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Feb 29, 2024 - 5:27:18 PM
66 posts since 12/4/2023

Hello, I recently purchased a 1994 Gibson RB-3 and I really like it. It sounds amazing and is easy to play. The metal is pretty filthy on it, so I thought I might take it apart and give the metal a good once over with some Never Dull or Simmicrome. Get her all shined up it and let her know that she’s loved.
I have never taken apart and reassembled a banjo before. I do have a good mechanical mind and I watched Arthur Hatfield’s DVD on assembling and setting up a banjo, so I have a good idea what I’m getting in to.
Does anybody have any advice or warnings for someone undertaking this project for the first time?
Thank you in advance

Feb 29, 2024 - 7:36:50 PM
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kevin

USA

1301 posts since 5/4/2003

" I really like it. It sounds amazing and is easy to play"

I like the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it " You can take it apart and polish everything, put it back together and it may not sound the same. I'm sure you have the skills to do that but do you want too ? You can use Q tips and a small amount of polish to get rid of some of the crud without taking anything apart.
The head will break one day, so when you change it you can polish everything as most of the cruddy parts will have to be removed.
My opinion, others will vary.

Feb 29, 2024 - 7:48:20 PM
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5649 posts since 5/29/2011

If you monkey around with it are you sure you can get it back exactly like it was when you started? It sounds to me like you have enough confidence in your ability to do it. That being the case, give it a try. If you have doubts, follow Kevin's advice.

Feb 29, 2024 - 8:26:47 PM
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760 posts since 11/9/2021

All recommendations are to never use polish of any sort on plated metal parts. Polishes, even those like SImichrome or Never-dull have abrasives in them that will eventually go thru the plating. A mild soap solution followed by water seems to be the recommended treatment.

Feb 29, 2024 - 8:40:35 PM
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66 posts since 12/4/2023

Kevin and Mark, you guys definitely reinforced my fear that if I take it apart and clean it that it might not sound the same!
As far as the head tension and tailpiece, I have already monkeyed around with them a bit, so I’m not too worried on that front, but I would really worry about taking the neck off and getting it back on the way it is now.
Maybe I’ll do the brush and q-tip clean up on it.
Al, thank you for the info on the abrasives! That’s very good to know. I had read some previous threads on this site where the majority of people said they use those things.
I definitely want to keep this banjo nice for the next picker who ends up with it, so I really appreciate that info!

Mar 1, 2024 - 2:57:07 AM
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Bill H

USA

2285 posts since 11/7/2010

Alcohol cleans plated banjo parts pretty well. I typically take new old banjos apart for cleaning. The one tip I would offer is to work carefully on a table covered with a towel or drop with enough space so you won't drop and part and lose track of it--it is surprisingly easy to do. Having Tupperware-type containers with lids is handy for containing and sorting nuts and stuff. You can't be too organized for this project.

Mar 1, 2024 - 3:00:35 AM
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3140 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,

You have to take a banjo apart when changing the head. My last take-apart session made my RB-12 sound much better. The action came down so that the 11/16” bridge is stretching its efforts.

Besides, a previous owner’s thinking maybe under an influence that altered good banjo setup. Shims, misalignment, and incorrect tension are possible.

A banjo’s mojo is more fear of the unknown than mystic. A banjo always sounds different under high humidity conditions and low. Bridges and tailpieces move. Grimaces become smirks just because it was put in it’s case.

To think, a banjo tinkerer is what we all become. Jump in.

Mar 1, 2024 - 3:45:49 AM
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5407 posts since 11/20/2004

Banjos can be finicky. In my experience, if you ever get one exactly like you want it, do not disassemble it. It may settle back in to sound the same and may not. Most of the time, it changes in some way with a teardown and reassembly.

Mar 1, 2024 - 6:41:46 AM

RB3

USA

1984 posts since 4/12/2004

If you like the way the banjo sounds now, you'll want it to sound the same way when you re-assemble it and do a new setup. That means that you'll want the head tension to be the same as it is now. To accomplish that, I would suggest that you get yourself a Drum Dial. That will allow you take and record Drum Dial readings on the head as it is currently tightened, and then you can use those readings as a guide when you re-tighten the head as part of your new setup.

Also, as you disassemble the instrument, take lots of photographs that can be used as references when you put it all back together, and you do your new setup.

Edited by - RB3 on 03/01/2024 06:46:37

Mar 1, 2024 - 6:59:19 AM

1468 posts since 11/25/2007

If you are happy with the current setup, tone, and playability then measure the things that you can as a reference for re-assembling. Things like head tension, string height, bridge placement, tailpiece height, etc. You can do this!

