I just started playing on a new to me banjo. It’s an 11” Vega Old Tyme Wonder with a frosted head, a 5/8” J. W. Hooks bridge, and La Bella 17 strings.

I have two questions that I am hoping some of you may be able to address.

First, are most people really playing with an action around 1/4” at the 12th fret? With some relief in my neck, I am currently just under 1/8”. I have another slightly higher bridge from Joel on the way, so that I can get a little bit closer to a 1/4”. That being said, in my mind, 1/4” seems ridiculously high!


Second, When I play, I am getting a strange phasing sound from the banjo. Has anyone else ever experienced this? It sounds like the banjo is going through a phaser pedal for a guitar.

Thanks in advance!

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I stuck two pieces of velcro over the strings behind the bridge. It fixed my problem. So, thanks for the suggestion.

As far as tailpieces go, I actually have one of the Deering True Tone tailpieces. I currently have it posted for sale. Maybe I’ll pull my listings and try it out. I’ve always thought of them as bluegrass tailpieces. So, I never really considered using one until now. 

Jody, those fielding tailpieces I think you are alluding to are no longer available since Will Fieldings death I believe, I managed to nab what was probably the last new one to arrive here in the UK eighteen months ago ! If anybody knows different please let me know, I would buy another in a heartbeat.

Jody Stecher said:

MM, the Will Fielding bridge, if you can find one, is fantastic for both nylon and metal strings. It improves the tone of all banjos I have tested it on. Presto can be good too. But to stop the vibration of the strings between bridge and any tailpiece all you need to do is weave a bit of ribbon between the strings. If the "phase" anomaly persists you can eliminate bizarre overtones from this portion of the strings as a cause. Much cheaper than a new tailpiece. That said, a new tailpiece might well make improvements.

that is the one, good tailpiece MM , try it and see.

Milwaukee Matzen said:

I stuck two pieces of velcro over the strings behind the bridge. It fixed my problem. So, thanks for the suggestion.

As far as tailpieces go, I actually have one of the Deering True Tone tailpieces. I currently have it posted for sale. Maybe I’ll pull my listings and try it out. I’ve always thought of them as bluegrass tailpieces. So, I never really considered using one until now. 

I’ll give the Deering tailpiece a try.

The Fielding tailpieces are no longer available new.

Has anyone tried the Balsam Banjoworks Hawktail or the Buckeye tailpiece? I wonder if one of them may be a suitable stand in for the Fielding?

sure have ! I have a Hawktail on another of my banjos and, it too is great, I bought it when I was unable to get another Fielding since it looked very close in design and, it is probably the equal of the Fielding in all respects, I like them both. I am certain that the downward pressure will improve your LW since it lacks a tone ring. stick a new tailpiece on there and one of Joels period bridges and you got keeper in my opinion.

Milwaukee Matzen said:

I’ll give the Deering tailpiece a try.

The Fielding tailpieces are no longer available new.

Has anyone tried the Balsam Banjoworks Hawktail or the Buckeye tailpiece? I wonder if one of them may be a suitable stand in for the Fielding?

That design was developed long before Bluegrass music came along. The first one I encountered was on a 1920s Vegaphone Professional tenor I had when i was 12. And the Gibson Mastertone five-string banjo, the Bluegrass "Gold Standard", was developed and manufactured long before there was Bluegrass Music.  The old Presto tailpieces are made for attaching  4 strings so I think the inventor did not even have 5 string banjo in mind.  There are many small problems with old Prestos (some new ones of that type are better... I expect the Deering version will be good) but I usually like the sound of banjos with these tailpieces attached.

The Buckeye and Hawktail look nice to me. I haven't tried either.

Milwaukee Matzen said:

I’ve always thought of them as bluegrass tailpieces. So, I never really considered using one until now. 

What are some of the issues with the old Prestos?


I just installed the Deering tailpiece. I thought that it would make the banjo super bright. Although, it did brighten it a little, it also seems to have fattened the sound up a little. It also got rid of most of the sympathetic noise from behind the bridge. And, as an extra bonus, the little bit of extra weight has actually helped to mitigate some of the neck dive.

Does anyone have any tips on setting these up? I have it resting on the tension hoop and I screwed in the adjustment screw just enough to were I can’t back it out with my fingers.

That looks good to me MM, I would probably use that exact same setup on that banjo if it were mine ! I kind of guessed that tailpiece would be a major improvement on your Little Wonder, those are very fine banjos, it should be all you ever need.

Milwaukee Matzen said:

What are some of the issues with the old Prestos?


I just installed the Deering tailpiece. I thought that it would make the banjo super bright. Although, it did brighten it a little, it also seems to have fattened the sound up a little. It also got rid of most of the sympathetic noise from behind the bridge. And, as an extra bonus, the little bit of extra weight has actually helped to mitigate some of the neck dive.

