SELECTING AND ADJUSTING A TAILPIECE
Banjo Setup File #6
The correct tailpiece can make a radical difference in tone. There are several good tailpieces on the market. One is the Price Straightline tailpiece. It spaces the strings properly for a normal bridge, and it provides great stability for the strings. The lengths of the string segments between the tailpiece and the bridge reduce "wolf" notes--i.e. notes produced by sympathetic vibrations of these segments--considerably.
The Richelieu version of the Oettinger tailpiece is also a good one, providing the correct string spacing; however, it does not have the same effect on the string segments.
The adjustment of the tailpiece is critical in banjo setup. If there is too much downward pressure on the strings, they willl be very bright, but not very loud. Too little pressure produces a loud, but bassy banjo. You must determine the correct pressure by experimentation on your particular instrument. On mine, I set the Price tailpiece so the underside of it is about 1/4" above the head, parallel to the head, itself.
The Price Straight Line tailpiece is available from Gary Price. To contact Gary click here.
Another excellent tailpiece is the Fults tailpiece. It is the most stable tailpiece on the market. You can read about it if you click here..
A surprisingly good tailpiece is the old fashioned Kirschner tailpiece. I have them on a couple of my banjos.
Setting up your tailpiece
Generally speaking, you don't want a lot of tension on the tailpiece. It should rest firmly on the stretcher band of the banjo for stability, and the tip of the tailpiece, where the strings come off it, should be roughly 3/16 inch to 1/4 inch above the head. If it is much lower it will mute the banjo slightly and make it a bit brassy sounding>
At one of the SPBGMA conventions a well-known banjo player and setup man sat down with a banjo I had built, played it and remarked about how good the sound of it was. We were in the Gibson room at the time, so I remarked to the Gibson rep that they ought to consider replacing the traditional Presto tailpiece with the Price tailpiece, which was what was on my banjo.
The setup man responded, "Those Price tailpieces kill the sound of a banjo. They weigh three times what the Presto tailpiece weighs."
I didn't believe this, so I took a Price tailpiece and a Presto tailpiece, both of them current manufacture, down to the post office and weighed them on the postal scale. The Presto weighed 2.1 ounces. The Price weighed 3.2 ounces, only 1.1 ounce more than the Presto, just over 50% more. This, in my opinion (and personal observation) is not going to hurt the sound of your banjo. Other tailpieces weigh considerably more and do not adversely affect the tone. In fact, the Price tailpiece helps the tone.
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