Banjo Heads: When To Change?

Casey Henry

A couple weeks ago Red blogged about types of banjo heads. About that same time I got this question from a student:

All the coating is worn off mine in the place you would expect...I notice that about every banjo player I go to see has a nice clean new looking banjo head. Other than appearance, is there any reason I should strongly consider putting a new head on? Also, in your very valued opinion, is there a significant difference between brands? Are there some I should use, and just as importantly, some I should avoid? In a related banjo head wear typically something that decreases as a players skills increase? --Jeff in Iowa

Those are all good questions. How a head looks has absolutely nothing to do with how it sounds (with respect to wear anyway). Heads naturally get worn over the course of playing on them for many years. I think the head on my old Gibson has been on there longer than I've been alive. You may want it to look clean and new, but other than that, there's no reason to change it. However, if you notice that your banjo has suddenly, drastically started sounding different---for no obvious reason---that may be an indication that there is a crack in the head. Often heads crack along the outer edge where you can't see it. In that case you definitely want to change it. That crack isn't getting any smaller!

There is a difference between brands, but it's mostly a personal preference. Some are made out of different material, some are slightly thicker, or thinner, or have thicker frosting, and all those factors will contribute to how it sounds. But there are no absolute right or wrongs here. You just have to try them and see if you like how they sound on your banjo. (Red wrote about some of those differences in his post.)

Regarding head wear and skill level: the two are not related. Your head gets worn as a result of how much you move your right hand. If you keep it very still---fingers always anchored in exactly the same place---you'll only get one little spot of wear. If you move around a lot, you'll naturally get a larger worn area. You'll also get less wear if you change banjos a lot. If you just own one and always play it, then it will wear faster. (Also, if you wash your hands a lot, your head will stay cleaner...) None of those factors have anything to do with skill level.

I hope this has cleared up some of your banjo head questions. Remember the most important thing is not to tinker with your banjo but to play it!!

4 thoughts on “Banjo Heads: When To Change?

  1. Sam

    I just bought a Deering Golden Era which has been played very little, and I know the original head is on it. Apparently from the above info, the 20 year old head will still be o.k.

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