Keeping a banjo in top notch playing condition doesn’t have to be a difficult or time consuming task. Keeping a banjo in pristine condition is easier than you think. Follow these simple steps and your banjo will continue to sound and look great for years to come.
A simple, daily care routine is all it takes to prevent dirt, dust, acidic oils, and unforeseen accidents from inflicting damage on your banjo.
It might not sound important but by picking up just three good habits you can add years to any banjo’s lifespan and help preserve all its original features. The best part is that anyone can do it, and it costs far less than the expensive maintenance that may otherwise catch up to you later on down the line.
Cleaning the strings
Dirty strings not only look bad, they sound bad too. An inevitable side effect of fretting and plucking the strings on your banjo is that they will deteriorate and degrade in quality. This occurs due to a combination of friction wearing away at their surfaces, and corrosion from the acidic oils and dirt deposited by your fingers (even if they appear squeaky clean).
Although changing the strings of a banjo with some regularity is essential to maintaining its quality sound, there are things you can do to extend their lifespan. For instance, a clean, cotton cloth run up and down the strings after each play session will wipe off the worst of the grime and prevent acidic oils from settling.
Even better are the dedicated string cleaners and lubricants. These not only prevent the accumulation of dirt but also reduce the friction between your fingers and the strings. This, in turn, makes it much easier to slide between notes on your fretting hand, while simultaneously protecting the strings against being worn away.
String cleaners are typically made of a cloth head infused with mineral oil, held in a small canister similar to a glue stick. The head is rubbed up and down each of the strings before wiping away any excess oil with an accompanying cleaning cloth. Using the cleaner once before and after your play session will keep your strings sparkling for months. It's beneficial for the fretboard too, adding an extra protective layer on top of any finish you might have covering the wood.
Wiping off the body
Once the strings are clean it's worth giving the rest of the banjo a once over to make sure there are no other nasties building up around the body. The same acidic oils that cause your strings to corrode can just as easily affect the tension hoop, brackets, tuning pegs, tailpiece, and armrest. Without proper attention, these metals will begin to tarnish over time and require more thorough cleaning.
The wooden parts on your banjo are susceptible to build ups of dirt as well, in particular on the back of the neck where your palm and thumb slide up and down. The friction produced by this can also cause the finish to deteriorate and wear away. Dust affects both metal and wooden parts in equal measure and will quickly accumulate in the little nooks and crannies found all over the banjo.
As with the strings; a simple, clean, cotton cloth used to wipe down the banjo after each play session will remove the more obvious offenders. To protect both wood and metal parts effectively, however, dedicated cleaning materials for each surface are worth considering.
Caution is advised when dealing with the wooden headstock, rim, neck, and fretboard. Depending on the type of wood and whether they've been treated with a finish, some cleaning products may do more harm than good. On Deering banjos, a thin, non-abrasive wax cloth that adds protective layering to the finish will work wonders. The tarnishing that affects nickel and chrome present in the metal parts is also best served by a non-abrasive, chemically infused cleaning cloth.
Keeping your banjo safe
No matter how hard you try, sometimes accidents are unavoidable. Pets, small children, spillages, or simple absent mindedness can all spell trouble for the unprotected banjo. Of course, nobody likes locking theirs away after a playing session. Not least because it makes it that much harder to pick up again. However, leaving it against a wall or by the couch does increase the risk of it being damaged.
Some people install wall mounts to get around this problem. These keep your banjo off ground level and within arms reach, as well as proudly displaying it for all to see. Yet, such a permanent solution isn't appropriate for everyone, and there's still the possibility of knocks and spillages occurring.
A banjo case is, overall, still the best option when it comes to keeping your banjo safe. Whether a cheaper, lighter soft case, or the sturdy but more expensive hard case; both will protect against most bangs and scrapes. They also prevent the build up of dust, and moisture damage which can occur in places with high humidity.
The compromise between safety and accessibility is something you should decide on for yourself. For day to day use, there's no reason why you couldn't leave your banjo in an unzipped soft case, or an unfastened hard one, and still keep virtually all the additional security they provide. Depending on how often you take your banjo out of the house - and how far, and where you take it - either the soft or hard case may be more appropriate.
Establishing good habits
It only takes a few extra minutes to clean the strings before and after each use, wipe down the body when you finish playing, and pop your banjo back in a case. Although it might seem tiresome at first, if you make a point of doing these three things every day then before too long they will become second nature. In return you'll be rewarded with a banjo that retains its looks, sounds brighter, and intones better for much longer than if left uncared for.
For additional guidance on getting the best from your instrument, take a look at our maintenance tips which cover everything from head adjustments to fixing fret buzz, changing your strings, and more!