Hi guys,

     Getting closer to having the Morrison back in service. While discussing a few final repairs and adjustments...my luthier asked me how I wanted the action? Although she has worked on many old Stewarts and other brands, it was primarily for clawhammer/olde time musicians. So, any specifics for proper classic set-up, i'm providing the insight...either from my limited knowledge or through more experienced opinions. I prefer my action on my gut string guitars LOW....4/64"....and not much higher than that on my bluegrass banjos. And I had always thought that 1/8" for classic was usually what was preferred.....but after again reading previous posts and re-watching Ian's tutorial for set-up....it seems that 1/4" at the 12th is what is preferred? I reckon my question is, what differences are there going to be with the action at 1/4" vs. 1/8"....other than potential string buzz? The neck was bowed on this banjo, so she is re-leveling and re-fretting, and the neck has never been attached since i have owned it, so no prior set-up configuration on the before state of this banjo available. 

     I know that there is a loss of volume the lower the strings are...but is there really "that" much of a difference between 1/4" and 1/8" ? What was the reasoning way back when for the 1/4" action with 1/2" bridge?

Thanks,

Dow

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I have never had a Classic Style" banjo with a straight neck! They usually develop a slight upwards bend from the neck, I assume due to string tension over the years. i have always found, as was taught that the action should be about 1/4" (6mm)  at the 12th. and it feels comfortable at this. I do not play steel strung banjos so cannot comment on their action but find that nylon strings to move a lot when being played hard and you can get buzzing with lower actions. I guess it all depends on the "feel" that you want. If your luthier can get it lower without buzzes..great.

Where is Jody when you need him? He is more of an expert on this than I am, him having played both steel and nylon strung banjos since Adam was a lad.  '-)

Hi Ian, here I am between naps (I had a busy weekend). I have never measured the action at the 12th fret or anywhere else. I just go by feel. If the action is too high I use a lower bridge. too low? Higher bridge. Two experts on banjo setup on this forum are Eric Stefanneli and Chris Cioffi. They can give real measurements. With me it's just "a little more, a little less".

Dow, what you *don't* want from Cat is for her to set it up for clawhammer. Because today's clawhammer players like to pick (right hand) over the neck, near where it meets the pot. So a lot of clearance is needed. But they never finger (left hand) on that part of the neck. You will be playing at all frets sooner or later and you don't want the action so high at the upper frets that the tone sounds like the banjo needs to go on a diet.


thereallyniceman said:

I have never had a Classic Style" banjo with a straight neck! They usually develop a slight upwards bend from the neck, I assume due to string tension over the years. i have always found, as was taught that the action should be about 1/4" (6mm)  at the 12th. and it feels comfortable at this. I do not play steel strung banjos so cannot comment on their action but find that nylon strings to move a lot when being played hard and you can get buzzing with lower actions. I guess it all depends on the "feel" that you want. If your luthier can get it lower without buzzes..great.

Where is Jody when you need him? He is more of an expert on this than I am, him having played both steel and nylon strung banjos since Adam was a lad.  '-)

I am in the +/- 1/4" at the 12th fret camp.  One of the problems is that there are certain "luthiers" who insist on changing the pitch of necks on old banjos to the back angle of bluegrass wire strings.

What happens is that if one wants to use nylon strings they have to go to a 3/4" or higher bridge.  As a little finger planter I have trouble with the reach.  I have two banjos that are somewhat affected by this.

One is a re-necked artist size tubaphone that Bill Morris had built.  The neck is really good as he had the profile copied from a FVE Recording Banjo.  He also had it made from birdseye maple.  The problem was that he had the neck set the same as a Recording Banjo with the bowl removed! 

Because of this it needs a very tall bridge.  I made a Hartnett Tone Bar for it and all is well.

The other is a modern Eastman.  These come with the neck set for a 1/2" bridge with wire strings.  Nylon requires it to use a 5/8"-- I know that is the standard for bluegrass but it is just a little high for my reach. 

That one wears an original Hartnett Tone Bar. (Truth be known, I like those gadgets and this gives me a reason to use them.)

Thanks very much guys! I'm leaning towards the - side of 1/4"...I like a low action.....but not too low. 

Dow

4-5mm measured from the top of the 12th fret with a 1/2'' bridge (taller bridges deaden the tone).  Most of my banjos have dead straight necks.... Ian, maybe your experience has to do with the heavy nylon you and many other English players use?  Here in the USA the traditional string gauges are .017, .019, .023, .024w, .017, though some players used to use even lighter strings!

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