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May 17, 2022 - 9:59:30 AM
151 posts since 3/26/2015

I recently played a banjo that had the lowest action of any I have ever seen. It was an 87 Granada. The action was super low from 1st fret on up. It still had volume. Would this be accomplished by heel cut? It was effortless to play. Just curious on how really low action could be acheived and still have great tone and volume. 5/8 bridge.

May 17, 2022 - 10:09:37 AM

13303 posts since 6/2/2008

All sorts of ways it could be accomplished.

Might be a heel cut to make that the banjo's inherent action.

Might be a shim added by the player.

Might be the banjo's heel was cut for a taller bridge (not likely if stock) and the owner switched to 5/8.

Might be -- Heaven forbid -- coordinator rod adjustment.

Won't know unless you ask the owner.

 

Do you have a sense of how low it might have been? How low is the action on your banjo?

May 17, 2022 - 10:20:13 AM
Players Union Member

pappy c

USA

151 posts since 3/26/2015

I can say that there was no shim. I really did not see any obvious reason. It was on a Granada prototype when gibson was trying to bring the granada back. Quite possibly belonged to Sonny Osborne. I can't say exact measurements on the action of my banjo just kinda go on feel but it is about average. what a joy to play that low action without buzzing and still having volume and punch.

May 17, 2022 - 11:08:07 AM
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BobbyE

USA

3120 posts since 11/29/2007

>> what a joy to play that low action without buzzing and still having volume and punch.<<

My concern with super low action would be pull-offs and being able to get tip of finger under string enough to accomplish the snap needed to do it. Your mileage may vary.

Bobby

May 17, 2022 - 11:16:58 AM
Players Union Member

pappy c

USA

151 posts since 3/26/2015

I agree with you on the ability to do pull offs but it was not that bad. I would compare the first few frets to the first few frets when using a capo.

May 17, 2022 - 11:58:48 AM
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1876 posts since 1/28/2013

I had a neck made for a Vega a few years ago, and the action was so low I had to buy a taller bridge. It had no buzzing or anything, but pull offs and hammer-on were affected. There is a point at which the action can be to low.

May 17, 2022 - 12:42:33 PM
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13303 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by BobbyE

My concern with super low action would be pull-offs and being able to get tip of finger under string enough to accomplish the snap needed to do it. Your mileage may vary.


In my experience, lowering action  at 12 to 22 doesn't have much impact on action from 1 to 4. In case it does, action can be raised at the nut to compensate for too much lowering up the neck.

May 17, 2022 - 1:49:44 PM
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14590 posts since 6/29/2005

It has to do with neck angle & bridge height, which work together, string gauge, perfectly dressed, leveled, and crowned frets and a tiny bit of relief—It's "setup".

Also the playing style of the player it's been set up for.

May 17, 2022 - 5:40:16 PM

2608 posts since 3/2/2008

A real interesting topic. Set up can take more time than most of the building but well worth the effort

May 17, 2022 - 11:29:50 PM

2331 posts since 1/16/2010

I’ve always preferred super low action on my guitars..just like Jerry Reed. His was set to about 4/64” at the 12th…which gives lots of string buzz…but it gave it a cool sound..especially in his hands. It’s all in the way you play.

My banjos I keep around 1/8” at the 12th with a 5/8” bridge.

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May 18, 2022 - 5:18:40 AM

14590 posts since 6/29/2005

In rough general terms, frailing / clawhammer is to fingerpicking on a banjo, as flatpicking is to fingerpicking on a guitar.  The instruments have to be set up differently, and in the case of guitars, built a little bit differently.

I understand that James Taylor has his guitars built to his specifications and set up "just above buzzing".  Also, Bobby Thompson would meticulously set his banjos up the same way.

This requires some seasonal tweaking to maintain with banjos—more difficult to do with guitars.

May 18, 2022 - 11:19:16 AM
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doryman

USA

1207 posts since 11/26/2012

I like low action too. My friend has Deering Maple Blossom with the lowest action I've ever seen on a banjo. I don't know how it can be so low without buzzing, but I'm sure magic is involved. I love playing it. Not all Maple Blossoms are like this, I will note.

A very easy and inexpensive thing to do, is to experiment with a lower bridge. You can even just sand the feet or deepen the notches of an existing bridge. This alone will give you some idea if a lower bridge will give you the action you want without any fret buzz and with out any further and more difficult adjustments.

