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Aug 17, 2022 - 8:57:23 PM
13596 posts since 6/2/2008

Without going into all the details, suffice it to say one of my banjos was disassembled while I swapped in some parts. Put it together last night, co-rods neutral as far as I can tell, tightened head to 90 on the DrumDial as a starting point, tuned up, intonated (Scorpion 2.2g bridge), Prucha Presto tailpiece (one of the new parts being swapped in).  Up to 12th or 14th fret, sounds good. 15th fret of first string kind of weak. 17th fret of 1st string not so good.

Sounds like something rattling or buzzing, so I check the tailpiece, all the hooks, thumbscrews, anything I think can move. Tried several bridges. A thick Snuffy tamed it some, but it lacked the clarity and definition of the Scropion. I check for fret buzz, but the strings all seem to be clearing the next higher fret. I even swapped out the Presto for the original 70s clamshell -- on which I had padded the cover earlier this year when I began to hear something.  This wasn't it.  More picking and listening helped me zero in on the sound being unpleasant sympathetic vibrations --  mostly the 4th string but the others to some extent. There's a discordant nature to the sound, so I double-check tuning and bridge location and they seem fine. It's late so I give up for the night. I know sympathetic vibrations are an important part of the banjo's sound, so I don't want to stop them. I just don't want them sounding out-of-tune and

Today I decided to bump the head up to 91 on DrumDial, which has been my preferred setting. I hope I'm not hearing things, but the vibrations and discordant after-effect are greatly reduced, almost not there. Actual playing at 15th fret and up sounds good.

I feel somewhat like I overlooked an obvious fix in not further increasing head tightness last night when this was happening. Even today before I tightened the head to 91, I added a little more padding under the clamshell cover, which I think had no effect.

So has anyone else experienced this connection of head tightness to the buzziness and out-of-tuneness of sympathetic vibrations way up the neck? Wondering if David Politzer (davidppp) in particular, has found anything like this in his research. Not looking to do away with sympathetic vibrations. They're what makes the banjo ring. Just want them to sound pleasant.

Aug 17, 2022 - 9:29:48 PM
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chuckv97

Canada

66151 posts since 10/5/2013

Hi Ken. I had a high pinging overtone on the 5th string a few weeks ago,, really annoying (to me anyway, maybe not to anyone listening) , so I loosened the head a bit and raised the tailpiece up slightly. Problem solved, although tightening the head and lowering the tailpiece could’ve done the job too - who knows? Lol. Much banjo set up is still a mystery to me. Changing humidity, thin head moving, bridge grooves going south, etc. The life of a banjo player.

Aug 17, 2022 - 11:00:20 PM
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13596 posts since 6/2/2008

I don't think I tried adjusting the tailpiece. It's the kind that sits on the tension hoop but the angle is completely adjustable. I'll experiment. I won't be loosening the head any. This problem has reminded me that I like the sound of 91 and most of my banjos seem to as well.

I know plenty of players -- most? -- like a G# head. And I like the sound when I hear it on others' banjos. But it never works for me. To my ear, 91 on DD is an A tap note. Don't know what G# translates to.

Aug 18, 2022 - 7:33:07 AM
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1406 posts since 1/9/2012

Old Hickory --

If 91 sounds to you like an A, I think that 90 will give you a G, which means that G# would be about half-way in between. That agrees with what others have posted from experience, but I use "convoluted rocket science" to connect the DrumDial number-to-tension conversion to the 6% frequency change of a half-step in pitch.

Regarding the OP sympathetic vibrations, the strings talk to a zillion different resonances of the rest of the banjo. Tightening the head will shift many of them, not just the ones of the head itself. Depending on the details, a very close match of string harmonic to something else can make a note more prominent or just a dud or get something to rattle. Our ideal is to have the tone of played notes to be consistent or change very slowly as we go through the full range of the instrument. Achieving that is what makes a fine Steinway Grand cost a fortune. It's the same issues, and some piano folks are very picky. One great thing about banjos is the DIY aspect.

Aug 18, 2022 - 8:28:11 AM
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14913 posts since 10/30/2008

Armrests vibrate. Tailpieces vibrate. ANYTHING that is loose will vibrate (like one tension hook or coord. rod).

