Geoff's Banjo Tips: The Archives

1. Neck Adjustment

This time of year (Spring), banjo necks tend to change shape because of the increase in humidity. The usual manifestation is a tendency to flatten out or even back-bow. The usual remedy is loosening the tension on the truss rod in the neck. The majority of modern banjos have an access cover in the peghead. Once that cover is removed, the truss rod nut can be turned with the appropriate tools, usually a nut driver or sometimes an Allen wrench. Turn counter-clockwise to loosen and clockwise to tighten.

2. Tarnish

Hello again banjophiles! Is your banjo getting tarnished because of fingerprints and smudges from being handled a lot in the hot, humid weather? A nickel-plated banjo will smudge easily, but, if the smudges are wiped off before the metal becomes permanently etched, it usually can be restored to look like new. For tarnished nickel, we recommend Simichrome polish, available from some motorcycle shops and us. Do not use polishing compounds on gold-plated banjos or the gold may come off. A soft damp cloth should be adequate. A window cleaning spray like "Glass Plus" or "Windex" works well to remove anything on a gold banjo that won't wipe off otherwise.

3. Bridge and Nut Problems

It's been about ten years since I discussed in detail in BNL the wear and repair of banjo string nuts, so I'll mention a few possible problems and remedies. The nut spaces the strings apart at the neck end of a banjo and holds them off the fingerboard just high enough so that they don't rest on the frets. The bridge does the same thing at the head or tail end of the banjo. It goes without saying that a misplaced bridge or nut will have grave consequences on the tuning and playability. The condition of either will also greatly affect quality of tone and playability. Replacing or repositioning the bridge is infinitely easier to do than replacing or repositioning the nut inasmuch as the nut is glued into a slot and the bridge merely stands on the head and is held only by string tension.

The common problems with a bridge are: 1) Being out of position, 2) sagging, 3) breaking or chipping, and 4) being the wrong size or weight. These are all easily corrected. Other than being out of position, all other problems are solved by replacing the bridge. The common nut problems are: 1) The slots being cut too deep, 2) the slots are worn down, 3) the slots are too narrow, 4) the nut is too short, or 5) the nut is out of position. For all but #3, the nut should be replaced by a competent luthier or repairperson. In general, if a banjo needs a fret job, the nut is probably going to need some attention, also. If the banjo buzzes in the open position and the strings are not hitting the frets, they are probably rattling around in a worn nut slot. Sometimes it is the bridge slot. If the buzz or rattle stops if the string is capoed or fretted, it's the nut. If it keeps buzzing, it is either the frets or the bridge. My original premise assumes that the neck is adjusted correctly for bow and that none of these buzzes are the result of a flat or back-bowed neck. If it is indeed a worn nut, it may be possible to reslot it if it was not cut too deeply in the first place. To test, hold down a string at the second fret and see if there is any clearance between that string and the first fret. If there is any left, the nut can be touched-up with a jeweler's saw or file. If not, the nut needs replacing or repair work. If the slots are too narrow and the strings are binding - squeaking during tuning, try lubricating the slots with oil, graphite, or Glyde-Cote (our polish), or file them a bit wider and then lubricate.

An excessively short nut allows only a portion of the string to go into a short slot. If the string slips out because of this, a new nut is needed. An improperly positioned nut will make it impossible to play the banjo in tune no matter where the bridge is. This is rare and would be a warranty problem. Hope these comments help you resolve any annoying buzzes you may have.

Good picking.
Geoff Stelling

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