Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

IMG_1709 spillway bridges

decided to make some spillway bridges. I had seen these on the internet, new i wanted a variety but couldn't spend that much, so from eyeballing photos i came up with a nice set. plain cuban mahogany, plain brazilian rosewood, maple and cocoblo, maple and mahogany. i have noticed the harshness from the banjo is removed, and she he strings are more balanced. nice

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Comment by Strumelia on May 19, 2017 at 7:10pm

Those are beautiful!
Try making one entirely out of softwood like cedar or pine, and see how it effects the tone in comparison.  You may have to make it a bit thicker.  Many of us with minstrel banjos and gut or nylon strings use softwood bridges, which seem to conduct the vibrations somehow increasing resonance (imho).  Personally, I use hardwood bridges more on my high-tuned steel string oldtime banjos.

Comment by rachel woodruff on May 20, 2017 at 8:52am
hey thanks for that advice! i'm planing on a gourd banjo soon. i have all the parts, but still doing some research on design. the right bridge is essential. soft wood? never even thought....
Comment by Tom Berghan on June 2, 2017 at 9:19pm
Historically, back in the days of Old Joe Sweeney and Billy Whitlock, I believe pine was a favored wood for a banjo bridge. The harder the wood, the slower the transfer of energy, so greater sustain, however less volume. Softer woods like pine are louder and perhaps have greater frequency response, but very fast decay (less sustain). Seems to sound more natural for an early banjo.
Comment by rachel woodruff on June 3, 2017 at 6:38am
I just finished a gourd banjo, i am trying different bridges, and strings. i am not real happy with nylguts, and have ordered a set of barry sholders nylon. i prefer nylon because they feel more substantial. as for the bridge, i have tried making one from spruce, to soft. old florida pine was fairly hard and piney. I can see now, i will have two dozen bridges made before i find the best one. thanks for the technical aspects of wood density, to get me headed in the correct direction.
Comment by Chris Prieto on June 3, 2017 at 9:05am
I have been making gourd Banjos like a crazy person as of late and you are correct. I have a pile of various shaped and sized bridges I use. Some sound good with a tiny walnut bridge most em need a pine bridge with fatter feet.

I usually make the shape of the bridge and leave a lil extra wood on the bridge first and play the banjo with it in place and gradually sand the bridge little by little till it sounds like I like it sound.

I actually finished two small scale gourds and will be making smaller bridges today fashioned after some of Bob Thornburgs bridges that look like a lil house. Makes it so you can have a short bridge with fat feet.
Comment by rachel woodruff on June 3, 2017 at 9:55am
im going to google his bridges so i can see a picture. short, thanks fort that note, i think i am making them way to long. im going to have to find a wood that is similar to pine, as i don't have access to it. do you have a link to show your gourd banjos? wouldn't mind having a look.
Comment by Strumelia on June 3, 2017 at 10:11am

 i am not real happy with nylguts, and have ordered a set of barry sholders nylon. i prefer nylon because they feel more substantial.

Was it the Nylgut "Classic" set or the Nylgut "Minstrel" set that you tried?  What was it about them that you didn't like?

Comment by Tom Berghan on June 3, 2017 at 12:26pm
If you tune to Briggs-pitches then start with the gauges below and then you can dial each string in, up or down, as is YOUR preference. Make you OWN sets. Buy singles. Savarez, Pyramid, and D'Addario all make excellent musical nylon strings, and, you might like Savarez carbon fiber for the extra tension and brilliance. Several online stores sell singles. I like stringsbymail.com.
28
31
41
31 wound classic (stranded nylon core, nickel copper winding)
28
Comment by Tom Berghan on June 3, 2017 at 1:37pm
Forgot to mention: I use a scale of 26.375 inches for all my banjos. That way I have total consistency.
Comment by rachel woodruff on June 3, 2017 at 3:28pm
a couple of reasons i am not excited about nylguts. to thin. to expensive. i love a wound fourth, which they now replaced with a fatter nylgut. they shred where you play most often. they do not offer single string replacement. i have tried the reds and whites my banjos are home made, so i design them with short necks to fit my comfort. I could be totally wrong but these things were true where i first started buying them. I prefer a big round sound of mass vibrating more than a bright ringing.

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