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Having played a lot of banjos in my day, when I have an instrument like this, I have to write about it.  Well actually, there are no other banjos like this. Let me explain.
The Nashville flood of 2010 marked the end of the Gibson banjo era. Not only did Gibson lose their banjo shop, but countless instruments were caught underwater and lost. One such casualty was a nice Greg Rich replica of a pre-war RB3. When received as a down payment on a new banjo, I thought it was a total loss. But after scraping off the mud and wiping it down I found that the pot was salvageable. The neck connection was degraded badly by water damage and the neck angle was unsuitable.

 Flux Capacitor comes to the rescue. It is possible to re-cut an existing banjo neck to accommodate the patented Flux connection. That’s what we did. Within a few hours with a bit of fret dressing and cleaning up, the banjo was back in playing shape again with perfect action.  The swelling and subsequent drying of the rim did not hurt the tone. In fact I was surprised from the outset how nice it sounded. Besides the addition of the Flux Capacitor, I decided to keep all the original parts including the bridge that came with it, until recently.  I expected the RB 3 to sell quickly in a consignment shop but after a year or two of not selling, I got it back and brought it to Rockygrass this year.
What a great festival to meet with and jam with top level pros. The Nechville demo session display is a natural gathering place for the festival’s finest pickers. That is where a banjo that looks and sounds like a pre-war Gibson gets plenty of attention. I admit it was fun on two occasions telling the player that it was an original flathead, to which both players responded, “Yup, you can tell, it has that special pop when you hit it.”
I eventually told the truth and offered the banjo at my quick sale price, only to pop the bubble they were floating in.
With all the attention that banjo was getting, I began wondering how good it might sound with a compensated Enterprise Bridge. Let me tell you, no matter how good you think your banjo sounds, you owe it to yourself to try a well crafted compensated bridge like this on your banjo. Before the Gibson sounded traditionally great with that slight gnarly sound typical of Gibson Banjos. No one would complain but I much prefer the purity of sound offered by the Helical mount banjos.
The bridge changed everything.  With a tad more mass and slightly higher third and fourth strings and perfect compensation on each fret, the tone seemed to clarify instantly. All the twang and snarly sound disappeared. It sounded pure like a Heli-Mount with a slight sparkle and lots of depth.
This got me thinking about what I really had in my hands. I realized that this is a banjo with a story that you could write a book or movie about. Once belonging to Nashville Picker Billy Robertson, you can only imagine the pre-flood scenes that banjo has experienced. The resurrected version of this banjo came back as a pre-war clone. The perfect finish aging marks on the peghead, the finish cracks and missing lacquer on the rim, the perfectly shaped comfy neck, the rosewood fingerboard and antique style pearl inlay all spoke from antiquity of its desire to play again. And the voice of this banjo is the real convincing element. Of the numerous Flux conversions we have done at Nechville, this one ranks as the most dramatic and I think my favorite as to sound.
As a side note for those unfamiliar with the Flux system, this modification gives the neck a much more stable anchor point, increases the surface area of the connection and provides an easy way to adjust the angle of the neck for successful use of any height bridge or any string action preference without causing undue stress to the pot. This stabilizes the pot and allows a fuller tone. Another big advantage is that the Flux makes the neck instantly removable for travel or easy transport.
The only banjo of its kind to have been resurrected from the 1000 year flood of 2010 symbolizes a historic convergence of Nechville technology (Nechtology) with the tine honored role of the traditional banjo.
Inquiries about ownership of this collector piece can be directed to me tom@nechville.com or call 612-275-6602. The banjo comes in an antique case and written certification as an official historic Nechville re-creation.

Nechville has coined the term Banjo Revolution as a slogan to bring attention to our revolutionary designs. It is now time to think of the Banjo Revolution as a recent historical accomplishment.

The term “revolution” implies a conflict of some sort, but the Banjo Revolution has taken place without bloodshed or conflict whatsoever. In fact it has taken place without adversely affecting the former regime at all. Now the traditional banjo players are playing right alongside the happy rebels who have taken the “Nech” step. While their ranks are growing, no one is finding fault with their pure tone that works like musical glue in any jam setting.

