possibility, or it will eliminate both possibilities. 

Otherwise, only 937 possibilities left. smiley

Edited by - Alex Z on 05/15/2021 22:31:16

May 15, 2021 - 11:02:29 PM
Players Union Member

Eric A


1196 posts since 10/15/2019

I once bought a banjo that came to me with a couple of strings sounding bad and my first thought was "oh crap this nut is bad", but then I realized that there was a bunch of some kind of crud built up in a couple of nut slots. It took some time with a needle and some torch tips to get it all out there, but it solved the problem.

May 16, 2021 - 11:33:37 AM

2015 posts since 8/10/2005

Ok, thanks for all the suggestions.

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