Banjo bridge position (opinions, help)

Banjo bridge position (opinions, help)

Hi. Continuing with my banjo threads. So, I bought a banjo from Clareen Banjos, Co. Galway. A Bridge model (the beginner model), and although I have no idea about banjos and I’d never played one, it seems to me something may be wrong here. Tom, from Clareen Banjos, said in the instructions that I have to “raise the bridge and align with the pencil marks for correct position”. I looked for the pencil marks and this is what I found:

And then I aligned it with the marks before raising it, so I could see what the final position would look like:

Have you ever seen such an inclination in a banjo bridge? At this point I wanted to make sure I was understanding things right. I wanted to make sure the bottom mark was indeed a pencil mark and not some dirt or something, so I emailed Tom showing him these two pictures and explaining my concern. He wasn’t very detailed in his answer, he just said I need to follow the pencil marks and the bridge will slightly be at an angle at the base (4th string) end, and that this is correct. OK, then, I raised the bridge with this alignment and started to play it. Photo:

And it’s fine, I like it very much, but the two lowest string (especially the G string) seem as if they were a little bit loose or something, because, especially the G string, it doesn’t sound stable. Like the note fluctuates. And if I move my left-hand finger towards myself or opposite to myself a little bit while pressing the G string on the fret, the note fluctuates. Can this mean the bridge is TOO MUCH at an angle at the base (4th string) end right now and I should move it a bit towards the neck?

Re: Banjo bridge position (opinions, help)

And, also, I’m very clumsy about all these things. I don’t know how to tie the strap to the banjo. I asked Tom and he explained it but, still, I’m a useless bastard. And he said to get back if I had any problems but I just don’t want to bother him anymore. So please help me understand his explanation. He said:

"Tie the strap to hook No 2 to the right of the neck as you look at the banjo ie. neck=12 oc Noon, hook no 2 = 1 oc. pm
Tie the other end to hook no 2 to the right of the tailpiece (bottom) ie Tailpiece = 6 OC(pm) Hook no 2 at bottom =5pm"

I have no idea how banjo straps work and I’ve never even seen one. What does he mean when he says “hook”? I’ll show you a picture:

Does he mean those screws/things?

Re: Banjo bridge position (opinions, help)

“And he said to get back if I had any problems”…………. There’s your answer

Re: Banjo bridge position (opinions, help)

The way to check whether the bridge is set correctly is to check the intonation: for each string in turn, play the open string, then fret it at the 12th fret - the note at the 12th fret should be exactly an octave above the open string.

-If a string notes *flat* at the octave, then the bridge is too far *back* (towards the tailpiece) at the point where that string crosses it.
-If a string notes *sharp* at the octave, then the bridge is too far *forward* (towards the neck) at that point.

If the octaves are in tune on all strings, then you don’t need to change anything (and if you’re not sure, experiment with different positions - you always have the pencil marks to come back to if you get lost).

“the two lowest string (especially the G string) seem as if they were a little bit loose or something”

That has nothing to do with the bridge angle - that is to do with string gauges. You might get used to it, or you might want to switch to a slightly heavier gauge. Keep in mind, however, that using heavier strings might necessitate changing the bridge angle slightly for correct intonation; it might also require a small adjustment to the truss rod (which is something you should approach a luthier for).

As Tony O’Rourke says, if Mr. Cussen says to get back to him with any problems, do so - and keep asking questions until he gives you an answer you understand. I met him once and he seemed a very pleasant and patient man.

Re: Banjo bridge position (opinions, help)

“Does he mean those screws/things?”

Yes, he means that metal things with the screw at the bottom that fastens the banjo head.

Re: Banjo bridge position (opinions, help)

CreadurMawnOrganig has it right re how to set up a banjo bridge. FYI I play one of Tom’s ‘Elite’ banjos and to ensure perfect intonation on every string and every fret my bridge also ends up at a jaunty angle similar to the ones in your photos.
The issue you describe with the G string varying its note sounds like the bridge isn’t in the correct position however. I’d never rely on pencil marks but test it out as CreadurMawnOrganig says for yourself.
I check/reset my bridge regularly as after long sessions/gigs it wanders away from the best position. So it’s a relatively simple skill and routine you’ll need to get used to.
And yes keep asking Tom if you aren’t happy/don’t fully understand. He wants people to make his banjos play as good as they look! K

Re: Banjo bridge position (opinions, help)

A little “tough love” here. If these are things you truly can’t figure out…get a luthier. There few things about stringed instruments the are easier.

Re: Banjo bridge position (opinions, help)

OK, I get it, I get it. But at least the strap thing, I don’t want to bother Mr. Cussen for such a silly thing, as you may understand. I’m sure you guys have tied banjo straps more than once and know how to explain it with easy words to a non-native English speaker, can’t you?

Re: Banjo bridge position (opinions, help)

Pretty much every banjo I have tends to have the “bass end” of the bridge slanted back toward the tailpiece a bit like your pictures show. This is to adjust for intonation differences between how much a thick string (like your G) sharpens when bent down to reach the frets compared to how much a thin string (like your E).

CreadurMawnOrganig gives you the right idea about setting the bridge position. It’s not a bad idea to move your bridge to the wrong position, and then make the adjustments again, so that you get used to doing it. You will probably end up needing to readjust your bridge position every time you change strings (and occasionally in between if you’re noticing intonation issues).

For me, a slightly better way to do it is to compare the 12th fret harmonic (which is a bit weird if you’ve never done it before, but basically, you touch the string directly over the 12th fret, and then as you’re plucking the string, you remove the finger touching the string right as you pluck, which sets up a harmonic wave that is an octave higher than the open string). You can then compare the harmonic note directly to the pitch of the fretted string at the 12th fret. If the fretted string is sharper than the harmonic, move the bridge back toward the tailpiece. If it’s flatter than the harmonic, then move the bridge toward the neck… You do this for each string, and find the bridge position that is the closest possible across all four strings.

Here’s a video that shows how to do it.

There are also lots of youtube videos about how to attach a banjo strap, but there are tons of different kinds of straps, so choose one that fits your type. But typically, you would just tie it to the brackets (or hooks).

Re: Banjo bridge position (opinions, help)

PJ…no malice intended. I encourage everybody to find a luthier. A luthier will talk you through things face to face to help you understand how things work and maybe point some other, more subtle, issues that could get in the way of your learning. Banjoes are more complex than they seem. I’m guessing you have a “fiddle guy”. Find a “banjo guy”, could even be the same guy. May your banjo soon rise to the level as your excellent whistle skill.

Re: Banjo bridge position (opinions, help)

Ah, ’tis many the happy hour I spent moving and fiddling around with the bridge on me banjo….trying to get it right.

Don’t be afraid to experiment! There’s very little damage can be done to the banjo (as long as you don’t go at it like a bull in a china shop) and a new bridge, should you break it, isn’t going to break the bank. Like anything else - practice makes perfect, well, maybe not on a banjo. But you can get close!

Consider yourself lucky in one respect at least. Moving the bridge on a violin is a far more technical and frustrating business. Talk about a ‘black art’.

Re: Banjo bridge position (opinions, help)

Angus Grant Senior at a master class once told us that players might often progress much better if they “footered about” a lot less with their instruments and just played them.

Unfortunately, I’m a bit guilty of being a “footerer” as far as the mandolin and banjo as concerned. less so with the fiddle.
He’s got a point though. Once you’ve got things right, you should leave it. Sometimes, if things aren’t going too well, it’s often more likely down to you than the instrument. So, it’s better not to go moving things around too much if you are having an “off day” or not been practising for a while unless there’s a very obvious fault.