The Nechville Heli-Mount

As a thirty year effort we can now pronounce victory, but no one is the loser. The music world now has another voice with the Helically mounted sound of the new banjo. It is a subtle change sonically but immediately noticed by experienced players. The new banjo tone is pure and even with as much brilliance and volume as you would like and vastly more controllable than its predecessor. For a traveling entertainer like Steve Martin, it is a road warrior that is always stable under the demands of the tour.

 

I believe humankind is entering a new era of truth-seeking, and I predict we will find it. We will understand and practice the secret of pure thought in creating our own futures. Time, money and resources will become more universally available as we wisely employ our technology and know-how. This means improved quality of life and the opportunity for more music to be played by everyone.

This takes me to the title of this essay. The Banjo Renaissance has arrived as a result of the Banjo Revolution. You may still go through a Revolution of sorts in your mind as you go about understanding and digesting the new paradigm of Nechville, but our ship has come in. Nechville technology has made it to the Olympics, Country Music Awards, Hollywood Movies and into the hands of worldwide celebrities. It is time we all celebrate the new era of the Banjo Renaissance.

For more information on Nechville call us or visit nechville.com
747-222-6567 (Sales Office)
952-888-9710 (Shop)

Viva La Banjo Revolution

The past few years, although I have not been a regular band member, I have been playing a little more often on my own. The benefits of a regular set aside practice time are potentially great. If you are like me though, it’s tough to stick to such a schedule for long. Regardless of how regular your playing time is, I’ll just repeat my most common bit of advice; Play until you are well warmed up and then go a little longer. The extra time you commit is when you’ll actually improve. The next time you play, do it again and you’ll start noticing new things appearing in your playing.

Beyond the obvious benefit of impressing your picking pals, Your quest for improvement will certainly train your ear to be a better judge of sound. As you continue to play you will continually fine tune your sense of pitch so that tuning becomes easier. You may however find that as your ear develops pitch sensitivity, you are tuning more often or requesting that others recheck their tuning more frequently.

As a player of almost 50 years and a builder of more than 30, I still need to spend some serious time playing my creations, so that every nuance of the sound and feel becomes noticed, and ideas form about ways to improve it. I wonder how builders that don’t play are able to decipher the level of professionalism that it takes in today’s banjo world. I am impressed with the playing of banjo building buddies Rob Bishline, Jaroslav Prucha and Glenn Nelson. Geoff Stelling and Steve Huber have also long been been known as good pickers. Deep down I consider myself a player ahead of being a builder, but the building pays the bills for me in this universe. My obvious point is that the best players tend to build the best instruments due to their years of study of the sound of the instrument through playing in various settings. My intention is not to question anyone’s talents as player, listener or critic, but rather to stimulate awareness during your own playing that can refine your ears in the quest for sound perfection, and the perfect playing experience.

In an effort to make sense of this, let’s talk about the concept of satisfaction. Musical satisfaction is first and foremost dependent on the concept of perfect pitch. Each note of your instrument, both fretted and open must be aligned perfectly with the corresponding notes played and sung by the other musicians in the group. It takes considerable effort and time to achieve harmonious tuning in just one instrument, let alone a whole band. The instrument must be built with particular attention to its ability to come in tune with its own harmonics. In other words, the fret scale must be accurate, the bridge and nut must be placed precisely and compensated for discrepancies, the string heights and gauges must be taken into consideration, and the general construction of the instrument must be stable. You likely have experienced the satisfaction of a well- tuned instrument, and you know the amazing potentials that can be reached when 2 or more great instruments achieve matching pitches and are held by great players.

If satisfaction were only as simple as reaching perfect tuning, I think we would hear a lot more great music than we do now. It also requires a great deal of skill from the player to maintain cohesive tuning throughout a performance. Even slight variations or finger position or holding pressure can throw an instrument out of tune. Therefore we buy the best instruments we can afford, and practice until we have mastered the art and skill of perfect pitch, (also sometimes called tonality).

To complicate the picture a bit more I now introduce the concept of tone. Being completely different from tonality, our ears are so amazing that we can hear extremely minute changes not only on the pitch of notes but in the character of sound (tone) produced by an instrument. Yes, satisfaction first depends on great pitch tonality, but assuming we have fulfilled that challenge, we now must look toward our aesthetic sense to discover just what we imagine our perfect tone to be.

I think it is safe to say that most Bluegrass players, for example have developed their sense of tone by listening to their role models. The masters who inspired us to play are quite normally dictating to us what our tone should be like. With the vast popularity of Scruggs, his iconic banjo sound still echoes as the tone many of us want coming from our banjos. Likewise, you may have noticed that the general tone of much of Bela Fleck’s playing has a different and perhaps darker tone that his followers may wish to emulate.

