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Aug 10, 2022 - 10:26:46 PM
5299 posts since 1/5/2005

Many discussions about it over the years but always from the "what sound/tone do I like best" perspective.

How about effiency? I don't recall reading much, if anything, about that. Over the years I've found that frosted and clear heads (sorry, I didn't check them fiberskin jobbies as they're not my favourite) are most responsive/active/alive/efficient at Drum Dial 91~92 tension.

Heads tighter than that will start choking off the low base (4th string) the frequencies the tighter you get. Yup, loosen them heads for "mellow" tone, no prob.

Think about it though: the head, and its tension, kinda is the "engine that powers a banjo." When a racing car engine is designed to deliver the greatest amount of power and torque at, lets say at 12,000 RPM, and you drive it at only 8,000 RPM - that may feel real comfy, but you're sure not gonna win any races that way.

OK, so what the heck am I getting at? Imagine you just bought a $2,000 dream-boat banjo and you don't want it to sound too loud/sparky alive, or whatever, and you dial down the head's tension to about 87~88. Yup, that may sound nice, or more tolerable to your ears, but in real life, hmm..., you now deflated yer dreamboat banjo down to half, or more, of its original value - you just wasted a bunch of dollars. Then again, why not: thank you, the economy loves you!

The greater the dynamic range (the spread between high and low volume) an instrument can offer you, the better. Being able to exploit the huge dynamic range (read high and low volume) available from your banjo is up to a musician to realize and milk it for all it's worth. Yeah, I get it, practicing  playing softly might be a chore...

Efficient head tension does amazing stuff to any banjo's performance. Oops, yup, a late night here again and I guess my thoughts turned into another rant...

[/rant off]

Added: oops, forgot to mention: budget priced banjos (MB100s etc.) simply cannot handle getting their heads tightened to this kinda tension - don't even try it else your tension hooks are guaranteed to fail!.

Edited by - Bart Veerman on 08/10/2022 22:36:04

Aug 11, 2022 - 12:50:06 AM
Players Union Member

Peter C (Moderator)

Sweden

1125 posts since 1/31/2008

Pure efficiency may not be the top priority on every picker's lists. But I agree that it should play some part in the setup.

I'm sure it's not just me who have tried to make a certain banjo sound in a way which it was never intended to. I had a Wildwood Paragon that I unsuccessfully tried to make sound like a Gibson prewar. What I choose to call the "voice" of that banjo was just too different. I also had the same banjo set up to sound tubbier than usual (less efficient to use your concepts) since I used a pickup that made everything sound very bright.

Efficiency will also be a compromise if a capo is used. I have yet to play a banjo that sounds the same when capoed up to and including the fifth fret. I for one have zero ambition to change the setup every time I move or add a capo... Maybe I need a banjo for each key, now that's a thought!

While I'm at it, I'll just recap the order of my last setup of my current banjo (TB-2 conversion):
- Adjust head with drum dial to around G# (was too tight before). Got more power overall.
- Switched existing Presto tailpiece to a spare Kershner, but with no extra tension on the adjuster screw. Got more bite and ring, in a very nice prewar-y way.
- A couple of days later, turned the screw holding the tailpiece to the flange a bit further so the tailpiece sat closer to the tension hoop, and tightened the adjuster screw a tad or two. Bliss!

Edited by - Peter C on 08/11/2022 01:26:11

Aug 11, 2022 - 2:19:27 AM

Bill H

USA

1973 posts since 11/7/2010

One thing that I notice changing with head tension is the feel of the strings. At higher head tension they can feel stiffer and at lower head tension a bit softer to the touch. I find myself looking for a balance of both sound and feel when adjusting head tension.

Aug 11, 2022 - 4:46:05 AM
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14863 posts since 6/29/2005
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Dynamic range is an interesting subject not often talked about with banjos, which are usually played fortissimo at all times. It's my observation that loudness is considered to be highly desirable in banjo music.

I once played the banjo in a theatrical production of Spoon River Anthology, a spooky play, and was required to use great restraint when playing behind an actor delivering a quiet passage.  I remember playing in a minor tuning and having the head not so tight (this was in an era well before drum dials).  I wound up playing a banjo lute for some of the music because one actress wanted to kill me for ruining her delivery during rehearsals—I just couldn't play softly enough with a banjo and fingerpicks—good use of a banjo lute.

I may be able to dig up a sound file of that tune.

Anyway, I think it comes off better in lower pitch than capoed up, better with minor / modal tunes, and a lower head tension makes it easier to do.

