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Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2012 1:18 pm
by Jon Whitney
In my mind there are two basic types of banjo heads: Tensioned and non-tensioned. Non-tensioned banjos include such things as wood-topped banjos, cookie tin banjos, gas can banjos, etc. They lack the "true" banjo sound because that sound depends on a thin, tight membrane as the sound producer. That brings us to tensioned heads. I can think of three general categories for tensioned heads: Self-tensioned, adjustable tensioned, and permanently tensioned. Self tensioned heads would be featured in such banjos as tackheads and mountain banjos where a natural skin head is installed wet and allowed to shrink tight as it dries, and in other designs using materials that can be shrunk using heat or other methods. I am not aware of another method besides heat to shrink head material, but I would be very interested to find one.

Adjustable tensioned heads are the modern norm in the banjo world. They can be categorized according to the location of the adjustment mechanism - external to the rim, or internal to the rim. Almost all commercial banjos have external adjustment mechanisms - brackets, hooks, nuts, and a tension ring. A few substitute bolts for the hooks and nuts - these are commonly tensioned from the top of the hoop (top tensioned) and have special tensioning rings. Internal adjustment mechanisms are much more rare, and seem to be the province of amateur or small-time builders, who rely on standard hardware rather than specialized banjo hardware, for their tensioning parts. Usually these function by pushing a tension/tone ring up against the banjo head, via some type of screw jack.

Permanently tensioned head designs are in many respects closer to self-tensioned head designs, but with the important difference that the head material is non-elastic and non-shrinking. Instead, during construction of the banjo pot, the material is stretched (if one can "stretch" a non-elastic membrane) tightly over the tone ring or rim, and then fastened permanently into place. This can be accomplished by using a commercially made hand-drum for a pot, or by using some temporary tensioning jig to apply tension while installing the head on the rim.

Here are some pictures of pot designs I have built using the above methods.

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2012 1:47 pm
by Jon Whitney
More:

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2012 1:49 pm
by Jon Whitney
One more:

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2012 2:00 pm
by Charlie Schultz
Nice Jon! Hmm, some sound clips from each would be nice, eh?

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2012 12:53 pm
by Jon Whitney
Is it possible to post sound files directly, or should I email some to you?

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2012 1:57 pm
by Charlie Schultz
Jon, I'm trying to allow users to attach small .mp3 files. I'll let you know when it's ready and you can give it a try if you don't mind.

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2012 12:08 pm
by Jon Whitney
I'd be happy to do that.

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2012 12:40 pm
by Bryan Bear
Jon, any chance of getting a clip of that wood top while you're at it?

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2012 1:50 pm
by Jon Whitney
I've got samples of the two PETE rectangular heads, the wood top, and the calfskin tackhead. They are approximately 20 seconds each and range from 336K to 388K in size. Is that small enough?

Why do we call everthing but wood a "head", and wood a "top"?

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2012 1:54 pm
by Charlie Schultz
Hmm, I was hoping for a little smaller. How much is 15 seconds?

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2012 4:28 pm
by Jon Whitney
I cut the file size down by lowering the bit rate from 128 to 64 - The quality is about as good as it was before (the limiting factor being my cheap microphone). The file sizes now range from 168 KB to 194 KB. How's that?

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2012 7:59 am
by Charlie Schultz
Hi Jon, ok thanks, I'll set a 200k limit. Give me a day or so and I'll get back to you.

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:06 am
by Jon Whitney
This is the PETE head, with steel strings and frets (the green plastic head). Tuning is cGCeg (like gDGBD capoed at 5th fret). It has a 20 inch scale length.

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:08 am
by Jon Whitney
Here is the sound file for the other PETE head - same tuning and scale length, this one is nylon string (fishing line) and fretless.

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:10 am
by Jon Whitney
Here is the tackhead calfskin minstrel banjo. This has a 26 3/8" scale length, and is strung with Aquila Nylgut Minstrel gauge strings. The tuning is eAEG#B (low bass in key of A).

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:16 am
by Jon Whitney
And finally, here is the wood top banjo. This has a 25" scale length, and the effective wood top diameter (inner diameter of the pot) is 9 1/2". It is tuned aEAC#e (Open-A), and has steel strings. By the way, this is the first banjo I ever built, back in 1999.

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:18 am
by Jon Whitney
I really like this feature of being able to post sound files. Keep up the good work, Charlie.

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 12:39 pm
by Steve Senseney
I agree that the sound clips being available is nice.

I like the tackhead sound best Jon.

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 12:53 pm
by Jon Whitney
Steve Senseney wrote:I agree that the sound clips being available is nice.

I like the tackhead sound best Jon.


Well that's probably because it is a real banjo and the others are more or less toys. ;)

Re: Banjo Head types

PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 12:59 pm
by Steve Senseney
You fooled me!!