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Dec 4, 2021 - 7:53:38 AM
148 posts since 12/9/2018

I’ve been at this banjo thing for a few years now and have a complaint/ question.
Why do builders design their banjos so that the hook nuts end up flush or sometimes below the bottom of the rim?
I’m a slender guy and some of these banjos are horribly uncomfortable to play as the hardware digs into my ribs to the point that I have to stop playing after 10-15 minutes.
I’ve sold several very nice banjos because of this and have even tried installing different style shorter nuts to gain some space. It’s worked on a few banjos, but not so much on others.
I figure I can’t be alone on this and thought I’d throw it out there for discussion.

Dec 4, 2021 - 8:07:52 AM
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Owen

Canada

10066 posts since 6/5/2011

Tongue-in-cheek, Jason, sounds to me like you just need a bit more padding around the mid-section.  From  my experience natural beats artificial.   cheeky

Dec 4, 2021 - 8:12:25 AM

2663 posts since 5/2/2012

I got a $80 cheapo 70's tenor on ebay a few years back, with the hook ends projecting below the bottom of the rim. My solution was to go to the hardware store and buy some vinyl "thread protector caps". Expensive for what they were, but solved the problem. If you wanted to buy in bulk, they would be cheaper by the piece on ebay.

Dec 4, 2021 - 8:32:44 AM
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598 posts since 3/9/2013

I’ve built a couple like that. About a 1/16” below the rim. I liked it because at a festival or jam you can lean it on something and the brass hits instead of the wood. Less dings. I also know I shouldn’t go around leaning my banjo on things but do anyways.

Dec 4, 2021 - 8:35:18 AM
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662 posts since 6/6/2007

Jason,

Your complaint is exactly the only reason I never bought a Vega Tubaphone, which as a collector of old Vega 5-strings, is something I always wanted. I play sitting down and do not want to get poked in the stomach the whole time I play.

Steve

Dec 4, 2021 - 10:00:35 AM

298 posts since 6/15/2006

I think it is a matter of cosmetics. In my eyes it absolutely looks best if the hooks and nuts goes the whole way down to the bottom of the rim. But it doesn´t have to be more than that. There may also be some tradition in it? Steen

Edited by - steen on 12/04/2021 10:02:17

Dec 4, 2021 - 10:14:08 AM

91 posts since 12/27/2019

Sometimes sitting I put a folded towel under the rim of the banjo in my lap, to keep the shoes/nuts from diggin in. Haven't noticed the same problem with the nuts against my rib cage. If I did, I might rubber band a folded hankerchief or wash cloth onto them.

Dec 4, 2021 - 10:50:40 AM
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Players Union Member

Lew H

USA

2698 posts since 3/10/2008

I don't know why someone hasn't invented a "sleeve" of stiff fabric or leather that could cover the hooks and nuts on one side of the banjo. It could be tied onto the hooks at either end of the sleeve and once installed would take up almost no room in a case.

Dec 4, 2021 - 4:26:14 PM
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101 posts since 5/31/2009

Have you considered a top-tension banjo? Or own Ken LeVan makes them on a regular basis.

Dec 4, 2021 - 5:16:31 PM
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14429 posts since 10/30/2008

Lew H I see players with a "sleeve" made out of a length of plastic tubing (like lab or medical) split lengthwise so you can pry it open and push it over the nuts.

Dec 4, 2021 - 5:18:23 PM

4228 posts since 10/13/2005

I'm with the no-pokey crowd. banjered

Dec 4, 2021 - 7:04:52 PM
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6652 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Lew H

I don't know why someone hasn't invented a "sleeve" of stiff fabric or leather that could cover the hooks and nuts on one side of the banjo. It could be tied onto the hooks at either end of the sleeve and once installed would take up almost no room in a case.


I make and sell one of these that was designed for the leg side but it works for the chest too edge too.

