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Jun 15, 2024 - 2:32:08 PM
3 posts since 6/15/2024

I bought this lovely old prewar Kalamazoo 19-fret resonator tenor banjo from a friend of mine, and I would like to make some small improvements, but I’m primarily a fiddle player, so I don’t know very well how my banjo compares with others out there. I have some specific questions:

1– the bridge. I have noticed that most tenor banjos have a wider bridge than the one on this banjo (see photo). Can anyone tell me about this style of bridge and whether replacing it with a different style of bridge would improve its tone or playability? Any recommendations on a new bridge?

2– the tuners. This banjo has mechanical/non-geared tuning pegs, which I understand is traditional. I like them, but of course it’s harder to get the correct tuning. Is there any maintenance or upgrade recommended? I have tightened the screws on a few of the tuners, and that helps them be more accurate. Also, the pegs on the tuners are plastic. Does that mean they are not original to this banjo? Just curious.

3– the head. I’m sure this head has seen some days, but I don’t know how long it’s been on there. How do I know when it’s time for a replacement? I find the banjo has a lovely warm tone, and I’d like to keep it like that. Also, the head is a bit uneven, with the skin coming just over the metal rim’s lip at one end of the banjo and sinking down a few millimeters below the metal rim on the other end. Does that mean it was incorrectly installed? It makes the banjo a little uncomfortable because the metal rim digs into the forearm while playing. (I may add an armrest anyway; any recommendations appreciated)

4-- the strings. I have yet to buy new strings. Recommendations for best warm tone and responsiveness?

5-- the playing. This is the only tenor banjo I’ve really spent a lot of time with, so I don’t know how it compares, but I would love it to be a little more responsive. The tone is really lovely and mellow, but I’m having trouble finding my sweet spot between the bridge and the fingerboard that gives the best of tone and responsiveness. What tweaks if any can I make to improve playability and speed generally?

Thanks for reading, and thank you for any suggestions.




 

Edited by - caro1515 on 06/15/2024 14:34:15

Jun 15, 2024 - 4:00:32 PM
like this

2480 posts since 2/9/2007

First off, do you know what tuning you want to use? Standard tenor tuning is CGDA (same as a viola), "Irish" tuning is a fourth lower (GDAE, an octave below the fiddle or mandolin). There's also "Chicago" tuning (DGBE, like the highest four of a guitar, or a baritone uke), and several other less common ones. Each will take a different string set. Which you choose depends on what style of music you want to play.

The bridge you have is of an old style, very small and light-weight, which usually means it's going to have more punch, edge, and volume than a modern-stye bridge. A new bridge will be stouter, wider, and heavier, and probably have a hard ebony top-- it will make the tone deeper, mellower, a little quieter, and with more sustain. What's best depends on the banjo, setup, strings, etc., but mostly personal taste.

The resolution on those photos isn't enough to see clearly, but it looks like the head may be fraying where it goes over the bearing edge. Even if that's not the case, it does look like it's stretched out enough that a replacement would be a good idea.

New pegs would make tuning easier, but those look to me like the sort of friction pegs that could work tolerably well, if their bearing surfaces are smooth, clean, and correctly lubricated.

Jun 16, 2024 - 10:10:37 AM

3 posts since 6/15/2024

quote:
Originally posted by Dan Gellert

First off, do you know what tuning you want to use? Standard tenor tuning is CGDA (same as a viola), "Irish" tuning is a fourth lower (GDAE, an octave below the fiddle or mandolin). There's also "Chicago" tuning (DGBE, like the highest four of a guitar, or a baritone uke), and several other less common ones. Each will take a different string set. Which you choose depends on what style of music you want to play.

The bridge you have is of an old style, very small and light-weight, which usually means it's going to have more punch, edge, and volume than a modern-stye bridge. A new bridge will be stouter, wider, and heavier, and probably have a hard ebony top-- it will make the tone deeper, mellower, a little quieter, and with more sustain. What's best depends on the banjo, setup, strings, etc., but mostly personal taste.

The resolution on those photos isn't enough to see clearly, but it looks like the head may be fraying where it goes over the bearing edge. Even if that's not the case, it does look like it's stretched out enough that a replacement would be a good idea.

New pegs would make tuning easier, but those look to me like the sort of friction pegs that could work tolerably well, if their bearing surfaces are smooth, clean, and correctly lubricated.


Thanks for your reply, Dan. 

I play in GDAE for Irish music.

Your comments about this bridge style are very interesting. I was really curious about this old-style bridge. I suppose I will try a couple different styles and see the difference.

