Improve Your Banjo’s Tone Part 1: Bracket Shoes
1. Go to music shop and buy two sets of your preferred strings.
2. Get home and put the kettle on.
This one doesn't switch itself off any more, I'll have to dig out the receipt and nip over to Dixons with it... (pic by Gary Tamin)
3.While your waiting for the kettle to boil, open that little compartment in your case. I bet its full of ropey old strings you’ve been saving “just in case” . Take them all out and throw them away now ! 🙂
They’ve had it and if you break a string at a gig or session or whatever, these will just poke you under your nails and snap and generally annoy you. Bin them.
4. Put one of the lovely new sets in your case and enjoy the peace and tranquility of a stab free case compartment. Keep the other set handy.
Understanding The “Coupled System”
The banjo offers so many tone variations to us. There are so many changeable parts and adjustments that can be made but its worth remembering, the banjo creates sound as a “coupled system”.
All this really means is, when you change or alter one component , it influences other components. This (along with personal taste) can help explain why say, a bridge that sounds great on one persons banjo , might not sound that great on another persons.
So there is still a lot of experimenting to do as far as getting the tone you want from your instrument . I should also state the importance of listening to ‘the greats’ and working on your technique. Never underestimate this, your by far the biggest contributor to your tone. This is a good thing ! It means you have the power to improve it and I have no doubt at all that you will. But you may still end up with a drawer full of bridges and tailpieces along the way ! 🙂
Ok, basically…for a banjo to transfer sound vibrations effectively , rather than soak them up. Things have to fit very snugly and be fairly tight. Not wheel nut tight ! but generally speaking, pretty firm. At this point I would say, if your banjo has bracket shoes around the rim . This would be a good point to inspect them. Its not unusual for these to be fairly loose and sloppy when you buy a banjo. So….
How To Check Your Bracket Shoes Are Tight.
Picture shows some shoes with the bracket hooks going through.
1. Remove your banjo’s resonator if it has one.
2. Slacken your banjo’s head, very slightly. Using the correct bracket key or a decent ring spanner. Just slacken each hook about half a turn.
3. Using a close fitting screw driver or socket ( never pliers ! they chew the nuts up and can slip off damaging finish ). Tighten the bracket shoe screws / nuts on the inside of your banjos rim.
These need to be snugged up fairly tight but don’t go mad.
These are a couple of old hex-head screw type requiring a spanner or a socket, yours might be slotted or Phillips head screws (but they do the same thing)
4. Ok, now retighten head . If your bracket shoes were very loose , you may want to retighten your head slightly less than half a turn. As the brackets will have pulled down slightly, flat against the rim.Having their own tightening effect on the head.
5. Although only a pretty small step, your banjo has already started out on the road to sounding better.
Next installment to follow very shortly , stay de-tunered.