If the total purpose of the banjo were to preserve and protect a pure form of music such as bluegrass, we would need nothing but old Mastertone copies set-up to sound just like Earl. We all know however, that is not the banjo’s purpose. It is a modern musical instrument known for its distinctive voice and suitability for playing complex fingerstyle melodies and patterns. Its sound is highly evocative and creatively inspiring for musicians in widely diverse forms of music. Happily for us creative types, the banjo exhibits a unique ability to produce an infinite number of subtle changes in tone. This touches on the greatest benefit of my own Nechville instruments. With just a small amount of training, you can learn to alter and transform your Heli-Mount sound to fit whatever artistic visions you carry in your head. It might be Scruggs, Fleck or Kruger. But more importantly, it might be you!

Please continue your exploration into the world of personalized banjo tone by exploring the Nechville website. Our site is undergoing some major changes, so you will want to check back often. There is always something new and interesting to discover and we invite you to subscribe to our free banjo info hotline with insider deals and special opportunities.

The banjo has a captivating sound and is fun to strum even without knowing the first thing about music. That is partly because it is normally tuned to an open chord. Plucking or strumming the strings makes a harmonious chiming sound that makes us happy. Just a few minutes of experimenting will often lead to a real experience of making music. It is not hard to play banjo. The strings are light and easy on the fingers. The chord positions are relatively easy, with only 4 strings to worry about.
I encourage beginning students to start with a focus on learning the basic chord shapes and first get comfortable with playing the changes in time to some favorite or familiar songs. You don’t need to worry about picking at first. That comes gradually and naturally when you are ready to add interest to your rhythmic playing to the chord structure. I think you can have fun with simple strumming until you just cannot resist the urge to put on the picks and incorporate those roll patterns.
I won’t say that the banjo is better than any other instrument, but I will say that there is is room in this world for a whole lot more banjo players. The sounds produced by banjos can be low and growly, bright and cheerful, deep and resonant, slow and mournful, or quick and lively. I believe there are techniques still to be discovered in playing and that the banjo is an excellent vehicle to express oneself.
What about the downside of banjo? People joke about the banjo, giving it the reputation of being hard to tune. Banjos can be very heavy; banjos are expensive; banjos can only play bluegrass. Lucky for the banjo, there are innovators of current times solving the problems that have been voiced about the instrument for decades.
Modern banjo construction, especially from Nechville minimizes tuning problems through innovations like the in-line tailpiece, finer tuners, compensated bridges, built in capos, and the teaching of techniques for proper string installation. Nechville also has openback and bluegrass banjos starting under five pounds in weight. While the Nechville brand is a premium, professional level instrument, you can still contact us for the very best deal on lesser expensive options like used instruments, and import models sold by some of our suppliers. We want to help you get started, and even help you acquire an affordable alternate brand starter instrument. After almost three decades in the business, the Nechville brand has become so established that there are always options available with used Nechvilles as well. This is great news for the majority of aspirants who recognize the advantages of high quality and easy playability on their progress.
If you have been thinking about becoming part of the fun of being a player, I encourage you to pick up the phone and call us at either 747-222-6567 or 952-888-9710. We are ready to be your personal banjo consultant in taking the “Nech” step into the world of banjo fun!

Jack, James and Bela

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I wrote the following reflections on the way home from SPBGMA 2017. This Bluegrass showcase and award show attracts bands and fans from the heartland of America.  Music City Sheraton in Nashville has been the home for this annual pilgrimage for many years. Having lost its leader, Chuck Stearman last year, the event continues to offer opportunities to jam with great players, try out instruments and reunite with old friends.
For me, it has been a great place to meet and help people with setup and repair which led to my role as official workshop presenter this year with Jack Hatfield’s SPBGMA banjo clinic. Jack has organized the SPBGMA workshops for years and always provides a great value by bringing in the top teachers and talented players to share their skills with the rest of us. 2017 marked a banner year for the  SPBGMA workshops; the world’s most renowned banjo player came and graciously delivered well thought out ideas tailored especially for the Bluegrass participants.