As stated above, I have used a piece of rubber hose with holes drilled that just sticks on the nuts-- not my idea, it was thought up by Fred Van Eps.  It works fine and costs about a $1 worth of hose from the hardware store.

To the OP, I believe that many makers (esp factory banjos) have not focused on the needs of the user.  There are a few things that should have become standard 100 years ago. 

The nuts should never extend below the edge of the rim. 

The fifth string nut should be in line with the 5th fret so that if that string were fretted it would be in tune. 

A maker should use the same nut size for all the adjustable parts on the banjo and include a wrench attached by a collet (or some other way) to the inside of the rim. 

Many open backs end up being neck heavy. Truss rods and geared tuners add a lot of weight and need to be accounted for.  I see this with new necks put on old clad rims.

It is my personal opinion that the idea of fretboard binding should be scrapped.  I get that it looks nice, but that is about it.

The bracket nut overhang is purely poor design.  I just went though many of my banjos and they are all either dead even with the edge of the rim or higher up.  But all are able to lay flat on a table resting on the edge of the rim.

Dec 5, 2021 - 12:34:28 AM

111 posts since 3/24/2020

Putting plastic bits to cover the bolts is going to dull some of the instruments vibration. Maybe fitting a cheap resonator & then cutting out the centre to keep it an openback. Then your body won’t dull any vibration.

Dec 5, 2021 - 3:57:53 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15031 posts since 8/30/2006

Hey J-hook, those are indeed interesting recommendations. Let's see who includes a wrench on a collet.

Gold Tone finally went with 6mm hex screw instead of 7mm for the armrest, so all of the external nut sizes are the same.

No one explains why the nuts extend or why the rim is shallow. Some of that has to be budget and specs.

In Scrugg's book they show a shallow rim, but it gets a resonator. Adding a rez and drilling holes is obtuse.

For mandolins, there is a frame that attaches to hold it away from your body, no banjo equivalent yet.
And my DOG can hear the difference. Hair splitting can become a hobby.

Foam pipe insulation is already split on one side and fits right over, very lightweight and little dampening.

I recently used an old mtn. bike innertube double wrapped inside the case to lift the body of the banjo correctly

For casemakers:  locate the handle so it doesn't tip one way or the other when carrying.  Put a banjo in there and see before placing the handle jig. 
 

Dec 5, 2021 - 6:31:12 AM

9176 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks
quote:
Originally posted by Lew H

I don't know why someone hasn't invented a "sleeve" of stiff fabric or leather that could cover the hooks and nuts on one side of the banjo. It could be tied onto the hooks at either end of the sleeve and once installed would take up almost no room in a case.


I make and sell one of these that was designed for the leg side but it works for the chest too edge too.

As stated above, I have used a piece of rubber hose with holes drilled that just sticks on the nuts-- not my idea, it was thought up by Fred Van Eps.  It works fine and costs about a $1 worth of hose from the hardware store.

To the OP, I believe that many makers (esp factory banjos) have not focused on the needs of the user.  There are a few things that should have become standard 100 years ago. 

The nuts should never extend below the edge of the rim. 

The fifth string nut should be in line with the 5th fret so that if that string were fretted it would be in tune. 

A maker should use the same nut size for all the adjustable parts on the banjo and include a wrench attached by a collet (or some other way) to the inside of the rim. 

Many open backs end up being neck heavy. Truss rods and geared tuners add a lot of weight and need to be accounted for.  I see this with new necks put on old clad rims.

It is my personal opinion that the idea of fretboard binding should be scrapped.  I get that it looks nice, but that is about it.

The bracket nut overhang is purely poor design.  I just went though many of my banjos and they are all either dead even with the edge of the rim or higher up.  But all are able to lay flat on a table resting on the edge of the rim.


I think the problem with different screw sizes and threading is due to outside suppliers. Most banjo makers obtain parts from many sources. Also, one cannot use the same hardware to attach heads as to attach necks or tuners, 

Things have been used in the past, such as adding a wrench and a collet to hold it (I believe it was Van Eps who did this, but I may be wrong). 

