Banjo head help

Banjo head help

I’ve just bought a 1920s Vegaphone tenor banjo and while it’s a high quality instrument I’m not loving the sound yet. It came with super light strings, which I’ve changed, stuffed a sock in the back, etc., but still not completely happy yet. It’s much too bright to my ear plus the head is really smooth/slick which creates noise when I rest my pinky on the head—I’m wanting a warmer, "chunkier" sound. I am looking to change the head and just starting to research them, looking at natural skin and fiber to begin with. I’m wondering how much of a tuning nightmare to expect with a natural skin head—a friend told me that his 5 string skin head was mostly a problem when travelling out of the region and into different weather patterns. I live in the Colorado mountains where humidity is extremely low. I also have an entry level Recording King Dirty 30s with some type of Remo head and I like the sound of it a lot, though the intonation isn’t as true as I’d like, hence the upgrade to the Vega. Thanks for your input.

Re: Banjo head help

You might get closer to the sound you want with a Fiberskyn or Renaissance head. Lower head tension might also help mellow the sound a bit.

I have a Vega large-pot, short-scale tenor and love the sound, but I don’t use banjo strings, I use Thomastik-Infeld 174 (medium) steel core chrome wound mandola strings. All the strings, even the e, are wound, and produce a mellower sound than standard banjo strings. They cost a lot, but last forever. However, though these work on my short-scale style x, no. 9, they might be too short for a scale length longer than about 22 inches. Check first if you try these. Good luck.

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Re: Banjo head help

I have a 1929 Vegaphone. It came with a skin head and that was a big problem with the changes in temperature and humidity that we have here. I replaced it with a Remo Renaissance head and am happy with that. After trying variety of strings, I am currently using Deering Irish Tenor strings on this and other banjos (12 18w 28w 38w).

Re: Banjo head help

I have a tubaphone vega that sounds great with a Renaissance head. Look no further. After experimenting with heavier strings, I’m also back to 12-38 strings. The heavier strings lose to much of the pop for me.

Re: Banjo head help

I would avoid the vellum heads in general. They can sound really great, but they’re just a pain in all sorts of conditions, especially if there are changes in humidity, or taking it into a warm pub on a cold winter’s night. The head will soften and you’ll start to get fret buzz. I would recommend the Renaissance heads as well. They are kind of papery plastic, which is meant to give a similar tone to a vellum head, without all the hassle. Personally, I can’t stand the fiberskyn heads. They’re really thick and plunky. But I like a nice ring to my banjos in general. Also beware that Vega made most of their banjos with non-standard head sizes, so measure before you buy!

I am in West Denver, and I do a lot of banjo setups. If you’re down this way at any point, give me a P.M. and I can maybe help. Depending on the size, I have plenty of different heads that we could try out if you like…

Re: Banjo head help

Thanks for all of the input everyone—I appreciate it.

Re: Banjo head help

Also living in Colorado, I’d recommend the Fyberskin. We’re too dry for natural skin IMO. I’ve tried heavier bridges, but the piercing highs go with the creature. You can try varying your string types and gauges, but I recommenf you look up a tension calculator online before experimenting too far along that route. Older instruments can especially be susceptible to increased tensions to the detriment of the instrument.

Re: Banjo head help

I have played the five string banjo for decades. I like traditional music and try to avoid the intensely bright bluegrass sound. To get the sound I want, I stuff something soft in the back of the banjo between the center rod and the head. How much stuffing and where it is placed can help moderate some of the unwanted sounds some banjos make. A roll of socks, a diaper or a small handtowel may help you adjust your banjo. I don’t know how often this is done, but it is a well-known practice. Also, the tension of the head affects the overall sound of a banjo, but the tension also relates to the height of the action. A looser head makes a softer tone, but it would call for a taller bridge.

Re: Banjo head help

So I’m adjusting to the sound, liking it better and sometimes do use a sock in the back. But the head is still too noisy for me—the seller said it is a Renaissance, which has been recommended here. If I didn’t anchor my pinky (and I don’t always) there wouldn’t be a problem but it can sound like brushes almost and is very distracting. I really like the head on my Recording King Dirty 30s, which I’m pretty sure has a Fyberskin head. Thanks again everyone—great help.

Re: Banjo head help

I - living in NY at the time - had a mandolin-banjo with a natural skin head. Two days in Ireland and it got so soft I couldn’t play it. So I tuned it up. When I came back to NY a month later, I forgot to slack it off. The head split right up the middle.

I replaced it with a FyberSkin (Sp?) - much more affordable than vellum - and was very satisfied with the sound, which indeed is kind of chunky, but then I like that.

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