As a musician dedicated to improving the status of our beloved instrument, my hat goes off to anyone who goes out of their way to do the same. That basically means I am thanking guys like Jack; festival and workshop coordinators, teachers, performers, jam hosts, philanthropists, our banjo customers and students. As small as the banjo world is, it is filled with a huge percentage of passionate friends who are helping the raise the awareness and stature of America’s instrument. 
I care about this partly because it is good for business to spread awareness of the banjo, but mostly because banjo is fun, cool and healthy for people. Famous people who comment on the banjo either perpetuate the instrument’s backward stereotype or they can educate the public on its merits. Listen to Steve Martin’s interview with Johnny Bair from the banjo museum for example. Steve articulately describes his reasons for playing and loving the banjo.  We can use more advocates with the recognition power of Steve Martin telling the benefits of banjo to our world. We all can imagine the implications if the masses started playing music, and particularly banjos.
So in the spirit of expansion of banjo awareness, I am thanking everyone in the banjo world for your support and participation.  The more recognized you are in your sphere of influence, the more potent is your message.  Here I focus my accolade to the banjo community by singling out three respected individuals who each have very different stories, but came together at that moment SPBGMA workshop in the spirit of advancing universal banjo camaraderie.  
As mentioned, Jack is a tireless advocate of the banjo and probably the worlds most prolific author of banjo instructional books. His mind is always fixed on ways he can help students of the banjo improve themselves. Jack lives to play and works hard just so he can facilitate the sharing of banjo knowledge and skill. I was heart broken to see and hear of the fire that stole Jack’s business and life’s possessions. His inventory of instruments, storehouse of books and accessories were completely lost during the recent wildfires that swept through Pigeon Forge Tennessee. As workshop coordinator, Jack’s misfortune did not diminish his effectiveness this year. Quite the contrary. Jack pulled together a world class teaching roster and prepared a day of banjo learning that I will not forget. His own teaching style is straightforward and always emphasizes the right sequence of learning which I think is of utmost importance.
I first encountered James McKinney at Nashville’s Station Inn in 1990.  He was the banjo king of the Sunday night Bluegrass jam. As a newcomer hearing the power of James’s exuberant playing pretty much froze me into an amazed stupor. It was a year later and I was practicing in my IBMA hotel room when I was challenged by the familiar strum of Dueling Banjos from the balcony above my room. I cautiously replied, “strum-strum-strum-strum-strum“. When we reached the fast part, I recognized the insanely brilliant flurry of notes that James is famous for.  Over the years since, we have judged banjo contests, taught side by side and even followed each other on the stage of Jack’s Smoky Mountain Banjo Academy concert.
James is chock full of musical and technical knowledge relating to banjo and is a great instructor. I personally have benefited from James’s clear teaching, jamming and great stories told when relaxing. As Jack tells me, James is the one banjo teacher that everybody can learn from. James is dedicated to advancing the state of banjo playing and expanding the voice of the banjo in bluegrass and acoustic music. Hats off to James who teaches that hard work in the spirit of fun and self improvement really pays off.
The music of the 5 string banjo is rooted in the hills of Appalachia where both James and Jack come from. Both are passionate about Bluegrass and at the same time share the vision of an expanding role for the banjo in all kinds of music. This is our common thread. It runs to Minnesota where instruments are made with an eye on the future and to New York where the passion of hearing “that sound” across a spectrum of music describes an individual whom this article is about.
Bela, having dedicated his life to a vision we all share, continually remembers and respects the roots of the music and the musicians growing from them. What deeper gesture of respect is there  than to take time to come to the most traditionally minded music event in the country to reinforce that bridge between tradition and creativity?  Bela Fleck was way cool in his approach of treating the primarily traditional Scruggs based players as we are all in the same boat, (although we really know who the captain is).
Bela used simple Scruggs rolls and basic fingerings to unravel some very characteristic aspects of his Bluegrass playing. He gave us all insight about his own musical journey and showed examples of how he might practice as to make it not so boring. He revealed ideas and thoughts and little discoveries that inspired him along the way, and explained them all without the need for fancy chord names or technical terminology. He was prepared with worksheets and it was evident that he had given the challenge of teaching his style to intermediate players a lot of thought. As Bela’s legacy continues to unfold, I am so gratified to see him delivering such an inclusive and welcoming presentation to the Bluegrass banjo community. In addition to, his role as world-class composer and virtuoso, it is so great to know that we share the same love of the instrument and the players sprouting form its roots.
Well done workshop Jack. Thanks to all my setup participants. Bluegrass is definitely better off because of Jack, James, Bela and you. Hats off all you guys and gals!