I am not a huge believer in "neutral" coord rods because that can easily slip into loose coord. rods.

Tighten things.

And I agree that head tension can accentuate sympathetic vibrations of other banjo parts. But if you eliminate the sympathetic vibrating parts, then you can set your head tension anywhere you want it, where it gives the best overall "tone" for you.

Aug 18, 2022 - 8:39:57 AM
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10017 posts since 8/28/2013

Head tension and sympathetic vibrations - any connection?

Short answer: yes.

Head tension can over-emphasize or under-emphasize some frequencies but not others. Depending on what responds to a particular setting can cause one note to sound out of tune because if its an overtone which occurs, it will be a just intonation interval when the rest of the banjo is equal temperament.

Aug 18, 2022 - 9:36:11 AM
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76657 posts since 5/9/2007

Adding tension raises the bridge.

Aug 18, 2022 - 10:17 AM
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Bart Veerman

Canada

5299 posts since 1/5/2005
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Most heads are most efficient at DD 91-92, maybe that has something to do with it.

Aug 18, 2022 - 11:12:24 AM
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1406 posts since 1/9/2012

A heavy duty, state of the art, computer calculation used physical parameters of a typical banjo to conclude exactly what Bart V. just wrote. Of course, Bart's more trust-worthy. I was impressed that the computer guy could get it right.

Aug 18, 2022 - 1:16:34 PM
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thor363

USA

65 posts since 12/12/2021

quote:
Originally posted by steve davis

Adding tension raises the bridge.


Exactly what I found with diagnosing that old Aria. 4th was the worst of the bunch and I had to touch up the top nut as 4th was the most worn of the 4.

 

...and to Bart's credit ^^^above^^^ it's at 92 now and likes it there!

Edited by - thor363 on 08/18/2022 13:17:26

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Aug 18, 2022 - 1:44:05 PM
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Blackjaxe47

Canada

1657 posts since 6/20/2014

quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory

I don't think I tried adjusting the tailpiece. It's the kind that sits on the tension hoop but the angle is completely adjustable. I'll experiment. I won't be loosening the head any. This problem has reminded me that I like the sound of 91 and most of my banjos seem to as well.

I know plenty of players -- most? -- like a G# head. And I like the sound when I hear it on others' banjos. But it never works for me. To my ear, 91 on DD is an A tap note. Don't know what G# translates to.


I had a similar issue with my RB3, tried several of the fixes you have already tried. I found in this case head tension set at 92 and setting the tail-piece parallel to the head fixed the problem. First string was just sounding dead at the 15th and 17th fret, but what I did seemed to liven it up. OOPS, I also raised my string height at the 12th fret just a smigthen. Also check the co-rods make sure they are snug and not loose or over tightened.

Aug 19, 2022 - 8:47:34 AM
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76657 posts since 5/9/2007

I think the head tension note simply represents the desired tensal response when strung up.
Not the audible note's direct effect,rather the desired tension that note uncovers.

Aug 19, 2022 - 6:02:19 PM

13596 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by The Old Timer

I am not a huge believer in "neutral" coord rods because that can easily slip into loose coord. rods.


My version of neutral rods is they are tight at the neck end and then tightened enough at the tail end to be secure without deforming the rim -- which I assume is the case by my not detecting any change in string height as I tighten the tail end. When I reassembled the banjo the other night, I used two wrenches at once{ one each on the inside and outside nuts at the tail end of the lower rod.

I don't think these are going to become loose rods.

Aug 19, 2022 - 6:21:21 PM

13596 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

Head tension can over-emphasize or under-emphasize some frequencies but not others. Depending on what responds to a particular setting can cause one note to sound out of tune because if its an overtone which occurs, it will be a just intonation interval when the rest of the banjo is equal temperament.


To the extent I can understand what you're saying, it makes sense.

Most of the sympathetic vibrations on this banjo and my other banjos are in tune with the initiating note. These vbrations aren't.

Aug 19, 2022 - 6:31:36 PM

13596 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Bart Veerman

Most heads are most efficient at DD 91-92, maybe that has something to do with it.


If that's the case and if DD 91 equates to A, then what does that suggest about the G# that's supposed the tension most players shoot for?

