We try our best to feature new info on other instruments such as products reviews and tips on how to care for your instrument. Today I am sharing a great maintenance article on Banjos. We encourage the sharing of info from local businesses in our industry and Gold Tone is a reputable business located in Titusville, FL. My knowledge of Banjo is somewhat limited and I thought this could be explained better by Wayne Rodgers, original founder of Gold Tone. Without further adieu….
Banjo Maintenance and Setup
After every playing: Wipe instrument off and polish all metal and wood with cloth. Using a different cloth wipe strings, especially under them, Apply Fast Fret (GHS) to strings.
4-6 times yearly: Change strings, apply pencil lead to nut slots, Use 0000 steel wool to clean and polish fingerboard and frets, apply lemon oil to fingerboard, check and make sure bridge is not bent in the middle, check head tension, check bridge placement, and tail piece adjustment.
Yearly: Take to your banjo to an authorized luthier for adjustments as mentioned above.
Adjusting the action successfully is a result of 5 adjustments: head tension, truss rod, coordinator rods, nut slot height, bridge height. Also string gauge, tailpiece adjustment, and fret wear are a factor.
String Gauge: Any action adjustments should be made with the gauge of strings you plan to use. If your action is low, too light of a gauge of strings may cause fret buzz because the tension of the string is too loose for your playing style… the thicker the string gauge, the less it will “bounce around” after playing. Generally all our 5 string banjos are set up with the following gauges .010 .013 .016 .024 .010. Banjitars are .010 .013 .018 (w) .030 .042 .052.
Head Tension: Different types of heads will affect sound dramatically. The common choices are frosted (used often for bluegrass), clear or frosted undercoated (used for tenors, plectrums, and banjitars), natural hide, and Remo Fiberskyn® or Renaissance (for clawhammer). There are many theories about head tension and sound. Generally, the tighter the head the brighter the sound, but some theories suggest too tight will “choke” the sound. Although we supply a wrench to fit the nuts, the best tool to use is a adjustable tip screwdriver and remove the tip. The socket will fit our nuts perfectly. To tighten the head, remove the resonator and locate the nuts on the hooks. Starting on one side of the neck, tighten each nut 2/3 of a turn. Tighten nut next to it and continue to the other side of neck. Use your thumb to “press” on head around bridge to feel head tension. It should give very slightly upon moderate pressure. If you continue to tighten, use 1/4 or 1/8 turns to avoid breaking head. Note: as the head is tightened the action will raise.
Truss Rod: Must be adjusted with the correct string gauge at normal tuning. THE TRUSS ROD DOES VERY LITTLE FOR ACTION HEIGHT!!! Sight down the edge of fingerboard and make sure neck is straight or has a very slight bow (away from the middle of the string). If the truss rod is tightened clockwise (with allen wrench) it will help straighten the neck. If it is loosened counter clockwise, it will put a slight amount of bow in the neck, which is preferred for lowest action without buzz. This adjustment may be better left to a repair tech. (Do not use excessive pressure in truss rod adjustment… truss rods can break!)
Neck Angle (Coordinator Rods): Some banjos use a double coordinator rod system for neck stability and adjustment flexibility. Generally the string action at the 12th fret (measured from the top of the fret to the bottom of the string) is between 1/8″-3/8″ depending on your playing style. To lower string action, loosen both nuts on the inside of the rim. Tighten the outside nut on rod closest to you. That will “pull on the rod” creating a very slight bend in wood rim and will lower the action. Do not overtighten, this could damage rim! To raise action, loosen the outside nut and tighten the inside nut. This will “push” on the rod creating raised action. Snug all nuts.
Nut Slots: The slots of the nut are adjusted at our factory and you should not have to adjust. Sometimes tuning problems may result from the nut slot “pinching” the string. If the string doesn’t pull smoothly through the nut slots when tuning, it may need to be opened slightly with a small file. Also, take a pencil with a sharp point and “color” the inside slot of nut. The graphite will help lubricate the nut slot. If a nut slot is too deep, and the string is buzzing on the first fret try this solution. Using thick super glue and a toothpick, apply one drop in the slot and let dry overnight. This will slightly raise the slot and eliminate the string buzz.
Bridge Height: Most common is 5/8″, but higher bridge height is sometimes used depending for playing style or sound. To position bridge, take measurement from back of nut to middle to twelve fret. Using that measurement distance, position bridge away from center of twelve fret. Using a good electronic tuner, tune the first open first string. Now gently fret the octave (12th fret). If the tuner reads flat, move bridge towards fingerboard, if it reads sharp move bridge towards tailpiece. Now do the same with the lowest string. The bridge may have some slant as it sits on the head. You may want to mark this location with a pencil. Bridges will bend after period of time and must be replaced.
Tailpiece Adjustment: Generally, the closer the tailpiece is adjusted to the head (without touching the head) the brighter the tone. You may adjust with full string tension by pressing on tailpiece and adjusting thumbscrew.
I hope that Wayne helped educate you on the banjo or enlightened you to something new regarding maintenance. Till next time…play on!