The 2017 Banjo Quiz

20160824_165255How many of the following statements do you agree with?

As soon as you come to a question you doubt strongly or disagree with, you are finished and free to move along.

Based on my experience in the music business, I’d say you have less than a .01% chance of getting to the bottom of the list. If you happen to be one of the chosen ones that makes it all the way, congratulations!
You may have just discovered one of life’s keys to happiness.

Musical Survey- Do you agree with the following?

1. Music is important in life.(If you are already a musician, skip to question 7)

2. Human beings are wired to play music.

3. Participation in musical activities is healthy and fun.

4. I imagine that playing an instrument might be fun for me too.

5. Learning is not easy, but I am up for a new challenge

6. Music challenges the brain and keeps you growing mentally.

7. I prefer folk and acoustic music over commercial pop.

img_01238. Acoustic instruments can be played anywhere, any time.

9. Groups composed of guitars, mandolins, fiddles and banjos can make nice sounds.

10. I know of at least one other musician in my area that I might interact with musically.

11. It is easier to learn a second instrument after knowing one.

12. The banjo is a great in good hands, dangerous in others.

13. For the most part, banjo and guitar are related.

14. The banjo has 4, 5, or 6 strings.

15. Good banjos are easier to play than cheap ones.

16. Banjo players sometimes spend too much time tuning and adjusting.

17. Having consistent even tension on a banjo is important for best sound.

18. Getting the best banjo for the money aids in learning progress.

19. Nechville has updated the banjo’s playability, comfort and reliability.

20. There is such a thing as a versatile banjo tone.

21. Nechville banjos are the most versatile as to range of tonalities.

22. No other banjo is as easy and foolproof to adjust and service.

23. If a Nechville sounded right and was priced right, I’d want one.

24. I should learn more about Nechville 4-5 and 6 string banjo offerings.

25. Tom, Al and Brett are waiting to help me find the right instrument.

26. Getting exactly what I want in a banjo means a worthy investment over a lifetime.

If you made it this far, Congratulations! You are one in a million.

Please click here to receive your no obligation quote, or simply pick up the phone and call. We love it when a new Nechville picker is born!

Meet Merry- A Holiday Celebration

In his quest for perfect banjos, Tom Nechville doesn’t stop with mediocrity. Especially in his more ornamented creations, like Merry, there must be a magic combination that inspires musical power the hands of a musician.  In Tom’s words, “It is relatively easy to create good sound, but in the world of pro banjo, good is not good enough. This is where the mixture of art and science meet folklore and faith.”

Here Nechville has combined his now famous Helical Tone chamber mounting, or Heli-Mount construction, with specially selected old-growth woods and spared no expense in adding the festive details that make this banjo so happily cohesive as an instrument.
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Merry, the holiday banjo was originally inspired by a gift of sparkly Christmas tree binding made by noted banjo artist, Greg Rich. Since Tom liked playing Christmas music, he decided to make a banjo that would depict Holly and Ivy rather than candy canes and Santa Clauses to create a flowing natural design. He hired inlay design by Ken Bennett to create the fingerboard and headstock artwork. The level of detail on the inlay gave rise to the need for some modest carving and color on the neck and resonator, so Tom called upon his old friend, Ron Chacey to do that handy-work.

13221429_10153441181966751_5829368171201242214_oThe process of building this banjo spanned more than 7 years. Tom Nechville painstakingly digitized and programmed the artwork for production on Nechville’s CNC router and handled all aspects of building and assembly. One particular challenge he overcame is his use of sparkle around the sides of the peghead that matches the binding.

Finally in early 2016 she was done except for the finishing touch of finding the perfect bridge, a critical component that often gets overlooked by banjo builders. Tom’s 2016 trip to Israel with his wife and church group afforded him the chance to find some special bridge wood from the Holy Land. Tom’s group was granted special 13346609_10153473357596751_5090884424890148411_npermission to enter the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane.  The main feature of the garden is its grove of 2000-year- old Olive trees. Upon noticing a small stack of branch trimmings under one fenced off tree, Tom turned his thoughts to whether Olive wood would work in a banjo bridge.  Just before exiting the garden, Tom turned around to take a look behind his bench. There, bigger than life was a 3-foot long stick with interesting patterns on the surface of the wood just barely wide enough for making bridges.