Aug 11, 2022 - 5:00:06 AM
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banjoy

USA

10428 posts since 7/1/2006

To take Bart's analogy and run with it ... not every car is or can be assumed to be a race car. Not everything is a race. There's plenty of room for everything in-between a perfectly tuned race car and a pile of scrape metal in the pick-your-parts junkyard.

Lots of cars are perfect for their intended use. Some are fuel efficient, some are sporty and fun, some are stodgy luxury boats and the road. All have their places in car world and their supporters and followers.

In the local craigslist right now are several really nice low mileage all original Rolls Royce cars for sale ... sweet.

In the early 1980s I owned a Ford Fiesta which was super cheap to buy and own, was sporty as heck and one of the most fun cars to drive I've ever owned.

We're not all driving race cars in a race. Some of us just need a car to drive, and everyone has their own preferences and needs. Banjos (and banjo setups) are kinda like that too.

My humble opinion FWIW...

===========

EDIT TO ADD:  ... but if you buy a Ferrari and drive on dirt back roads, then yeah, point well taken smiley

Edited by - banjoy on 08/11/2022 05:04:24

Aug 11, 2022 - 7:45:36 AM

10013 posts since 8/28/2013

I pretty much agree with banjoy, and I'll add that the player usually knows the sound/response he seeks and how to arrive at that sound. A good player makes music even when confronted with bad banjos. I doubt if "efficiency" is his main criterion. Sometimes, a player needs to de-emphasize the racing ideal and simply accompany others, which involves way more than volume, and may even mean switching to banjo-lute.

Put simply, some players like Gibsons but some prefer Vegas, some like Stellings, Odes, or Stewarts. There are reasons why there are choices: no two players want the same sound..

Aug 11, 2022 - 8:02:59 AM
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Bart Veerman

Canada

5299 posts since 1/5/2005

I should have known better than to post this kinda stuff late at night...

Ken LeVan yes, hardly ever talked about here and you came up with perfect examples.

About the DYNAMIC range: the range between low and high volume is a hint of what's possible/doable for an instrument but I forgot to mention: at low volume - when you barely pick/touch the string, you still should hear a clear, not-at-all-muffled, note. When you really pound the string - you shouldn't get rattles or whatever wolf tones. The greater this dynamic range means that your finger won't have to work near as hard to produce volume/loudness when needed, and still come up with great sound.

banjoy Yeah, I should have started that paragraph with "Pretend you're a race car driver"

All in all, using the dynamic range as a starting point, instead of the typical G# note for a setup, could easily let you get a lot closer to let your banjo strut all of its stuff that it's designed & made to be capable of delivering to ensure you get your money's worth.

Aug 11, 2022 - 9:25:01 AM
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1904 posts since 2/9/2007

Yeah, buddy!

A couple of wrenches and a little curiosity will allow one to make modifications to a banjo that would require a shop full of specialized tools and some very high-level luthiery skills to do on any other stringed instrument.

It's an attractive feature, but it also makes it easy to get side-tracked into tweaking your instrument to alter your sound in ways which would be much better achieved by modifications to your playing. You'll most likely wind up restricting the tone and dynamic range of your banjo, which will impede, rather than encourage, the development of your playing technique.

Aug 11, 2022 - 9:37:10 AM

mjt0229

USA

430 posts since 4/20/2015

In the double bass world (my main musical area), there's a lot of discussion about the choice of strings. One of the major factors that comes up a lot is the difference between high and low tension strings. It affects playability, for sure, but it also controls how much downward pressure is placed on the top of the bass, which serves much the same purpose as the head on the banjo.

My observation is that some basses "like" high tension strings with a lot of downward pressure - it brings out the maximum volume and allows the player to exert a large range of forces on the instrument. Some instruments, however, are choked off by high-tension strings - they impede the ability of the top to resonate freely and they lose all life. This has a lot to do with the thickness and graduation of the top, the shape of the arching, the stiffness and weight of the wood, etc, not to mention the breakover angle (the angle the strings make as they cross the bridge).

Notably, the differences in response to string tension don't seem to correlate with the quality of the bass. Instead, it's an (expensive*) optimization problem, and players spend a lot of time figuring out the right combination of strings that will produce the tone and resonance they seek (as well as the playing experience they want, depending on whether they're playing psychobilly or jazz or classical).

I expect that this is a long-winded metaphor for the same thing in banjos - some are going to "like" high tension, some aren't. It probably depends a bit on strings, bridge height, the location of the bridge, the playing style, etc. I'm not sure that rolling off tension is exactly equivalent to "deflating value".

 

*expensive because an average set of double bass strings costs upwards of $250 compared to the roughly $5-8 I might spend on a set of D'Addario EJ69s...

