Banjo neck angle

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Alan Carruth
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Banjo neck angle

Post by Alan Carruth »

One of my students is working on a 'minstrel banjo', based on a fair amount of research and an existing wreck. The problem is that the books he's got are by music historians, not builders, and the scarf joint of the rim on the wreck has come unglued, so it's hard to tell just what the neck angle should be. Part of the problem is that it's not at all clear from the information we have whether the 'fingerboard' surface should be level with the top of the rim (or the skin), or a bit higher or lower. He's moving along pretty nicely with this project, and we're getting to a decision point.

Thanks.

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Bob Gramann
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Re: Banjo neck angle

Post by Bob Gramann »

I make open back banjos, usually with a 12” rim. I’ve tried chasing a number for what is considered the best neck angle for a banjo. The bluegrass guys seem to think that 3 degrees is optimum, but for a 5/8” bridge, that puts the strings really close to the head at the edge of the rim which isn’t optimum for clawhammer picking. The scale length and neck length also influence what is optimum—conventional wisdom puts the bridge 1/3 of the head diameter from the tail. I’ve done no testing on that, but just accepted it—it seems to work. So, I just took into account all of the constraints and worked it out so they were all met. I wanted the bottom of my fingerboard even with the head so there was room for clawhammer picking. On my 12” banjos, it worked out to around 1.2 degrees. I have no idea if there was ever a historical standard. Maybe this discussion will enlighten me.

Brian Evans
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Re: Banjo neck angle

Post by Brian Evans »

Jake Wildwood's blog has a ton of old banjo reviews, repairs, etc., and a ton of pictures. Here is one https://jakewildwood.blogspot.com/2012/ ... banjo.html

The top of the fretboard on most seems to be level with the top of the rim, which is proud of the actual head surface. Neck angle is usually adjustable with the dowel. bridge height is usually uniform. https://jakewildwood.blogspot.com/2011/ ... banjo.html

Mark Wybierala
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Re: Banjo neck angle

Post by Mark Wybierala »

If this is a one-off antique build by a craftman many years ago, there are no rules. I'd suggest putting yourself in the position of the original builder and set the angle for optimum playability for a 5/8" or 3/4 bridge. Maybe draw out plans using the pieces you have and just make it work.

Brian Evans
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Location: Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia

Re: Banjo neck angle

Post by Brian Evans »

It's kind of funny, on guitars and basses, the neck is attached to the body and that creates a whole definition of how you think about them. With banjo's it's more the body is attached to the neck - the neck is the defining element and you make the body fit it, not the other way round.

Chris Reed
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Re: Banjo neck angle

Post by Chris Reed »

I'm informed these were gut strung instruments with a much higher action than on modern banjos. There are experts on the Banjo Hangout site who could help.

Once you decide on bridge height and action height, you work out the neck angle from that. I doubt anyone can give you a number for this.

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