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Nov 30, 2021 - 10:30:21 AM


Virgin Islands (U.S.)

616 posts since 5/11/2021

Two questions for the experts, regarding head mounting.

1) Is there any major issue with mounting a medium crown head on a banjo that appears to be made for a high crown head? Context: my new head appears to be medium crown, the old head appears to be high crown. It will mount, I can get the tension hooks on it, and get it up to tension using a drum dial. But I'm not sure if there's anything I'm missing or longterm effects that may occur.

2) Is there any major issue with having an uneven tension hoop? Context: After tightening the head, I realized that despite my best efforts the tension hoop near the tailpiece is about 1/4" lower than the tension hoop near the neck. It's basically just slanted. I've seen this on other banjos and was told by a trusted luthier that it wasn't an issue, but I'd like second opinions. Other than aesthetics, will this cause any issues? The head tension is even across the head, as measured with a drum dial.

Bonus questions: Why do different crown heights exist? Do different crown heights provide functional or tonal differences? What aspects of banjo pot design determine the required crown height for a head?

Edited by - YellowSkyBlueSun on 11/30/2021 10:34:38

Nov 30, 2021 - 10:45:42 AM
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1183 posts since 8/9/2019

I've always wondered the answer to the bonus question!

As an archtop user, I've always been told to use EITHER a medium OR a low crown.
And I've always wondered "how do I know which to use? Without mounting/un-mounting both".

Nov 30, 2021 - 11:04:36 AM
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2838 posts since 4/7/2010
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Please confirm the questions you are asking are about plastic banjo heads.

Bob Smakula

Nov 30, 2021 - 11:05:14 AM
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53 posts since 1/25/2020

I’ve found that the height of the tension hoop determines crown height.

Nov 30, 2021 - 11:09:26 AM
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14442 posts since 10/30/2008
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I'm no expert, but...

1) No harm in using a medium crown head on a banjo "made for" a high crown head. Please remember, in the early days of plastic heads, say 1960 to 1980, there was only ONE crown height -- medium. It fit everything. The only thing you may notice is that the top of the tension hoop seems rather "high" above the plane of the head. As long as there is enough clearance under your strings (you don't want the strings to touch the top of the tension hoop when fretted), then you are fine. Personally I like seeing the tension hoop standing 1/4" or more above the plane of the head. Some people prefer the high crown appearance where the tension hoop top surface is nearly level with the plane of the head.

2) An uneven tension hoop can be a bit of problem -- over a long period of time it would slightly warp the tension hoop. Mostly, I just dislike the appearance. I like a good level appearance "by eyeball". You might have a specific problem though, since the tailpiece area has a much lower level. Is it possible that up by the neck heel, your tension hoop has fetched up on the bottom of the notch in the neck heel? Meaning that no matter how much you tighten those few tension hooks on either side of the fingerboard, the tension hoop simply has no place to go? So you end up achieving desired head tension by tightening all the other hooks much more, causing the slanted appearance? If this is true, you need a different head with a LOWER crown, so it won't have to pull down so far to achieve proper tension. I don't know what kind of banjo you have, but this could give you a slanted tension hoop.

For instance, if you put a high crown head on a banjo with little clearance at the bottom of the notch in the neck heel, you'll NEVER get it tight! Or you'll slant the tension hoop so much something will crack, break or get stuck.

Presuming you have a "deep enough" neck heel notch, and a correct head crown height (medium should always work) then keeping the tension hoop level is all about your technique in slowly tightening it up. Put the tension hoop over the head by hand as level as you can get it (by eyeball). Put all the tension hooks on, tighten all the nuts til they just get finger tight, then carefully PUSH down on the tension hoop with your hands, adjusting pressure to keep the tension hoop level, then finger tighten the nuts again. If it things get out of level, loosen some nuts and tighten other by finger until it looks level again. Repeat this a few times til you can't finger tighten any more. Only then do you start using the wrench. Go around in the tire changing wheel nut alternation pattern, always turning the same number of turns on every nut. After each completion of the pattern, eyeball the hoop to be sure its staying level. Then go around with one more turn (or fraction of turn) in the pattern. You can actually hear the head slowly coming up to tension. In these early stages, before the head is truly tight, keep eyeballing everything to be sure it's level. If not, slack off the overtightened spot and tighten elsewhere to achieve level without overall tightening the head itself.

