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Banjo Dowel Stick Angle Adjust?

Posted: Wed Nov 27, 2019 2:02 am
by Steve Woods
The angle of the dowel stick on this early 1920's Ditson "Victory" Vega banjo/mandolin is way off. I'd like to correct it. How do I steam, soak, or heat the dowel out of the heel without separating the 2 piece neck and fingerboard? I definitely want to preserve the original dowel stick...

Re: Banjo Dowel Stick Angle Adjust?

Posted: Wed Nov 27, 2019 7:03 am
by Chris Reed
Are you sure you need to remove and reattach the dowel stick?

I think it would be more normal to change the attachment position at the tailpiece end - assuming there is a screw from the tail into the dowel stick, drill a hole in the dowel stick end at the correct place for your desired neck angle and screw into that, or fabricate some bracket to put it in the correct place if you need to move the tail end too much for that.

Re: Banjo Dowel Stick Angle Adjust?

Posted: Wed Nov 27, 2019 1:44 pm
by Paul Breen
I would suggest that you begin this project just getting it cleaned up and installing a new head on it. Don't worry for now about the neck angle and string it up with a new bridge for the current geometry. You can change this later if you are unhappy with the result.

Mandolin scale length banjos can be VERY bright and controlling/ taming the brightness and overtones should be a set up consideration. Increasing the string break angle over the bridge will increase downward pressure/ tension and contribute to brightness. The greater downward force will also be a problem if you plan to use a hide head, the hide will likely stretch and permanently dimple below the bridge. A lower string break angle is actually desirable! The geometry I see in the image is likely not very far off of where it was put when the instrument was new, even though it may seem counter intuitive by just looking at it.

Controlling/ taming overtones can be mitigated somewhat by damping the string length between the bridge and tailpiece and also between the nut and tuner posts. Most hardware stores should have small rubber grommets that can be placed between the string pairs, see attached image, looks clean and does the job. I have also used foam rubber just behind the nut and also between the neck stick and head. Too much sustain can add to unwanted overtone as well, you want the notes to fall dead pretty fast.

I am pretty sure from the images, that the dowel is not turned into the end of the laminated neck stick. It is most likely glued into both the neck heel and dowel stick. To remove the neck stick, you will either need to use steam and then deal with any collateral damage. Or, saw the neck stick off at the dowel and remove the parts from the dowel and neck heel mechanically by drilling what you can then steam and pick out the remaining bits. If you steam, you could drill some small holes into the neck stick, pull that first for better access at the neck heel. There is no easy way to go about this. I have also fabricated a neck stick adjuster to skirt the re-set issue and not add any extra holes into the pot, see attached image. You will still need fill and re-drill the neck heel for the new dowel angle. Controlling the desired hole angle, up, down and side to side will require coming up with some kind of jig. You would also need to re-cut the neck heel to correctly fit the pot with a new angle.

The banjo is a nicely built, heavy pot and worthy of the effort. The lightly built, spun over pot versions, are very prone to deforming into a potato chip shape and better set up as a 4 string instrument with light strings or just walked away from.
rubber grommets.jpeg
neck adjuster.jpg

Re: Banjo Dowel Stick Angle Adjust?

Posted: Wed Nov 27, 2019 4:07 pm
by Steve Woods
Thanks Paul. All good advice. I like your "stick adjuster". If I resort to that I'll have to saw 1/4" off the stick because it is currently mortised into the pot about that far.