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Jun 6, 2024 - 2:12:27 PM
11473 posts since 3/19/2009

I got a call from a local luthier today. He doesn't work much on banjos. Seems someone brought him a banjo that they thought was beyond Use and since he knew I made banjos in a past life he asked me to check it out... I drove over to look at the instrument..I'll post a photo of the head after he sends it to me. Anyway, the banjo just needed cleaning EXCEPT I told him to not touch the head.. It had two holes in it and the look/smell of decades of being played in an atmosphere with a lot of cigarette smoke.. He wanted to know if I could replace the head and I said NO.. I know banjo players who spend years trying to get a neat patina on their banjo head and that instrument was already head and shoulders above most.. I encouraged the young man to appreciate the fact that to him and the family who owns the instrument the head is the most outstanding part of the instrument.. I need to add that they have NO intention to play it.. They just want to have it 'playable' and think it needs a new head.. Anywayz.. I'll post a photo soon..
I'm ahead of myself.. NOW.. what are your ideas about banjo head patina?

Jun 6, 2024 - 2:19:35 PM
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2623 posts since 8/27/2008

On the one hand a perfectly new unplayed head looks lame. But for the old grime and holes and smell, it means about as much to me as rosin all over a fiddle, which is to say "who cares?"

Jun 6, 2024 - 2:29:50 PM

11473 posts since 3/19/2009

quote:
Originally posted by Brian Wood

On the one hand a perfectly new unplayed head looks lame. But for the old grime and holes and smell, it means about as much to me as rosin all over a fiddle, which is to say "who cares?"


Hmm.. I try to keep rosin accumulation to a minimum but I DO know fiddlers who actually LIKE that look.. It doesn't mean IMO that they don't care, but maybe that they DO care about that Old Time Look on their instrument?  As for banjo heads, I try to keep mine clean but many banjo player like that dark spot from their thumb and third fingers..

Jun 6, 2024 - 2:36:54 PM

11473 posts since 3/19/2009

Allow me to add.. My opinion of that old banjo head mentioned in the OP was based on it value to the family.. Sure the banjo would look better with a new head but then it wouldn't look like GRANDPA'S banjo..To replace the decades of accumulation of patina would have distracted IMO from the Aesthetic value of the instrument to the family. Now.. as for Member's banjos.. it may be different... OK.. Let's proceed..

Jun 6, 2024 - 3:15:50 PM

DougD

USA

11928 posts since 12/2/2007

Well, from your OP, it seems the family thinks GRANDPA'S banjo would look "better" with a new head, regardless of your opinion.

Edited by - DougD on 06/06/2024 15:19:40

Jun 6, 2024 - 3:20:56 PM

2623 posts since 8/27/2008

quote:
Originally posted by TuneWeaver
quote:
Originally posted by Brian Wood

On the one hand a perfectly new unplayed head looks lame. But for the old grime and holes and smell, it means about as much to me as rosin all over a fiddle, which is to say "who cares?"


Hmm.. I try to keep rosin accumulation to a minimum but I DO know fiddlers who actually LIKE that look.. It doesn't mean IMO that they don't care, but maybe that they DO care about that Old Time Look on their instrument?  As for banjo heads, I try to keep mine clean but many banjo player like that dark spot from their thumb and third fingers..


People clearly DO care about rosin on their fiddle. I don't. Fix the banjo to please the family.

Jun 6, 2024 - 3:56:29 PM

2495 posts since 12/11/2008

Aesthetic, visual choices must remain personal. But if the musical instrument's tone and playability will actually improve from a refurbishing/cleaning, I say "do it."

Jun 6, 2024 - 6:22:56 PM

3365 posts since 10/22/2007

I have to sand off the frost on a typical Remo head. Right where my fourth and fifth fingers drag on the head. The frost makes a racquet. Then nature takes it's course. OTOH I think those "real hide" heads look goofy on a Bluegrass banjar.
Hard for me to talk about banjars. For years I've had a crush on a buddy's Deering with a mylar head. I've got a goldstar heart&flowers, with grover tuners. It's fine, but it ain't that Deering. Ugh!