I agree about the heavy neck factor, but in the old days, lightweight friction tuners were adequate for the gut strings in use at the time, and no maker ever could have foreseen people putting big heavy necks on flimsy clad rims (that's why those in the know recommend new banjos for certain styles, rather than modifying old ones.

I am not faulting many of your complaints, and I think you have some valid ideas. Banjo playing has changed a bit in the past century or so, and although some issues have been approached, costs and other factors such as tradition can get in the way of innovation. I don't think the makers have deliberately ignored the players' needs. There are costs involved with change; expensive tooling might be needed, workers may need to be trained, parts suppliers may have to be forced to redesign. I can see some independent makers being very innovative, but a factory is a factory, and many of these are constrained by budget factors and market forces. A student generally expects a banjo to look like a banjo he's seen before, not some kind of space age machine. A student banjo, and even most higher level products are, after all, built to price and profit ideals, and if the maker louses up those parameters, he'll be forced into bankruptcy. No one, I'm sure, wishes for no banjos to be built, even ones with a few design issues, which a creative player can usually work around.

Dec 5, 2021 - 7:54:41 AM
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6652 posts since 9/21/2007

Yes, FVE did the wrench thing. The tuners on his banjos used the standard slotted screw but on his later banjos he modified the tuners to use a nut that matched everything else. He used the collet but I am sure someone could come up with an easier method.

As far as hardware suppliers, yes, but they make what people buy. If makers stop buying it unless they change then they will change.

I totally understand that playing styles and user needs have changed. But balance, nut sizes, and 5th string nut alignment are pretty simple things. I noticed that Gold Tone has placed the nut property on their plastic rim banjo… but there is that balance thing.








 

Dec 5, 2021 - 1:08:16 PM
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4875 posts since 5/9/2007
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I requested "comfort" in this build.

- Rounded Rim Bottom 

- Nuts above the rim bottom.




Edited by - mrphysics55 on 12/05/2021 13:08:41

Dec 5, 2021 - 2:50:40 PM

9176 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Yes, FVE did the wrench thing. The tuners on his banjos used the standard slotted screw but on his later banjos he modified the tuners to use a nut that matched everything else. He used the collet but I am sure someone could come up with an easier method.

As far as hardware suppliers, yes, but they make what people buy. If makers stop buying it unless they change then they will change.

I totally understand that playing styles and user needs have changed. But balance, nut sizes, and 5th string nut alignment are pretty simple things. I noticed that Gold Tone has placed the nut property on their plastic rim banjo… but there is that balance thing.


I wonder if hardware suppliers would actually change for a small market such as banjo makers. It would require more than one maker to quit buying, too, which seems like soething that isn't going to happen in a competitive market. It also still doesn't cover all the issues, such as the much larger nuts needed for coordinator rods than for small things like tuner screws (which would also need to be reconfigured by those makers to match the nut sizes  used on hooks.

The actual placement of the 5th string nut does seem like an easy fix, though, and I've al;ways been appalled by banjos where they don't line up with the fret. That just seems obvious, and banjo makers look stupid for not figuring that one out 140 years ago.

Balance is an issue that may never be solved to players' satisfaction, given the weight of truss rods and modern geared tuners. That is one thing that playing styles has made an issue. Friction tuners don't weigh much, and it's partially the string tensions required for some modern playing styles and modern large auditoriums that necessitate neck reinforcements like truss rods. Perhaps that's the one issue that's not solved very easily, whereas a decent builder could, and certainly should, reposition the 5th string nut, and perhaps at least attempt to get some consistency in other hardware. 

