Got my Calkins gourd banjo today, and love it. Seems very well-made, with good-quality parts, and despite the nylon strings (they should maybe have been nylgut at least) it sounds great.
I was doing a lot of teaching today, so only managed an hour’s playing before it got too late to play (this thing is surprisingly loud). I suppose it was getting used to the temperature and humidity of a hot and rainy day in Edinburgh, but after half an hour or so the action seemed to drop as, I'm assuming, the skin expanded. Notes on the first string up to around the fifth 'fret' position started buzzing very slightly. I pushed the bridge closer to the fingerboard to raise the action, and the problem disappeared. I've never experienced this with my other banjos (including a fretless SS Stewart) and wonder if it is normal?
Of course, all my finger placements became contracted, but for the repertoire I am currently playing on it (all first-position Briggs) there is no real problem. It only took a few moments to adjust. But it left me wondering about gourd banjo practice. I saw a video of Bob Carlin playing a gourd where the bridge was almost on the edge of the skin, just before the end of the fretboard (near the scoop). I wonder if he had the same problem. Is this something gourd players get used to - a bit like being forced to use a capo - and do you have to change the bridge placement often?
I suppose a higher bridge would solve the problem? Maybe a few bridges of different heights? I would find it hard to believe the gourd banjo is at fault, as it seems to be a first-class instrument, and astonishingly good value.