May 18, 2022 - 12:01:01 PM

kd8tzc

USA

309 posts since 4/11/2022

quote:
Originally posted by doryman

I like low action too. My friend has Deering Maple Blossom with the lowest action I've ever seen on a banjo. I don't know how it can be so low without buzzing, but I'm sure magic is involved. I love playing it. Not all Maple Blossoms are like this, I will note.

A very easy and inexpensive thing to do, is to experiment with a lower bridge. You can even just sand the feet or deepen the notches of an existing bridge. This alone will give you some idea if a lower bridge will give you the action you want without any fret buzz and with out any further and more difficult adjustments.


Can you buy a bridge lower that 5/8"?  I've seen taller ones, but not the shorter ones. 

My Deering Americana has very low action, and it is supposed to be a clawhammer guitar, but I love it.  My Gold Tone OB-150+ just seems too high to me and the only thing I have been able to figure out is sanding the feet, but if I can find a shorter bridge by a quality maker, I would prefer to go that route.

Edited by - kd8tzc on 05/18/2022 12:08:13

May 18, 2022 - 12:16:14 PM
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kd8tzc

USA

309 posts since 4/11/2022

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

It has to do with neck angle & bridge height, which work together, string gauge, perfectly dressed, leveled, and crowned frets and a tiny bit of relief—It's "setup".

Also the playing style of the player it's been set up for.


Are there are good documents or videos on setup that documents some of this for newer players like myself?  I'm quite scared to adjust the truss rod due to some of the horror stories I've heard (although, I'm sure a lot of that is due to getting carried away and not making small adjustments), and I'm a little concerned on adjusting the coordinator rods as it could crack or deform the pot.  It would be nice to see what the correct way to do all this is.

May 18, 2022 - 1:44:25 PM
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14590 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by kd8tzc
quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

It has to do with neck angle & bridge height, which work together, string gauge, perfectly dressed, leveled, and crowned frets and a tiny bit of relief—It's "setup".

Also the playing style of the player it's been set up for.


Are there are good documents or videos on setup that documents some of this for newer players like myself?  I'm quite scared to adjust the truss rod due to some of the horror stories I've heard (although, I'm sure a lot of that is due to getting carried away and not making small adjustments), and I'm a little concerned on adjusting the coordinator rods as it could crack or deform the pot.  It would be nice to see what the correct way to do all this is.


I agree that you should not mess with the truss rod or coordinator rods unless you are familiar with them, and while I would recommend shimming the neck and adding a higher bridge that you could slowly sand down until you got the action exactly where you wanted it,  you would have to loosen the coordinator rods to shim the neck, so that's probably not a good idea..

To give you an overview, here's Stelling's "setup system", used by many players

https://www.stellingbanjo.com/blog/stellings-set-up-system/

May 18, 2022 - 2:06:20 PM

kd8tzc

USA

309 posts since 4/11/2022

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan
 

...adding a higher bridge that you could slowly sand down until you got the action exactly where you wanted it,

 

Ken, if I want the action lower, why would I want to get a higher bridge than what I already have?  Woudln't I want either a slightly lower bridge or just sand what I have very gradually?

May 18, 2022 - 2:46:25 PM

raybob

USA

13564 posts since 12/11/2003

Just my 2 cents on how this worked out for me. My neck had just a little relief (with the strings on and up to pitch) then my next step was to check the nut. My nut had some room to come down, so that's what I did. There's YouTubes to give an idea on how to approach the nut. Then I was able to try a 1/2" bridge that I had on hand, and it worked perfectly. Lowering the bridge alone wouldn't have done a good enough job, IMO, still leaving the lower position on the fingerboard higher than I wanted, but starting with checking the neck, then the nut height, then trying a lower bridge worked out for me and this banjo. I love the way it plays now. (I play CH mostly.) If you're bashful about cutting the nut you could get a spare, or some material, or possibly a zero fret kit, and make a new one, saving the one that came with the banjo unscarred. It also wouldn't hurt to have a bridge one size smaller on hand to slip under the strings when you finish with the nut, if the nut happens to warrant lowering. If you save the original nut and bridge unscarred, returning the banjo to its original set-up couldn't be easier. Oh! And make sure the head has the tightness that you want before you start. I'm not a builder or a repair person, but this approach to lowering the action this way worked out for me and this banjo. Good luck.

