Banjos, etc.


Village of Baoma,

Sierra Leone




From a posting on the Banjo Hangout Website: 




"This post is about a synthetic banjo head material that I've been experimenting with, in case someone else is interested in a potential replacement for skin.


Last spring I wondered if there was a synthetic material available in bulk that could be used as a direct replacement for skin, i.e., use original tension hoop & flesh hoop.


I experimented with a bunch of materials, starting with a Tyvek® FedEx® envelope. If you look closely at a FedEx® envelope, you can see that it is made up of small swatches of more-or-less randomly oriented, spun material. This material appeared to be closer in structure to skin than homogeneous, plastic heads. I mounted a FedEx® envelope on a banjo head and was surprised how good the finished result sounded... boomy, good bass, fairly close to skin. Unfortunately, Tyvek® is fairly stretchy, and after about a week, the bridge had sunk down close to the dowel. Obviously, this material wasn't the answer.


I did some research on Tyvek®, which is a radially-spun synthetic created by Dupont, in the same family as Kevlar®. After some hunting around I found another synthetic in the same family and bought a large roll of the material. The material is roughly between Weather King® and Fiberskyn® in thickness, non-stretchy, unaffected by moisture, and heat-resistant. I've been trying this material out on banjos, ukes, & banjo-mandos, and it works well & sounds pretty good.


Banjo Hangout Images


It's non-stretchy, so you have to be pretty meticulous in mounting it so that you don't get wrinkles in the finished, playing surface. It's obviously not a replacement for Weather King® or Fiberskyn®.... takes about an hour to install a head, but it might be of interest if you're trying to fit an odd-size head, or if you want to keep original flesh hoop & tension hoop hardware.


I gave out a bunch of samples at the Clifftop, WV festival last year, and the comments that I got were positive. This post is a little bit on the commercial side (to help me recoup the cost of the bulk roll that I bought)....... if anyone else is interested in trying out this material, I'd be glad to swap some samples for strings or parts."




Here's a link to the Banjo Hangout post, which contains some comments from people who have tried out samples of the head material:


Link to Banjo Hangout Post


Here are some instructions for installing the head material.  It takes some instrument-working experience to install........ common comments from luthiers who have tried it is that a) it's harder to install than a calfskin, and b) installation gets easier as you get experience working with the material.  Not recommended for someone who has no experience installing banjo heads.



Clip 01

•   Check on general condition of glue, hardware

•   Remove old head.

•   Comments about flesh hoop and tension hoop construction.

Clip 02

•   Check & clean old tone ring

•   About tone rings and old banjos

•   Light versus intensive cleaning


Clip 03

•   Check & tighten shoes

•   Clean tone ring seat

•   Make a flesh hoop Part 1

Clip 04

•   Flesh hoop Part 2

•   Bending metal

Clip 05

•   Flesh hoop Part 3

•   Size Yellowstone banjo heads.

Clip 06

•   Seat the head

•   Press on tension hoop, remove, repeat

•   Grain, tear direction orientation

Clip 07

•   Secure tension hoop with 4 hooks

•   Manage height of tension hoop above pot

Clip 08

•   Place flesh hoop

•   Work material to spread out folds below the flesh hoop

Clip 09

•   Loosen hooks, allow tension hoop to rise.

•   Feed corners of head above flesh hoop and inside the tension hoop.

•   Work out wrinkles.

Clip 10

•   Continue feeding head

•   Work out wrinkles

Clip 11

•   Continue feeding head & working out wrinkles

•   Look for puckers on top

•   Move hooks 45 degrees

•   Continue feeding head & working out wrinkles

Clip 12

•   Continue feeding head & working out wrinkles

•   Check height of tension hoop above pot

•   Apply pressure to head w/ heel of palm

Clip 13

•   Continue pressing w/ heel begin tightening nuts.

Clip 14

•   Continue pressing w/ heel, continue tightening nuts

Clip 15

•   Continue pressing w/ heel

•   Place remaining hooks and nuts

Clip 16

•   Finish tightening nuts

•   Trim excess head


Here's a PDF file for installation..... isn't as detailed as the video clips.


install Yellowstone banjo head.pdf





Here's what the material looks like:




I need to re-do the Buckbee installation (picture on right) because it has a small pucker in the surface that you can see at the 11 o'clock position.




If you'd like to try out this material, please send me an e-mail.