Jun 7, 2024 - 2:47:55 PM

11473 posts since 3/19/2009

In the case of the banjo in the OP, the family just wants the instrument playable even though they have no intentions of playing it.. They THINK it is not playable 'as is' just because there a couple of small holes in the head (not tears)... I looked closely and found that the head, although heavily used, is STILL playable and has good tension.. The instrument just needs new strings and a good cleaning of every part except the head.. So. My advice to the luthier was to clean it up, put on new strings and Preserve the Patina and offer it to the family as a playable instrument. Should they still like a new head ....I'd be happy to put one on.. This particular instrument has about 40 hooks holding the head down and the Most surprising thing to me about the instrument is that THERE ARE NO MISSING HOOKS.. That is a rarity for many old banjos.. Still waiting for the luthier to send me a photo I can share..

Jun 7, 2024 - 3:06:16 PM

3637 posts since 9/13/2009

Not sure I quite grasp the aesthetic aspect. If supposed to be mostly a wall hanging art, to give "ole-time" antique idea; not sure would mess with head nor perhaps much cleaning overall. How do you know though that that's the look they are after? Perhaps the want it to look bit more like restored like new? (not everyone is into the relic old dirty look)*

For play-ability... then I would only be concerned with if sounded good, more than how it looks hanging. If current sounds good. Then again I might go for replacing the head with some fibyrskin or frosted head, can always fake relic patina/wear it to look old/vintage (like they do with elec guitars).

If it's a skin head, and depending on humidity/temperature... that head might need to be adjusted seasonally; might suddenly give out just being exposed hanging on wall; highly recommend error on side of bit loose, esp if setting up in summer.

*edit: I guess it;s like grandpa's old Stad... to hang on wall - some folks might like all the patina, scratches dings, rosin... like was played by old fiddler... others might want it all cleaned, touched up, buffed, polished and shiny.

Edited by - alaskafiddler on 06/07/2024 15:17:18

Jun 7, 2024 - 3:45:38 PM
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DougD

USA

11928 posts since 12/2/2007

If its a skin head, then I'd just leave it, unless you enjoy mounting new skins, and they want to pay whatever the cost is for a new real skin head these days. As far as playability, that might be relative, and I agree with alaskafiddler that its better to err on the side of loose.

Jun 7, 2024 - 4:07:16 PM

11473 posts since 3/19/2009

I'm sorry but I can't, for the life of me, figure out how to get the photo from Facebook to the Hangout.. Downloading says it is on my desktop but clearly it is nowhere to be seen. I'm thinking that this is a case like that of Grandpa's Axe... it is old but "Could you just replace the head and the handle so we can remember Grandpa by his axe"... Duh... On this old gal/guy, to replace the head would IMO destroy the very thing about the banjo that screams "Grandpa"...

Jun 7, 2024 - 4:14:27 PM

11473 posts since 3/19/2009

Speaking of Patina...Over the years I've Unsuccessfully tried to redo old fiddles.. Every time they wound up looking worse than when I bought them.. Finally I learned my lesson. So, on Ebay I bought the Ugliest, worst conditioned fiddle I could find.. I replaced the NAIL being used to hold the fingerboard to the neck, added a little veneer to the fingerboard, put on Perfection pegs and 'antiqued' a new tail piece.. but other than that my goal was to maintain the 'patina' (probably coal dust) that covered the instrument inside and out and make the instrument playable.. No, it didn't play well (sounds like an old person who smoked a lot) but YES, it is a treasure to see and play with..The patina speaks more for the life of the instrument than does the sound..and I wouldn't change the patina for anything.

Jun 7, 2024 - 5:36:31 PM
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6479 posts since 9/26/2008

My buddy Paul cherishes the buildup and wear that accumulates on his very fancy Huber banjo, like a badge of honor. If it's playable with the current head, "make it so, Number One."

I agree with Brian that a new head would look lame (out of place/time).

Jun 7, 2024 - 5:44:09 PM
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3365 posts since 10/22/2007

Years ago, in moment of weakness, I was sold a new but distressed violin. I just couldn't abide by it. It sounded fine, but I just was bothered by it. Lesson learned.
Truer words never spoken Lee, one can't beat honest wear/patina.

Jun 7, 2024 - 6:32:50 PM

11473 posts since 3/19/2009

you can track me down on Facebook, Lee Mysliwiec and on my page I've posted the photo of the banjo head.

Jun 8, 2024 - 1:49:35 PM

11473 posts since 3/19/2009

Here is that photo I promised...  Brad Leftwich suggested making skin underneath patches that are stained black.. to reinforce the hole areas.. What says you?