Mar 1, 2024 - 7:01:20 AM

66 posts since 12/4/2023

Well, after reading everyone’s feedback .so far, and hemming and hawing for hours, I think the ‘tinkerer’ in me is winning. I just watched Richie Dobson’s video on removing and reinstalling a neck and I feel pretty confidant on that front.
I do have a drum dial already, because I have been experimenting with head tension on some of my different banjos. And thank you for the tip to take lots of pictures, Wayne. I feel like whenever I’m doing something like this and I take too many pictures, I never need them. But when I don’t take pictures….. well, I always wish I had

Mar 1, 2024 - 7:02:40 AM

66 posts since 12/4/2023

Thank you Randy! As soon as my cat gets off my lap, I will be getting started!

Mar 1, 2024 - 7:10:33 AM

66 posts since 12/4/2023

I’m going to rewatch the Arthur Hatfield DVD on assembly and set up too real quick before I get started

Mar 1, 2024 - 7:27:05 AM
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Alex Z

USA

5769 posts since 12/7/2006

Take that banjo apart and get the previous owner's DNA and any french fry grease off of it!   smiley  Put on a new head, too.  As Mr. Arado banjo says, have to take a banjo apart when a new head is put on, and this is done all the time.  No need to fear disassembly.  It's not the disassembly/re-assembly that affect the sound, but rather the fine tuning adjustments after the re-assembley.  

Good advice to take some measurements -- neck relief, string height at 12th fret, height of tailpiece where the strings come off toward the bridge.

Forget the Drum Dial for now.  You'll set the new head tension to the optimal point by ear, and then take the Drum Dial reading.

The RB3 is nickel plated.  Ain't going to rub through that with Nev-R-Dull (which I use) on a one-time (or even 10-time) basis -- won't be polishing it every day.  No need to try for perfect mirror finish, just  get the tarnish off the top surface of the metal.  Some of the tarnish won't come off, so be aware of that.  There may be some pitting, or leaching from metals underneath the plating, and can leave those things alone.

Field strip it, get it clean and DNA/gunk free, Nev-R-Dull on the nickel and Virtuoso Polish on the finished wood parts (Virtuoso Cleaner first if there is a waxy build up), fretboard oil or Mr. Duck's on the fretboard and wipe off completely.  Then it will be yours.

Enjoy the process of getting the instrument in good shape,  and enjoy playing it.  

Mar 1, 2024 - 7:47:44 AM
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2343 posts since 5/19/2018

A lot of thoughts being expressed here, so I’ll add mine.

Based on decades of experience, and from disassembling uncountable banjos, if you take a banjo apart, clean everything, and then reassemble everything, even if done 100% correctly and up to spec, the banjo will sound different. Wether better or worse is up to the owner to decide, but it will sound different. I have no idea as to why, but it is always the case.

As for cleaning the instrument, if it’s a mess, OK, but just use mild soap, if any at all, and distilled water. Solvents, cleaners and polishes can potentially really mess up the finish. Others will weigh in different, just my opinion.

When I take an instrument apart, I always separate and number the small parts and keep them in order. Hooks and nuts together, and they go back in the same hole. Makes assembly easier in the case things have gotten out of true over the years.

The best way to learn is just do it. If it don’t sound right, take it apart and do it again. Minuscule adjustments make a huge impact on the sound.

It’s actually fun, so enjoy the process. Keep your work area clean and neat, Oh, amd most importantly, put a clean white sheet under the area where you are working. Makes it real easy to find something in case you drop a small screw ect.

Mar 1, 2024 - 8:16:04 AM

66 posts since 12/4/2023

Thank you Alex and Alvin. I am just starting to disassemble it now.
Strings, tailpiece, bridge and armrest off.
Neck next.
Trying to find a nail or something for the coordinator rods now.
I will start with just water and hopefully everything comes off, but the gunk on the nickel is pretty gnarly.
Your joke about French fry grease, Alex, is actually pretty accurate.
Looks like someone spilled grease all over it, then let it sit in the dustiest room in their house for a few years.
I appreciate the idea of labeling and numbering all the j-hooks and everything, Alvin. That is just my style. I even make sure to put my thumb screws back in the same spots when my resonators come off

Mar 1, 2024 - 8:34:22 AM
Players Union Member

Eric A

USA

1870 posts since 10/15/2019
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As everybody else said, "If it sounds great, don't F*K with it!"

Mar 1, 2024 - 9:15:31 AM

Alex Z

USA

5769 posts since 12/7/2006

"I will start with just water and hopefully everything comes off, but the gunk on the nickel is pretty gnarly."