Does anyone have any tips on setting these up? I have it resting on the tension hoop and I screwed in the adjustment screw just enough to were I can’t back it out with my fingers.

The Presto was invented by A. D. Grover, who played regular banjo.  The patent, filed April 18, 1923, and issued on December 22, 1925 depicts a 5 string banjo tailpiece.

https://patents.google.com/patent/US1566745A/

The patent also describes that the tailpiece may be used with looped wire strings or gut/silk strings with the end knotted and slipped between the prongs. 

The tailpiece was introduced to the trade on June 16, 1923 and shows the 4 string version.

https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1923-76-24/35/

Reading what I have about A. D. Grover, who was an engineer, it is clear to me that his brain was focused on 5 string banjo, but marketed parts for tenor and plectrum as that was what was popular. 

As Presto tailpieces were originally intended to be a universal pattern to be used with gut and steel, I don't see why they can't still be used this way with nylon strings. 

If I were using one I would double up the second and third string knots.  That way I could change the 4th as it wore out with no problems. 

 



Jody Stecher said:

That design was developed long before Bluegrass music came along. The first one I encountered was on a 1920s Vegaphone Professional tenor I had when i was 12. And the Gibson Mastertone five-string banjo, the Bluegrass "Gold Standard", was developed and manufactured long before there was Bluegrass Music.  The old Presto tailpieces are made for attaching  4 strings so I think the inventor did not even have 5 string banjo in mind.  There are many small problems with old Prestos (some new ones of that type are better... I expect the Deering version will be good) but I usually like the sound of banjos with these tailpieces attached.

The Buckeye and Hawktail look nice to me. I haven't tried either.

Milwaukee Matzen said:

I’ve always thought of them as bluegrass tailpieces. So, I never really considered using one until now. 

Fabulous historical detective work there, Joel !  Much appreciated.

Joel Hooks said:

The Presto was invented by A. D. Grover, who played regular banjo.  The patent, filed April 18, 1923, and issued on December 22, 1925 depicts a 5 string banjo tailpiece.

https://patents.google.com/patent/US1566745A/

The patent also describes that the tailpiece may be used with looped wire strings or gut/silk strings with the end knotted and slipped between the prongs. 

The tailpiece was introduced to the trade on June 16, 1923 and shows the 4 string version.

https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1923-76-24/35/

Reading what I have about A. D. Grover, who was an engineer, it is clear to me that his brain was focused on 5 string banjo, but marketed parts for tenor and plectrum as that was what was popular. 

As Presto tailpieces were originally intended to be a universal pattern to be used with gut and steel, I don't see why they can't still be used this way with nylon strings. 

If I were using one I would double up the second and third string knots.  That way I could change the 4th as it wore out with no problems. 

 



Jody Stecher said:

That design was developed long before Bluegrass music came along. The first one I encountered was on a 1920s Vegaphone Professional tenor I had when i was 12. And the Gibson Mastertone five-string banjo, the Bluegrass "Gold Standard", was developed and manufactured long before there was Bluegrass Music.  The old Presto tailpieces are made for attaching  4 strings so I think the inventor did not even have 5 string banjo in mind.  There are many small problems with old Prestos (some new ones of that type are better... I expect the Deering version will be good) but I usually like the sound of banjos with these tailpieces attached.

The Buckeye and Hawktail look nice to me. I haven't tried either.

Milwaukee Matzen said:

I’ve always thought of them as bluegrass tailpieces. So, I never really considered using one until now. 

Very cool! Thanks for the information! I had no idea that there was such thing as Google Patents. The International Arcade Museum Library also looks to be an amazing resource!



Joel Hooks said:

The Presto was invented by A. D. Grover, who played regular banjo.  The patent, filed April 18, 1923, and issued on December 22, 1925 depicts a 5 string banjo tailpiece.

https://patents.google.com/patent/US1566745A/

The patent also describes that the tailpiece may be used with looped wire strings or gut/silk strings with the end knotted and slipped between the prongs. 

The tailpiece was introduced to the trade on June 16, 1923 and shows the 4 string version.

https://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1923-76-24/35/

Reading what I have about A. D. Grover, who was an engineer, it is clear to me that his brain was focused on 5 string banjo, but marketed parts for tenor and plectrum as that was what was popular. 

As Presto tailpieces were originally intended to be a universal pattern to be used with gut and steel, I don't see why they can't still be used this way with nylon strings. 

If I were using one I would double up the second and third string knots.  That way I could change the 4th as it wore out with no problems. 

 





Is there a benefit to doing it this way instead of just tying loops and attaching them to the prongs? I am assuming there is. Or, is it just historically correct?



Joel Hooks said:

The patent also describes that the tailpiece may be used with looped wire strings or gut/silk strings with the end knotted and slipped between the prongs. 

If I were using one I would double up the second and third string knots.  That way I could change the 4th as it wore out with no problems. 

 




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