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May 24, 2022 - 7:14:45 AM
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65 posts since 12/5/2004

Curious what everyone's favorite banjo head is at the moment? Here's a Banjo Comparison video of our last 6 banjos we finished up. The only difference between the first three banjos is the head, so that might help folks figure out what they do and don't like if you haven't had a chance to try them yet! Posted this here because I'm interested in hearing what most players like, banjo builders can be biased because we enjoy the process of installing / treating skin heads ;)
Thanks Luke




www.ozarkbanjo.com


May 24, 2022 - 7:26:24 AM
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mjt0229

USA

405 posts since 4/20/2015

On my current banjo, I've tried a renaissance head, a goat skin head, and a Stern calfskin head. I liked the Stern head the best.

I honestly believe that in your hands any one of those banjos sounds like magic. I liked the suede head the best, but was struck by how similar they sounded in general, with the exception that the calfskin heads did have a bigger bass response. I was particularly surprised by how much I liked the Fiberskyn head, and how it compared reasonably well with the suede head that was my favorite.

May 24, 2022 - 7:28:14 AM

Tuxedo

USA

21 posts since 12/31/2014

Those all sound wonderful, but the 3rd option (calfskin) sounds wonderful. It has depth and bass, but it preserves some of the bright tones and balances the overall sounds.

I've got an elite head on my Chuck Lee 12" (Dobson tone ring) right now but will be getting a skin head soon.

May 24, 2022 - 8:05:32 AM
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5289 posts since 5/9/2007

G.O.A.T.

Edited by - mrphysics55 on 05/24/2022 08:06:53

May 24, 2022 - 8:15:46 AM
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Eric A

USA

1497 posts since 10/15/2019

Those Whyte Laydies really stand out to my ear, but then...they always do! Regardless of which head.

May 24, 2022 - 8:21:05 AM
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Turpen1

USA

103 posts since 2/5/2011

Try a kangaroo hide: "Why is Kangaroo Leather so Strong? Kangaroo leather is very strong due to the structure of the collagen fibers in the skin. Unlike cows, sheep, or other animals kangaroos do not have sweat glands within their skin. This allows the skin to be a much more even, consistent structure."

....a fantastic hide. It's a little pricey, but could be your favorite head of all time.

May 24, 2022 - 8:22:26 AM
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Emiel

Austria

10140 posts since 1/22/2003

For me, it depends on the banjo. These are my banjos (all 11") with my head of preference:

  • Clifford Essex wood hoop C.E. Special openback: Remo top-frosted ("pre-EPA");
  • Deering/Vega Tubaphone openback: Remo top-frosted (thinly frosted, not like the newest generation);
  • Iida openback, deep multiply rim with 20-hole flathead tonering: Remo Fiberskyn;
  • Gibson TB-3 (with conversion neck) ball-bearing tonering: Taiwan Remo top-frosted;
  • Recording King RK-35: Remo top-frosted (thinly frosted, not like the newest generation).

The Iida also sounds great with a Remo clear head combined with a Sampson walnut bridge. The ball-bearing also sounds fine with the 5-Star frosted head. I've come away from the Renaissance head.

Edited by - Emiel on 05/24/2022 08:23:31

May 24, 2022 - 8:53:47 AM

137 posts since 12/27/2019

I tried that remo "suede" head on a 12-inch recently. To be blunt: hated it. Although it is often described as something in-between renaissance and fiberskyn, to me it was close to neither. Instead, the most artificial sounding of the synthetic heads.

I have a Balch/Stern calfskin on an 11-inch whyte laydie. Perfect match for that instrument.

Otherwise give me a Menzies goat. Love them, love them, love them! Every day of the week, twice on Sundays.

May 24, 2022 - 8:58:16 AM

137 posts since 12/27/2019

Turpen1 , where does one get a kangaroo hide in Los Estados Unidos?

Male/female, or does it matter?

The pouch or the backside?

May 24, 2022 - 9:52:02 AM
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RG

USA

3155 posts since 8/7/2008

Goat. I get the medium thickness goatskin from Elderly and mount them myself, have done hundreds of skin heads over the years, calf, goat, groundhog, and have found that for my playing, medium thickness natural goatskin with a thick two footed bridge is without a doubt the best sounding head material for a banjo - imho of course.

