How to Set Up a Banjo

by Lee Johnson, Demand Media Google
    The bridge of the banjo can be moved to adjust the instrument's intonation.

    The bridge of the banjo can be moved to adjust the instrument's intonation.

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    Banjos are five-stringed instruments traditionally tuned in "open G" tuning. Most banjos have two rods inside the body used to adjust the curvature of the neck, which thereby changes the height of the strings to control buzzing. The bridge on a banjo can also be moved, which is useful for fine tuning, or setting intonation, and ensuring the best banjo setup. Learning how to set up your banjo will help you adjust the action of the strings so that they don't buzz as well as correctly setting the intonation.

    Step 1

    Play an open note on the banjo to check whether the string is buzzing; if there is a buzzing sound when the string is plucked, the action of your banjo may need to be adjusted as the strings are too close to the fretboard. Play the note on the banjo yourself. Depending on how hard the string is plucked, it may be more or less likely to buzz; if you're heavy-handed, you're more likely to require an adjustment. Try fretting a note; if this is difficult, your strings may be too far from your frets.

    Step 2

    Turn the banjo over so you are looking into the back of the instrument; you will see two rods running through the center of the body. Look on the higher of these two rods to find a large nut at the neck end of the banjo. On the opposite end of this rod is a nut used to adjust the bow of the neck. To raise the strings and remove fret buzz, turn the nut counterclockwise; to lower the strings to make the strings easier to fret, turn the nut clockwise to decrease the bow in the neck.

    Step 3

    Measure the distance between the fourth (thickest) string and the seventh fret; the ideal distance between them is between 1/32- and 1/64-inch. Play the note to see if the string buzzes; also fret the string to check if can do this easily. Make any further adjustments as required.

    Step 4

    Measure the distance between the center of the 12th fret and the middle of the bridge. The ideal distance for this measurement is 13 3/16-inches, the same as the distance between the nut and the 12th fret. Play a natural harmonic at the 12th fret (by plucking the string and then lightly touching it over the 12th fret to get a high-pitched tone) and compare this with the fretted note at the 12th fret to check the intonation. The two notes should ideally match; if the fretted note is too low, the bridge must be moved closer to the neck, and if it is too high, it must be moved further away.

    Step 5

    Move the bridge as required. Brace the three feet at the bottom of the bridge and carefully push the bridge in the desired direction. Banjo bridges are held in place only by the tension of the strings, so this can usually be done relatively easily. Ensure the bridge is parallel to the neck when you are finished adjusting it. Check the intonation again to ensure this adjustment has been correctly made.

    About the Author

    Lee Johnson has written for various publications and websites since 2005. His articles have appeared in "Sandman" magazine, the "Crewe Chronicle" and on the website Beyond Hollywood. He is primarily a music journalist but has written on many subjects. Johnson has a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from Manchester Metropolitan University.

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