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Author Topic: 6 String Banjos  (Read 10307 times)

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Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: 6 String Banjos
« Reply #30 on: December 26, 2007, 03:29:11 PM »
I played a couple of the Framus Gitjos back in the late 60s early seventies and thought they were great! Even told Gary Davis about them and he was very interested in trying one out. Seemed his Gibson had become somewhat problematic. Couldn't quite justify the purchase at the time unfortunately, so I remain un-Framus-a-fied. Glad they're still in circulation. Enjoy.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline Mike Brosnan

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Re: 6 String Banjos
« Reply #31 on: March 27, 2009, 02:41:46 AM »
Thought bringing this thread back to life would be most appropriate for my questions/comments... But I'm always OK with rearranging things if others so desire...
Sooo...
Last summer someone GAVE me a cheap Dean Guitjo.  I promise you I would not have paid full price for this thing, but I had no problem just acquiring it free of charge.  :D
I'm just wondering if anyone has ever dealt with one o' these beasts and what kind of upgrades folks would recommend.  I've read about Rivers' fiberskyn improvement to his Deering and I'm wondering about REAL animal skin heads as an alternative...  Would any ol' appropriately sized drumhead work?  Deer? Goat? Cat?
I also need to lower the action on this thing, so I'm thinkin' 'bout a bone nut.  Do the semi-universal laws of guitar upgrades apply to guitjos?
What else?
Ebony capped bridge/saddle?
Gut or fake gut strings?
Pardon my ignorance (and my tendency to post under the influence...).
So here it is... Notice my struggling with the high action when I move up the neck... (I recorded this shortly after I got it.  It had a half dozen socks stuffed in it at the time and I haven't been able to get it to sound this good since...):

These are the same nickel strings that came with it. 
Some o' y'all may know Devin from the Gallus Brothers (definitely worth checkin' out if you don't know 'em... http://www.myspace.com/gallusbrothers ).  I met Devin at PT last year an' then I found this vid:

A much better example of how good a crappy Dean can sound....  I emailed Devin about this and he said he didn't really do much to this thing except change the strings. [sigh...]
Any tips appreciated.


Offline Richard

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Re: 6 String Banjos
« Reply #32 on: March 27, 2009, 04:22:50 AM »
I've used Remo Fyberskin 2 heads on my drums for years, not quite a veluum sound but they do mean you don't put a stick through 'em! Give it a try although possibly a genuine vellum head could well be thinner and more responsive, depends which bit of the poor cows intestine you get I suppose  :-X
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline uncle bud

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Re: 6 String Banjos
« Reply #33 on: March 27, 2009, 09:26:52 AM »
Mike, bear in mind I know very little about what I'm talking about here, but I've been surfing around looking at banjo facts recently because of the purchase of an actual 5-string banjo. Hopefully the more banjo-brainy among us will chime in as well.

I have an older 6-string banjo to which I have done nothing. The sound is pretty good as-is, though I need to tweak the intonation. By good I mean fun. It has an old frosted Weather King head (no Remo logo, just the words Weather King), an ebony-capped maple-looking bridge, a nut of unknown material but possibly bone (it has yellowed with age). I have it strung with nickel-wound light gauge electric guitar strings.

I have a skin head on my 5-string banjo. Without knowing much about banjos, I can certainly tell there's a warmer tone to it. It's got its own vibe I think. :) If you were to get a skin head it's likely to be calf or goat I think, and it is quite a process to install. See here:

http://members.tripod.com/banjoist/head.html
http://www.stewmac.com/freeinfo/I-0522.html

If you're like me, you look at those instructions and run. But a banjo repair guy could obviously do it for you. You might be looking at maybe $10-25 for the skin, maybe $75 for the installation?? I've never tried a Fiberskyn but it would certainly be easier. You might want to try and find an instrument that has a Fiberskyn on it already and plunk it a bit to judge the tone and see if you like it.

