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FAQ'S Banjo Setup

FAQ Category : Banjo Setup

  • I've just acquired a banjo. How do I set it up properly?
  • How do you string up the highest string on the banjo, the short one?
  • I''m doing a music project and the teacher asked me to do a banjo but I know how many strings i''m suppuse to have. Could you show me a large picture of a banjo? Thanks
  • What is the difference in tone between strings of different gauges?what is the difference in tone between metal and nylon strings?
  • How do you tighten the head of a banjo?
  • Are your banjos set up and tuned before shipment?
  • What is the proper way to install a new string?
  • What is the origin of the banjo?
  • How do I determine the value of a Kay (4 string) Tenor Banjo that I acquired? Mine has Kay painted in white on the head and a sheet music stand holding a letter
  • Will your Gold Tone necks fit up to an old Iida-clone pot?
  • How do I correctly measure the diameter of a rim?
  • I need a strap ring (name?) I have to places on the body where a strap would
  • Where can I purchase a Gibson RB 250? Ideally in the UK, but prepared to look further a field.Thank you.Susan Cooper
  • How do I attach my strap to the banjo? Do I just tye it on? Is there anything it should not be attached to? My strap is a Levy''s if that matters.
  • How can I get the sheet music to "Duelin Banjo's"?
  • What is the scale length or string length on a banjo?
  • What is a truss rod and what does it do?
  • What does low action mean?
  • Can you recommend a self-teaching DVD and book for beginning bluegrass 5 string banjo?
  • I have a Vaga, Little Wonder 4 string, banjo ser.#70399, signed by Joe Rogers Jr. it has a small hole in the skin, one string,but the rest is in good shape. Could you tell me its age and value. I live near Albany, N.Y. Cathy
  • Can I place an order by phone, if I am concerned about security?
  • How do you determine the value of my banjo?
  • I have an old Gibson Mastertone 4 string banjo. Where would the serial number be located?
  • Does the type of bridge make a difference?
  • How do I know if the head is properly tensioned?

  • If the answer you are looking for is not listed here then please feel free to contact us.

    I've just acquired a banjo. How do I set it up properly?
    It's important to get your banjo set up correctly before you begin to play it. Hopefully, this was done by the seller at the time of purchase. If not, you can do it yourself by following the steps below, or by following the guidance of manufacturers who publish their own steps online.

    We were trained to set up banjos by our friends at Gibson OAI (Original Accoustic Instruments). Gibson has been producing Mastertone banjos for more than 100 years, and each one is hand-made in a Nashville, Tennessee factory. It's the only brand endorsed by Earl Scruggs.

    Don't rush the set up process. Set up time should take about 30 minutes. Take your time and get it right. Some banjo players like the action (meaning the string position relative to the fretboard) to be high, others like it low. When the action feels right to you, your fingers will become accustomed to that feel. This is critical to developing speed and picking or strumming.

    We recommend using the Drumdial gauge and the DrumTorque tool, both available in this catalog. These are precision instruments which take the guesswork out of the setup process. Proper setup is subjective, meaning what sounds best to one person might not appeal to another. Some like a bright sound while others like a loose sound. One of our favorite local banjo players has a pre-war Gibson that rattles when he plays it hard. That's his preferred sound. You could spend many hours tinkering with the head tension to find your banjo's best 'voice'.

    The steps below will help bring your banjo sound within an acceptable range. This is meant for professional-grade banjos, meaning those that weigh about 10-12 pounds and have 24 tension hooks.


    1. Loosen the strings and remove the bridge. Using the Drumdial gauge, check the tension at several points on the head. When properly tensioned, it should register between 88 and 92 on the gauge.
    2. If the Drumdial gauge shows tension lower than 88, then you'll need to tighten the nuts on the tension hooks. If your banjo has a resonator, you'll need to remove it first. When you tighten the nuts, we suggest doing it in a cross pattern, meaning start with one and then move to the nut directly opposite across the banjo head. If you're using the DrumTorque tool, tighten the nut until the tension reaches the "6" mark on the dail. Move to the next until you've tightened them all equally.
    3. Starting at the nut next to the neck, tighten them all again, moving radially, this time taking the tension to "12" on the dial. When you finish, your head should now be tensioned between 88 and 92 on the Drumdial gauge.
    4. Reinstall the bridge. To find the proper location, measure from the nut to the 12th fret and write down that distance. The bridge should be located the same distance from the 12th fret, on the head. You'll need to adjust the bridge position slightly for proper intonation. If you're using an electronic tuner, tune the 1st and 4th strings to D. They should still be in tune at the same position on your electronic tuner when you fret them at the 12th fret.