Edited by - raybob on 05/18/2022 14:49:01

May 18, 2022 - 3:14:20 PM

13303 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by kd8tzc
Can you buy a bridge lower that 5/8"?  I've seen taller ones, but not the shorter ones. 

Yes. 1/2-inch bridges are common.

Richie Dotson (Acoustic Box)  sells a 0.6-inch bridge (approx 19/32), which is between 1/2 and 5/8.  I guess it's just 1/32 shorter than a 5/8 bridge.

If you go all the way to a half-inch bridge, be prepared to work on your picking technique to minimize hitting the head.

I'd much rather shim at the upper lag bolt than play a half-inch bridge. I personally would have no reservation about using the coordinator rod to lower action 1/32 or 3/64. Might not use it for a full 1/16, though I have in the past. I don't do that any more.

I've heard of people shaving the rim where the lower part of the heel hits. That's pretty much irreversible.

Edited by - Old Hickory on 05/18/2022 15:29:55

May 18, 2022 - 3:28:26 PM

13303 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by kd8tzc
Are there are good documents or videos on setup that documents some of this for newer players like myself?  I'm quite scared to adjust the truss rod due to some of the horror stories I've heard (although, I'm sure a lot of that is due to getting carried away and not making small adjustments), and I'm a little concerned on adjusting the coordinator rods as it could crack or deform the pot.  It would be nice to see what the correct way to do all this is.

Steve Huber's "Killer Tone" video is a complete lesson on banjo setup.

Here's Deering's how-to video on adjusting action with the coordinator rod.

The same caution for truss rods also applies to coordinator rods: small adjustments only. But shortening or lengthening the working length of the co-rod does deform the rim. That's how it does its job. The jury is split on whether co-rods should be used at all to adjust action. Here you have a banjo manufacturer saying to do it. You have to decide for yourself.

While the truss rod's function is related to action, the truss rod is not for adjusting action. The truss rod's job is to resist the tension of the strings and to hold the neck in the right amount of relief (slight up-bow) to allow the strings to vibrate without hitting the frets. Correct relief, together with good string height at the nut, correct neck angle and good brdge height, all work together to keep the rise in string height gradual, even and playable from 1st to 22nd fret.

After the truss rod is set for correct relief, action can then be adjusted by whatever method you're most comfortable with: bridge, shim, coordinator rod. 

May 18, 2022 - 4:16:46 PM

14590 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by kd8tzc
quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan
 

...adding a higher bridge that you could slowly sand down until you got the action exactly where you wanted it,

 

Ken, if I want the action lower, why would I want to get a higher bridge than what I already have?  Woudln't I want either a slightly lower bridge or just sand what I have very gradually?


I don't know what height your current bridge is.  Nowadays higher bridges are the norm, and sanding a 5/8" bridge down towards 1/2" is getting too short.

When you do a "from scratch" setup, the bridge height is the driving factor, so let's say you want 11/16", you make the neck angle work with that height, not make a bridge that works with whatever the neck angle happens to be coming from the factory and hope for the best.  I would make a bridge that's a little higher than 11/16", and sand the feet until the action was right. 

With a new banjo, the head settles, and after a few weeks it often starts to buzz and the head has to be re-tightened  This is sometimes misinterpreted as thinking the bridge is too low or something is wrong with the neck angle.  The setup requires frequent adjustments and maintenance if a really low action is the goal.

Fret leveling and relief are other things that need to be correct.

May 18, 2022 - 10:03:29 PM
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2331 posts since 1/16/2010

quote:
Originally posted by kd8tzc
quote:
Originally posted by doryman

I like low action too. My friend has Deering Maple Blossom with the lowest action I've ever seen on a banjo. I don't know how it can be so low without buzzing, but I'm sure magic is involved. I love playing it. Not all Maple Blossoms are like this, I will note.

A very easy and inexpensive thing to do, is to experiment with a lower bridge. You can even just sand the feet or deepen the notches of an existing bridge. This alone will give you some idea if a lower bridge will give you the action you want without any fret buzz and with out any further and more difficult adjustments.


Can you buy a bridge lower that 5/8"?  I've seen taller ones, but not the shorter ones. 

My Deering Americana has very low action, and it is supposed to be a clawhammer guitar, but I love it.  My Gold Tone OB-150+ just seems too high to me and the only thing I have been able to figure out is sanding the feet, but if I can find a shorter bridge by a quality maker, I would prefer to go that route.