You might want to browse here, the banjo setup forum at BanjoHangout:

http://www.banjohangout.org/forum/forum.asp?FORUM_ID=12

And this guy did stuff to a Dean 6-string:

http://www.banjohangout.org/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=143742

And Elderly's banjo head page:

http://elderly.com/accessories/banjo_heads.html

Nice playing!

edited to add: FWIW, I like my banjo guitar a little bright-sounding, actually. So I'm not sure about mellowing out the tone too much, unless you are looking specifically for a different sound. It's hard to judge tone from a YouTube video. Papa Charlie's tone (what one can hear of it - later stuff on vol 3 is a good gauge, or if you have Good for What Ails You, check Skoodle Um Skoo) wasn't too mellow.
« Last Edit: March 27, 2009, 09:39:38 AM by uncle bud »

Offline waxwing

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Re: 6 String Banjos
« Reply #34 on: March 27, 2009, 10:16:23 AM »
Edit - UB beat me to it and said most of what I've got to say I guess, and added some good links too. I'll post anyway.

Do you have any idea what string gauges are on it. I took my guitjo in to a banjo guy and the first thing he recommended was getting very light strings, like .009s. I didn't go quite that far, but lightening up helped quite a bit. String tension is perhaps more touchy on a banjo than a flattop and even a reso. It is pretty easy to get too much tension and choke off the reverberations of the head. So experimentation with string gauges is definitely called for to get a good sound.

He also put a strip of leather under the strings where they come out of the holes in the tail piece, which muted a ringing sound coming from there.

Tom at vintagebluesguitars.com (onewent), from whom I purchased the guitjo, had put a new calf skin (I think) head on it. Not top quality, but second grade, with a bit of veining showing, which doesn't bother me at all. Sound is pretty mellow. I'm no connoisseur of banjo sound, but several folks at PT liked the sound, too.

If the action is bad up the neck but not at the nut there's no reason to mess with the nut, yet. You could lower the saddle some by sanding off the feet, but another thing that Tom did was to loosen the neck and slip a thin, narrow shim between the end of the fretboard and the ring, which effectively reset the neck angled back just a bit. Action is now not too bad at the 12th, altho' tightening up the head raises the action a bit.

Changing the neck angle or shortening the bridge are both going to change the break angle (one makes it greater, the other less) and therefor change the down pressure on the head, so string gauge may need to be corrected after either operation. Fortunately, with the floating bridge you can always correct intonation after a string change. -G-

Speaking of tightening the head, I do it about every time I play. Just a sixth of a turn or two all the way around. Might be a skin thing and it's still settling in and you could avoid this with plastic.

Well, take it with a grain of salt, but that's about all I've learned in the short time I've had mine. It's a '30s Sterling, made by Slingerland. I really like the sound, especially in jug band setting, but my one beef is that the nut and string spacing are pretty narrow for my big mitts. Might try to mill and carve a new neck for it myself. Hmm? Wonder how it would look with a slot head?

All for now.
John C.
« Last Edit: March 27, 2009, 10:19:14 AM by waxwing »
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline uncle bud

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Re: 6 String Banjos
« Reply #35 on: March 27, 2009, 11:31:37 AM »
I see from browsing one can get premounted skin banjo heads, which I thought was the case but didn't see at first when poking around the internet. That would save a heap of trouble, naturally, as long as there's a premounted head that fits your pot size. You pay for it, of course.

Offline Mike Brosnan

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Re: 6 String Banjos
« Reply #36 on: March 27, 2009, 01:08:02 PM »
Thanks y'all.  I'll keep googling around but there was some useful info there.  I'm stuck on the idea of a real skin head, but we'll see how the pricing works out.  The action is high at the nut.  I can't play this thing without a capo.  I'm planning to let a pro handle all of this once I make up my mind.  I'm gonna go mess around with some five strings to compare heads in the meantime.  It sure would be nice to have a Vega instead...

Offline banjochris

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Re: 6 String Banjos
« Reply #37 on: March 27, 2009, 02:54:33 PM »
If you do try mounting your own skin head, buy a couple in case you tear one. It can be very frustrating, but also very satisfying, to do it yourself.

The premounted skin heads, IMHO, suck. I bought one and the "flesh hoop" is so thick it tells you that you may have to file it down for each bracket on the banjo. Less hassle to mount it yourself, providing you have the flesh hoop, and if you don't have one, Bernunzio sells them in various sizes.
Chris

Offline onewent

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Re: 6 String Banjos
« Reply #38 on: March 27, 2009, 03:13:35 PM »
Nice pickin' on that guitjo, brosna, pretty snappy..