Aug 19, 2022 - 6:43:09 PM

1305 posts since 11/9/2012

I found a roach in my banjo once. So, there's always that. laugh One never knows what can crawl inside the holes of a tone ring. lol 



 

Aug 19, 2022 - 9:57:14 PM

1406 posts since 1/9/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory
quote:
Originally posted by Bart Veerman

Most heads are most efficient at DD 91-92, maybe that has something to do with it.


If that's the case and if DD 91 equates to A, then what does that suggest about the G# that's supposed the tension most players shoot for?


Maybe AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE isn't the only criterion.

Aug 19, 2022 - 11:20:24 PM
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Bart Veerman

Canada

5299 posts since 1/5/2005
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory
quote:
Originally posted by Bart Veerman

Most heads are most efficient at DD 91-92, maybe that has something to do with it.


If that's the case and if DD 91 equates to A, then what does that suggest about the G# that's supposed the tension most players shoot for?


"Modern" convention? Dogma?

Personally, I prefer to get the most out of a banjo that it's designed for, and capable of, delivering. Getting the most volume would not be my goal but the greatest dynamic range between low and high volume is as that gives me the greatest opportunity to exploit musically - each note should sound clear and distinct instead of a thud down the neck and not as a click up the neck whether picked very softly or "smacked" real hard.

Of course, when reaching your preferred head tension the first thing to do is to play every note on every string to make sure you don't run into wolf notes - you up/down the head's tension to tune those out if they crop up. Yes, that could easily end up being a G# but that's not at all a given.

For many, but not all, clawhammer players neither of these methods apply as they prefer a mellower tone that only lower head tension settings can deliver.

Regardless of how, or with whatever method, you arrive at your personal preference for sound/tone/performance - your own ears always have the final say

Aug 20, 2022 - 6:14:01 AM
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10017 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory
quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

Head tension can over-emphasize or under-emphasize some frequencies but not others. Depending on what responds to a particular setting can cause one note to sound out of tune because if its an overtone which occurs, it will be a just intonation interval when the rest of the banjo is equal temperament.


To the extent I can understand what you're saying, it makes sense.

Most of the sympathetic vibrations on this banjo and my other banjos are in tune with the initiating note. These vbrations aren't.


It may be that the "out-of-tune" vibrations are not heard on your other banjos because they are not loud enough to hear over the others. Also, even if all the overtones you normally perceive are completely in tune, if one string produces a perfect "c" and another is making a perfect "B," they'll sound pretty crummy if they happen at the same time. If you haven't found any loose parts, chances are pretty good your issues could be related to head tension.

In my opinion, all banjos differ, and one can only get out of any instrument what's inThe set-up needs to be done with that in mind, This banjo may just be one that cannot be too loud due to its structure or design. One can't make a falling pillow sound like an anvil.

Aug 20, 2022 - 6:34:39 AM
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76657 posts since 5/9/2007

I like the extra power of an A head as far as projection without a sound system,but I prefer the balance of lows and highs I get with a G# head.

Aug 21, 2022 - 10:00:36 AM
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13596 posts since 6/2/2008

Thank you everybody who has shared thoughts, suggestions and experience.

There's a happy ending to report. As Bart says "your ears always have the final say" and my ears hear that I've solved the problem. The answer for those who don't want to read: Loosening the truss rod fixed it.

More boring detail . . .

As I said in the opening post, bumping up Drum Dial to 91 cleared up most of the discordant vibration at 17th fret. I didn't mention in that message that some slight sting, ping or buzz remained. It sounded a bit like fret buzz, but I could clearly see the first string was not fretting out above the 17th fret. The open D and low frets had a bit of this sting/ping, too, which made me finally suspect too little relief; fretboard too flat.

This morning I checked this. Fretting the first and fourth strings at 1 and 22 and eyeballing only I could see there was almost no clearance above the 7th fret. I loosened the truss rod nut maybe a sixth of a turn.

That did it! I believe the sting/ping high up was the sound of the string vibrating against frets lower down the neck -- behind the fretted note. Increasing relief cleared up the low fretted notes, of course. The remaining sympathetic vibrations up the neck are typical and in tune. That was probably cured mostly by the increase in head tension, but the increase in relief seem to have helped a bit more with these, too.

