Better Tenor Banjo Action

Better Tenor Banjo Action

I just bought a 19fret tenor banjo (used Kay) and the action is high, especially near the 12th fret. I think this is partially due to the thicker G string (.42 guage, I’m using Irish tuning DGAE) resting atop the standard tenor bridge. I don’t have the tools to measure the bridge height, and feel that if I adjust the truss rod I can heighten the upper frets of the neck; what about the dowel under the skin? Can i adjust it to change the neck action? Also, I have a large phillips screw at the heel. Does this do anything? I am new at banjos. Or do I get a shorter bridge? I believe I am using a Grover Acousticraft bridge, with bone inserts inside ebony.

Re: Better Tenor Banjo Action

Did you mean GDAE tuning?

Re: Better Tenor Banjo Action

Take it into a shop and explain what you want,they do these adjustments every day.Don’t mess with it ,you,ll only wind up with parts left over.

Re: Better Tenor Banjo Action

Heavier strings for GDAE tuning will often pull a neck forward, and require some adjustment. I wasn’t aware that Kay banjos had anything other than a single (metal) coordinator rod, which can adjust your action a tiny bit, but not much, and you *can* break stuff by messing with those if you’re not careful.

The easiest "quick fix" is certainly a shorter bridge, but it’s also possible that the neck is bowed forward a bit from tension over time. It never hurts to take it to a luthier for a good setup, but Kay banjos are not generally high end instruments, and you might end up spending more than the banjo is worth to get it looked at. With some of the older banjos, it’s pretty common to see a shim in between the neck and the pot to help tilt the neck back a bit, and lower the action.

In general, I am a fan of doing banjo setups myself, because they’re *banjos*, and there’s only so much damage you can do ;-) With coordinator rods, you CAN strip the screws in the neck, and such things, so you should be careful when you’re playing around with things. But the nice thing about banjos is you can change the sound and playability with things like a screwdriver and wrench (as opposed to most other instruments, where the screwdriver and wrench are best left in the tool box…)

Re: Better Tenor Banjo Action

Yes I meant GDAE (Irish) tuning; any advice on the large phillips screw in the heel? It’s located right where the resonator meets the neck at the bottom (the heel).

Re: Better Tenor Banjo Action

That "large Phillips screw" sounds like the strap hanger ???
It may have been part of an assembly like the bottom right one here:
http://melodymusiconline.com/images/schalStrpLk.jpg
But perhaps the outside bit got lost

Posted by .

Re: Better Tenor Banjo Action

Ralphus,

The height of the action is determined by the bridge, but in your case the nut slots and the bridge slots may be too small for a set of GDAE strings. In addition, there may be loose parts to your banjo, the coordinator rod should be just past finger tight as it is there to hold the neck on, not to adjust the neck angle.

Some banjos (Weymann, Leedy) do have a way to adjust the neck angle, but all that does is change the height of the bridge. A taller bridge is usually louder and within limits, action height is not as crucial in Irish banjo as it is in jazz or bluegrass.

Most likely you have a not very playable banjo. I suggest that you take it to a luthier to have a look and to estimate the cost of doing the slots in the nut and to see if the neck is twisted or bowed forward too much (it needs a little bow, called relief, in order for the banjo to be playable -usually a truss rod adjustment.)

Above all, don’t mess with the coordinator rod. Anything you can do to it will most likely be wrong. Change the height of the bridge. You have the tools to measure the height, just take a piece of cardboard, line it up with the bridge and mark it. Then measure it with your ruler. Bridges are cheap and even easy to make if you have the tools.

Mike Keyes
http://www.mikekeyes.com

Re: Better Tenor Banjo Action

and then lay your ruler across the the lenghth of the fret board to see what sort of curve/bow you have got.

Posted by .

Re: Better Tenor Banjo Action

Kays are nightmares. Look after the head and don’t over tighten it - the odds are that you’ll not be able to get a replacement if it breaks.

If you can manage it, scrape a couple of hundred quid together and get a new banjo - it would be a better investment than buying gizmos and setups for the Kay.

Good luck

Re: Better Tenor Banjo Action

Guess I’ll be looking for lower bridges; and maybe a luthier in Chicago. New banjo not yet an option; feel I should learn to play it before I spend $700 on a decent new one. If I get to that point I think I’ll be looking at the Gold Tone TS 250.
BTW does anyone know of a good banjo tuner? I was looking at the Accutune (?), the one which clamps on the headstock. I like the idea of keeping it on the headstock handy in case I need it between songs.
Most sites I checked recommends a Korg for $20 but like I said I would like the clamp-on tuner type.
Also, if I decide on a new IT 250 (Irish Tenor) does the nut and bridge on those handle the heavier guage strings? Just wondering….if not, do ANY makedrs accomodate the heavier guage strings?

Re: Better Tenor Banjo Action

I have bought a number of good vintage banjos for less than the price of a IT250. (Including an Orpheum #1 that I sold to Will CPT to replace his IT250). It’s tough to know what to buy if you aren’t too familiar with banjos for Irish, but I would be willing to help if you need.

As far as tuners go, I have used a bunch, and the clip-on ones all have some issues detecting the tone from a banjo. They seem to detect the higher pitched overtones better than they detect the main note on the banjos, which are an octave below a fiddle. But I have had decent luck with the $20 ones like this: http://www.music44.com/X/product/TT-500-SH All of those tuners seem to do better on banjos if you pluck the string with your finger instead of a plectrum.

BTW, millionyears_bc, the Kay-built banjo that I bought a few years ago (that I got specifically because it was a steal and I knew I could sell for a profit) took a standard 11" medium crown head. I don’t have any further experience with Kays beyond that, though.

Re: Better Tenor Banjo Action

the ones I’m referring to were the late models produced in the 70s which have an oversize head of about 12" diam