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 Post subject: Care & Feeding of Banjos
PostPosted: Sun Oct 23, 2005 7:51 pm 
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Now that I have a banjo, I just realized I have no idea about the care of such a beast other than that you need to restring as necessary and occassionally polish the wood (I read that on a banjo site, I think).

Is any care necessary for the head (other than not poking it)?

What about travelling with a banjo? Is it OK in the hold? How would they do in the truck of a hot car in summer or in the truck of a cold car in winter?

I think that's about all I can think of right now.

Thanks,

Eric


Last edited by Jayhawk on Mon Oct 24, 2005 3:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 23, 2005 9:51 pm 
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I don't play the banjo, but I sure would not expose any instrument made of wood to extremes of temperature. So the trunk of a car, or even the inside with closed windows, on a hot summer day sounds bad to me. And the same with extreme cold. I guess if you are traveling, I'd keep it inside the car with you since you would have air conditioning or open windows or a heater on and carry it inside when you go inside. Treat it like it is a person. If you could leave a person there, you could leave an instrument there. Just my opinion.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 23, 2005 10:58 pm 
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When I was a college student, I often travelled to Mexico for bird expeditions, spring break, general partying, etc. My Spanish was poor, but one thing that you had to know was, "Where is the bathroom (banos)?", with a little swiggley line over the letter "n". I probably would make people mad if I said that all banjos should be played in the banos, so I won't say that.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 24, 2005 1:03 am 
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Jayhawk wrote:
Now that I have a banjo, I just realized I have no idea about the care of such a beast other than that you need to restring as necessary and occassionally polish the wood (I read that on a banjo site, I think).

Deering sells a set of three cloths, one for the wood, one for polishing the metal parts, and one for removing tarnish: http://www.deeringbanjos.com/Merchant2/ ... Code=Maint

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What about travelling with a banjo? Is it OK in the hold? How would they do in the truck of a hot car in summer or in the truck of a cold car in winter?

Cynth is right about not exposing it to extremes of temperature--especially high temperatures. Sudden changes aren't good, either. For example, when coming into a warm house with an ice-cold banjo, let it sit in its case until it warms up a bit.

As far as planes go, I'd try to carry it on. If you can't, make sure the head and neck are firmly supported--with no room for movement of any kind of either the body or the neck, if possible. But don't put anything under the peghed that would raise the neck off of the support that the case provides. (All this goes for guitars, too.)

A banjo student of mine took a brand new Deering 5-string with him from California to Florida. It went into the hold, and when he picked it up, the peghead had been snapped clean off at the nut. He had loosened the strings somewhat and removed the bridge, but they must have tossed it. Or, maybe they put it on top of a pile and it slid off.

The airline (United) paid him for it, but that was about 12 years ago. I'd check on their policy and buy extra insurance if you have to put it in the hold. Sometimes you can walk it to the gate and get the folks there to hand carry it to the hold, and then pick it up at the gate when you come out of the plane.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 24, 2005 4:59 am 
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besides the usual things you watch out for with any wood instrument (the best rule of thumb is if you wouldn't leave a kid in the car because of temperature, don't leave the instrument in it), you have the added dimension of the head of your banjo. Do you have a skin or synthetic head? A skin head (which, btw, I much prefer in sound to synthetic) will get very tight when dry, very loose when humid. Talk to a bodhran player, they can give you tips on how to overcome some of this (although you should have tension tuners on the head to help).

Get a container of "Fast Fret" or other string conditioner to use on the fretboard and strings. That will help your strings last longer, too.

If you are going to travel by plane, invest in the absolute best case you can afford. And always go with the assumption that you are going to have to check it, even if you do wind up being able to do carry on.

Oh - and mark where your bridge is lightly in pencil on the head BEFORE your first attempt at changing strings. And only change one at a time. BTDT advice!! :D

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 24, 2005 5:48 am 
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Thanks for all the advice! My banjo does have a skin head, so I'll check on some bodhran sites for advice, and yes, it does have nuts to tighten if it gets loose.

I've never had to worry about flying with an instrument before since the flute always makes it as carry on...I just may travel solely with the old delrin seery.

I'll have to look into that Fast Fret stuff...I've already restrung once, and it wasn't fun (and I broke one string...it really helps to have electric tuners turned on).

Eric


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 24, 2005 10:00 am 
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missy wrote:
A skin head (which, btw, I much prefer in sound to synthetic) will get very tight when dry, very loose when humid.

My first 5-string had a skin head. The summers in the Tokyo area are pretty humid, so I had to re-tighten the head quite a few times as the bridge kept sinking down.

Then one day in late autumn, my wife called me at work and said, "Your banjo exploded." I had neglected to loosen the head as the humidity dropped, and it split. Apparently it made quite a noise, because it scared the heck out of my wife.

If you ever have to replace the head, you might try Fiberskyn. It's artificial, but it's supposed to be more skin-like in sound and feel than the usual plastic head. On http://chiffboard.mati.ca/viewtopic.php?t=33039 rh mentioned that his Gold Tone tenor has a Fiberskyn head.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 24, 2005 10:46 am 
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Argh! Exploding banjo heads...something new to worry about.

On the cleaning the wood issue, any reason my old almond oil I use on my flute wouldn't work? Oil is oil, right?

Eric


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 24, 2005 2:23 pm 
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Jayhawk wrote:
Argh! Exploding banjo heads...something new to worry about.

On the cleaning the wood issue, any reason my old almond oil I use on my flute wouldn't work? Oil is oil, right?

Most of what I know relates to modern finishes and may not be appropriate in your case.

I believe that almond oil should be okay on your fingerboard, but I don't think I'd put it on very heavily. A very thin film should suffice. Ditto for the rim--especially if, as I expect, you have a laminated rim. It might not be a good idea to soak that with oil.

I'd stay away from linseed oil or any other oil that can form a heavy varnish when it oxidizes. It seems that lemon oil is not always a good choice, either, as it may contain some acid.

Avoid anything that contains silicone, though that may not be as much of an issue with banjos as it is with guitars. It can interfere with future re-gluing and refinishing.

I thought that Fast Fret contained just mineral oil and a tiny bit of wax of some kind. I may have read that on the literature that came with it, as the can doesn't list the ingredients. I've seen a claim that it contains silicone, but I tend to doubt that.

Martin guitar polish contains "white mineral oil and processed castor oil". I've seen it recommeded by some banjo company--maybe Deering. I've only used it on my guitars, so far, and only to remove gunky build-up where my right forearm contacts the top and side. I use a microfiber cloth to apply it, then rub it all away.

I tend to expect that mineral oil is less likely to form a varnish than are vegetable oils, so I also expect it to be less likely to clog up your wrapped strings with gunk. I could be wrong, though.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 24, 2005 2:57 pm 
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It'd probably be easier to look for something like the Deering stuff than risk hurting my banjo (I've become quickly attached).

As for the rim, it's solid birds-eye maple, not veneer, and it's surprisingly heavy and thick (it was much thicker than the rims on the Kay or the older Clariphone). Heck, even the dowel is solid birds-eye maple.

Eric


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