Repair Spotlight: New Banjo Old Tricks

There is no end to the unique requests that come through the Mass Street repair shop. Everything from gluing down a stubborn bridge, to restringing an elaborate lute, to performing free setups on new gear, the guys will do just about anything to keep your instruments performing. Sitting less than 10 feet from the shop I’m constantly amazed by the unique instruments that come through, and more importantly the craftsmanship required to make the right fix, using the right materials, the first time.

Recently, a customer wanted to have the synthetic head replaced with a natural skin banjo head on their open back. The thought being that the skin banjo head would give the instrument a much more natural and subdued tone, which fits in perfectly with frailing or clawhammer style playing. Mass Street Luthier Matt H was up for the challenge in retrofitting this particular banjo.

The trick to swapping between the two heads on this instrument involved fabricating a flesh hoop to properly secure the new head in place. Matt checked in with former repair shop luthier, now custom guitar builder Leo Posch, on how best to fabricate this custom hoop. Leo suggested a trip down Massachusetts Street to visit Cottin’s Hardware, one of our favorite locally owned neighbors, to pick up some brass square tubing which Matt then formed into the hoop you see above. It was further a team effort as the head was provided by friend of the store, Jim Jeans, who is always helping out in one way or another. (Thanks again for letting us borrow the chairs!)

Once the head was soaked, stretched and tightened down the excess was trimmed off leaving a clean look to the finished installation. Then it was just a matter of setting the bridge, intonating and tuning it up to pitch. This turned out to be a really novel way to give this open back banjo an old, but all together new sound. While you’re daydreaming about that perfect bum-ditty sound, check out our current collection of banjos!


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