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Aug 8, 2022 - 6:33:17 AM
52 posts since 9/30/2016

How do I measure/determine the correct bridge placement on a fretless banjo?

Aug 8, 2022 - 6:39:47 AM
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mbanza

USA

2514 posts since 9/16/2007

Measure from the nut to the fifth string nut and multiply by four will give you the design scale length, though you can actually put the bridge anywhere on the head.  Some folks move their bridge in lieu of re-tuning or using a capo.

Edited by - mbanza on 08/08/2022 06:43:19

Aug 8, 2022 - 7:03:47 AM

RB3

USA

1430 posts since 4/12/2004

I can imagine several criteria that could be used as a basis for locating the bridge.

First, since it's a fretless banjo, you can just place it on the head at any random location.

Next, you could put it at a location that just looks good. Most banjos are designed so that the bridge ends up at a location that is closer to the tailpiece than it is to the neck. So, you could place the bridge closer to the taillpiece in such a way that the resulting geometry is pleasing to the eye.

Next, you could experiment with different locations and evaluate the effect that the locations have on the tone of the banjo. Then, choose the location that yields the best tone.

Finally, it could be that the manufacturer of the banjo intended that the banjo has a specified scale length. If you can find that information, then you can locate the bridge accordingly. If it's an old banjo, you may need to go to the Internet to see if you can find an old catalog or product specification sheet that would include a reference to an intended scale length.

I also like mbanza's approach.  Although you didn't specify that you have a 5-string banjo, it's pretty likely that it is a 5-string since it's fretless.

Edited by - RB3 on 08/08/2022 07:14:24

Aug 8, 2022 - 9:16:47 AM
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1659 posts since 4/29/2013

In the same vein as mbanza mentioned, I would have it so that the fifth fret note on the first string matches the placement of the fifth string pip as a place-marker or home point. If your banjo has side dots denoting frets, then it would be based on the distance from the nut to 12th fret location doubled, and then a hair more for intonation (12th fret note matching 12th fret harmonic, but with a fretless, close enuff is good enuff). 

Aug 8, 2022 - 11:05:05 AM

1406 posts since 1/9/2012

Melodic players are the only group that routinely fret the 5th string. If you don't feel a need to stop the 5th string while you play, the virtue of all the above advice is that the pip gives you a familiar point of reference. I believe that S.S. Stewart wrote somewhere that fretless banjos are a challenge, and, if you insist, you should stick with one rather than playing different sizes. In an earlier era, fretless banjos had ogees carved in the necks as position makers. However, without (or ignoring) markers, you can set the bridge where you like. Different positions will give you a different sounding banjo (for a variety or reasons), even if you tune to the same pitches. (How cool is that?) Yes, your pitch accuracy will likely suffer, but you get to decide what's important.

Aug 8, 2022 - 12:56:21 PM

614 posts since 5/29/2015

Violin family instruments (no frets) have standardized scale lengths for the most part. Violas are one exception. This allows any violinist the ability to play any violin without having to learn where the in-tune notes are all over again. An argument of questionable merit for standardizing scale length on fretless banjos.

There should be a sweet spot--sound wise--for bridge placement on a banjo. I have seen a ratio for distance away from the rim that the bridge should be, but can't remember it 7/11? maybe. Someone will chime in with the correct ratio.

Edited by - Banner Blue on 08/08/2022 12:56:49

Aug 8, 2022 - 1:32:52 PM

323 posts since 8/25/2009

Measuring a couple of fretted banjos I have hanging on my wall, I make it about  3" x 7" for a 10" head and 3" x 7 3/4" for a 10 3/4" head.  The bridge intonations are good on both, but one is 120 years old and the other maybe 100 years.   

Aug 8, 2022 - 4:46:25 PM
Players Union Member

Lorilee

USA

52 posts since 9/30/2016

Thanks All
You all taught me some valuable stuff today, and I thank you very much. A fretless is a new adventure for me, so you may hear from me again with more questions! Y'all are great!

Aug 8, 2022 - 8:58:43 PM
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Bart Veerman

Canada

5298 posts since 1/5/2005

Like others have said, where ever you like. Practically speaking though, if you've played fretted 5-string banjos before then place the bridge at about the same distance from the nut as your other banjo(s), about 26 1/4 inch from the nut, and chances are your fingers will feel the most "at-home."

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