Weak Slide on the Banjo E String

Weak Slide on the Banjo E String

I just acquired a Kenmore Ludwig tenor banjo from the 1930s. It was set up professionally by a very good luthier I trust, but for some reason, the E string is impossible to slide on, and notes are very weak unless the string is pressed close to the frets. I start a slide, and as I move up a fret, the note immediately dies out.

I noticed the frets under the E string are very worn down compared to the rest of the strings, and while the string is mildly tarnished, it’s basically new. The bridge was custom made for this banjo a few weeks ago, and the other strings have no trouble at all.

Do any of you have any advice on getting a clean slide or helping to troubleshoot this banjo trouble?

Thanks.

Re: Weak Slide on the Banjo E String

Have you checked the batteries?

Re: Weak Slide on the Banjo E String

If the frets are very worn, they are the most likely culprit. It would be worth getting it refretted (or having the frets stoned, if the wear is not too bad) anyway, as worn frets will cause intonation problems and stop it from noting clearly. If you are taking it to a luthier, point out the exact problem you are having and they will no doubt find the root of it – but it is difficult to assess without seeing (and feeling) it.

Re: Weak Slide on the Banjo E String

I would add that I am not a banjo expert – I am fairly well versed in neck-, fret-, bridge- and nut-related issues, but not so much in the vellum part of things. Incorrect skin tension could perhaps cause ‘dead spots’ at particular notes. One way to check this might be to play the same notes on a different string and see if the problem occurs there as well – if not, then it is probably not a skin tension issue.

Re: Weak Slide on the Banjo E String

I’ve had that problem, too, with a Ludwig Capitol tenor, 1924. Not that I slide much, but the sustain on a Ludwig isn’t terribly good, either, owing to the huge metal rim and pot that it has. If you were comparing it to a banjo that has a wooden rim and tone ring, or no tone ring, just a wooden rim, then a Ludwig with a one-piece metal rim will never give the same performance with sustain and slides so that’s also something to consider. They are loud beasts and great with chords for jazz, but they do not offer much in the way of nuance when it comes to single string melodies. Big on punchy notes with a heavy pick but a little flat for ornaments beyond picked triplets and pull offs. Hammering on sounds different on the Ludwig, as do slides, compared to other banjos.

Re: Weak Slide on the Banjo E String

@CreadurMawnOrganig Thanks for the advice. I located a luthier. I also noticed that they do slide a bit, it’s just the volume is masked by the sympathetic resonances from the other strings.

@gravelwalks Interesting. It has a lot of volume and sympathetic resonance, which makes the high notes sound even weaker. I’m going to put some fresh strings on it and see what that will do to help me out now.

If that’s not satisfying, to the luthier I go.

Thanks for the advice so far.

Re: Weak Slide on the Banjo E String

Regardless as to what the culprit is I’d definitely get a luthier to address the uneven fret wear - when you mention that it’s more worn down under the E string it does seem a bit suspect as regards the issues you’re experiencing on that string when attempting slides and the weak sound of notes on that string unless pressed very close to the fret. I’m a wee bit surprised that the luthier who set it up for you didn’t do anything about the uneven fret wear as it’ll have an effect on intonation as well.