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Author Topic: New B160 Banjo on the way  (Read 3114 times)

Offline BanjoJim

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New B160 Banjo on the way
« on: November 29, 2012, 10:38:43 AM »
Well, after putting it off far about a year - I finally decided to order a B160. I'm very curious about it and quite excitied about playing it.

If anyone here has any experience or information about it, I'd appreciate hearing about it.

I'd really like to know if anyone has had the chance to observe the tone ring fit to the rim (whether or not it's a loose Gibson-type fit) and how the neck feels. I've got tons of heads, bridges, and strings to try but I'm always interested in hearing about the basics: ie.: nut cut, how intimate the neck joint is, and of course how the slightly wider neck feels to other people.

Offline BanjoJim

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Re: New B160 Banjo on the way
« Reply #1 on: March 12, 2013, 06:16:08 AM »
 :)

Well, I'm pleased with this instrument. Tone ring weighs in at about 39 ounces and doesn't sound bad at all.

Here's a few modifications I've made so far. Still pending is a re-fret (frets are a little short and narrow for my taste) and cutting down the rim to a standard height. Understand that these are NOT COMPLAINTS - just my own personal preferences.


1. Lowered flange depth (~0.187”) within the resonator to a more Mastertone standard.

Two problems that I noticed with having the flange positioned flush with the top lip of the resonator: first, the instrument can’t be safely stored in a standard commercially available Mastertone style 5-string banjo case without putting excessive pressure on the bridge, tailpiece and lower neck, and second, the entire tone of the banjo is altered by having too large of an airspace volume behind the head. The quality of the tone ring and laminated rim are hidden almost entirely by this one simple but important mechanical feature. Lowering the flange also means of course relocating the flange screw nuts located in the resonator side walls to the correct proportional depth. Incredible lowered frequency response with just this single modification – making it sound like a “real banjo”.


2. Flattened (by lapping) top of laminated rim for 360 degree intimate contact with inner lip of tone ring.

On close inspection of the rim-to-tone ring contact area inside the pot assembly, visible gaps were found causing some parts of the ring to be suspended in air rather than contact the rim. The more intimate the contact between the ring and the rim the better the utilization of the ring’s tonal qualities and therefore the better the tone. Simply lapping the top of the rim flat with sandpaper fixed to a flat surface solved this in less than 10 minutes yielding an almost perfect fit and incredibly improved tone.


3. Loosened tone ring fit to rim.

Tone ring was very tight to rim, probably due to rim and stain drying after ring was pre-maturely installed, and was loosened by lightly sanding rim outer diameter of ring interface.


4. Added flange mount L-brackets to rim, discarded stamped flat brackets provided

A standard Mastertone methodology for attaching a pot assembly to the resonator is through use of L-brackets attached to the rim. I believe this prevents the over dampening of the pot to the resonator junction and lessons over & side tones created by the flange being physically over restrained in the 4 locations. I’ve noticed that this simple technique usually allows the pot assembly to ring freely to its maximum capacity without overly restraining the flange and thereby deadening the ring.


5. Re-fit neck to rim, and adjusted coordinator rods

While it may be usual and customary for the neck and coordinator rods to come loose on new instruments, even after tightening the rods minor fitting had to be done to ensure the correct neck to rim interface. From my perspective, this is the most critical fit feature on a 5-string banjo. Generally when a banjo is strung to standard tuning (open G Major) and you cannot feel substantial vibrations at the very tip of the peg head - then the joint intimacy is unsatisfactory. Light fitting of the neck, usually with just sandpaper and a file, causes the maple neck (with I think is a very fine design) to come alive.


6. Corrected tuner installation on peg head (added pilot holes to all four)

Somebody really dropped the ball on this one! Upon unpacking the banjo the first thing I noticed was the beautiful neck, beautiful tuners, and immediately realized that all four tuners on the peg head were crooked. All were crooked at different angles which made it even worse. You could actually see light coming through between the tuner and the back of the peg head when the tuner was supposed to seat. Upon inspection the second tuner mounting pilot hole (functionally serves an anti-rotation purpose) was missing, hence the pilot pin was jammed up against the back of the neck tilting the tuners. Simply drilling 4 small .062” diameter pilot holes, one for each tuner, and re-installing the tuners is a simple solution.