Edited by - RG on 05/24/2022 09:53:29

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May 24, 2022 - 10:00:56 AM
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11089 posts since 4/23/2004

Calf for my classic-style (or any vintage banjo), Fiberskyn for my clawhammer banjos, Remo for bluegrass (frosted inside).

I haven't met a goat I've liked. Too flexible/soft.

I'd jump on a kangaroo hide...wink

May 24, 2022 - 10:08:36 AM

carlb

USA

2379 posts since 12/16/2007

I like Stern slunk heads or calf skin (usually about 0.2mm thick).

May 24, 2022 - 10:35:19 AM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

26038 posts since 6/25/2005
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High-end calfskin, really hard to find.

For practical reasons, then, Remo Renaissance.

May 24, 2022 - 11:51:38 AM

1091 posts since 5/22/2021

I wonder how Bear skins, Squirrel skins, raccoon skins, deer skins, elk skins, and moose skins would all fare on the banjo??? Might be extremely tough, but who knows if it is worth it or not??

Russ A.

May 24, 2022 - 12:19:31 PM

Turpen1

USA

103 posts since 2/5/2011

I remember listening to a conversation years ago when Wayne Shrubsall and a gentleman from Calif. discussed a great kangaroo hide on an open back. It was thin enough, very tough and durable, very responsive, and did not have near the inconsistencies or difficulties with climate/humidity change…it was much more stable.
I guess one would Google “kangaroo hide” for resources.
If anyone tries kangaroo, I hope you’ll post your thoughts with a sound clip.

May 24, 2022 - 1:04:10 PM

5289 posts since 5/9/2007

quote:
Originally posted by RG

Goat. I get the medium thickness goatskin from Elderly and mount them myself, have done hundreds of skin heads over the years, calf, goat, groundhog, and have found that for my playing, medium thickness natural goatskin with a thick two footed bridge is without a doubt the best sounding head material for a banjo - imho of course.


Would you please take the time to tell us about your experience with the groundhog hide?

May 24, 2022 - 1:08:29 PM

5289 posts since 5/9/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Bill Rogers

....

For practical reasons, then, Remo Renaissance.


Like Mr. Bill says.

May 24, 2022 - 2:05 PM
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RG

USA

3155 posts since 8/7/2008

quote:
Originally posted by mrphysics55
quote:
Originally posted by RG

Goat. I get the medium thickness goatskin from Elderly and mount them myself, have done hundreds of skin heads over the years, calf, goat, groundhog, and have found that for my playing, medium thickness natural goatskin with a thick two footed bridge is without a doubt the best sounding head material for a banjo - imho of course.


Would you please take the time to tell us about your experience with the groundhog hide?


We took a bunch of them in TN about 15 years ago, and having read about their suitability for banjo heads, I decided to try it out.

After skinning, I tacked it to a board and fleshed it (removed the fat and other debris on the inside), cut it down the middle, and put it in a tub, fur side up, dumped about 3 inches of wood ash from a BBQ on it, then covered the ash with water to cover the ashes completely. Wood ash and water form lye, so after about 3-4 days depending on temperature (hotter the better), the fur will come off easily, Then, I stretched the heck out of it (they have a lot of give, not unlike goat) and tacked the thoroughly stretched hide to a frame to dry, not a board, you want air to get to both sides to dry quicker, so you want to use a frame.

You don't tan the hide (no salt yet), you leave it as is.  When it's good and dry for a couple days, I soaked it salt water overnight, cleaned it with Irish Spring soap the next morning (the pumice in that is good, you want a strong soap), and then soaked the hide in hot clean water for 5-10 minutes, then installed it on the banjo (it was a small 10" SS Stewart) and let it shrink up. It had a lot of stretch (more than I preferred), but it sounded okay, if not a little "thin." I've used them on some mountain banjos that I made and I think they are much better suited to a smaller diameter head than found on most banjos (11"-12"), and you have to get some BIG whistle-pigs to get a hide big enough for a pot that big. I wouldn't hesitate to use them on a mountain or gourd banjo though.

So pretty straightforward, they are a hide with a lot of "stretch", so once again, the smaller diameter works better to prevent too much sag in humid weather. A lot of old timers swear that cat hide is the best banjo head of all, but since I really like those critters, i wouldn't think of doing that. Besides. whistle pigs are pretty tasty once you get them all cleaned up, kind of a mix between mutton and rabbit.. they definitely didn't taste like chicken-haha!

