I'm finding that my tubaphone sounds muted and flubby (mellow, no presence or string definition, not "spank" or pop, and rather harp or guitar-like) when I do not mute the head with a rag or similar object shoved between it and the dowel stick.  Muted, it sound really great and snappy with a lot of presence and string separation.  I also seem to get more volume muted than not, which is really strange.  I'm using an excellent bridge that Joel Hooks made for me along with a Remo Renaissance head that I keep very tight.  I've finished experimenting with strings... no matter what I tried, I kept going back to Labella 17's.  I'm making sure to pick "through" the strings with only my extreme finger tips, and this does help, but the tone just isn't there.  I'm starting to regret not getting a banjo with a longer scale length and larger head... maybe that's my problem, since my tub has a 10 3/4'' rim and a 26'' scale length.  Longer scale lengths tend to give better note separation and a crisper tone.  The only thing I haven't tried changing is the tailpiece.  The current tailpiece is an original no knot, and it does have a rather sharp string angle, so maybe that's part of the problem.  Anyone got advice about where to go from here?

The good news is I feel like I'm really getting the hang of the alternate fingering and right hand in general.  I recently learned Eli Green's Cakewalk and am now working through Freckles and having a blast doing it!

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I want to post an update to this thread.  I tried all of the excellent suggestions by everyone, but nothing seemed to do the trick.  I think the combination of small scale and small rim was preventing me from working towards the sound I want, and additionally it may have just been a dead banjo.  I was not able to try it with nylon strings before purchasing it, and while it sounded great with steel strings, that obviously does not translate to the classic banjo setup.

I went to some local music stores and played some other banjos, and ended up trading for a 1898 Fairbanks Electric with a 27'' scale and 10 11/16'' rim.  The neck and pot are mismatched but fit very well.  The neck is a No. 5 (SN 17930) with the "Fred Martin: Maker" brass tag, and the pot is most likely from a No. 1 (SN 18901).  The banjo is in excellent condition and plays very well.  Most importantly, it sounds great too!


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