UK Banjo Accessories
Glossary of terms concerning banjos & related instruments
Neck- an alternative name for this part.
Bezel: see Tension Ring - an alternative name for this part.
Bindings: a strip of material fitted along the side of the fingerboard to make the neck more comfortable to play. Often decorative and made from various forms of wood, celluloid and plastic.
Body: the circular part of a banjo, sometimes referred to as the "rim"; usually made of wood or metal; the material used in making the body is critical to the tone of the instrument; generally speaking, the heavier, the better!
Brackets: the small metal parts through which the hooks pass; usually attached directly to the body though sometimes they are omitted and the hooks pass directly through part of the body or through a cast flange that fits round the lower part of the body.
Bridge: the wooden piece which sits between the strings and the skin and transmits the sound. It has slots in it to regulate the string spacing. There are quite a few different designs available and it is generally up to the individual player to select the type that suits best. Height & positioning are critical to the correct functioning of the banjo.
Button: the knob on the end of tuner which you use to turn it; originally bone, then celluloid and now commonly some form of plastic.
Calfskin: the original material for making banjo heads though pigskin and goatskin were also sometimes used with less success. It generates a very pleasant tone but has the drawback of being very sensitive to changes in temperature or humidity. Such changes alter the tension of the skin and cause the tuning to fluctuate quite a bit. On a small size head (up to about 8") this can be tolerable and many uke banjo players will live with the slight variations in tuning for the sake of the tone. Larger heads will tend to move about much more and most players find that calfskin is not practical. It is also very difficult to get the very bright tone preferred by many players from a calfskin head unless it is very thin - and that makes it even more susceptible to movement!
Co-ordinator rods: a pair of metal rods (or sometimes just a single rod) used to attach the neck to the body and to provide some measure of adjustment of the angle of the neck to the body which has the effect of raising or lowering the action.
De-tuners: a type of tuner which allows the string to be tuned up or down by a fixed amount (usually one or two semitones) at the flick of the button. Normally confined to 5-string banjos. Very useful if you're in the habit of playing in different tunings!
Dowel stick: see Perch pole - an alternative name for this part.
Fingerboard: a long thin flat strip of wood on the front of the neck which has the frets set into it (except, of course, on a fretless banjo!); often highly decorated & made of a fine hardwood (ebony, rosewood etc.) and fitted with decorative bindings.
Flange or flange plates: this is a metal plate (or plates) which cover the gap between the side of the body and the resonator. Some types simply fix under the brackets (the hook passes through them as well as through the bracket) whilst other types are cast integrally with the body or in a circular shape which fits over the lower part of the body.
Head: see either Tuner (if it's machine head) or Skin (if it's a Remo or other head) - also see Headstock (next) or Peghead.
Headstock: alternative name for Peghead.
Heel: the deep part at the bottom of the neck where the neck is attached to the body; often decorated with a fancy inlaid trim and sometimes with ornate carving in low relief.
Hooks: the metal parts which hook over the tension ring to pull it down and tighten the skin. These take most of the strain in tensioning the skin. Usually fitted with a decorated or plain internally threaded nut.
Inlays: these are decorative pieces of shell or other material usually set into the fingerboard to act as position markers. Their function is mostly decorative as many players find the position markers on the side of the neck to be more useful. The patterns are many & varied and some are extraordinarily beautiful. In a general sense, a vintage banjo with very fancy inlays will also be a very good banjo as few makers went to the trouble of putting such expensive decoration on anything but their top grade models. In more recent years with the advent of special plastics and programmable laser cutters, it has become possible to put fancy inlay into almost any fingerboard so that the amount of decoration is no longer a reliable guide to the general quality of a banjo. The best rule is to buy on sound and feel, as ever!
Keith pegs (or tuners): see De-tuners - an alternative name for this part - sometimes called Scruggs pegs.
Machine head: see Tuner - an alternative name for this part.
Neck: the long thin part of the banjo which has the fingerboard on it; the tuners are usually at the top end (see: Peghead) and the bottom end (see: Heel) is attached to the body. The straightness of this part is critical to the correct functioning of the banjo.
Nut: the piece of material at the top end of the fingerboard which the strings pass over. It has slots in it to regulate the string spacing and the height of the strings above the fingerboard. Originally made from bone but now commonly made from various types of plastic or other synthetic material. It is critical to the correct intonation & easy playing of a banjo that the nut should be properly made & fitted.
