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Since choice of tone and playability is to varying degrees adjustable on most banjos, it is worth understanding as much as possible about how they work in order to satisfy your perception of musical tone and reach your goals as a musician.
What I want to address are the design limitations common to standard banjos that I find unacceptable, given the solution is now at hand. Let me give you my simple understanding with straight facts.
If you pick up a banjo and the strings are too far away from the fingerboard to easily play, you would put it back down and look for another. Or if the strings are so low that they rattle on the frets. Either scenario is unacceptable for anyone seeking enjoyment from the instrument.
In my role as repairman, I commonly deal with playability problems. The simple truth is that all these problems would not exist with a property functioning two way truss rod system in combination with a means for setting the angle of the neck up and down.
Unfortunately for owners of traditional non-Nechville banjos, you are out of luck. No means of angle adjustment exists on a traditional banjo. That means that only one size bridge can ever work on the instrument and it severely limits your tonal choices and ability to customize your playability. The problem is especially bad if if you are forced to use too small of a bridge.
At Nechville we have done away with the antiquated non adjustable neck to rim attachments. The Quick-Cam system, standard on all helical mount and Flux capacitor equipped Flex-tones solves such problems and creates several additional benefits.
All Nechville made instruments are not only infinitely adjustable throughout a wide range of action and bridge height choices, but are also instantly separable for transport or travel. Nechville modular design also means that trading or upgrading necks and other parts on Nechville’s is practical, quick, easy and fun.
Let’s consider some other scenarios involving problems with a traditional banjo body. Let’s say that one of your hooks or nuts is rusty or impeded in some mechanical way. In that case it would be impossible to judge if you had achieved even tension on the banjo head.
It is well known that even tension leads to balanced tone. With the numerous fasteners to equalize around the banjo body it is nearly impossible to achieve even tension on the head. We might all agree that a much more acceptable thing would be to have an automatically controlled head tension system.
Another common problem is restriction of the natural tone of the acoustic chamber of the instrument from the mechanical fastening of rods and other metal parts. The whole instrument works together to produce its own sound, therefore the best banjos have been adjusted to minimize the negative effects of metallic connections. The rim, head and tone ring should be allowed to act as “tone components” while parts like the neck and hardware should provide structural integrity without limiting the effectiveness of the tone components.
At Nechville, every effort has been dedicated to streamlining the banjo’s design. Our sound is automatically balanced because of our freely mounted tone ring system that is completely free from sound altering or restricting forces from coordinator rods or other metal parts. One part turns which places automatic even tension on the head. This results in unrestricted beautiful tone whether you want deep and dark or bright and snappy.
Let’s consider a couple more unacceptable but easily remedied situations. With the advent of carefully sculpted bridges that account for the varying scale lengths of different string sizes, why to so many players still play with noticeable intonation problems? The easy solution is our Enterprise Bridge; made to correct intonation and to enhance playability.
Perhaps the most frequent complaint is the banjo’s weight. While it is commonly assumed that the heavier banjos sound better, Nechville has proven otherwise. Many much lighter options are available for the Heli-Mount system that open up new frontiers in sound performance.
If that is not enough, consider another common complaint from banjo players, the discomfort that comes from your arm pressing against a hard metal edge on traditional banjos. All Nechvilles are equipped with Comfort Bevel wooden armrests that encourage long periods of practice and improvement. The Comfort Bevel armrest and Enterprise bridge are available from Nechville for any banjo.
The physics of sound in a banjo is complex, but by simplifying the design without detracting from its potentials, Nechville has made it easier and much more possible to control the resulting tone to your liking. We are dedicated to your success in music and are here to help whether it be in improving your existing instrument or building your custom creation.
Stay Tuned! Tom Nechville.
A single magical element that causes wonderful tone in a banjo does not exist. What makes for a wonderful tone in reality is the musicianship and skill of the player along with an acoustic tone chamber that generates a pleasant musical resonance.
The secret to an inspiring musical tonality is a combination of all the following factors.
The ring of dense material upon which the head is stretched is called the tone ring. Traditionally in most Bluegrass banjos, this component is made from bronze. The ideal formula for the tone ring is debated in banjo circles, but any formula containing copper, tin lead and zinc will work.
The magic depends on the proper execution of the 4 requirements above and mounting the tone ring solidly upon its base. The character of the sound differs slightly from instrument to instrument. But with years of experience in building and setting up instruments, one gets better at control- ling the sound quality.
The general myth that lives on in banjo circles is the one of the “Pre-war” banjo. The tone rings from these old banjos is most often cited as the magic component, while in reality the old seasoned wood of the rim is responsible for most of the pleasant resonance that comes from them.
All these facts aside, The tone ring is still a link in the chain of good tone. So if you are building an in- strument or just want to know more about them, here is a short tone ring crash course.
Bronze tone rings are cast in foundries and are machined to final shape on a lathe. As a major tone ring manufacturer, Nechville obtains cast billets and machines them to close tolerance in their CNC lathe.
Generally speaking, alloys with a 5% or higher lead content create rings with a good bass response. Lower lead alloys tend to encourage a wider range of harmonic con- tent which may cause a brighter perceived tone.
The pursuit of the ideal reproduction of the best sounding tone rings has resulted in clever marketing campaigns that add confusion to the well-known business of tone ring manufacture and have fostered false hopes in prospective buyers.
The tone ring is a part of a system that needs to work together in order to fulfill your musical desires. You can trust that Nechville is one company that will reveal the clearest path to achieving the sound that you are after.
Please take a look at our 30 year track record of producing world class custom instruments. No other company will give you the benefit of choice between classic design and helical mount banjos. No other banjo company is as vertically integrated and dedicated to providing tailored customer service. Whether you need tone ring advice, or want to upgrade your whole instrument, we are here to help.