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TOPIC: Tuning The Banjo Head

Tuning The Banjo Head 11 years 6 months ago #1870

Most professional banjo players(and probably experienced amateurs as well) believe that tuning the plastic head of the banjo can maximize the banjo's volume and optimize the tonal qualities to get the best sound in your playing. The most popular method of tuning the head is "tap tuning" the head to approximately 'G#/Ab' or 'A'. My own Williams banjo sounds best (to me) when the head is tuned to 'A'. The head is incrementally tightened as evenly as possible until the pitch is 'A'. How do you tell what the pitch is? This is the hard part for me. While muting all of the strings with the left hand, the head is lightly thumped ("tapped") with the right hand and the pitch of the vibrating head (it's pretty muted) is determined by ear which is very difficult for me.....then quickly compared to the G-position chord at the 5th ('G'), 6th ('G#') and 7th ('A') frets. I tighten or loosen the head as described to raise or lower the pitch to match the 7th fret 'A' pitch.

Is there anyone in our class who is familiar with this (or other) head tuning technique(s) and feels confident that he/she can correctly identify the head pitch when "tap tuning"? I'd like a check on my own determination before I over-tighten the head and tear/ruin it. Let me know at the next class if you're the one!
  • JimJoyce
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Re:Tuning The Banjo Head 11 years 6 months ago #1871

I would also like to check my head.
  • buzzart410
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Re:Tuning The Banjo Head 11 years 6 months ago #1872

Several months ago I visited the 12th fret in Toronto Canada and had a discussion on this topic. Rather than tapping the head he used kind of a "finger flicking scratch of the head" and then compared it to the 1st string 5th and 6th fret. It's king of hard to hear but you can kind of pick up on it by comparing it with a note. Humming a bit seems to also help. Generally, the note is not strong enough to be picked up by a tuner. I seem to like the head tuned tight enough to get the 4th string to growl a bit. Generally a G# seems to do it for my but alot is dependent on which head you have as some are biased more for base and of course clear heads are the most treble.
  • brilind
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Re:Tuning The Banjo Head 11 years 6 months ago #1874

The "finger flicking scratch of the head" you describe is a very good description of the "tap".
I have actually had an Intelli tuner CMT500 record the head pitch but it is not repeatable enough for me to rely on it. There is a description of that approach on the internet .....somewhere.
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Re:Tuning The Banjo Head 11 years 6 months ago #1877

I think the reason that the tuners can't pick up the note (fundamental) is that it isn't much louder than all the other noise going on. sometimes I think I can hear it pretty well but maybe I just have a good imagination.

Jens Kruger is supposed to be a master at this and setup in general so I am looking forward to a discussion and hands on of this in April.
  • brilind
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Re:Tuning The Banjo Head 11 years 5 months ago #2101

Try laying the tuner on the head while you tap / scratch the head. The tuner will pick up the vibration of the head directly through the back of the tuner. I've done this, but I've noticed different notes depending on where you tap and where the tuner is located.

Trying to tap tune the head has been a windfall to the head makers. It's very easy to bust the head trying to get it up "just another half tone". (Don't ask me how I know this)

Others use the device drum technicians use to measure head tension.

Cheers,
Chris
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