Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Hello: I've spent the past few weeks building my first minstrel banjo and I'm now ready to make a bridge, file down the nut, and put on the strings. The nut on my 1896 Fairbanks is 1/8 " off the neck with a 1/2" bridge, but I'm thinking that this may be too low for a gut strung minstrel banjo. Any advice on nut and bridge height on these instruments would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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I'm not a luthier...however, I would expect the nut height to be similar to that of a classical guitar (nylon strung). For a classical guitar, string height is recommended between .052" (1.32mm) and .054" (1.34mm) for the treble strings (which are pretty close to those of a minstrel banjo). So, overall height of the nut should be those measurements plus (roughly) the thickness of the string. Some recommend only burying the string 1/2 its thickness into the nut-slot but I think I would prefer at least full thickness. I've always been leery of antique banjo nuts because they appear to be so low (my Stewarts are nearly right down on the fretboard). They still work fine and don't buzz even when played hard.

If I was doing the job (and I will be doing it soon enough), I'd err on the high side and work it down. I'd also have a replacement nut handy if I were to go too far (sh*t happens).

Bridge height really needs to be set by the preference of the player. For fretless, I believe it is critical to have more of a break angle (angle from the fretboard where the finger presses the string down) than for a fretted instrument. A taller bridge is thus 'normal' for such things. Naturally, that all depends on the neck angle.

Oh, and welcome to the forum!!
I know that I have made 3 bridges for my first instrument. A post on this forum a month or so ago noted that, as moisture levels go up and the head gets slacker, moving to a taller bridge can ease the problem - I made a new & taller bridge, and can now get much better sound and tuning this time of year. Being in the middle of the continent, summer swings from hot and humid to somewhat dryer, but no where near as dry as in the depths of winter (when my instrument first 'sang').

Jim Moffet

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