Banjo heads: Smooth white vs clear

Banjo heads: Smooth white vs clear

Hi,

Well I’m toying with the idea of messing around with my banjo setup again and looking for a few opinions.

Firstly, is there any tone difference between a clear head and a smooth white head (ie the one’s with no frosting at all, just smooth white mylar)? I can’t see a reason why there would be, being both clear heads and smooth white heads are unfrosted mylar so the tone should be no different and I’m guess the smooth white gives a clear head sound to players who prefer the look of a white head, but I could be mistaken of course.

My current setup is a Paramount Style A, all original except for a clear Remo head and new two foot maple/ebony bridge, gauges 38, 28, 18, 12. It’s a great banjo and sounds amazing, but I really love the sound you get from a Dave Boyle these days so I’m looking to adjust my setup to move in that direction as much as possible. Of course I realise there’s a lot of differences between the two in terms of tone ring, tailpiece etc. but I just wanted to see if anyone hear had an idea about it. And before it gets mentioned, I know the best way to get the DB sound is to buy a DB banjo but 3,500 euro is a bit steep for me right now.

Anyway, looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Re: Banjo heads: Smooth white vs clear

There’s not a huge difference in sound between clear and cloudy mylar. I have found the clear ones to actually be a little less bright. The real milky white heads (like the 5 Star) are going to be a bit brighter. But even similar heads will sometimes sound different, and the thickness of the material plays a big part. I have tried the black heads as well, but they seem to be a bit thicker, and so aren’t as bright. (Same thing with the kevlar heads that you can buy).

Head tension is also going to play a huge role in the sound. And for me, the puzzle is to get the head tension just right, where you have the desired level of brightness in balance with the sound not being too "thin". I also put a fair amount of effort into making sure the head tension is even all the way around. I have a head tension gauge that helps with that. The theory is that if the tension isn’t even, the head is being torqued a bit, and isn’t as free to vibrate.

And if you haven’t played with the head on your Paramount before, be aware that they usually take a non-standard size. In most cases, an 1102M (11 1/8" medium crown) is going to be your best bet to fit. The last Paramount I had years ago ended up with a Clareen head on it that I got at his shop in Clarenbridge. It was a milky white head, and I think it might have been a re-branded 5 Star. It sounded pretty good! Also, the inner frosted Remo heads can be nice. The frosting makes them sound much brighter, but the inner frosting keeps them from being annoying like the outer frosted ones.

I don’t know about in Australia. But in the U.S., Elderly.com is the place that is most likely to have the non-standard sizes in stock.

Re: Banjo heads: Smooth white vs clear

Anyone going to speak up for real skin ?

Re: Banjo heads: Smooth white vs clear

Thanks guys - this Paramount had it’s original calf skin on it when I bought it and, personally, I think it was the worst thing I’ve ever heard, but that’s just my opinion.
I fitted the clear head and I do really like the tone and the look of it, but I’m definitely up for some experimenting.

I guess my next question is, is there any difference in tone between top-frosted and bottom-frosted or is the bottom frosted just a cosmetic alternative?

Re: Banjo heads: Smooth white vs clear

I haven’t found a big difference in tone between the inner and outer frosted heads, other than the scraping noise made by any parts of your hand that might happen to touch the head.