My wife, not knowing I had just made an adjustment in trying to solve a sound problem, commented on how good the banjo sounded -- specifically how nicely it rings. There you have it.

I also adjusted the tailpiece a bit yesterday. I tried both raising and lowering it (this is a 70s Gibson-stamped clamshell with adjustable angle). I ended up with the leading edge of the tailpiece close to where it was or maybe a hair lower. The underside is 5/16-inch above the head – which is the mid-point of a 5/8 bridge.

This all gets me thinking about tightness. Many parts of the banjo have to be tight so as not to buzz -- hooks, nuts, tailpiece, armrest. Some of these parts also need to have clearance from other parts.

But maybe tightness in some places isn't good. Maybe it stifles desirable vibration. I don't know. Just guessing here. Raising the tailpiece didn't sound good. Lowering it a lot seemed to choke sound. The old fashioned one-way rod in my neck does its job of keeping the neck toward flat by compressing the neck. Maybe by exerting just enough resistance to string tension to hold the neck in slight relief, it's allowing the neck to vibrate as it wants to, contributing to clearer sound.

Edited by - Old Hickory on 08/21/2022 10:01:18

Aug 21, 2022 - 10:58:49 AM
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ChunoTheDog

Canada

1707 posts since 8/9/2019

It has been my experience that most strange or weird tonal issues with banjos are almost always remedied with tinkering with head tension.

Heck, even 2 identical DD readings on different days do not seem to be equal. Sometimes I set up a banjo head at the usual 91 G#/A and it produces weird overtone and ringiness. So I back off on tension and bring it back up to that same 91 G#/A and voila! Like some dark voodoo magic the overtones are gone.

I agree with your assessment regarding the neck's vibration, too.

Glad you got your instrument up and running to your liking!
The set up nerd in me loves these troubleshooting threads.

Edited by - ChunoTheDog on 08/21/2022 10:59:29

Aug 21, 2022 - 1:17:28 PM
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13596 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by ChunoTheDog

Sometimes I set up a banjo head at the usual 91 G#/A and it produces weird overtone and ringiness. So I back off on tension and bring it back up to that same 91 G#/A and voila! Like some dark voodoo magic the overtones are gone.


Last month, in a consultation with a medical specialist to whom I was referred, I learned the term "idiopathic," which is a word derived from Greek roots meaning "one's own" and"suffering" or "disease." Doctors use it to mean "we don't know."

Of course, sounds -- if real -- have cause. But we may not always find the cause. Especially when it arises without our knowingly changing anything. And when we find the cause, we may not know how the banjo got that way.

I had in fact recently backed off the truss rod on this banjo. So why the relief should have been low, I don't know. Maybe summer heat and humidity -- or air conditioning -- caused the neck to move on its own. I don't know if that's even possible  All I know is the downright awful sound I was getting at 1st string 17th fret is gone and now the vibrations from adjacent strings are typical and pleasing.

Aug 21, 2022 - 3:53:01 PM

76657 posts since 5/9/2007

Concerning co rods getting loose Jimmy Cox told me about "locking" the nuts in place with a brush-touch of clear lacquer on the rod threads directly behind the nuts.
I prefer tightening the co rods and nuts firmly,instead.

Backing off the truss rod increases the bow.Tightening flattens.

Edited by - steve davis on 08/21/2022 15:55:36

Aug 21, 2022 - 4:17:05 PM
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4918 posts since 11/20/2004

What I have learned is there is nothing banjo that works every time on every banjo. There are generalities, but no certainties. I play banjo and golf, so I will always be chasing mysteries.

Aug 21, 2022 - 7:59:36 PM

13596 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by steve davis

Backing off the truss rod increases the bow.Tightening flattens.


Yeah, I know. I loosened the truss rod some time in the past few months. I don't remember why. Don't recall what I might have been hearing or seeing. But knowing that I had loosened the rod -- increasing relief -- not too long ago is one reason that I didn't immediately think of a too-tight rod or too-flat neck.

I would sooner expect relief to increase on its own than decrease.

One more thing to watch for.

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