Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Hello!

As I pick my way through all the information I can find, I keep coming across metal neck reinforcement in modern banjo construction, but I can't tell if it is done on nineteenth century models.  It seems that I've heard that steel strings (on other instruments, anyway) put considerably more stress on everything than gut or even nylon, and I'm still novice enough not to know just how true that is, though it sounds logical.  I've never built anything that used anything but steel strings (mountain dulcimer, epinette des Vosges, and a rebec and pochette that used modern violin strings).

I guess my short question would be, for a banjo using nylon or Nylgut (or even real gut) strings, is metal neck reinforcement necessary?

Thanks!

Tony

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Short answer no.  

Long answer-- the neck steel truss was invented by Gibson to use "lower grades of wood" not normally suited for stringed instrument necks.

This has been well debated in the guitar world.  The trusses can actually stifle vibrations and that is counter productive with nylon/gut string esp. our tubs.  Most Classical guitars are built with cedar necks and no iron.

The Gibson five string banjo seems to be the first generation designed for wire stings- prior to that wire was just put on plectrums and tenors, those built not much different than earlier designs.

So goes the industry.  Up until very recently, "old time" banjos were mostly based on that Gibson design.

I'm not a banjo maker, I just play one in the movies, but I do know that none of my banjos that were built for gut strings have any sort of metal neck reinforcement. Dave

Thank you, Joel and Dan!  That would certainly simplify things.  I was contemplating poplar for my first neck and 1/4" oak for the pot, partly because they are available to me and easily worked, and also because I see this first one as a practice run.  I hate going in guns blazing with good looking maple or some such just to find I've missed something and end up with beautiful kindling.  Which I have done, heheh.

Another question this brings to mind, if I start out with nylon strings, just to see if it works, would there be any problem switching up to Nylgut or gut later?

Thanks,

Tony

START with Nylgut. At 8 bucks a set you can't go wrong. The gauges are correct and the strings are dense, the tone is crispy and resonant. Gut is awfully expensive now. You don't want to monkey around with nylon guitar strings or something.. it'll just sound bad.

Sounds like the right way to go then, especially at that price!  Another sign of my newbie status I guess, I was under the impression that Nylgut was good, but expensive.  Don't really know why, other than that I haven't started shopping for that sort of thing yet.  Thanks!

Tony

Bell Banjos said:

START with Nylgut. At 8 bucks a set you can't go wrong. The gauges are correct and the strings are dense, the tone is crispy and resonant. Gut is awfully expensive now. You don't want to monkey around with nylon guitar strings or something.. it'll just sound bad.

nylguts are great. keep in mind though, that they will seem like the worst sounding, stretchiest, most impossible-to-manage strings you've ever installed for the first 24 hours or so. once they stretch, its gold. depending on which gut strings you use, you might have to alter your slots to widen them, but i wouldnt worry. i also advocate for chris sands strings. they tend to have a slightly crisper, more hollow tone (if that makes sense) that i find very pleasing. in fact, in many cases, i like them better. i havent used them in a while, though, because a place in town stocks minstrel nylguts, so i usually buy them as needed.

as for truss rods, everyone else is correct. dont worry about them on these types of banjos. buying properly-seasoned lumber with the optimum grain configuration will be the most important factor, even though a lot of early banjos used flat-sawn kindling-grade wood.

yes...gut is nice, but the stability and longevity of nylgut is really nice. I have yet to try chris sands strings.  

Heheh.  Making these things is slowly teaching me patience.  Slowly.

Thanks!

Tony

Moschella Banjos said:

nylguts are great. keep in mind though, that they will seem like the worst sounding, stretchiest, most impossible-to-manage strings you've ever installed for the first 24 hours or so. once they stretch, its gold. depending on which gut strings you use, you might have to alter your slots to widen them, but i wouldnt worry. i also advocate for chris sands strings. they tend to have a slightly crisper, more hollow tone (if that makes sense) that i find very pleasing. in fact, in many cases, i like them better. i havent used them in a while, though, because a place in town stocks minstrel nylguts, so i usually buy them as needed.

as for truss rods, everyone else is correct. dont worry about them on these types of banjos. buying properly-seasoned lumber with the optimum grain configuration will be the most important factor, even though a lot of early banjos used flat-sawn kindling-grade wood.

Sounds like I'll have plenty of options!

Tony

Tim Twiss said:

yes...gut is nice, but the stability and longevity of nylgut is really nice. I have yet to try chris sands strings.  

Also, properly fit violin pegs are my first choice in pegs.  WIth "soft" strings they really cannot be beat.

Anthony, watch the video below, it'll take the misery out of waiting for Nylguts to stretch.

I'm glad you mentioned that!  That peg hole reamer I have my eye on is getting easier to justify by the minute!

Joel Hooks said:

Also, properly fit violin pegs are my first choice in pegs.  WIth "soft" strings they really cannot be beat.

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