"Looks like someone spilled grease all over it, then let it sit in the dustiest room in their house for a few years."

Liquid dishwashing soap and water.  Get the grease and dirt off.  Dry thoroughly PLUS let air dry before re-assembley.  WD40 on any threads, and wipe off.  (WD stands for "water displacement,",  plus it will lubricate.)

Tiny allen wrench will fit through the coordinator rod holes, and the steel won't bend under pressure.

No need to hesitate on Nev-R-Dull for the nickel plated parts and Virtuoso Polish for the finished wood parts -- but if there are cracks/crazing on the finished wood parts, might skip the polish so that it doesn't dry up in the cracks.  And you're not buffing down with these, only removing some (not all) tarnish on the nickel and putting an infinitesimal coat of something that will clean and shine on the finished wood.

Any scratches are there to stay -- "scratch removal" means taking the adjacent surfaces down to the level of the bottom of the scratch, and want to avoid that.

1994-2024 -- 30 years.  In 2054, someone else can clean the banjo again.  smiley

Mar 1, 2024 - 9:44 AM

15646 posts since 10/30/2008

Oh don't take off the neck if it's your first time!!! That is one of the trickiest operations.

Good luck, and be sure to learn!

Mar 1, 2024 - 9:50:04 AM

66 posts since 12/4/2023

Thank you Alex. I am going to stick with the water and dish soap on the metal. Arthur Hatfield said he uses windex on the metal.
The wood looks fine. I’m just going to wipe the dust off with a clean rag.
Old Timer, I appreciate the warning, but it’s too late. Neck is off….

Mar 1, 2024 - 11:45:43 AM
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rmcdow

USA

1396 posts since 11/8/2014

quote:
Originally posted by CaseyJones

Kevin and Mark, you guys definitely reinforced my fear that if I take it apart and clean it that it might not sound the same!
As far as the head tension and tailpiece, I have already monkeyed around with them a bit, so I’m not too worried on that front, but I would really worry about taking the neck off and getting it back on the way it is now.
Maybe I’ll do the brush and q-tip clean up on it.
Al, thank you for the info on the abrasives! That’s very good to know. I had read some previous threads on this site where the majority of people said they use those things.
I definitely want to keep this banjo nice for the next picker who ends up with it, so I really appreciate that info!


I agree with the comments that you shouldn't take it apart just to clean it up.  If there are things that need repairing, that is a different story.  I've found that this stuff:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B081T7N948?psc=1&ref=ppx_yo2ov_dt_b_product_details

Is a good material to get all that grime, dust, and other things out of crevices.  It may even be enough to keep you from having to use a polishing agent.  If you do use a polishing agent, be sure it is not abrasive, and clean up after using it with this goop.  A Q-tip with a jeweler's polishing cloth wrapped around it can get into a lot of places on a banjo.

There is a wide variety of cleaning supplies available for conservation of antiquities that are useful for cleaning a banjo.  

https://www.universityproducts.com/equipment-tools/cleaning-supplies?

Edited by - rmcdow on 03/01/2024 11:50:36

Mar 1, 2024 - 1:59:29 PM

Alex Z

USA

5769 posts since 12/7/2006

If the player wants a new head, going to take it apart anyway.  Might as well clean it whilst it is apart.

Mar 1, 2024 - 3:08:03 PM
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394 posts since 11/16/2011

Check the tone ring and rim for matching numbers if you're replacing the head and removing the neck. The info will be good to know if you sell the banjo at some point.

If the ring is on tight use a small screwdriver, holding it about 1/4-1/2" from the end, insert it into one of the twenty holes, pull slightly, and move to the next hole until removed. IMO, the true purpose of the twenty holes.

Mar 1, 2024 - 5:54:32 PM
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66 posts since 12/4/2023

Alright. It’s done.
I took it all the way apart, cleaned everything (with water and soap) and it’s all back together.
Everything works great and, yes, it genuinely sounds better. My 3rd and 4th strings have some serious power to them now. They were very weak before.
I set everything up EXACTLY the way it was before I took it apart. The only changes were that I lowered my action a little and new, much lighter strings.




Mar 1, 2024 - 9:34:01 PM

66 posts since 12/4/2023

550Spyder I wish I had seen your suggestion earlier. I was too scared too mess with my tone ring.
It was stamped Gibson USA and I suspect I am the first person to ever take that banjo apart

Mar 2, 2024 - 4:45:32 AM

5407 posts since 11/20/2004

Congrats on success!
Did you do something to lower your action, or did it just turn out that way ?

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