As mentioned on another section of the forum, I recently acquired a Rettberg & Lange 5 string from around 1900. I plan to put a calfskin head and nylon strings on it. It's in decent shape but missing the hooks and nuts (on order) and tailpiece (also on order). I was also able to find a reasonably period correct dowel/rim bracket.
My question for those of you who have done skin heads (I've only done one small banjo uke many years ago) is: The tension hoop on this banjo (which I believe to be original) is beveled and has NO cutout for the strings coming from the neck - do I just install the head low enough for the top of the hoop to be even with the top of the rim where the neck meets it. I guess it would be like using a medium or high crown plastic head. Am I seeing this correctly? I don't want to get a wet skin and not line things up right.
With no cut-out, you can line up the tension hoop however you want. I have always found it preferable to put the tension hoop's joint under the tailpiece so that it doesn't show. One hint I'll offer is to not do any trimming right away. Sometimes things don't go as planned, and if you haven't trimmed the head, you'll still have enough skin left to start over again. If you've already trimmed off excess, chances are you'll need to get another head in order to make another installation attempt. There are many places to get instructions, but most I've seen don't mention holding off on the final trimming until you are certain everything else is fine.
I've never found skin head installation to be difficult, but things do sometimes go south even for the experienced person. Good luck!
Edited by - G Edward Porgie on 05/19/2022 16:06:59
You want the tension hoop to be higher than the top of the rim. skin banjo heads stretch in the first 6 months of installation and then stabilize. If your initial set up has the top of the tension hoop level with the top of the rim, it will soon pull down so the tension hoop is lower than the rim and maybe the flesh hoop will bottom out on the shoes or neck notch.
YouTube has instructions. banjered
I would set the tension hoop at least 1/8" above the top of the head initially (maybe a little more depending on how tight you pull the hide when it is wet).
After it is dry and trimmed, you can moisten the hide slightly (while on the rim) - and pull the tension hoop lower so that the strings pass over.
See instructions here for stretching the crown after the head is mounted and cured: jbalch's Photos - Banjo Hangout
Thanks for all the help!! I got my hooks today and installed the low collar Remo head that came with the banjo. At best, I've only got about 1/8" between the bottom of the hoop and the top of the dowel stick hole with the head pretty tight. Even if I could get the bottom of the hoop down to the level of the top of the dowel hole, the top of the tension ring will still be above the fingerboard. I'll wait until I get my tailpiece and install strings and find out where everything lands and try to figure it out from there. I guess the action up the neck on these banjos doesn't have to be super low anyway as long as the strings clear the top of the tension ring?
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