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Jun 25, 2024 - 5:26:14 AM
479 posts since 2/11/2009
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I just got this banjo restored, and it plays great but the sound is a bit tubby. I'm thinking of putting a frosted mylar head on it to brighten it up.

However, I'm also assuming that the skin head on there is not original. I'm not familiar with the Owl brand, but the head looks younger than the nearly 100-year-old banjo. Any chance I'm wrong about that? If it's likely to be original, I'd leave it alone.

Also, this would be the first time I've swapped a head by myself. I understand the basics of how it goes, but are there any particular tricks or issues to be aware of with Strombergs? I know some old designs are trickier than others to work on.


Jun 25, 2024 - 5:41:35 AM
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Bart Veerman


5744 posts since 1/5/2005
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Where's the head's tension at, chances are it's too low. A Drum Dial will come in handy to help you figure that out.

Jun 25, 2024 - 5:52:50 AM

479 posts since 2/11/2009
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It's reading 91-93 on my dial. Definitely doesn't feel loose.

Jun 25, 2024 - 6:14:07 AM
Players Union Member



17587 posts since 8/30/2006

To answer your question, I know of no special difficulties with Stromberg. If you do this, will you please Photo the tone ring which looks like a Cup-O-Phone, ok? There is a small users' group here. I have a mandolin Banjo neck with original tuners for a later project.

A young investment banker from here, was gifted the one that sat in the basement of a music Store in Berkeley, CA. for 50 years, just as, you know, the WESTBOUND was approaching and it was time to get on. HoBO

I just finished an SS STEWARD Special Thoroughbred install.

First measure the head size, crown will adjust itself.

Obviously Bob Smakula Fretted Instruments, and John Balch both are members here. Calf, Goat? Size is crucial, thicker and thinner can be discussed with these two Masters. No one calls them that because they are masters.

Balch has the dry fits, don't open too early and just plant that baby and start wrenching.

For Wet Heads, soak in distilled water, I did, Clean everything first, like edges and the FLESH HOOP itself and see if it can't be reused. Then a simple spray of water while fitting the new head will make things go easier. First timer, hey!

Balch is using newer square stock from brass for flesh hoops, very well thought out.

Both have great customer service

I believe if you take the little extra trouble to go into new territory and install a skin head, you will be happier in the possibilities with heads that have real skin pores in them, and sound has to be better if her hair ain't so tight and she can dance like a true Buffalo Gal.
Or a Bison Chick, whichever, I'm talking about banjos here.

The Cup we had over here got to have the new owner install his own frets on a Bernunzio. These young people are too covered up in overcrowding and hi-tech and greedy competition when unemployment is at 3-4%, these young people go back and explore their roots and passages to safety through the feeling they get from old-time banjo. At that time ten years ago, the old head was perfect.

It looks like a perfectly good head,, could use a little cleaning, just a damp microfiber cloth that's new technology.

But the RAINBOW TROUT FISH SCALES used for the resonator were still intact 50 yrs. later, they look like cowboy boots with fish scales. might catch on.

Maybe the old head just doesn't need it unless you are in the mood, a little damp cloth might help it tighten up over night, mine did and so did my little Washington Birdseye Maple

Edited by - Helix on 06/25/2024 06:19:18

Jun 25, 2024 - 11:35:40 AM
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822 posts since 5/29/2015

banjo heads like strings are expendables and changing them does not have an effect on value.

Jun 25, 2024 - 12:08:54 PM

479 posts since 2/11/2009
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That's not true if you have an original head in great condition on a valuable vintage piece. You don't see that too often, but it does make a difference.

Jun 26, 2024 - 4:19:08 AM

6194 posts since 12/20/2005

Wow, that’s an incredible banjo.
It’s an archtop, I think those are designated as a Marimba.
I’ve had 3 Strombergs, still have 2. One has an 11.5 inch pot, the other is a hair over 11.5 inches.
I don’t think I would describe either as sounding tubby.
Yours is an archtop, I don’t think it should sound tubby at all.
IMO, time for a new head.
I’ve seen photos of many nice Stromberg’s like yours with clear heads, kinda like putting the exquisite cuppophone tone ring on display.
I’ve not tried that so I can’t say how it would sound, but they look great.
I went with a Renaissance head on my 11.5 inch banjo.
11.5 inch head was a hair too small for the other, so I mounted a calfskin head on it.
Both have a unique clear and gorgeous tone.

I’d measure the rim very carefully and call Smakula. Since you have an archtop, it might need a specific crown. I don’t know for sure.

Another individual to ask advice from is Vinnie Mondello, perhaps the world’s leading expert Stromberg banjos.

Good luck with whatever you decide.

Jun 26, 2024 - 5:33:32 AM

479 posts since 2/11/2009
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So... after I posted, I realized that I had skipped over another option - much easer to swap the bridge than the head! So I've ordered a nice Farquhar 3-foot bridge and will try that first; hopefully it will move things in the right way.

If it doesn't, then I do plan on contacting Smakula. I've played a few other Strombergs fitted with plastic heads and I agree that they were not tubby at all. I don't normally expect a 1920s banjo to sound best with a plastic head, but I can't argue with my ears. I'd probably try a bottom-frosted head first. For what it's worth, my tension hoop ID measures exactly 11 1/8" from every angle.

Jun 28, 2024 - 7:10:19 PM
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Players Union Member



25 posts since 7/9/2019

I recently purchased a stromberg deluxe with a torn head - and replaced it with a clear head to show off the unique cuppaphone tone ring. It sounds as good as it looks - bright and rich. I wouldn’t hesitate to replace the head if you are not liking the sound after fiddling with bridges and head tension.

Jul 20, 2024 - 7:08:54 AM



63 posts since 7/6/2011

Hello, I recently bought a Stromberg Deluxe, which has some issues. I have contacted Vinnie Mondello, the first choice for Stromberg in my opinion, but because of the transport cost (NL->USA->NL, Karsten Schnoor is going to restore it (I’m in The Netherlands). Karsten did really nice jobs on my National tenor and my B&D #6, so really confident he will do an excellent job.
First thing I noticed when i tried to tighten the head was that not all the hooks had a good grip. After removing them, I noticed that the 11” head is too big. Vinnie told me it would probably need a 10 15/16 or 10 7/8 head. Because of the cup-a-tone, transparent.
I ordered both of them at Bob Smakula’s site (very fast and helpful!).
So…measure the head and order the right size.

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