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May 22, 2022 - 7:18:53 AM
480 posts since 3/11/2004

I recently bought a couple of cheap Asian clamshell tailpieces with the idea of seeing if they were any good. The "mousetrap" lid was a pain to deal with, and the tailpiece hook that sits on top of the tension hoop (after the tailpiece is put on the banjo) was too long and needed to be filed so that the hook would clear the head. The metal ledge on the tailpiece that sits under the head's stretcher band was too long and touched the tone ring, so that needed to be filed.

After doing the filing, the tailpiece mounted OK but sounded pretty horrible (like the banjo had turned into an electric guitar that wasn't plugged into an amp). There was lots of sustain, huge loss in volume, etc. I thought that the tailpiece was a total waste of money (which was minimal), but then thought about removing the mousetrap lid and spring.

After doing this, the tailpiece was of course much lighter, and the sound was much, much better. I don't know if it will sound better than the non adjustable Presto that I removed to test the clamshell tailpiece, but it has only been on the banjo a few minutes, and is already sounding pretty good, and there is lots of adjustment possible, though I generally like to not put much downward pressure on the bridge, so I set the tailpiece adjustment screw so it is only putting minimal downward pressure on the front edge of the tailpiece. I could get a crisper sound by lowering the front edge of the tailpiece with the adjustment screw but of course, there was bass and fullness of tone sacrificed for the increased perception of more treble. The right amount of treble vs bass / fullness of tone is of course a personal preference.

May 22, 2022 - 11:58:31 AM

Alex Z

USA

4861 posts since 12/7/2006

From your experimentation, do you think it was simply the added weight of lid that was affecting the sound?  Or some other aspect of the lid?

May 22, 2022 - 2:04:26 PM
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Blackjaxe47

Canada

1645 posts since 6/20/2014

The major problem IMO...is the spring loaded lid can cause many problems. They can rattle, cause tinny overtones and generally a pain in the butt when changing strings. Here is how I overcame those issues, first I took some double sided tape and weather-stripping and attached that to the under-side of the lid. So now when the lid is closed the weather-stripping acts like a clamp....no more tinny over-tones. Next when I am changing strings I took a piece of wood dowel about the diameter of a pencil about 4" long. I put that under the raised lid and now it stays open when I change the strings, when finished throw it into your case compartment for the next time. I also have to add that I only use top quality Prucha tailpieces, 2 hump design......they are rock solid and heavy.

May 22, 2022 - 2:12:20 PM
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TN Time

USA

283 posts since 12/6/2021

My Fender FB58 had a cheap thin metal clamshell tailpiece. No matter what I did to it; i.e., felt under the lid, etc., the tinny overtones would not stop. I replaced it with a heavy Gold Tone Price type tailpiece and the tinny overtones went away.

My 1970's Fender Artist has Gibson clamshell tailpiece and it works great and has no overtones. Someone replaced the original tailpiece with the Gibson one somewhere during its' 50 years of existence. I'm not worried about "period correct" as long as it sounds as great as it does.


Robert

Edited by - TN Time on 05/22/2022 14:18:00

May 22, 2022 - 2:28:05 PM

480 posts since 3/11/2004

quote:
Originally posted by Alex Z

From your experimentation, do you think it was simply the added weight of lid that was affecting the sound?  Or some other aspect of the lid?


I think the added weight of the lid caused the problems with the sound. The tailpiece is fairly light without the lid - not too much heavier than the Presto that was on the banjo (which was a flimsy Chinese one made with very thin brass that bent easily - but sounded OK - loud and fairly bright). The clamshell without the lid might even weigh less than a Prucha Presto, but I didn't do a comparison before doing the experiment.  

May 22, 2022 - 2:47:53 PM

Alex Z

USA

4861 posts since 12/7/2006

Interesting. Tailpiece weights have not been explored much -- most of the differences in tone are attributed to the design. 
 

Compared to bridges, where pickers debate down to the hundredth of a gram. 

May 22, 2022 - 3:27:46 PM

13319 posts since 6/2/2008

I don't like clamshell tailpieces, for reasons already mentioned but especially for the bad sounds from the cover vibrating. I think I've fixed mine with a piece of plastic scrubber strip such as gets stuck on the edge of a mop sponge. I didn't have the right size of self-adhesive foam strip.