I will plan on changing out the head and putting a little sewing machine grease in the tuners. Do you know any good resource on how to clean them?

Jun 16, 2024 - 4:17:48 PM

2480 posts since 2/9/2007

quote:
Originally posted by caro1515
quote:
Originally posted by Dan Gellert

First off, do you know what tuning you want to use? Standard tenor tuning is CGDA (same as a viola), "Irish" tuning is a fourth lower (GDAE, an octave below the fiddle or mandolin). There's also "Chicago" tuning (DGBE, like the highest four of a guitar, or a baritone uke), and several other less common ones. Each will take a different string set. Which you choose depends on what style of music you want to play.

The bridge you have is of an old style, very small and light-weight, which usually means it's going to have more punch, edge, and volume than a modern-stye bridge. A new bridge will be stouter, wider, and heavier, and probably have a hard ebony top-- it will make the tone deeper, mellower, a little quieter, and with more sustain. What's best depends on the banjo, setup, strings, etc., but mostly personal taste.

The resolution on those photos isn't enough to see clearly, but it looks like the head may be fraying where it goes over the bearing edge. Even if that's not the case, it does look like it's stretched out enough that a replacement would be a good idea.

New pegs would make tuning easier, but those look to me like the sort of friction pegs that could work tolerably well, if their bearing surfaces are smooth, clean, and correctly lubricated.


Thanks for your reply, Dan. 

I play in GDAE for Irish music.

Your comments about this bridge style are very interesting. I was really curious about this old-style bridge. I suppose I will try a couple different styles and see the difference.

I will plan on changing out the head and putting a little sewing machine grease in the tuners. Do you know any good resource on how to clean them?


No grease!  Take one of those tuners off (loosen the screw until it comes apart), and you'll see how they work.  There is a small area around the peg hole, on both the front and back of the peg head, where the metal bears on the wood.  You want both the metal and wood clean and smooth there.  0000 (super fine) steel wool is what I usually use for that.  For lubrication, just a touch of dry soap or wax.  When you re-install the peg, make sure the screw doesn't bottom out before it clamps the peg securely onto the wood-- if the screw is too long, you'll have to cut or grind it shorter, or put a couple of washers between the screw head and peg knob.  You will have to adjust the tension on the screw to keep each peg in the sweet spot where it's loose enough to turn smoothly, but tight enough to keep the string at pitch.

Jun 16, 2024 - 8:39:48 PM

3 posts since 6/15/2024

quote:
Originally posted by Dan Gellert
 

No grease!  Take one of those tuners off (loosen the screw until it comes apart), and you'll see how they work.  There is a small area around the peg hole, on both the front and back of the peg head, where the metal bears on the wood.  You want both the metal and wood clean and smooth there.  0000 (super fine) steel wool is what I usually use for that.  For lubrication, just a touch of dry soap or wax.  When you re-install the peg, make sure the screw doesn't bottom out before it clamps the peg securely onto the wood-- if the screw is too long, you'll have to cut or grind it shorter, or put a couple of washers between the screw head and peg knob.  You will have to adjust the tension on the screw to keep each peg in the sweet spot where it's loose enough to turn smoothly, but tight enough to keep the string at pitch.

 


Got it, thank you so much! What you said makes perfect sense.

What about strings for GDAE? Thanks!

Jun 17, 2024 - 8:34:50 AM

banjopaolo

Italy

1925 posts since 11/6/2008

Hi Caroline and welcome on the hangout!
Seems an old lovely banjo…
Also I am a bowed string player (mostly viola) and play tenor both on CGDA and GDAE I love GHS strings but I have also used D’addario set
I would change head and bridge, I love reinassence heads and for the bridge a new ebony top three leg bridge, maybe a good luthier would help you to set the right bridge height, I love thick bridges (that gives a less brilliant sound) but it’s a personal choice
I’m not so familiar with Irish banjo playing (I’m more on the jazz/blues side) but if you need some help just ask….


Jun 17, 2024 - 11:39:40 AM

2480 posts since 2/9/2007

quote:
Originally posted by caro1515
quote:

What about strings for GDAE? Thanks!


It's a bit tricky, especially finding a low G that doesn't thud, clank, and buzz.  All depends on your instrument, setup, and playing technique. You'll have to experiment. Several brands now offer an Irish tenor set.  Try a couple of different ones. Pay attention to the individual string gauges.

Edited by - Dan Gellert on 06/17/2024 11:40:49

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