I am sure that many independent makers can, and probably will, find better solutions (except perhaps the balance issue), but it may take time, and may take many people requesting something better than hooks that poke and wrenches that go missing. Unfortunately, having spent decades in the piano business, I can say flat out that many times, obvious improvements never seem to happen. Steinway, for example, still builds a fallboard (keyboard cover) that can' hardly be removed without dropping the and blocks on the floor, even though it would be simple just to hold it those blocks in place with one screw each, as most other makers do. Other makers do other ridiculous things, too, but I won't get into that, as we're talking about banjo improvements. My point is that a maker's dumb things don't always change no matter how obviously idiotic they are to the everyone else.

Dec 5, 2021 - 4:35:39 PM
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14133 posts since 6/29/2005

Practically all the banjos I make nowadays are top tension—both openback and resonator

There are no tension nuts to dig into your leg and my design has the tension bolt lugs down from the top edge of the tension hoop, and there are no notches, so you don't even need an armrest.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 12/05/2021 16:36:38

Dec 5, 2021 - 6:49:15 PM
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3139 posts since 2/18/2009
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I still put the 5th string nut behind the fret, but I am willing to put it in line when asked during a custom build. My theory is that with a tall nut for clawhammer players the intonation doesn't matter mostly, as most people who play in that style don't seem to fret the 5th anyway. For those who want to fret the 5th string I install a short 5th string nut and make the slot deep enough so the string rides on the 5th fret and the nut is just a lateral guide for it.

Dec 6, 2021 - 9:30:56 AM
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2589 posts since 6/19/2008

I build my rims with an integral flange for the tension hooks. This, combined with keeping the hooks short enough, keeps the legs and chest from being poked by shoes and nuts.

As far as the fifth string nut goes, I put in a short piece of tall fret wire as the nut and just file a small nick in it to prevent lateral string movement. I put this piece in after leveling and dressing the rest of the frets.


Dec 9, 2021 - 3:48:40 PM

Fathand

Canada

11868 posts since 2/7/2008

If your nuts are the long decorative kind, it is sometimes possible to change to shorter nut that would protrude less. Rickard as an example has a fair selection of nuts that are still decorative.
Your original ones could be kept with the banjo if you are trying to preserve originality.

Dec 9, 2021 - 6:39:32 PM

6652 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Helix

Hey J-hook, those are indeed interesting recommendations. Let's see who includes a wrench on a collet.

Gold Tone finally went with 6mm hex screw instead of 7mm for the armrest, so all of the external nut sizes are the same.

No one explains why the nuts extend or why the rim is shallow. Some of that has to be budget and specs.

In Scrugg's book they show a shallow rim, but it gets a resonator. Adding a rez and drilling holes is obtuse.

For mandolins, there is a frame that attaches to hold it away from your body, no banjo equivalent yet.
And my DOG can hear the difference. Hair splitting can become a hobby.

Foam pipe insulation is already split on one side and fits right over, very lightweight and little dampening.

I recently used an old mtn. bike innertube double wrapped inside the case to lift the body of the banjo correctly

For casemakers:  locate the handle so it doesn't tip one way or the other when carrying.  Put a banjo in there and see before placing the handle jig. 
 


Hello Larry Hill,  yes foam pipe insulation works great, I have seen people use that (and played their banjos).  Gold Tone is thinking.

Dec 9, 2021 - 8:51:20 PM

146 posts since 9/30/2009

It looks like you need one of Ryan Navey's banjos from the Carolina Banjo Company. Mighty fine sounding instruments with no pokey bits. carolinabanjoco.com

Dec 10, 2021 - 3:01:32 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15031 posts since 8/30/2006

Hello, Mr. Hooks

Also note that Gold Tone is the only one who recesses the nut down into the neck rather than just glued on flat.

Dec 14, 2021 - 5:01:56 AM

Tom Napper

Scotland

14 posts since 11/18/2011

Vega used to make a wire leg and /or body rest to fit on the brackets "backwards" on the bottom edge of the rim, which can be seen in old catalogue illustrations of their mandolin banjo. I don't know if anybody makes these currently, but it looks to be a fairly simple construction, for anybody handy.

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