December 11, 2005

#119: Tightening the banjo head

Danny writes:

Can you give some guidelines for tightening the head? I've heard that you should tighten it until the nuts squeak as you tighten them. Is that right? And how often should I expect to need to do it? Months? Years? Thanks for your time.

This is an important subject for banjo players to know about. A great many banjos could stand a tightening of the head. After a head is first put on, it will loosen up a bit, and needs a bit of tightening in the days to come. Often, that’s not done, and in time the sound gets a bit duller. Many banjo players like their banjo’s sound more after the head’s been tightened a bit.

How tight to make it should not be done by any guideline other than how the player wants his/her banjo to sound when played. I suggest going around the bracket nuts in a circle, tightening just a bit (1/8 or 1/4 turn max), and then putting the resonator on, and playing the instrument with picks on, to get a sense of how much more to tighten, if at all. If it starts sounding too trebly, you can just back off the nuts a bit.

When the instrument sounds the way you like it best, it’s time to leave it as is, reattach the resonator, and commence to pick! For me, the optimum point seems to be when the nuts feel as snug as they can be with just finger pressure.

A plastic head loosens very slowly, so I’d say a good idea is to ask yourself every so often if the head might stand tightening. That is, does the banjo have a tendency to sound duller than you like? Probably tweaking the head just a tad once or twice a year will keep it the way you like it.

Pete

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