A friend of mine brought to work a banjo. It is a Luscomb (I think the spelling is correct). It is a fine piece, but neglected. I don't play a fretted banjo, but perhaps this would be a good opportunity to start. So, I pose a few basic questions - what are the best strings and head to have on it, and what is the proper height for the action at the 12th fret? It has a weather king plastic head on it now and rusty steel strings. I want to try playing "Classic Banjo" like I see on so many fine videos here. 

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Tim, the choice of "head" depends on the diameter of the pot. If it's a standard size a Renaissance head (made of unnatural materials) would sound good as would a pre-mounted goat or calf skin head. If it's an odd size your best option in a stable climate is a natural vellum, an animal hide.  Odd size Ren heads can be found though. String choice depends on scale length. Clifford Essex sells an excellent waterproof gut string set. Aquila has a "classic" nylgut set. One can also make up a set of preferred nylon gauges from any number of guitar string companies. Saverez and D'Addarrio both have good sounding strings.  Fishing leader of the right type also works for a certain type of sound.

If you live in a part of the world that has sudden extreme shifts of humidity you might be better off with a Renaissance head (or even its present Weather King)  than with a hide because the required head tension is a lot tighter than on a minstrel banjo and after a flash rain storm a animal hide banjo head might burst.  And if the Luscumb is prone to sounding over dark and woofy the weather king head currently on the banjo will clarify the sound. Some classic banjo players are happy with standard plastic heads. It all depends.

éric plays his Luscomb 13 '  banjorine here

http://www.youtube.com/user/cramasdamols#p/u/107/K-GnwF0BX48

i can guarantee i have never heard one like this , very good & powerful sound ; beeing a luthier , he knows how to do to get out the better sound from this banjorine

not good enought , i have a Luscomb 11 1/2 banjo with a giant scale ( 27   13/16  inches)

here http://www.youtube.com/user/cramasdamols#p/u/95/fI3TM6Bz8eA

the 11  1/2 pot is too small for such a scale and the bridge is too far from the center of the head  ; so  it ' s a problem ; i didn 't really found a solution

I had an old Luscombe banjo back in the early 90's...but it was fretless. Yes, I'm still kicking myself for selling it to George Gruhn. :-(

 

I'd go with Nylguts and one of Joel Hooks' lightweight bridges; 1/2" to start unless the neck appears to have some warp or bow. You work enough with calfskin that I'd toss the WK in a heartbeat. Order a flesh-hoop and head from Bill Reese here: Banjo heads 'n' flesh hoops I personally prefer the vellum-processed heads, medium thickness.

 

Jody, they don't have to worry about humidity in Michigan. Heck, they only have two seasons: Winter and July 4th. ;-)

 

No different than any other fingerstyle fretted instrument, action should be 'as low as it will go' w/o buzzing. Nylgut needs a bit more room than steel, of course. You're probably going to just have to experiment to get it "just right" for you. Sound familiar? ;-)

 

I agree about Michigan. I've been to Grand Haven for fireworks on the 4th. It was 1954 there and 2009 across the lake in Milwaukee. I disagree about string action. It should not be as low as possible without noise. It should be as high as possible without discomfort. Otherwise musical fireworks or  explosive expression are not possible.

Trapdoor2 said:

Jody, they don't have to worry about humidity in Michigan. Heck, they only have two seasons: Winter and July 4th. ;-)

No different than any other fingerstyle fretted instrument, action should be 'as low as it will go' w/o buzzing. 

Thanks for good tips everybody. Not a great shot, but on my employee's phone camera. I'll keep you posted after making changes...skin head and nylgut strings (if the owner won't mind) and then try playing it. What is it tuned to...G, so the thumb string reads "G"?   
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Tuning depends on scale length. Up to a little over 27 inches, gCGBD will work. Any longer and you may need to tune lower. You are always free to tune lower at shorter scale lengths and it will usually sound good and respond well. Tuning also depends on what period of music you are playing. Most of the 19th century finger style American banjo music was written for A tuning (eAEG#E) and some was written a step lower than that). Much of it has been transposed to C tuning (with the thumb string at g).



Tim Twiss said:
What is it tuned to...G, so the thumb string reads "G"?   

Jody,

 

I think we're looking at the elephant from two different directions...still an elephant. I set mine up as low as I can while retaining all the attributes I need (explosivity, panache, ennui, etc.). Same/same.

 

Tim, tuning is Briggs up 5 steps(gCGBD). If you raise the bass (to D), the tuning scheme reads/sounds as an open G chord: gDGBD. However, most of the period stuff is gCGBD. 
Jody Stecher said:

I agree about Michigan. I've been to Grand Haven for fireworks on the 4th. It was 1954 there and 2009 across the lake in Milwaukee. I disagree about string action. It should not be as low as possible without noise. It should be as high as possible without discomfort. Otherwise musical fireworks or  explosive expression are not possible.

Trapdoor2 said:

Jody, they don't have to worry about humidity in Michigan. Heck, they only have two seasons: Winter and July 4th. ;-)

No different than any other fingerstyle fretted instrument, action should be 'as low as it will go' w/o buzzing. 

I haven't heard "same/same" since I was in India. ("double/double" was another good one).  But I think our ideal setups are likely to be "different/different".   I'd expect to find my ideal action higher than yours. My ideal sound and response to my right hand touch would come from action so high that it would be unplayable with the left hand. So I lower it from the ideal until it's playable. My starting place is a type of pinging explosive yet sweet sound and I'll sacrifice some of this sound for the sake of playability. Apologies if I misrepresent you but I think from what you've written here in the past that your ideal is perfect playability and that you'll sacrifice some amount of ease of playability in order to get better sound. That's not an unusual position and preference but it's not the same as mine has been and is unlikely to yield the same banjo setup.  However as  I've gotten older and as I've gotten able to play more technically demanding pieces my position has moved closer to the one I'm describing as yours. I've needed lower action.

Trapdoor2 said:

Same/same.

 

 

Marc (Smith),  to put it another way: if on a scale of string height of 1 to 10 your ideal action were 1 and mine was 3 and we each compromised, then sure, we'd both end up with string action at 2. But my ideal sound comes from action at 11. So I'll come down to 8 or even to 7. Meanwhile you're at 2. So that's why I say it's not same/same.

Absolutely right, Jody. Everybody likes a different setup. I had no idea you liked really high actions. I dislike 'em mainly because I'm lazy...I want to use the least pressure with my left hand as possible but I still like to have an agressive right hand (which comes from trying to "play like Earl" for so many years).

I still play quite a bit of clawhammer on banjos that were never designed for it; consequently they're set up with crazily high actions. I would never attempt a chord of any sort above the 5th fret on them...but one chords so rarely in the genre that it makes no difference.

Yes, I'd compromise with a 3 or 4 but anything above that and I'd do an action job on it. ;-)


I like low action better but I like the *sound* of string instruments with high action. When I can get that sound with low or lower action (through other variables in setup) I like it best. 
Trapdoor2 said:

 I had no idea you liked really high actions.

Thanks for the tips. Perhaps somebody could restate the obvious for me...steel or gut for Classic Banjo, in particular one of the scale length of the Luscomb I am holding?  

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