A stringed instrument
of the lute family of musical instruments, the banjo originated
in Africa and was introduced to the U.S. in the 1600s. The
early banjos were rather primitive, possessing fretless necks,
a varying number of strings and, in some instances, gourd
bodies. Today, the banjo is the only stringed instrument made
with a belly made of vellum or calf skin. However, many heads
are made with plastic as it isn't affected by humidity as
is the case with vellum.
Clean the Instrument
Daily of Smudges and Fingerprints
Maintaining a banjo
is typically easy as long as you clean your instrument daily.
Just make sure you always use a fresh, clean cloth as the
oils from one's skin can tarnish the metal parts and plating
on the instrument. Chrome is the only exception as it is it
does not tarnish like other metals. Therefore, wear 'kid gloves'
so to speak when cleaning the instrument. Make sure all smudges
and fingerprints are removed at least once a day then and
never use the same cloth twice.
Types of Banjos
The task of keeping
your banjo in good repair will go much easier if you have
a basic understanding of the parts that make up the banjo
and a little bit of knowledge about the general makeup of
the instrument. The five-string banjo, plucked with the fingers,
is frequently used in folk music and commercial bluegrass
bands. The plectrum-plucked 4-string banjo is an old-timey
type of banjo which was popular in the early 1900s in vaudeville
bands. It was made with a circular wood hoop and open-backed
up the Bluegrass Banjo
The more commonly used
bluegrass banjo of today is constructed with:
A resonator (versus
the open-backed type of banjo) - This part is used in bluegrass
music to enhance the sound quality. Various woods are employed
in the manufacture of resonators but mahogany is generally
the preferred choice.
A head made with vellum or synthetic material - Heads can
be clear, solid, translucent or simulated. While clear heads
are used by jazz musicians and produce tones that are more
pronounced, frosted or solid heads are used by bluegrass artists
for their softened tonal qualities.
Tone ring - This part of the instrument also aids in the type
of musical sound your banjo will generate. In most cases,
artists like flat top tone rings better than the arch top
variety as they supply a tone that sounds more pleasing to
the ear. Although tone rings can be made of a variety of metals,
those made of brass 'ring truer' to the sound musicians like
to hear when playing a banjo.
The tension hoop - Manufactured with steel, this part of the
banjo is useful in giving the instrument a distinct and equalized
sound. It is affixed to the head with at least twenty bracket
The banjo also consists
of a peg head, turning pegs for tuning the instrument, a nut
or capo, metal strings, first and second fret, position marker,
fifth string peg, neck, fingerboard, bridge, tailpiece, armrest
and resonator flange.
Remove the Capo
As already indicated,
cleaning your banjo daily is basic to the maintenance of the
instrument. It is also wise to remove the capo or nut on the
instrument as the continual pressure of this part can ultimately
damage the banjo's finish.
The wood should be cleaned
with almond oil about twice a year. Stay away from any wood
polishes containing silicone as they can damage the wood.
Use furniture wax on the neck and resonator periodically to
safeguard the finish and keep it gleaming. Surface scratches
can be reduced with the use of a clean cloth and toothpaste.
If you accidentally spill water on your banjo, quickly remove
the spill as it can leave an unsightly spot on the instrument.
The head of the banjo
can be cleaned on a periodic basis with a cleaner such as
Formula 409. If you have an instrument that is gold-plated,
anticipate replacing the plating every now and then as the
armrest can erode the metal with routine use.
Banjo's Strings - A Routine Task
Replacing the strings
on your banjo will also need to be done on a regular basis,
usually after about 30 hours of playing, depending, of course,
on how hard you pluck the strings. When replacing the strings,
make sure you take off each string, one at a time, to equalize
the tension. By using this approach, you won't have to tune
the instrument as frequently. Use a pencil and position the
lead in the capo slot so the string can be managed with less
difficulty. When you install the strings around the pegs and
tighten them, make sure the first and second string are pointing
down and the third and fourth strings are directed upward
when you hold your banjo in the playing position. If the head
needs tightening, use a one-fourth inch bracket wrench.
Climate is Best
Keeping the instrument
clean and strung will keep it in good condition. It is also
important that you place your banjo in its case when you are
not playing it. Store it in temperate locations that are not
too cold or hot or humid or dry. Placing a banjo in extreme
temperature settings or where it is too moist or dry can cause
damage to the head, warp the wood or loosen the glue joints.
Lacquer checks or cracks in the finish can develop that are
not covered under the manufacturer-s warranty as well. The
EMC or equilibrium moisture content of the instrument can
profoundly be affected by significant changes in humidity.
Therefore, it is imperative that you keep your banjo in its
case when you are not playing it. To maintain the humidity
in the case, purchase a case humidifier.
your Banjo Protected while Traveling
While traveling, never
place your banjo in the trunk of your car and place a blanket
over it to protect it from the sun. If you travel a good deal
by plane, use a case that is flight certified. Always carry
the instrument onto the plane yourself.
You should wax your
banjos wood periodically with a good furniture wax. It helps
protect the wood and any quality wax usually works.
- A Quick Summation
The above information
can add to your enjoyment of playing the banjo. Keep your
instrument well-maintained. Clean smudges and fingerprints
from it on a daily basis. Always use a clean cloth. Restring
the instrument regularly. And, make sure that you keep it
in its case when it's not being played. Store it in a room
with a comfortable temperature and a humidity level of around
40%. Keep these basic points in mind and your banjo will last
for many years to come and be a joy to own and play.