Banjos are Like a '64 Valiant

Someone I read recently said banjos are the hot-rods of the musical world, and I agree. What other instrument can you laterally take apart and put back together again yourself?

I remember my neighbor on Green Mountain brought his ’64 Valiant over for us to see one day. This was maybe in the late 1980s, when a Valiant was an interesting thing to see. He popped the hood. My first reaction was:

 “Where’s the engine?…”
“Oh, there it is, over in the back left corner!”

Back then you see, cars were a lot simpler than today. You didn’t need all the room that was under the hood. And you could work on the car yourself; add freon, check belts and filters with ease, etc.

So it is with the banjo. You can do-it-yourself: change the drum head, try out a new tone ring, put on a more massive tailpiece… so many options to get so many different sound tweaks!

One tweak I have made to my Stelling Red Fox is to change the bridge. I have a moon bridge from Elderly and it works great. After I first put it on, I must admit it sounded dreadful and I though I would have to replace it, but I gave it just a day or two and it sounds fine once again.

The reason I went with a moon bridge in the first place was because, being curved, it compensates for a not-so-minor annoyance I find in several (most?) banjos; that of not being able to get the second string to be in tune with all other strings, whether open or in a chord. The moon bridge has solved this problem admirably, and I would recommend it if you’re constantly tweaking that second string.

About Pgibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Software Engineer and part-time banjo instructor. My wife Miiko and I worship at Rivertree Downtown. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin and dulcimer at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play and teach Scruggs, melodic, clawhammer, and 2-finger styles. I'm also very keen on theology, being a Trail Care Partner with the Land Trust of North Alabama, photography, urban planning, architecture, astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, martial arts, and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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