I can install goatskin heads, and when stretched properly, they require no treatment to prevent sagging in damp weather... goat is also extremely durable and usually has a uniform thickness. I used bleached thin calfskin for years, but have switched over exclusively to medium goatskin due to the, to my ears, better tonal quality of that skin over calfskin.

Hope that answers your questions!

May 24, 2022 - 2:16:05 PM
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5289 posts since 5/9/2007

Excellent!

Thank you for that fine whistle-pig treatise.

May 24, 2022 - 2:27:28 PM
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5289 posts since 5/9/2007

I currently have two banjos, each with a goat skin head.

The 12 inch Burns #3 has a Thin, Natural, Pre-Mounted jbalch Select Hide setting on a cocobolo tone-ring.

The 11-1/2 Inch Sproull #13 has a Medium, Bleached, jbalch supplied hide setting on a rosewood tone-ring. Mr. Sproull installed this hide as Mr. Balch doesn’t provide 11-1/2 Inch pre-mounted heads.

I prefer the tone of medium thickness hides.




Edited by - mrphysics55 on 05/24/2022 14:34:27

May 24, 2022 - 3:16:23 PM
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rcc56

USA

4227 posts since 2/20/2016

quote:
Originally posted by BeeEnvironment

I wonder how Bear skins, Squirrel skins, raccoon skins, deer skins, elk skins, and moose skins would all fare on the banjo??? Might be extremely tough, but who knows if it is worth it or not??

Russ A.


It would have to be an extremely large squirrel . . .

The possum who sneaks onto the porch for food my cat leaves in his bowl might be getting big enough to be a candidate, but I like having a possum around.

May 24, 2022 - 6:13:30 PM
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8388 posts since 3/17/2005

Bee ... most of those skins are way too thick.

May 25, 2022 - 1:45:45 AM
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4119 posts since 4/29/2012
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by Silver_Falls

Turpen1 , where does one get a kangaroo hide in Los Estados Unidos?

Male/female, or does it matter?

The pouch or the backside?


Dogs don't  have  sweat glands in their skin either. Much easier to find than kangaroos where I live. And a whole kangaroo would be excessive. You can get an 11 inch head out of a dachshund. For a 12 inch head you can get 2 out of a cocker spaniel.

And to answer the question. My preference is for calf. I've got a couple of vintage banjos with (original ?) Jos Rogers heads  and these have lasted for about a century. So the cost per year is minimal.

May 25, 2022 - 2:32:50 AM

m06

England

11178 posts since 10/5/2006

Medium thickness goat skin on all my banjos except one…

…any preference becomes unintelligent dogma if we don’t remain open to evidence. I have one banjo (Cedar Mountain J200) that to my ears just has a nicer tone with a Ren head.

Tension also has a noticeable effect on the tone of my goat skin heads. It's about finding the sweet spot for each banjo. 
 

^^And I'm now left wondering if Andrew carries a tape measure with him at all times or just has a remarkably highly developed sense of surface area? wink

Edited by - m06 on 05/25/2022 02:46:32

May 25, 2022 - 8:11:23 AM
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210 posts since 4/10/2010

I've used white-tailed deer hides on several homemade gourd, mountain, and grain measure banjos. I prepare the skins as described by RG above and tan them using a solution of salt, vinegar, alum, and borax.

The instruments sound fine as long as the heads are stretched very tight, which takes some effort when working with tacks and a slippery wet skin. I had to redo a couple of my early efforts but my results improved with practice. Like RG I also use a thick homemade two-footed bridge which seems to spread the string pressure on the head and reduce sagging.

I've never tried a deerskin head on a banjo equipped with a metal hoop and tension hooks but think I will experiment with one now to compare with goatskin.

May 26, 2022 - 10:22:05 AM

Turpen1

USA

103 posts since 2/5/2011

quote:
Originally posted by AndrewD
quote:
Originally posted by Silver_Falls

Turpen1 , where does one get a kangaroo hide in Los Estados Unidos?

Male/female, or does it matter?

The pouch or the backside?


Dogs don't  have  sweat glands in their skin either. Much easier to find than kangaroos where I live. And a whole kangaroo would be excessive. You can get an 11 inch head out of a dachshund. For a 12 inch head you can get 2 out of a cocker spaniel.

And to answer the question. My preference is for calf. I've got a couple of vintage banjos with (original ?) Jos Rogers heads  and these have lasted for about a century. So the cost per year is minimal.


Love it....I envision a new model called the "Kay - 9".   :)

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