9/16" is another bridge height that although uncommon, was used by players periodically over the years. Roy Clark used a 9/16" bridge for awhile if I remember correctly. It's a good happy medium between 5/8" and 1/2". 

May 19, 2022 - 4:36:19 AM

kd8tzc

USA

309 posts since 4/11/2022

Thanks all, you have given me some great things to think about, and possibly try before I go to a shorter bridge. I thought I was stuck with the 5/8" bridge, but I'm glad that's not the case. I might try shimming the upper bolt first. I'm not exactly sure what that would press up against though, so I want to make sure I don't deform anything.

What's strange, is on my Deering Americana, the action is lower than my Gold Tone, but I don't hear myself hitting the head. I payed attention though last night while playing the Deering, and I do in fact hit the head, but because it is the Renaissance head, it doesn't make the same noise that the normal Remo head does, so that's why I never noticed it.

What I have not been able to check though is the bow in the neck. I don't have a ruler that is either long enough or short enough (I have a 17" long one, or a 36" long one... one is too long, the other is not long enough) to really check the gap from the 1st to the 22nd fret. I do see they sell 10" rulers though, so maybe I will get one of those (or find an old metal yard stick and cut it down).

May 19, 2022 - 4:58:49 AM

14590 posts since 6/29/2005

Bela Fleck uses a 3/4" bridge and likes a 3/32" (.94") string height at the 12th fret.  I like that kind of setup, too, although I certainly can't play like Bela Fleck.

The rule of thumb back when I started playing and making banjos in the 60s was that higher bridges were louder, but you didn't want to make them too heavy.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 05/19/2022 05:09:56

May 19, 2022 - 5:29:54 AM

14590 posts since 6/29/2005

One thing that occurs to me is that if you don't play much beyond the 8th fret, you are better off without "relief",which curves the neck upward.

In the diagram below, showing a straight neck vs the normal .028 upbow (relief), both with 1/8" at the 12th fret, and the same bridge height, the straight neck has a string height of .068" at the 5th fret, where you are likely to be playing a lot, where the relief one is .096" at the 5th fret—quite a bit higher.  You don't get any benefit from relief until you get to around the 8th fret, it equalizes at the 12th, and then the straight neck gets higher after that.

In other words, if you are playing in first and second positions, you are making it harder to play by adding relief.

If you are playing clawhammer, you certainly don't need relief, especially if you have a scoop.

Strobe high speed videos have pretty much disproven the popular notion of the strings vibrating in a sine curve fashion that has to be matched by a curve in the fingerboard.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 05/19/2022 05:31:42

May 19, 2022 - 5:30:40 AM

kd8tzc

USA

309 posts since 4/11/2022

The only issue I'm having (and this may be due to me being a newer player) is when I play up the neck, it slows me down as I have to concentrate more with the higher action when fretting the strings. For example, if I play the high part in Banjo in the Holler, on my Deering, it's not a big deal, but I stumble with it on my OB-150. Other than that, it really doesn't bother me when I am working between the 1st - 7th fret I'd say.

That's interesting that a higher bridge makes the sound louder. Doesn't the height of the tailpiece over the head also have something to do with making the sound "brighter" (if close to the head and not touching). I never understood that one myself, but I'm sure it has to do with the physics of the instrument (same as the bridge).

May 19, 2022 - 6:13:07 AM

kd8tzc

USA

309 posts since 4/11/2022

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

One thing that occurs to me is that if you don't play much beyond the 8th fret, you are better off without "relief",which curves the neck upward.

In the diagram below, showing a straight neck vs the normal .028 upbow (relief), both with 1/8" at the 12th fret, and the same bridge height, the straight neck has a string height of .068" at the 5th fret, where you are likely to be playing a lot, where the relief one is .096" at the 5th fret—quite a bit higher.  You don't get any benefit from relief until you get to around the 8th fret, it equalizes at the 12th, and then the straight neck gets higher after that.

In other words, if you are playing in first and second positions, you are making it harder to play by adding relief.

If you are playing clawhammer, you certainly don't need relief, especially if you have a scoop.

Strobe high speed videos have pretty much disproven the popular notion of the strings vibrating in a sine curve fashion that has to be matched by a curve in the fingerboard.


My brain is struggling with this image... I would have thought the straight neck would be lower than the one with the bow in it with everything else being equal (at the 22nd fret).  It's interesting that it is actually slightly higher.

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