Upon returning to the shop, he found that natural Olive wood did not suit the tonal characteristics he was after for Merry, but that baking the wood somehow gave the perfect result.

13217592_10153441182026751_5713998421096330342_oMerry is a masterpiece to behold and a delight to play. It is on temporary loan at the American Banjo Museum and is currently for sale. Inquiries can be directed to tom@nechville.com. Additional Information about innovative Nechville instruments can be found at www.nechville.com.

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First I thank my travel mates Al Price, Rick Sampson, Tedd Williams and Lawrence Levine. What a fun crew to hang with. We stayed at the main hotel connected to the convention center. Since the World of Bluegrass moved to Raleigh, the city itself has extended the atmosphere of Bluegrass into the streets. So that even on our occasional walks outside for coffee or meals, we were constantly breathing air filled with Bluegrass.

The immersion experience reminded me of our stays at the Executive Inn in Owensboro, Kentucky more than 2 decades ago. Problems and realities of everyday life were temporarily suspended for a week while we lived in a compimg_0092letely different world of music. Not just any music, but the kind that is hand-made on the spot between good friends from all around the world.

Of particular joy to me as a supplier of instruments was hearing the results of my labor. I saw and heard how more and more musicians are noticeably refining their sound with instruments that I have built or set up. Ryan Murphy with Old Salt Union sounded great on his Phantom. Matt Menefee rocked with David Greer. Tim Carter his Bang Bang Band showed their stuff. It was great hanging and jamming with Eric Yates from Hot Buttered Rum, a very entertaining San Francisco group. I also met another young band called the Plate Scrapers with Derek Kreitzer on his newly set up Classic.

Other notable highlights included Molly Tuttle with Wes Corbett on banjo and Mile 12 with Catherine BB Bowness and her tasty style. Silvio Ferretti and his group Red Wine has a fantastic new CD that they were promoting, just one of a growing number of International bands appearing at IBMA. The Carivick Sisters from the U.K. were there with Charlotte’s new banjo playing husband John Breeze. John is an old friend, active in the British Bluegrass scene.

img_0123It is a week worth trying to attend if you have never experienced it. Agents, promoters and professional musicians can’t miss the early week business conference and trade show networking opportunities. The jammers and fans have plenty of chances through the weekend to participate in some spirited live music all around the town of Raleigh.

Enterprise Bridge

Nechville Enterprise Bridge

THE BANJO BRIDGE…

is at the heart of making your banjo work and it is the real key to your banjo’s sound. No doubt you are aware of the vast differences that different bridges can make. Through my thirty plus years of building bridges, I still marvel at that fact.

