Heli-Mount banjo design
Much has been written about the benefits of Helically mounted banjos, or Heli-Mounts. But if you have not tuned in to Nechville.com lately or have not viewed our banjo setup videos, you may not be aware of the amazing simplicity and versatility of Nechville’s design.
The Reasons for Helical Mounting
The main acoustical reason for helical mounting is the separation of structural components from the acoustic components of a banjo. In a standard bluegrass banjo, the neck is directly connected to the rim and tone ring imparting mechanical stresses and interference to the pure tone of a rim / tone ring that is mounted without connections to metal parts.
The many side benefits to helical mounting add up to make it the clearly superior method of banjo construction. Tone component changes and adjustments are quick and easy plus the Heli-Mount frame provides an easy, secure, adjustable and removable neck connection.
You may have heard of the Heli-Mount’s unique ability to switch heads in 2 minutes or less. The threaded flange is the only moving part responsible for tensioning the head. Perfect concentricity, and perfectly even tension is applied automatically to the head.
This sets Nechville in a league of its own when it comes to clarity and evenness of tone and volume on every spot of the fingerboard. You turn the 2 pinion wrenches counter-clockwise to tighten the head. Since you are applying tension around the entire perimeter of the head, you will have to turn both wrenches with sufficient force to bring the head up to the desired level.
Use of Drum Dial
A dial indicator mounted on a base, called a Drum Dial, is useful in determining the approximate ideal tension for the head. If you tighten until the dial reads 90 -92 you are in the Bluegrass head tension range. If you can hear the pitch of a tight head, some players try to tighten it until the G# note predominates.
You can also use the top of the tension hoop as a rough guide when using a medium crown Remo head. When in the proper range of tension, there is only about .1″ between the top of the tension hoop and the surface of the head.
Choice of Bridge and Placement
You probably have a bridge that came with the banjo or an alternate bridge that you plan to use. There are many reasons to consider a higher bridge, and so I generally suggest bridges that are 11/16″ or taller.
Be sure that the bridge you choose is radiused to match the curvature of the frets, and be sure that the 3rd string is correctly intonated especially high up the neck. I strongly suggest the use of only Enterprise compensated bridges for Nechville banjos. Place the bridge using the 19th fret harmonic and match the fretted note at that location. If the action is too high or low, you will address that in the next step, and you will need to re-intonate the bridge for proper placement once the neck is finally set.
Neck Angle and Truss Rod Adjustment
The neck needs to be in the proper angle to achieve perfect action, plus the shape of the neck’s bow must simultaneously be correct for the playability to be optimal. If you hold the taut string against the fingerboard at the 1st and last fret and inspect the distance between the string and the middle frets, It should only be about .01 or the thickness of a business card. Some people go a little more or less and the neck angle can be set accordingly.
With a straighter neck, the neck angle needs to be a little shallower, raising the action so strings do not buzz. More bow means that neck angle can be set back for more uniform playability from low positions to high. Intonation problems tend to crop up more when the neck is too bowed, so I suggest straighter necks with fairly low action down low and gradually getting higher as you go up the neck.
The Nechville inline tailpiece has down, left right and forward back adjustments through turning the set screws on the back of tailpiece. You may want to check the note that comes from the tailpiece side of the strings and get it to match a higher octave of one of the string’s harmonics. I use that 19th fret note and try to bring the tailpiece back far enough to get that note behind the bridge.
If strings are slightly off center, you can turn either the left or right set screw until the strings line up as desired. Downward pressure generally should be minimal for fuller sound. Tightening the center set screw brings tailpiece lower, sharpening the sound and lowering the action slightly (which is another micro action adjustment to keep in your bag of tricks).
Once you have snugged up the head and set the neck for perfect action, you can be confident that your HELI-MOUNT WILL GIVE YOU COUNTLESS HOURS OF FUN and entertainment.