Eventually the head will be getting quite tight and you'll be down to making 1/4 of a turn of the wrench at a time, or even 1/8 of a turn at a time (going around in the pattern always) and you can use tap tone, or scratch or drum dial to get to your final target. If you do your corrections for leveling along the way BEFORE the head is really tight, things should look OK when you do your final tweaks.

Loosening a tension hook does not result in the tension hoop rebouding upward! It's not elastic. But loosening some and slightly tightening others will achieve your level appearance without busting the head, tension hooks or tension hoop IF you do this before the head gets really tight.

Start with the tension hoop level before you put on any hooks, keep it level every time you tighten around the pattern, and it should be level when you get to desired head tightness.

Don't be afraid to just take the head off and start over if you don't like how things look.

Edited by - The Old Timer on 11/30/2021 11:10:30

Nov 30, 2021 - 11:13:08 AM


Virgin Islands (U.S.)

616 posts since 5/11/2021

Good question Bob Smakula . Specifically in this situation, the old head is a fiberskyn 2 and the new head is a premounted calfskin (Balch/Stern). I'm not sure on the actual crown height for either, because the fiberskyn is old with no records and the Balch doesn't list crown height for his mounted heads. But sitting on a table, the fiberskyn head is noticably taller than the hide head.

I'd also welcome general answers related to any type of head, as I do a lot of banjo setups and this has been a question of mine for a while.

Edited by - YellowSkyBlueSun on 11/30/2021 11:23:58

Nov 30, 2021 - 11:16:12 AM


Virgin Islands (U.S.)

616 posts since 5/11/2021

Another bonus question: once a hide head has been tension, is there harm in removing the tension and remounting (for example to level out the tension hoop, hypothetically speaking of course)? Does the tone of hide heads degrade if they're tightened/loosened/tightened more than once?

Nov 30, 2021 - 11:45 AM
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4089 posts since 5/29/2011

Originally posted by YellowSkyBlueSun

Another bonus question: once a hide head has been tension, is there harm in removing the tension and remounting (for example to level out the tension hoop, hypothetically speaking of course)? Does the tone of hide heads degrade if they're tightened/loosened/tightened more than once?

Since it has been changed recently there should not be a problem taking the head loose and repositioning it. If the head had been on the banjo for a number of years it might be another story.

Nov 30, 2021 - 11:59:23 AM
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8808 posts since 11/28/2003

Old heads - even plastic - stretch. So the crown height of an old, fully-stretched, head should be taller than a brand new one.

A new (hide) head should be lower crown than where you want it to eventually settle.  This allows for the new head to stretch over time. There is information about crown height on my website here:

The tension hoop should definitely be level. To correct this - disregard the drumdial - and loosen the hooks and nuts completely all around. Then re-tighten as necessary to pull it level.  Basically force to to remain level.  All the heads I mount are level in my shop and set to proper tension using the new Nashville Banjo Co Pocket Dial ( ).  

Let the head settle a day or so before measuring the tension with the drumdial. 

IMPORTANT: I discuss drumdial a little in the video on the Nashville Banjo Co page.  You can't use a standard drumdial with hide - the same way as plastic.  Doing so will sometimes lead to the problem you discovered - an uneven tension hoop. 

Feel free to contact me directly if you have questions. 


Dec 1, 2021 - 6:20:43 AM


Virgin Islands (U.S.)

616 posts since 5/11/2021

Well, there you have it. Thank you John!

Dec 1, 2021 - 8:25:41 AM



315 posts since 3/20/2011

With older banjos, some tension hoops will become lower at the tailpiece. The reason is the tailpiece is mounted last, and some tailpieces when over-tightened pull the tension hoop down slightly at the same location. After many years, the tension hoop becomes warped,,and will be difficult to level.

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