    5. Note: if you have a light-weight (around 7 pounds) beginner-level banjo such as a Savannah SB-080 or SB-100, set the tension on your DrumTorque tool to 6 (not 12). Anything above 12 may result in damage to your banjo.

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    How do you string up the highest string on the banjo, the short one?
    Setup on the 5th string is really no different than the others. Thread it through tailpiece accordingly, over the bridge to the tuning peg.

    If your banjo has a guide, run the string over it; if your banjo has a railroad spike, run the string under it. Tune the 5th string to G (one octive above the 3rd string) by using a tuner or by matching the sound of the 4th string pressed down at the 5th fret.

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    I''m doing a music project and the teacher asked me to do a banjo but I know how many strings i''m suppuse to have. Could you show me a large picture of a banjo? Thanks
    Thanks for your question. It really depends on what kind of banjo you are looking it. We have 4 string banjos, 5 string banjos, and 6 string banjitaars. Feel free to give us a call or to e-mail helpdesk@banjo.com for more information.

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    What is the difference in tone between strings of different gauges?what is the difference in tone between metal and nylon strings?
    The fatter the strings, the heavier and louder the sound. I prefer light gauge because they give less resistance to my fingertips. They're easier to push down. But they don't product quite as much volume as medium gauge. The best compromise we can offer is the GHS banjo.com bluegrass standard string set. They offer a combination of light and medium gauge strings:

    http://www.banjo.com/Shopping/shopexd.asp?id=562

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    How do you tighten the head of a banjo?
    If the head is too tight the sound will be "tinny". If it is too loose, it will be low and muddy. Strum the strings and apply pressure around on the head with your fingers. If the pitch changes too much, it might be too loose. If you have very little change and the sound is high and "tinny", it might be too tight.
    If you want to adjust it to see where it is, loosen the nuts on the back side of the head until they are in place but have no pressure. First snug them all up. Start tightening them going around the circle a little bit at a time (about 1/8 turn). If some start getting hard to turn, slack off and give the others a little more. You are looking for even pressure. Shortly after they start getting tight, you will want to play it to see where you are. Too tight and the head can split. In most cases the neck will have to be readjusted.

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    Are your banjos set up and tuned before shipment?
    Our banjos arrive ready-to-play. We set up each banjo as though we intended to play them ourselves. This includes proper head-tensioning with precision tools, proper bridge-placement for correct intonation, proper tailpiece height, adjusting the pot/neck for the closest-possible string action, and final tuning. Each banjo is then carefully packed for safe arrival. Please note that the banjo may need to be fine-tuned after arrival, due to weather conditions affecting the banjo head, and travel.

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    What is the proper way to install a new string?
    Make sure that you have at least 3 wraps on the big string and five on the smaller. It is important that all of the strings are wrapped in the correct direction. Clip off any part of the string that is not needed. Watch out for sharp wires in the areas where your hands might be; they can hurt, so bend them for safety.

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    What is the origin of the banjo?
    The banjo actually originated in Africa. There were originally similiar instruments called the banjar, bangie, banjer, and the banza. The banjo made it's way to the states in the early 17th century. In Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on America in 1781, the banjo’s earliest recorded reference was found in “The instrument…is the banjar, which [the African slaves] brought hither from Africa”. The original banjo had three strings; it was not until its introduction into America that it entered a period of alterations. Metal strings, for instance, were added in the 1850s, and the first frets, which helped perfect the once shaky intonation of the banjo, appeared in the 1880s, a development accredited to Henry Dobson of New York State.
    The banjo up until 1800 remained essentially a black instrument, but made its way into white culture through the interaction between whites and blacks as they enjoyed music and dance with one another. The banjo further increased its popularity with the creation in the middle of the 19th century of “The Virginia Minstrels,” who were white performers painted black that acted in black-face skits and songs. Led by the aforementioned Sweeney, the Virginia Minstrels toured England, Ireland and France, and extended the popularity of the banjo to all over the States and Europe.
    At the turn of the 19th century, the five-stringed banjos fell out of favor for the four stringed banjos, once known as plectrum banjos, and the rise of a new dance style from Latin America sparked the creation of the tango, or tenor, banjo, which was just a plectrum banjo with fewer frets. The plectrum and tenor banjos became the preferred model in Vaudeville, Music Hall, Dixieland Jazz, Ragtime, and Swing, while the five-stringed banjo languished in popularity, except in Appalachia, where it was later restored through Bluegrass and the revival of Old-Time traditional music.
    In 1945, the “Bluegrass Boys,” a group of bluegrass musicians started by Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe, led the banjo revival, and in the 60s, the banjo was given another boost with the style of “Folk Revival” music, led by such groups as “The Weavers” and “The Kingston Trio”. The popularity of the banjo still rises as hundreds of accomplished banjo players in Ireland, America, and England keep the tradition alive.

