Banjo has been lucky in the past 10 years to be going on the road with more types of musicians than it has in all the previous decades of its life. As an instrument, it reaches into our hearts and brings out the real emotions in all of us. It is no wonder in a time that we are surrounded by technology that such an organic instrument would give us the balance we need.
With the new experiences banjo has been going through on tour with different kinds of bands, we spend a lot of time answering questions and doing master classes with players and their techs to teach about the care and maintenance of this instrument.
Here are some tips for optimum performance of your banjo while it goes through all the bumps in the touring road with you. If there are tips you find useful that are not listed here, lets us know in the comments!
1. First and foremost is to do all you can to ensure it will survive the travel.
This is all in the case you put it in. Experienced traveling players know how to carry their banjo on board with them down to a science. These days there are airline staff who are quite helpful in this, though one is not always so lucky. Carrying on an instrument is dependent on the staff of each flight, so it may not always be the same experience, even with the same airline.
There is a successful tip we hear of often if you are determined to carry on your banjo. Have your banjo in a soft case like our Deering Gig Bags or a Reunion Blues Case and wear it like a backpack when you are boarding, this helps them not be noticed and look smaller. Airline staff are less likely to stop you or worry about it. Then they fit easily into most overhead bins, so long as you are not the last one on! As a note, you never want your instrument gate checked if it is in a soft case, it is not likely to survive the flight. Carrying your instrument on board with you will always be the safest way for your banjo to fly.
If you are traveling with more than one instrument or are not confident you will be allowed to carry your banjo on, then it is highly recommend one invest in a flight case. There are a few respected brands you can choose from such as Calton, Hoffee and SKB. We have enjoyed working with Calton Cases made in Austin, TX. Should you need one they can be ordered through Deering by contacting us directly.
If you are using a trailer or driving for tour our standard hardshell cases have a long history of taking good care of your banjo on the road. All of our Deering and Vega models come with this case.
2. The tail piece should be checked after travel days.
There are screws holding the tail piece on that can jiggle loose over time when being vibrated on the road or in a plane. This takes some time before they will come all the way loose, but if they do in a show it is one of the most startling things you will ever experience. So it's always good to check it after a travel day before you play.
Here is a video we made for you on what to look for and how to adjust the tail piece.
3. Get familiar with your Truss Rod and its adjustment.
Different climates and temperatures can affect the neck wood on your banjo. A simple truss rod adjustment can handle this for you when on the road.
Here is a video that goes over what your neck should be like, how to tell if your truss rod needs adjustment, and how to do it.
4. Changing your strings and setting your banjo intonation will make your gigs easier.
Changing the strings in most cases is a no-brainer for the touring musician, but some techs not familiar with banjos may have a question on setting the bridge for proper intonation. We feel for them, banjos are a different beast than a guitar.
As well, bridges can get bumped when on the road so it is good to give the intonation a check and adjust the placement of the bridge as necessary. Here is a video on how to change your strings and ensure you are getting the proper intonation on your neck when playing your next gig.
5. Banjo bridges do need to be replaced from time to time.
Keeping a worn out bridge on your banjo will cause your sound to suffer. While our Smile Bridge has a much longer life than flat bottomed ones, bridges are all wood and can get worn out over time.
Below you can see a flat bottomed bridge that is well past the point of needing to be replaced. The top is curving in and was squeezing the strings in the slots. This does not allow them to ring truly and will adversely affect your sound quality. If your bridge is starting to look like this one, it is time to replace it. Your banjo will thank you.
For more information on Smile Bridges and why they last longer and improve your sound head here.
6. Sometimes replacing Tuning Pegs is necessary.
As you may have experienced, accidents happen on the road and sometimes that means a tuner gets snapped off. Or on rare occasions you have been playing in different tunings in shows for so many years the gears have worn out... and you are faced with replacing a tuner. Well good thing the hardest part can often be simply having an extra tuner on hand.
Here is a video we made to answer a specific customers' question recently, showing how easy it is to replace a Deering Tuner.
7. Tightening or replacing a banjo head needs to be done from time to time.
The tightness of a head has an exact science, but it also depends on what tones you are looking for. If you want a deeper more plunky sound, then you are going to want it looser, if you want the bright hard driving sound, then tighten that puppy up! Most like it in the middle of these, and that is how all of our banjos are adjusted when they leave the factory. Checking and tightening it from time to time will keep it at the level and tone you want it.
Same goes for putting a new head on. Some like the way a head ages and keep one until they break, which takes a long time with the well made modern heads. Others like the brighter tones that new heads give and replace theirs when it starts to look a little worn in.
As well if you are looking for a new sound out of your banjo, putting on a head of a different material can give you a whole new palette to play with. Here you can see the options for different kinds of heads.
The below videos were made to answer how to tighten and change the head on your banjo.
8. You can have control of the action of your banjo.
Adjusting your coordinator rods allows you to tweak your action and get to the sweet spot you want for playing. This is not always needed, but easy to do when it is.
Here is a video on what the coordinator rods do and how to adjust them for the action you are looking for.
As a note if you have qualms about taking on any of these points yourself, head to a professional and they will be happy to help you. It is good to have an idea of what is needed, even if you would rather not do it yourself.
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