I am new to banjo, and to classic banjo, and have recently bought a 'Hawkes & Son' 5-string which I think was probably made by John. G. Abbott, since a very similar instrument is shown at http://www.vintagebanjomaker.com/#/abbott/4568572023. The Hawkes tailpiece appears to be identical to that shown, save for the fact that it appears to have taken a knock resulting in the horizontal bar (beneath which the strings pass) being slightly dented in the middle so as to form a 'V' shape. Since this possible distortion is centred, I was at first unsure whether it might be an Abbott design feature, so left well alone and strung the banjo without attempting to straighten it out. As a result, with strings and bridge in place, the centre of the 'V' bears down, pressing the inner strings against the vellum. While this doesn't look right, it seems to have little if any effect on the sound, and causes no buzzes.

But now seeing the online Abbott tailpiece I think that my 'Hawkes' tailpiece would ideally be straightened. My question is: can it be straightened without breaking it? Is it brass beneath the chrome, so probably bendable; or another metal that will crack? And if bendable, any suggestions as how best to go about the straightening? Or should I continue to leave well alone? Thanks for any advice.

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Hi there,

The tailpiece looks like the "Lyre" tailpiece used on Clifford Essex banjos. I know that the substrate metal is brass so it "should" straighten with a bit of effort! I would remove it and squeeze the bent part between two pieces of wood the jaws of a vice to squeeze it all straight.

The good news is that if you break it, which is unlikely if you take it slowly and carefully, they often appear on Ebay, and I thought that CE Music Co were selling reproductions, but I may be mistaken. 

Show us a photo of your actual V-ish tailpiece and someone here is likely to be able to say if this is how it was designed or if it has gotten bent.

Primum non nocere (First, do no harm). When I have an old bent part, I tend to leave it alone if it is not otherwise causing problems. However, since parts of it are touching the vellum, I would indeed see if I could correct at least that. Some of these old tailpieces are adjustable for height or may be shimmed to allow vellum clearance. 

If I had a handy replacement, I'd attempt to correct the bend straight away...if not, I would think a good bit about alternative solutions.

Pics would indeed help us comment further!

Thanks to all three contributors for their very quick replies. I am attaching two images of the tailpiece that should clarify what I am saying. Any follow up suggestions would be most welcome.

Attachments:

As per my first suggestion.. a piece of wood at each side and a  slow squeeze in a bench vice should fix it.

It appears the tailpiece has bashed on something or the banjo has fallen over and landed on the tailpiece bending the bar.

Be slow and steady and it will be fixed!

The bend toward the "pins" to which the strings are tied, shown in 1.JPG appears to be a design feature.  As far as I can tell this cannot be forcing the middle string down to where it touches the vellum. The small dip on the underside seen in 2.JPG seems to be culprit here. Yes it might be bendable. On the other hand if there is no rattle and you like the sound I don't see the harm in leaving it alone. Is there a way to lift the entire tailpiece up from the vellum?

Rock Chidley said:

Thanks to all three contributors for their very quick replies. I am attaching two images of the tailpiece that should clarify what I am saying. Any follow up suggestions would be most welcome.

I still stand by my suggestion... this is how it SHOULD look!

This picture, below, shows the tailpiece and its mounting as used on a Clifford Essex Boudoir Grand

Ian, if you send me that banjo, I'll put the V back in the tailpiece for you. I'll only keep it a decade or two... ;-)

It does appear to be adjustable for height above the vellum. Should be an easy fix to get the bar straight but also easy to adjust upwards to clear the head. The V looks so nicely done as to appear factory. I'd be tempted to straighten only the downward vector and leave the rest of the V in.

Again, my thanks to all for your views and ready advice. My tailpiece apparently differs from the illustrated Clifford Essex only (excepting the 'V') in that it does not have the two prongs that allow for vertical adjustment above the vellum. Just two holes to take two threaded bolts.  Pictures can't tell the whole story, of course, and from the nature of the V 'distortion' seen in the round I'm inclined to share thereallyniceman's view - namely that there is damage caused by a fall. It may not therefore be coincidental that, as bought, the vellum had split at and beyond that point. That said, I'm persuaded for the time being to take Jody Stecher's hippocratic line and leave well alone until such time as I develop at least some playing technique, or the newly fitted velum splits - whichever comes first.

Well, I never thought it of  banjo players... What a bunch of wimps!

 ........ Get it in the vice ;-))

Seriously though, if it ain't broke, don't fix it could be the sensible view.

Maybe I am a bit "gung-ho" as if I broke it I would strip the nickel, re-braze it, polish it and have it re-nickel plated and then it would be as good as new.

Do No Harm, was courtesy of Trapdoor 2. 

Rock Chidley said:

 I'm persuaded for the time being to take Jody Stecher's hippocratic line and leave well alone until such time as I develop at least some playing technique, or the newly fitted velum splits - whichever comes first.

I have spent most of my life following the philosophy of "If you can't fix it, get a bigger hammer." Now that I'm older, not so much. Were this mine, I think it would have gone in the vice right off the bat...as I said, just to take the downward bow out though.

I always find it interesting that the bulk of collectors of elder 5-string banjos prefer them to retain their "patina"...vs the collectors of 4-string banjos, who prefer them to be "better than new". I met a guy with a fancy Stewart banjo that he had totally rejuvenated...polished nickel, freshened engraving, gold brackets, bolts and hooks, etc. It was amazing...and I was totally put off by it. It looked too smooth, too shiny..."tarted up".


thereallyniceman said:

Well, I never thought it of  banjo players... What a bunch of wimps!

 ........ Get it in the vice ;-))

Seriously though, if it ain't broke, don't fix it could be the sensible view.

Maybe I am a bit "gung-ho" as if I broke it I would strip the nickel, re-braze it, polish it and have it re-nickel plated and then it would be as good as new.

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