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    how do I determine the value of a Kay (4 string) Tenor Banjo that I acquired? Mine has Kay painted in white on the head and a sheet music stand holding a letter
    Without seeing the banjo firsthand there really isn't much that we can tell you about it. The general rule of thumb is that banjos that weigh under 6 pounds are usually worth between $50 and $150. Banjos that weigh up around 10 to 12 pounds, could be worth up to $450, depending on the condition.

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    Will your Gold Tone necks fit up to an old Iida-clone pot?
    Sure it will! Call Barry at 877-253-9948 and he'll walk you through it!

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    How do I correctly measure the diameter of a rim?
    Measure across the rim, once side to the other, outside-edge to outside-edge. Most banjo heads are 11 inches.

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    I need a strap ring (name?) I have to places on the body where a strap would
    If you give us a call, we can probably find an extra ring for you.

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    Where can I purchase a Gibson RB 250? Ideally in the UK, but prepared to look further a field.Thank you.Susan Cooper
    Thanks for your question. We currently have the RB-250. Feel free to call us for pricing and other information. You could also visit www.gibson.com and look on their site for a list of dealers. They may have someone in the UK.

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    How do I attach my strap to the banjo? Do I just tye it on? Is there anything it should not be attached to? My strap is a Levy''s if that matters.
    Thanks for your question. It really depends on the strap as to how to put it on. Feel free to give us a call and we'll walk you through it.

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    How can I get the sheet music to "Duelin Banjo's"?
    We currently sell the sheet music for "Dueling Banjos". If you type "337" in the search bar, it should come right up.

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    What is the scale length or string length on a banjo?
    It varies, but it is typically 26 1/2 inches.

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    What is a truss rod and what does it do?
    The truss rod runs down the length of the neck and it compensates for the string pull on the neck. It allows you to adjust the bow of the neck.

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    What does low action mean?
    Low action means that the strings are set as close to the fretboard as possible for ease-of-play. If the strings are too close, they tend to 'buzz' and various points on the fretboard. During our setup process we make sure the strings are as low as possible, without string buzz.

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    Can you recommend a self-teaching DVD and book for beginning bluegrass 5 string banjo?
    The DVD that we recommend is "Pickin' 101". We produced this DVD here in our showroom. It is great for beginners. A great beginning book would be "You Can Teach Yourself Banjo". We sell the book alone and we also sell a combo set (Book/CD/DVD).

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    I have a Vaga, Little Wonder 4 string, banjo ser.#70399, signed by Joe Rogers Jr. it has a small hole in the skin, one string,but the rest is in good shape. Could you tell me its age and value. I live near Albany, N.Y. Cathy
    For more information on the Vega, try www.deeringbanjos.com.

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    Can I place an order by phone, if I am concerned about security?
    Sure, you can. Feel free to call us anytime for anything. We are here to help. Our toll free number is 877-253-9948.

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    How do you determine the value of my banjo?
    The general rule of thumb is that banjos that weigh under 6 pounds are usually worth $50 to $150. Banjos that weigh up around 10 to 12 pounds, could be worth up to $450, depending on the condition it is in. Without seeing your banjo firsthand, we really cannot give you a definite value.

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    I have an old Gibson Mastertone 4 string banjo. Where would the serial number be located?
    The serial number would be located either behind the peghead on the top, or inside of the rim. Sometimes, there isn't even a serial number.

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    Does the type of bridge make a difference?
    A banjo bridge makes a huge difference in sound quality. The strings apply a significant amount of pressure on the bridge, which applies pressure to the head. The strings vibrate across the bridge and head, giving the banjo its unique sound. A thin bridge produces a brighter sound. A thick bridge produces a heavier, more mid-range sound. Head tension makes a big difference too.

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    How do I know if the head is properly tensioned?
    A loose head tends to deaden the sound. Most players prefer to have the head tensioned to a G# or A. We've brought many dead-sounding banjos back to life in our shop just by tensioning the head.

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