Peg: see Tuner- an alternative name for this part.
Peghead: the broad flat part at the top of the neck where the tuners are; often decorated.
Perch pole: a wooden bar used to attach the neck of a banjo to the body and to regulate the neck angle.
Pot: see Body - an alternative name for this part.
Position markers: these are commonly dots made of shell or some other material to indicate the position of certain frets on the banjo. They are often inserted in the binding on the bass side of the neck (so you can see them without having to peer over onto the fingerboard) and into the fingerboard itself. The normal positions are 1st fret (often omitted), 3rd fret (sometimes omitted), 5th fret. 7th fret, 10th fret, 12th fret, 15th fret, 17th fret and 19th & 22nd fret on banjos with longer necks. This doesn't apply to Pete Seeger style long neck 5-strings where the pattern is different or on some very old banjos where the 10th fret marker is placed on the 9th fret instead (like a guitar) - also see Inlays.
Resonator: this is a plate of some kind (with or without a rim) attached to the back of a banjo to capture some of the sound waves which are coming backwards off the skin and reflect them forwards again. Now commonly made of thin plywood, they were formerly made of metal, a combination of plywood and metal or solid wood.
Rim: see Body - an alternative name for this part.
Scruggs Pegs (or tuners): see De-tuners - an alternative name for this part.
Shell: see Body - an alternative name for this part.
Shoes: see Brackets - an alternative name for this part.
Skin: this is the piece of material (originally calfskin) which is stretched over the top of the body by means of the tension ring and the hooks. Most are made of a synthetic material nowadays. The commonest brand names are "Remo" (available in 4 different types), "5-Star" (3 different types) & "Elite" (only 1 type). The type of skin used can have quite an effect on the sound of a banjo.
Tailpiece: the metal part which attaches the strings to the body. Normally it has some form of peg or stud on it for each of the strings to loop over. It is commonly bolted to the banjo body itself although some types fix to the flange whilst others fix to the tension ring. Tailpieces affect the tone of the banjo quite a bit. The commonest types of tailpiece are Waverley (2 different styles "old" & "new"), Clamshell, Presto (2 different styles "old" & "new"), Kerschner, Straight-line, No-Knot, Nashville & Elton. For descriptions, look in my list of New Parts.
Tension Ring: the circular piece of metal which goes round the top of the banjo skin; the hooks pull it down to tighten the skin; generally speaking, the more robust, the better.
Tone ring: a circular part which fits between the body and the skin. It enhances the tone of the banjo. Most tone rings are made of either fabricated or cast metal but wooden ones are not unknown. A tone ring can be anything from a simple hoop of rolled steel or brass to an elaborate construction made of several different kinds of metal. The expressions "archtop" & "flathead" refer to the position of the highest part of the tone ring - either on the inside or the outside of the body respectively. Most modern tone rings are cast rather than fabricated.
Truss Rod: this is a device set into the neck underneath the fingerboard which enables the neck to be stressed to counterbalance the pull of the strings. It will also help to remove or reduce any bowing which make take place in a neck over years of use. It will not help with twisting or warping of the neck and might even make it worse. Most of the pre-war banjo makers did not use such devices (the exception was Gibson) on the basis that a properly made neck wouldn't bow anyway. Experience seems to have borne them out for relatively few high grade old banjos turn up with seriously bowed necks. It might be argued that the addition of the truss rod enabled manufacturers to make necks from a lower grade of timber than was previously necessary. The bottom line is that the absence of a truss rod certainly doesn't mean that a banjo neck will bow whilst the presence of it doesn't guarantee that it won't!
Tuner: (or Tuning Peg) the device usually mounted at the peghead (except for the 5th string tuner which is commonly mounted halfway down the neck) for tensioning the strings. Banjo tuners are normally mounted "straight through" i.e. the buttons are behind the peghead rather than sticking out on each side as they do on guitars. Originally simple friction pegs, they have been fitted with reduction gears for about the last 75 years. Planet geared tuners (which are very precise) are preferred for banjos although there are several types of offset geared tuners which work equally well. Simple guitar tuners tend not to work very well though better quality die-cast types can be quite satisfactory. A decent set of tuners is essential.