Not much to add above and beyond what's been said, but I can clarify that I put a calf skin head on wax's Slingerland .. purchased the skin from Bernunzio and it's only #2 grade because of the veins, which are only cosmetic.  I did like you all and researched the net for instructions to mount a skin head and, as mentioned above, quickly wanted to run the other direction when reading about soaking in the tub and cloths pins etc..but, was motivated to get the Slingerland playing, so, step-by-step went through the process.  It's actually easier done than said, if you're careful and are clear of what's required at each step.  Personally, on a free banjo, this would be a fun project..the head is about $35 bucks and no other specialty tools than clothes pins and razors are needed!

have fun..Tom

Offline Johnm

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Re: 6 String Banjos
« Reply #39 on: March 27, 2009, 03:51:04 PM »
Hi Mike,
I agree with most of what has been said here--that the sound of a skin head is preferable to that of a plastic head.  You get that deep tubby tone with a skin head that is really nice.  One minor caution:  skin heads tend to be more weather-sensitive, so changes in temperature and/or humidity will affect a skin head more than a plastic one.  The same applies with regard to tuning.  In my experience, at least, on a five-string banjo or a banjo-guitar, there is no such thing as tempered tuning--when I've changed the tuning on one string, I've had to check and at least subtly re-tune all the other strings, even though they may theoretically stay the same pitch in the new tuning.  It makes sense--the head is a membrane and altering the tension on one string must necessarily result in a certain amount of compensatory shifting on the part of the other strings.
Have fun.  Whether you are talking about banjo-guitar or an open-backed five-string, they are the perfect instruments for so much of this music, and as John C. mentioned, a banjo-guitar is a great rhythm instrument for Jug Band and ragtime-type material.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Richard

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Re: 6 String Banjos
« Reply #40 on: March 28, 2009, 12:11:53 PM »
I've been thinking about this and I would go for nice thin calf head, but as Johnm says you have to watch them. By that I mean slacken it a touch in very hot dry weather or it might split and conversely it will go a bit slack in the monsoon season. If you want drummers basic guide to tensioning a head ask!

I did try and lap a couple of drum heads many years back and found it a revolting occupation grappling with a wet, slimey, slippery bit of animal  :-X and then the bl00dy thing pulled off the hoop because it wasn't tucked in far enough - go buy one  ;)

(That's enough of that. Ed)

Dobro33H

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Re: 6 String Banjos
« Reply #41 on: March 28, 2009, 12:53:21 PM »
I've had a few Tyler Mountain six-strings come through the office and they are surprisingly nice.



The frustrating thing about six-string banjos is that they tend to be nothing more than a guitar neck grafted onto a banjo pot. As a result you end up with a lot of tone problems, a crazy reach to get to the first fret and you can't sit all curled around the instrument like you can with a flattop box. Gibson came close to making the six-string banjo close to playing more like a guitar (http://ww.frets.com/FRETSPages/Museum/Banjo/Gibson/GB4/gb4.html) but even that design had some issues.

Setup on modern six-string banjos is pretty simple but you have to factor in how the instrument was built. For example, you can warm up the tone of a banjo with an solid "bottle cap" aluminum rim by simply a cotton ball on the underside of the head directly under the bridge. If the instrument is really ringing out of control you can loosen the tension on the head a little bit - and if it sounds too muddy or dull you can brighten the tone by cranking the head down.

I have done a couple of workshops on banjo setup over the last couple of years. Any of the techniques I use to set up five-string banjos can be used on a six-string.



-Patrick
http://tangiersound.wordpress.com/


Offline paulreso1

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Re: 6 String Banjos
« Reply #42 on: April 30, 2009, 08:30:32 AM »
Hi ...I wonder if there are any 6 string banjo players out there &, if so , what kind of instrument (with what kinds of strings) would you recommend for a plunky blues/rag sound - new or vintage?  I have a few old guitars, so I like the vintage vibe, but I also know old instruments can need looking after.....your views are appreciated

thanks
Paul

Offline Johnm

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Re: 6 String Banjos
« Reply #43 on: April 30, 2009, 08:49:21 AM »
Hi Paul,
I merged your thread with a pre-existing one on 6-string banjos (or banjo-guitars or guitjos).  I hope you'll be able to find some helpful info here.
all best,
Johnm

Offline paulreso1

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Re: 6 String Banjos
« Reply #44 on: May 01, 2009, 12:12:21 AM »
Johnm

thanks for merging - I see there are quite a few 6 string banjo players here - I'd welcome their thoughts on a good instrument for playing blues & rag

thanks again
Paul

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