Edited by - TuneWeaver on 06/08/2024 13:50:34

Jun 8, 2024 - 6:34:06 PM

3637 posts since 9/13/2009

I would be skeptical of the playable; I certainly wouldn't want to play that; personally would probably replace it to be more functional. Can still retain "old" look without grime, or fragility. (IMO heads were not necessarily permanent part of banjo build, meant to be replaced?)

 If more just to hang as wall art... I guess depends on the owner, and if fits decor; or image. If some idea of romanticism or nostalgia antique thing; I probably wouldn't bother cleaning the rest of the banjo... nor change the strings.

Edited by - alaskafiddler on 06/08/2024 18:38:56

Jun 8, 2024 - 9:16:25 PM
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DougD

USA

11928 posts since 12/2/2007

It is possible to glue on a patch, if you have an old head around, or another source of parchment. I've done it, but on a head in better shape overall. Personally I wouldn't even want to touch that thing - I swear I can smell it from here! As far as playability, that looks like its on its last legs, especially if its tightened enough to play.

Jun 8, 2024 - 10:02:55 PM
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2559 posts since 10/6/2008

If no one is going to play that banjo I might leave the banjo head as it is--it's the amateur archivist in me speaking--but, if it were mine and if I were going to play it ...

My husband's banjo is starting to have a pretty good dirty mark on the head and it takes a LOT of restraint for me not to clean it off. :)

Jun 9, 2024 - 4:26:41 AM

11473 posts since 3/19/2009

Keep it, scrap it, keep it, scrap it..If the family wants a new head I'll be happy to put it on and if they just leave it 'as is' and want to hang it and toy with it from time that is ok also. One friend said, "the dumpster is out back".. That seems a little extreme.. Thanks, everyone for comments.  Now I want to see the patina on YOUR banjos..wink

Jun 10, 2024 - 1:11:16 AM
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3637 posts since 9/13/2009

I wonder what grandpa, in his younger days would have thought?

Jun 10, 2024 - 7:55:38 AM
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115 posts since 4/21/2008

I have had banjos cross my bench with hide heads that looked like that. More often than not, the hide is on it's way to being dry rotted, if not already there, and sound muted with no sustain or color when played. If it is destined to be a wall hanger, no one cares if it sounds dead. My banjo playing wife has balked at head replacement on her banjos after coloring them with years of playing, but still has the expectation of it sounding good. She also called it "a badge of honor". My take is that we are stewards of instruments that will outlast our life time, and should keep them in good order. Someone may want to get more serious about doing something with that banjo at some point. A good sounding, well set up instrument can be inspiring. The current hide head looks like what it is, old, but not everyone is into a patina that is that advanced. I know you will do what you decide to do. Personally, I would replace it but keep the old one and frame it with an image grandpa or the like.

Jun 10, 2024 - 8:35:10 AM

11473 posts since 3/19/2009

quote:
Originally posted by Resophonic

I have had banjos cross my bench with hide heads that looked like that. More often than not, the hide is on it's way to being dry rotted, if not already there, and sound muted with no sustain or color when played. If it is destined to be a wall hanger, no one cares if it sounds dead. My banjo playing wife has balked at head replacement on her banjos after coloring them with years of playing, but still has the expectation of it sounding good. She also called it "a badge of honor". My take is that we are stewards of instruments that will outlast our life time, and should keep them in good order. Someone may want to get more serious about doing something with that banjo at some point. A good sounding, well set up instrument can be inspiring. The current hide head looks like what it is, old, but not everyone is into a patina that is that advanced. I know you will do what you decide to do. Personally, I would replace it but keep the old one and frame it with an image grandpa or the like.


Paul, mounting the old head and replacing it is a good idea.. I've passed that option onto the luthier..

Jun 12, 2024 - 10:34:19 AM

4372 posts since 6/23/2007

I prefer a clean head. I also like having a qualified person checking my banjo periodically. Sometime degradation occurs so gradually the player/owner does not realize it. In some instances, a player is surprised by how much better a new set of strings sounds. I have drumdial that gets the sound just right or close to it. Some people with exceptional hearing abilities can fine tune the sound. Not that many people have this ability. I think a cleanup and polishing help keep the banjo in shape.

Jun 12, 2024 - 2:42:17 PM

11473 posts since 3/19/2009

Dick, I hope you saw the photo that is posted for the Head in the OP... Seems the family has decided to make the instrument a wall-hanger. However, YES, to tweaking the head and having someone with a good ear 'tune' a head. My banjos aren't all that loud and I suspect that none of them have their heads tight enough...Someone recently said that I had my head up my.........oh, wait.. that is another topic..laugh

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