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Jun 11, 2021 - 8:09:24 AM
15 posts since 12/2/2019

I've noticed that my thumb comes in contact with the head when I play, it even makes a slight tapping noise. Is this normal? the sting height of the 5th string at the top of the head just below where the neck ends is only like 2mm (is this also normal or....?) but it happens to most banjos I try in stores as well.

Jun 11, 2021 - 8:29:36 AM
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2502 posts since 5/2/2012

Maybe that's why some people prefer a scoop and play over the neck. Don New (Stringbean45 here on the HO) sells a bridge that raises the 5th string to the level of the other strings. It's been awhile since I played clawhammer, but I remember hitting the head with my thumb at times, not often enough to consider it a problem.

Edited by - thisoldman on 06/11/2021 08:30:13

Jun 11, 2021 - 8:33:51 AM


Virgin Islands (U.S.)

74 posts since 5/11/2021

You can do it either way. It's best to learn how to do it both ways. Sometimes the drum beat rhythm goes well with a tune, sometimes not.

Jun 11, 2021 - 8:47:03 AM
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3566 posts since 4/29/2012

I can't say if it's normal. But it's exactly what I do. I use a hide head and the last one developed a hole just where my thumb hits it after about 10 years (I keep a slightly longer thumb nail than I need for banjo, as that's what I want for guitar) . I now rotate the head by one hook every now and then. Should last me out.

Jun 11, 2021 - 9:45:07 AM
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188 posts since 12/13/2012

Well, a banjo is a percussion instrument; just happens to have strings. Sounds really cool to me to replace all the brushes with thumb whacks.

From the Dwight Diller tab book:
"Dwight has described the banjo as a drum with strings, and, since it is a percussion instrument, he feels it is be “percussed” and not

Jun 11, 2021 - 9:56:18 AM

4132 posts since 10/13/2005

Generally, CH players like to have the fifth string the same height as the other strings. They generally do not fret that string. A scoop allows for a little closer action while still giving room to "purchase" (grab) the fifth string. Bluegrassers will more often fret the fifth string so low action on the fifth suits them fine while with CH players low fifth string can be an annoyance. A lot of times when you find open backs with no scoop and low fifth string action it is because builders are not aware/don't care about the preferences of CH players, they are modeling their open backs along the lines of bluegrass players. Least, that's what I suspect. banjered

Jun 11, 2021 - 10:27:11 AM

banjo bill-e


11099 posts since 2/22/2007

I recommend that you do not make whacking the head with your thumb an intrinsic part of your sound, even though it can sound cool, as that is very hard to get rid of later when you discover that it detracts from many other things you would like to play. I started with Pat Costello who gives the head a big thumb whack because he is deaf, and I liked that sound----at first. Took a lot of work to get rid of it when it did not fit the tune, which turned out to be most of the time.

Jun 11, 2021 - 10:33:48 AM
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Players Union Member



9893 posts since 1/22/2003

Look how much Uncle Dave hit the head with his thumb:

Jun 11, 2021 - 10:38:43 AM
Players Union Member

Lew H


2635 posts since 3/10/2008

Two things: First, it's a design flaw. Unlike guitars with the fretboard extending atop the body of the instrument, on most banjos the fretboard is at the same level as the head. This leaves little room for picking or clawing, except next to the bridge.

Second, Adam Hurt, an excellent clawhammer picker, says his thumb brushes the head, but it's quiet. I think he has more of a sideways motion across the head, so his thumb is not thumping down on the head. I have always had some thumb noise, I try to keep it somewhat quiet, but I tend to use the head to guide my thumb. I'm so old, I don't want to change it now.

Jun 11, 2021 - 2:21:56 PM



99 posts since 3/8/2006

I don't know what is common on most banjos, but a clearance between 5th string and head of only 2 mm seems to me far too small.

Jun 11, 2021 - 3:43:01 PM

11 posts since 1/7/2021

It's normal if you like the sound.  If not you can learn to reduce or eliminate it.


Originally posted by thisoldman

Don New (Stringbean45 here on the HO) sells a bridge that raises the 5th string to the level of the other strings.


Bart of (i forget his name here, I'm new) also sells a bridge like that.  Though it seems to me like it would make drop-thumbing harder, especially on the 4th string.

Jun 12, 2021 - 3:12:29 AM

Bill H


1610 posts since 11/7/2010

I must hit the head because there's a shiny spot on the head up near the neck. But it's more of a brush than a thump. If you are hitting the head hard with your thumb and it bothers you, with some conscious effort and practice you can soften the sound of it by quite bit.

Jun 12, 2021 - 5:36:32 AM

31 posts since 7/2/2018

Some players hit the head, some don't. There's no right or wrong answer. Listen to Willie Watson.

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