Banjo Head types

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Banjo Head types

Postby Jon Whitney » Tue Jan 24, 2012 1:18 pm

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.
Attachments
whitney_walnutbanjo11.jpg
internal adjustable tensioned
whitney_walnutbanjo11.jpg (14.34 KiB) Viewed 15282 times
IMG_0322.JPG
external adjustable tensioned
appleBanjo.jpg
Untensioned: wood top
appleBanjo.jpg (8.06 KiB) Viewed 15282 times
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Jon Whitney » Tue Jan 24, 2012 1:47 pm

More:
Attachments
flexipot complete heel and pot back.jpg
External adjustable top tensioned
Optimized-yellowstone panhead 022.jpg
permanently tensioned Nomex paper
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Jon Whitney » Tue Jan 24, 2012 1:49 pm

One more:
Attachments
Optimized-box banjos front.jpg
Self tensioned heat shrunk PETE plastic
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Charlie Schultz » Tue Jan 24, 2012 2:00 pm

Nice Jon! Hmm, some sound clips from each would be nice, eh?
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Jon Whitney » Wed Jan 25, 2012 12:53 pm

Is it possible to post sound files directly, or should I email some to you?
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Charlie Schultz » Wed Jan 25, 2012 1:57 pm

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.
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Jon Whitney » Thu Jan 26, 2012 12:08 pm

I'd be happy to do that.
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Bryan Bear » Thu Jan 26, 2012 12:40 pm

Jon, any chance of getting a clip of that wood top while you're at it?
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Jon Whitney » Thu Jan 26, 2012 1:50 pm

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"?
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Charlie Schultz » Thu Jan 26, 2012 1:54 pm

Hmm, I was hoping for a little smaller. How much is 15 seconds?
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Jon Whitney » Thu Jan 26, 2012 4:28 pm

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?
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Charlie Schultz » Fri Jan 27, 2012 7:59 am

Hi Jon, ok thanks, I'll set a 200k limit. Give me a day or so and I'll get back to you.
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Jon Whitney » Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:06 am

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.
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all-american-Brighton Camp.mp3 [ 174.56 KiB | Viewed 15205 times ]
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Jon Whitney » Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:08 am

Here is the sound file for the other PETE head - same tuning and scale length, this one is nylon string (fishing line) and fretless.
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Little Buddy-Wildwood Flower.mp3 [ 193.69 KiB | Viewed 15205 times ]
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Jon Whitney » Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:10 am

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).
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tackhead-golden slippers.mp3 [ 167.63 KiB | Viewed 15205 times ]
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Jon Whitney » Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:16 am

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.
Attachments

wood banjo - camptown.mp3 [ 167.75 KiB | Viewed 15205 times ]
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Jon Whitney » Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:18 am

I really like this feature of being able to post sound files. Keep up the good work, Charlie.
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Steve Senseney » Mon Jan 30, 2012 12:39 pm

I agree that the sound clips being available is nice.

I like the tackhead sound best Jon.
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Jon Whitney » Mon Jan 30, 2012 12:53 pm

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. ;)
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Re: Banjo Head types

Postby Steve Senseney » Mon Jan 30, 2012 12:59 pm

You fooled me!!
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