Nechville makes bridges to the highest standard of care and professionalism. We consider every aspect of bridges imaginable, such as mass, shape, grain orientation, density and chemistry to arrive at the absolute best answers for most banjo players.  While it is not always an easy or obvious choice, consultation with a Nechville rep often leads to a relatively inexpensive overhaul of your banjo’s sound and playability. It may be that something as simple as a bridge customized to your banjo is the best thing you can do for your money.
Before ordering any bridges from Nechville, you are advised to learn all you can about bridge selection and banjo setup. Through the storehouse of knowledge available through our website, you increase your chances of selecting the right bridge. You may learn just enough to finally make the perfect decision on what kind of whole new banjo might be in your future. Watch Nechville postings and website events calendar for upcoming events where our knowledgeable reps can help you in person.
THE ENTERPRISE BRIDGE…
is the result of many years of research and experimentation. When starting out, I had no clue how difficult it was to create a great banjo bridge. Happily, I persevered in my quest and today the compensated Enterprise Bridge has worked its way onto many of the world’s best banjos. Made from hand selected and properly dried Maple and ebony, it’s the only bridge made available in so many various weights and heights between 9/16 and 7/8″ and from 2-3 grams. Let’s take a close look at the bridge’s function and break down all the important features that we consider in making the Enterprise bridges for optimal performance.
HOW BRIDGES WORK
A bridge placed between vibrating strings and a banjo head transmits small pressure variations at the frequency of the note being played. If you imagine the movement of a string during just one cycle of vibration (which normally occurs hundreds of times a second), the down and forward pulling pressure of the bridge on the head is greatest as the string’s fundamental main swinging arc reaches its greatest distance away from the string’s still position. At the peak amplitude of the string, the head is pushed in and the air in front of the banjo is slightly stretched out.
We will call the string’s resting position zero. As the string passes by zero, the downward and forward pressure on the head is temporarily reduced, allowing it to raise slightly causing a compression wave in the air. The string swings to the other side to once again increase the pressure on the bridge, resulting in perpetuating waves of compressed and decompressed air that our ears hear as sound.   When you consider that the bridge  also rocks back and forth as well as riding up and down in reaction to a vibrating string, the motion of the head becomes more complex and is able to communicate much more sonic complexity.
All strings vibrate in the fundamental way mentioned, but simultaneously also in harmonic sections of 1/2. 1/3. 1/4. 1/5th and so on of the string’s length. You can actually find all the notes of a chord built from the main note of the string when you listen the harmonic content of a string’s vibration.
COMPOSITION
Obviously, a bridge can be made out of anything but through experience we have learned that medium density woods with a good stiffness ratio tend to work the best. The top edge of the bridge is normally made from ebony for creating a durable surface for the strings to rest upon. Too much ebony will increase weight and stiffness of a bridge, which tends to mute some of the high overtones,  decrease volume, and add sustain.
In my opinion, weight of banjo bridges should always be between two and three grams. At the two gram end, you will find a “Grassy” tone with a quick staccato attack and swift decay. You will be able to hear a lot of harmonic content to the notes, and the sound will be bright to your ears. At the three gram end, the sound will be much richer, because of muted high harmonics less punchy attack but more sustain. The right weight for you will likely fall in the 2.5 area. The most common bridge wood is medium density maple. The wood must be well dried, and of sufficient density to arrive at the target weight without having to thin the bridge down too much.
WOOD GRAIN ORIENTATION
All wood has annual growth rings that affect the wood’s stiffness and also the resulting sound from a bridge. The first and probably most obvious specification is that the entire length of the bridge needs to run with the direction of the wood grain. That means that end grain will appear at each end of a bridge. When viewed from the end, you should be able to see the faint lines of growth rings.
The number of growth lines in not as important as their orientation in the finished bridge. These annual growth lines must run as closely as possible to parallel to the banjo head surface. You might imagine correctly that the resistance to a sagging motion might be optimized by having the growth rings in vertical (perpendicular) orientation to the head. This may be true, but the banjo likes the bridge to have some degree of flexibility across its length. The sound is noticeably better from a bridge with flat-sawn (parallel) grain orientation.
SHAPE IS CRITICAL
In my experience, I’ve learned that the size and shape of the bridge will greatly affect the resulting sound as well as playability.
bridge2Thin bridges are normally not ideal. They often sag and cause playability issues. Thin bridges will also dig into the head more, sit lower than a bridge with a wider footprint and generally have a harsher tone.   I like having 1/4″ or so of width contacting the head. The bridge should taper up very gradually as to have a sufficiently sturdy top thickness.
Most bridges are exactly flat across the top and flat across the feet. You may notice that guitar bridges are made to allow a bit higher action on the bigger strings to avoid buzzing strings. For this reason, we can keep playability lowest on the strings that we often do lead playing on.
The resulting shape for ideal action on every string is a bridge top that bows upward toward the center, leaving the third and fourth strings a tad higher. For every change in height or thickness, you must remember the overall target weight between 2-3 grams and choose density of materials accordingly.
CORRECT FOR INTONATION
The next concern that crops up is the intonation issue. When you install a bridge with the previously mentioned arched top edge, the higher third string will gain noticeably extra sharpness since it must travel farther when being pushed down to the fret. Without a compensated scale on the 3rd string, it is impossible to find a spot on the head where every string frets in tune with its harmonic chime at the 12th and 19th fret. Even without the arched top shape, the third string is still prone to go sharp when fretted compared to the other strings due to its thickness.
The simple answer is compensation. A longer scale for just the third string needs to be shaped into the bridge by design, creating the compensated and radiused shape of the Enterprise bridge.  The wound fourth string needs less help due to its thinner core.
SMILEY BRIDGES?
There is some talk about shaping the feet of the bridge to fit a along parabolic curve so that the down pressure on the bridge will cause less sagging. It is my finding that an optimally tightened head requires no such radius, but very slight relief sanded toward the outer parts of the feet is routinely done to even out the pressure on all three feet of the bridge.
What can and does happen with too much curvature of bridge feet is that it temporarily concentrates the pressure on the center foot, but does nothing to prevent further sagging and eventually causes a permanent sag in the head where the bridge sits which can diminish the potential amplitude of the banjo.
IN SUMMARY
I’d like to suggest that you use this information in your own bridge making adventure. We have successfully made bridges out of different woods and in totally different shapes with success. My recent experiments with wood roasting and use of rare exotics have produced some exciting new material possibilities, inspiring me to write this comprehensive article. We at Nechville continue to be there to serve your every banjo need.
Stay Tuned! Tom
harnessinside

