Proper banjo set-up must be done in stages so that repetition of steps
done out of sequence is eliminated. If you follow the below listed checks,
and do adjustments as necessary, going from the tress rod to the tailpiece
setting, you will not have to repeat any adjustments that may have been
thrown off by doing them in the wrong sequence.
Always start by checking the bow in the neck.
Neck bow is the amount of curvature away from the strings and is necessary
to prevent buzzing due to insufficient string clearance above the frets.
Adjustment is made by tightening or loosening the truss rod nut found
under an access cover on the top side of the peghead. Turning the nut
clockwise tightens it and flattens the neck (decreases neck bow). Turning
the nut counterclockwise loosens it and increases neck bow. The desired
amount of bow is equal to somewhere between 1/64" and 1/32", or about
the thickness of a heavy gauge fourth string. This distance is measured
from the top of the 7th fret to a straight line going between the tops
of the 1st and 22nd frets.
Step #2 - Checking head tension.
Heads will need tightening on a new banjo more often then on a seasoned
one. Because of seasonal changes, a head on an older banjo may even need
to be loosened. Before you adjust your string height, make sure your head
is at the desired tension. Tap-tune it to a pitch somewhere between a
G or a B, depending on whether you like a mellow or a bright tone, then
go on to checking your bridge position.
Step #3 - Checking bridge position.
Once you are assured of the truss rod adjustment and head tension being
right, you can check your bridge position and make any necessary adjustments
before you check the string height or action. Try to position your bridge
with the strings tuned to pitch as the top of the bridge will move slightly
as you tighten the strings. Be sure to brace the bridge with your fingers
across all three feet if you have to move it forward or backward to the
desired distance of 13 3/16" from the 12th fret, measured from center
of fret to center of bridge. Make sure the bridge is parallel to the frets
and that the feet are flat on the head.
Step #4 - Checking string height.
Normal string height, or action, is about 1/8" above the 12th fret and
9/64" above the 22nd fret as measured from the top of each fret to the
center of the strings. To modify string height entails manipulation of
the rim rods which are the two rods traversing the center of the rim.
These rods secure the neck to the rim and must always be snug at the neck
end prior to any adjustment at the opposite end where the 1/2" nuts are.
Two holes in the middle of each rod facilitate turning the rods onto or
off of the neck hanger bolts, or enable you to prevent the rods from turning
when tightening or loosening the adjusting nuts. To lower the action,
loosen the inner nut on the lower rod and tighten the outer nut. To raise
the action, loosen the outer nut and tighten the inner nut.
Step #5 - Tailpiece adjustment.
The Stelling "pivot-pin" tailpiece can be adjusted up, down. left, right,
or in and out simply by turning the large thumb screw (for up/down adjustments)
or the first and fifth string retaining screws (pivot pins) in or out
as necessary (for sideways and in/out adjustments). String tension holds
the tailpiece in position in the drilled holes provided in the tension
hoop. Therefore, when the strings are slackened, the tailpiece falls off.
For the same reason, the tailpiece moves up and down according to head
tension. So, if you tighten your head over and over and never adjust the
large thumb screw on the tailpiece, it will eventually end up pressing
against the head which will have a dampening effect on tone and volume.
I recommend a slight downward pressure on the strings or about 1/4" clearance
from the head. The pivot pins can be moved in out to alter the tone slightly.
The factory setting is usually quite satisfactory and will not change
if left alone.
If you have gone through all the above steps in order, you should now
be ready to fine tune the strings to proper pitch. I have a tuning system
that works very well for me as long as I can get at least the fifth string
tuned to a G. Tune all strings as close to pitch by your usual method
and then fine tune all strings to a fretted G as follows: 1st at 5th fret;
2nd at 8th fret; 3rd at 12th fret; 4th at 17th; 5th open. As you change
tension on one the others may change slightly. Two or three sequences
usually gets the strings as close to a perfect G as is possible.
Another tip: When changing strings, remove and replace one string at a
time. That will minimize bridge movement and keep tension on the neck.
The above set-up procedure should be performed any time your banjo seems
out-of-sorts in any way, and at least twice a year during the change of
seasons (from summer to winter and vice-versa).
Standard Set-up Chart:
Before any of these adjustments are made, the banjo should be tuned to
standard pitch with your preferred gauge of strings.
1) Neck bow
||.028" + or - .006"
2) Head tension
Medium (6 1/2 inch pounds or tuned to an A)
3) Bridge position
13 3/16" from 12th fret measured center to center and parallel
4) String height
1/8" above 12th fret; 9/64" above 22nd fret
Parallel to head or under slight tension; 1 5/8" to 1 3/4" from bridge
Keeping that new banjo looking like new involves polishing
the nickel-plated metal parts with
It's available in 50 gram tubes. The finished wood should be kept like new with
A more complete and illustrated
Field Service Manual
is available from Stelling Banjo Works, Ltd.
Good picking from Stelling Banjo Works!