7. Corrected nut installation - .030 off center causing first string to slip off fret while playing down the neck

This is a must for any banjo player, but probably of paramount importance for the target ‘beginner’ market that I’m guessing this banjo is presented to. I could get by in my first jam with this instrument (it was an annoying struggle), but afterward I had to go home and reposition the nut. From appearances it was an obvious oversight because the nut hung out beyond the D side of the neck by .020-.030”. I am puzzled how any type of QA could ever miss something like this.

8. Corrected nut string depth

The nut slots that came from the factory were at a depth that left a .060” dimension between the string and the top of the first fret. This is WAY too high, and so high in fact that fretting in the lower portion of the neck takes so much pressure (even with light gauge strings) that it’s not only painful but causes all four strings to go sharp with almost every fretting action. I corrected the spacing to ~.025” by filing down the slots and repositioning the neck by use of the coordinator rods. Fretting action is now much better and the occurrence of sharpened notes is gone.


9. Replaced head with Remo USA frosted medium crown

This I believe is strictly a personal preference. The imported REMO that came on the banjo was lighter, had much thinner frosting, had a crown height that was somewhere between medium and light, and had an unusual solid aluminum hoop (as opposed to the lighter hollow extruded type present on a USA medium crown Remo) that gave the whole banjo an unusually strange ‘tinny’ sound. This characteristic is especially noticeable when tap tuning the head – it gives a strange feedback pattern probably due to some side or over tone from the solid hoop.


10. Replaced bridge with Wadsworth 'old piano' 5/8 Crowe spacing

The bridge that came with the instrument is made of some wood that I cannot identify, but I do not believe it is maple. The string contact area was also centered about bridge (in an “A” shape) an opposed to the conventional wisdom of a slight aft lean (toward the tailpiece).  It is certainly not aged, naturally compressed, or any type of “lost wood” that is now so popular. It could possibly be birch or aspen, but my standard unscientific test (teeth marks) show it to be significantly softer than maple. I replaced it with a Wadsworth Crowe spaced “old piano” bridge that was .625” in height with a slight aft lean. This is not the forum for a discussion of the pros and cons of aged or lost-wood type maple bridges – but I do know that a harder bridge, more in line with Mastertone standards, makes the banjo tone and note separation much better.


11. Replaced strings with GHS 10, 11, 12, 20w, 10 and tap tuned head to G#

These may be additional personal preferences. My experience has been that maple banjos sound less treble with slightly heavier strings. The string that were present had .009” for strings one and five, indicating an extra-light set. Changing the strings to the standard Crowe “Stage Set” gave what I believe is new life to the instrument. Tap tuning the head is something that may not be appropriate for a banjo prior to shipment – but having shipped banjos all over North America and Europe, I would give it a try even on a brand new instrument.

Offline BanjoJim

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Re: New B160 Banjo on the way
« Reply #2 on: March 12, 2013, 06:29:30 AM »
 :)

One thing I failed to mention is that a few weeks ago I finally got around to machining a small gap (~ .030) on the heel side of the neck, so that neck and the stretched band were not in direct contact. (controversial - but my preference) Stock, the instrument comes with a tight fit - relieving this fit creates what I think is a much more responsive neck. You can feel it freely by lightly putting your index finger on the tip of the peg head and striking the D string. Huge difference in the lower frequencies. The tough part is getting the radii to match perfect with parallel arcs, but it's not bad after a little practice on scraps.

Offline t.y.

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Re: New B160 Banjo on the way
« Reply #3 on: March 12, 2013, 01:13:08 PM »
Hello Banjo Jim,  I know nothing about Banjo,s but really liked your post,  as now I know ten times more than I did.  I played a 6 string at the local guitar store, and really liked it.  If I could have afforded it I would have bought it.     Tom.   :)

Offline BanjoJim

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Re: New B160 Banjo on the way
« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2013, 11:51:35 AM »
Well, now that the seasons are changing here in the northeast the B160 maple neck started to bow substantially - not uncommon really for this part of the country. The interesting part was the degree of the bend, probably 0.125" over the neck length virtually over night. The truss rod adjustment did correct it for now - we'll see how it holds up.

I did have to replace the tuners - the stock tuners were just not holding, and they would not keep the strings in tune. I put a nice set of used 5-star tuners on it, which by the way were not a drop in fit. The small pin on the tuner for the anti-turn function was about half the diameter then a standard 5-star tuner. So after drilling them out - I was able to install and all was well again.

Banjo still has a great sound and I play it several times a week, although I will replace the frets pretty soon also. The smaller width/height frets on the B160 (about .080 w X .032 h) although very playable just are not my preference.

Stay tuned  8)