Banjo Setup File #1

One of the most crucial adjustments to your banjo is the correct fit of the pieces. The whole instrument must be physically stable.

If the neck does not fit firmly against the rim, the loose joint will either absorb or reflect the sound that passes through it, and the tone of the instrument will suffer. A loose neck also produces poor intonation, Make sure that the neck fits the rim correctly. More information on this aspect of the fit can be found with the information on coordinator rods.

The grooves in the nut and the bridge should be angled in such a way that the side that faces the fingerboard is higher than the side that faces either the pegs or the tailpiece. For more information on this, go to the section concerning the importance of the bridge.

Remember, loose parts absorb the sound. Eliminate loose parts whenever possible.

Finally, the tone ring should fit so that if you have the tone ring on the rim, and you turn this upside down on a table, that you can lift the rim out of the tone ring. Naturally, the head should not be on the banjo when you do this! Otherwise, the rim will not lift out of the tone ring under any circumstances. This should also be done on a humid day. Humidity affects the fit. The fit should be a slip fit, but not a wobbly, loose fit.

Also, make sure the neck does not contact the tone ring at the heelpiece, if possible. The reason for this is to allow the skirt of the tone ring as much vibrational freedom as possible. When I first posted this information, several people asked about it, mentioning that the cut of the heelpiece was such that contact was unavoidable. If this is the case, don't worry about it. The rest of the skirt of the tone ring should still vibrate. On many Gibsons, the heelpiece to rim fit is such that there is a very fine gap between the heelpiece and the rim. The heelpiece rests on the wooden rim only. However, some other banjo necks are cut in such a way that there is contact at the edge of the skirt. Unless you want to do "banjo surgery," just leave it alone, and don't worry about it. What I describe are ideal conditions. However, if you find that your action is a bit high, you can remedy both situations at once, by placing a thin brass shim, about 1/4 inch high, between the heelpiece and the rim, just below the upper lag bolt, so it tilts the neck backwards slightly. If you find that your banjo sounds good, with heelpiece to rim contact, don't worry. Leave it alone.

Let me point out that many people fell that the heelpiece to tone ring contact is absolutely necessary for the tone ring to impart its vibrations to the neck. If your heelpiece contacts the tone ring, and your banjo sounds good, then don't mess with it. I have some banjos that have this kind of fit that sound great, and others that do not, which also sound great. Part of setup is knowing when to stop.

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