Relationship Between the Fingerboard and the Tension Hoop on a Banjo

by Barry Hunn

There is a misconception in the banjo world about the relationship between the fingerboard/ tension hoop area on a banjo.

  • Some banjo enthusiasts have proposed that the fingerboard should be firmly contacting the tension hoop for reasons of tone transfer.
  • The lower part of the heel of the neck, the part that contacts the rim of the banjo, should be cut to fit precisely against the rim and held their very firmly.  This is where the tone transfer from the neck to the rim happens.
  • There is no transfer of tone to the tension hoop because it is not a tone producing part of a banjo.
  • The tension hoop’s job is to stretch the head.  The head is sort of like a big membrane which stretches…kind of like a shock absorber.  Anything that absorbs stretch or absorbs shock cannot produce a musical tone.  The membrane will vibrate, but the tension hoop is isolated from the large vibrating membrane of the head.  Since the tension hoop is isolated, anything that vibrates against it will not transfer sound.
  • On Deering, Vega, and Tenbrooks banjos, we generally build a gap somewhere between one sixteenth of an inch to three sixteenths of an inch.  The gap can vary based on neck angle, tension hoop diameter, rim sanding, etc.
  • Because there is no “tone transfer” between the neck and the tension hoop, the two parts work best when they don’t touch each other.
  • There should be a gap between the tension hoop and the edge of the fingerboard.  The relative size of the gap is absolutely of no importance.
  • If a neck is fitted to press against the tension hoop, the pressure against the ebony fingerboard could cause the fingerboard to split or crack if the pressure is firm enogh.
  • The fingerboard may swell with seasonal changes which would increase the pressure between the fingerboard and hoop enough to possibly cause a split or crack.
  • Customers have noticed that some of our banjos appear to have a tension hoop in contact with the end of the fingerboard.  It is true that some tension hoops might be a little larger in diameter (generally these are our notched tension hoop) and therefore brush up against the fingerboard.  This is not a problem as long as the pressure isn’t too great.

Some tension hoops are ever so slightly out of round and the oblong end might be on the finger board end.  This too is not an issue because the pressure on the fingerboard would be very small.

Our Goodtime banjos were originally built to contact the tension hoop by the fingerboard.  But, this was because the early Goodtime banjos had a thinner tension hoop, and the little extra contact from the fingerboard helped support the thinner tension hoop.  The new Goodtime banjos have a thicker more rigid tension hoop and no longer really benefit from this close fit….but even the old Goodtime didn’t have a lot of pressure on the tension hoop.

Another benefit to a little gap between the fingerboard and the tension hoop is really appreciated when changing the head on the banjo.

If the neck is pushing on the tension hoop, removing the head means first removing the neck.  This is not a problem to do, but it is more work and involves re-setting the banjo neck in the proper position. The little gap means the tension hoop and the head can usually be lifted off easily and replaced easily, without removing the neck.

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