So why do I even use a clamshell if I don't like them? Because this one says "Gibson" and is correct for my mongrel 70s RB-250. I've thought of replacing it with a Gibson-stamped Prucha Presto-style tailpiece from Greg Boyd, but they're out of stock right now.

The clamshell tailpiece mounts the same as the tailpiece that was common in the 60s and 70s. It was on the late 60s bowtie RB-250, the whole run of Fender Artist, I think (see attached photo), and on the early 70s Kasuga-made bowtie banjos. These tailpieces have that same bracket that makes the tailpiece sit on the tension hoop. This tailpiece might have been called an old style Waverly. Now that I think of it, the current Waverly tailpieces have that bracket, too. Combination of head crown and tightness can certainly make the bracket hit the head.

I don't think the old or current version have the same horizontal stabilizing bar Peter described: the one touching the tone ring skirt. I think that bar is there to keep the back of the tailpiece in a vertical orientation, since it doesn't slam up against the back side of the tension hoop like a Presto, Kershner or Price.


Edited by - Old Hickory on 05/22/2022 15:28:01

May 22, 2022 - 3:58:48 PM

480 posts since 3/11/2004

quote:
Originally posted by Alex Z

Interesting. Tailpiece weights have not been explored much -- most of the differences in tone are attributed to the design. 
 

Compared to bridges, where pickers debate down to the hundredth of a gram. 


I think that the weight of the moveable section of the tailpiece that is between the bridge and the point where the tailpiece meets the tension hoop or where the "head" of the tailpiece joins the thicker section that clips into the mount - in Fults tailpieces) does make a difference. I bring up Fults tailpieces because some people have criticized their high overall weight as being detrimental to the banjo's sound quality, but I have found that if adjusted properly, you can get a properly adjusted Fults tailpiece (with one of the lighter weight heads) to sound at least as loud as a Presto (albeit with perhaps a bit more sustain) and having the same basic sound as a Presto. I think that is because the part of the tailpiece that sits over the head is fairly light in weight even though the mount itself is heavy.

May 22, 2022 - 4:09:04 PM

480 posts since 3/11/2004

Ken Norkin wrote:

"I don't think the old or current version have the same horizontal stabilizing bar Peter described: the one touching the tone ring skirt. I think that bar is there to keep the back of the tailpiece in a vertical orientation, since it doesn't slam up against the back side of the tension hoop like a Presto, Kershner or Price."

The "horizontal stabilizing bar" would keep the vertical (non-moving mount section) part of the tailpiece away from the tension hoop if the adjustment screw is tightened. I guess I would rather have the tailpiece mount touch the tension hoop (or the hoop part of the head) rather than the skirt of the tone ring. It might not make that much difference, as I think the biggest factor in the improved sound I got was that the mousetrap lid part of the tailpiece was removed, and the weight significantly decreased.

May 23, 2022 - 5:47:09 AM
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Fathand

Canada

12012 posts since 2/7/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory
 This tailpiece might have been called an old style Waverly. Now that I think of it, the current Waverly tailpieces have that bracket, too. Combination of head crown and tightness can certainly make the bracket hit the head.

 


That is the new style Waverly, this is the old one. Sorry the picture is not clear enough to read the Waverly name on it.


Edited by - Fathand on 05/23/2022 05:48:23

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May 23, 2022 - 5:58:05 AM
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Eric A

USA

1500 posts since 10/15/2019

Some cheap clamshells you can take the cover off entirely and put it back together, some you can't. The really cheap ebay ones I find you can. And then yes if you put it on the grinder and make sure that little lip is not poking into the head, then yes you have one of my very favorite tailpieces.

May 23, 2022 - 7:11:11 AM

13319 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Fathand
That is the new style Waverly, this is the old one. Sorry the picture is not clear enough to read the Waverly name on it.

Thanks for the correction. So the current one is the old style brought back and the one from 50 years ago is the new style that's no longer in use.

Well, at least I got it right that it was some type of Waverly.

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