Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I have Nylgut Minstrel strings and calfskin heads on my 2 banjos - one tackhead, one tensioning. Because I play in a 4 piece ensemble, I drive the strings pretty hard to keep the volume up. I also get the heads as tight as possible before the performance by heating them with a light bulb clamped to my stand. This works for the first set, but the head inevitably loosens, the bridge sinks and it sounds like I'm slapping the neck with the strings. Other than constantly heating the head to keep it tight (which is not always practical or possible), do you have any other recommendations? The bridge is 3/4" high, so I don't think a taller bridge will be a solution...

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Yet, a taller bridge is the simplest solution of them all and common to tackhead usage. I've seen people with as many as three different bridges for their tackheads/gourdies. 3/4" isn't all that tall so don't hesitate to go with a full inch or greater. If you're playing stroke style or CH, actual bridge height isn't all that important anyway.

Other than that, I think you're left with cooking it.
Another trick that has worked for me is to move the bridge closer to the tail piece when the head is really spongy. When it is dry outside I tend to move the bridge a little closer to the center of the banjo, and when it is hot and humid closer to the tail piece. You have to adjust your playing a little, but this works out fairly well.

When I play very exhuberently, and the head is spongy, I have noticed that the strings want to dance off of my bridge or nut. Other players have told me that they have experienced the same thing. Moving the tailpiece also solves this problem.
Thanks for your replies. I'll try these suggestions.

Mark Ehrsam
i know its a pain in the kazoo, but, you might try replacing the heads. i prefer calfskin thats a little heavier ( get them from Bernunzio, Rochester, NY). i live in the Great Swamp here in NJ, it's always humid, in june we had three wks of rain, & the heads on my two banjos are still nice & tight. there are a couple of web sites that give instruction on how to stretch a banjo head...it ain't that hard!
Sorry but I've found no other solution than constantly heating the head to keep it tight. There is nothing like the sound of a really taught banjo head, especially if its volume you are after and that's one of the things I'm always after in our trio. Tensioning heads by tightening the hardware alone has never worked for me. The hardware really doesn't seem up to the task on either of my banjos so I too rely on heat whether its from the sun, a light bulb, campfire or whatever. Play one, heat the other. Rotate. Its been fairly dry, at least when not raining, here on the east coast but I think we're headed into the humid weather starting this weekend.

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