Edited by - mjt0229 on 08/11/2022 09:38:40

Aug 11, 2022 - 10:27:55 AM

76650 posts since 5/9/2007

I think people that like a looser 88-89 tension aren't giving away anything.They just like the sound of their banjo at that tension.

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Aug 11, 2022 - 10:31:39 AM

ChunoTheDog

Canada

1704 posts since 8/9/2019
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Earl once said there's 2 types of banjos....stage banjos and couch banjos.

I would imagine he was referring to this very thing. loud/bright rig for the stage, and something more subdued for couch picking.

Aug 11, 2022 - 2:51:42 PM

76650 posts since 5/9/2007

It used to be more important with old or no sound systems.
Now you can perform onstage with a cheap,weak banjo that can play to 1000 people through a good pick-up or mic.

Aug 11, 2022 - 3:34:53 PM
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4133 posts since 9/12/2016
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I have been using that" dynamics'' word  quiet a bit myself lately--

Keeping 2 banjos up and running---- comparing them always --lets me know one is loud beyond good tone or whimpy and they both can always get reset--It is never ending -----don't know if it is --the player or the weather--the compromise between tone and volume I call it

Edited by - Tractor1 on 08/11/2022 15:39:37

Aug 12, 2022 - 5:34:47 AM

martyjoe

Ireland

197 posts since 3/24/2020

quote:
Originally posted by mjt0229

In the double bass world (my main musical area), there's a lot of discussion about the choice of strings. One of the major factors that comes up a lot is the difference between high and low tension strings. It affects playability, for sure, but it also controls how much downward pressure is placed on the top of the bass, which serves much the same purpose as the head on the banjo.

My observation is that some basses "like" high tension strings with a lot of downward pressure - it brings out the maximum volume and allows the player to exert a large range of forces on the instrument. Some instruments, however, are choked off by high-tension strings - they impede the ability of the top to resonate freely and they lose all life. This has a lot to do with the thickness and graduation of the top, the shape of the arching, the stiffness and weight of the wood, etc, not to mention the breakover angle (the angle the strings make as they cross the bridge).

Notably, the differences in response to string tension don't seem to correlate with the quality of the bass. Instead, it's an (expensive*) optimization problem, and players spend a lot of time figuring out the right combination of strings that will produce the tone and resonance they seek (as well as the playing experience they want, depending on whether they're playing psychobilly or jazz or classical).

I expect that this is a long-winded metaphor for the same thing in banjos - some are going to "like" high tension, some aren't. It probably depends a bit on strings, bridge height, the location of the bridge, the playing style, etc. I'm not sure that rolling off tension is exactly equivalent to "deflating value".

 

*expensive because an average set of double bass strings costs upwards of $250 compared to the roughly $5-8 I might spend on a set of D'Addario EJ69s...


This is very interesting. I've only made roughly a dozen banjos with drum heads to date. They come in 4 or 5 different thicknesses some single ply, some double ply & I make banjos with 5 different sized pots from 10" to 14". Add resonators for more complexity. So I'm still on the steep learning curve. Some of the thicker heads don't come to life until they reach 95 on my drum dial. I haven't played around with too many different strings yet, but I do tweak each bridge accordingly. When I played saxophone I would file each Reed to achieve the desired tone & response which is like what we do with our bridges. 

Aug 12, 2022 - 3:07:40 PM

76650 posts since 5/9/2007

The thicker 5 Star heads didn't come to life until very tight,either and had a very narrow range of tension...kind of a one-way head.

Aug 12, 2022 - 3:26:44 PM

10013 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by ChunoTheDog

Earl once said there's 2 types of banjos....stage banjos and couch banjos.

I would imagine he was referring to this very thing. loud/bright rig for the stage, and something more subdued for couch picking.


There are also two kinds of potatoes.  ONe is for eating, but the other is the well-known "couch potato." taht model always refuses to be baked, probably because it's already had its important parts cooked.

Aug 12, 2022 - 3:31:26 PM

76650 posts since 5/9/2007

There's another kind of potato.
It goes in the front...not the back.

Aug 12, 2022 - 10:56:05 PM

Bart Veerman

Canada

5299 posts since 1/5/2005

Keep in mind folks, I was my intention to post this only as an alternative method to the tighten-the-head to a G# as I'm one of the unlucky ones who simply cannot hear a G# head punked/scratched note.

I'm all too aware of the fact that this is way, way, too tight for many clawhammer players so there's no need to take me to task for that smiley 

Edited by - Bart Veerman on 08/12/2022 23:03:00

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