Nechville Acoustic Harness Pickup System

At Nechville Musical Products, we are happy to see the banjo reaching far beyond its original bluegrass roots. With added stage volume and new (sometimes electric) instruments being introduced into the mix, the challenge of providing banjo amplification solutions is also growing. We are currently and continually experimenting with solutions that meet today’s current challenges.

Our goal when electrifying banjos is simple- plug and play. We want no issues with feedback or strange sound, no matter how big the stage is or how many drums and guitars you have to compete with. We also want the acoustic sound to be easily retained or brought back for acoustic and studio sessions.

The signal from a banjo outfitted with a pickup is typically sent to a house PA system through a direct input (DI) box. The DI provides a low impedance signal via XLR cable so that the signal isn’t lost or degraded on the way to the engineer’s board. This can also be accomplished by plugging into an amplifier with the ability to send the sound to the house PA. This allows direct control over the tone and volume of the your amp, which acts as a monitor. However, it may complicate the feedback issue, depending on the features of your particular amp.

Amplifying acoustic banjos introduces a new set of challenges. There are many factors to consider. Will you need an expert repairman or luthier to install it? For most players, they would prefer to limit the time and expense and do the installation themselves.

Current solutions battle ease of installation with loss of acoustic sound. If your acoustic tone is lost or altered it is not a great solution. Mounting a magnetic pickup to the coordinator rods, or in the case of a Nechville banjo to a removable brace, is less intrusive to the acoustic tone. This does, however, often produces an amplified tone with too much of an electric guitar flavor.

A piezo pickup produces a signal with an amazing ability to create a natural, airy tone. It does a great job of capturing the essence of the banjo sound. A piezoelectric pickup carries a very high impedance signal and is most effective when properly buffered by a circuit placed as close to the signal as possible.

A piezo operates differently pressed up against the head of a banjo as opposed to under the bridge on an acoustic guitar. It can fail to capture the rich low-mids associated with the fullness of a banjo, and end of sounding thin or “tinny”.

mtrbodySM

Nechville Meteor Electric Banjo

The Meteor Electric banjo was designed in the 1990s with the aid of Bela Fleck, Alison Brown, Eddie Adcock and others. It is truly a plug and play instrument. It allows the user to blend the best of the magnetic and piezo sound. The smaller head on the Meteor allows for an authentic banjo tone but limits the surface area of the vibrating membrane to reduce the chance of feedback.

Recent research and development at Nechville has currently led to an acoustic banjo pickup that utilizes the same dual pickup technology designed for the Meteor electric banjos. The combination of the warmth and balanced magnetic signal with the articulate and bright piezo signal is the solution that Nechville has built into their state-of-the-art dual pickup called the Acoustic Harness.

Special electronics have been pioneered that allow the vastly different signals from the piezo and magnetic pickups to be blended on board the instrument. Once an ideal balance is achieved at the source, there is no need to continually adjust it. You can be confident you are getting the source sound you’ve dialed in every time. Fine tuning, volume and EQ adjustments can be made by the sound engineer or through your own preamp or personal amp.

Installation of the Acoustic Harness is easy. There are at least two ways to mount it in a Nechville banjo. After optionally adhering one or two thin metal inductors to the head, the Harness drops into place and is held securely by the wedge fitting action of telescopic legs that rest in the gap between the tone ring and head. The pickup adjusts up and down and is fixable anywhere along the mounting legs. A jack body and bracket is provided that securely mounts to the outside of the Heli-Mount frame which can stay there even if the pickup is removed.

Contact Nechville to stay up to date on our latest offerings. We also provide custom installations ranging from MIDI/synth pickups to simple piezo or magnetic installations for many stringed instruments.