Other Equipment

Gretsch Banjo Questions

1

Apparently banjers must be discussed here in "Other Equipment", as I refuse to consider a banjo a guitar.

The 6-string banjo has been around for over 100 years, and should rightly be considered a banjo. I don't care how it's tuned, and whether a guitarist can play "Sweet Home Alabama" on it without learning anything new, it doesn't sound like a guitar.

(It's pretty weird, at one end you put in guitar, and at the other end out comes...banjo.)

But I digress.

If there's one thing that's set up worse out of the shipping crate than a low end guitar, it's undoubtedly a low-end banjo. Gah.

I've had a Roots Collection Dixie 6 for several years (an impulse acquisition I didn't really need considerin' I have a tenor and despise 5-string, but because I'll sometimes retune the tenor to the top 4 strings of a guitar when, in the heat of recording battle I need a banjo part for texture to keep chords thoughtless, I figured why not have the whole set of 6?), but it came out of the box virtually unplayable. Ridiculously high action, a bridge homeless people were squatting under, head loose and sagging, all but loose nuts on the co-ordinatin' rods, you get my drift.

Every once in a while I get it out, observe that it still needs considerable setup attention, realize I have no particular need for it, and put it back. Being in a spring-tune-up mood, however, I decided today to git'er done. (Sorry, banjers bring out the hillbilly in me, which isn't buried that deep to begin with.)

I've now touched literally everything on what used to be a bad banjo sculpture and is now a pretty nice instrument: truss rod (hard to find down in its dark hole, and who KNOWS what size wrench it really takes?), every tension rod nut, all the co-rod nuts, and the bridge.

Since I've owned it for years through many Indiana seasons and changes of weather, I can't blame Gretsch - but it needed less relief (and, at the end, a little more relief), a shallower neck angle (to bring action down), and ah swar tew GAWD almost a quarter inch off the bridge.

Well, lo and beholden, it now has exactly the action for which Deering sets their instruments up at the factory (1/8" at the topper most fret), and has almost no fret buzz (might have to shim the treble side of the bridge a bit, depending on how aggressively I play), and it really plays quite nicely.

I liked the dead-calf plunk of the loose spongy head, but I did tighten it up enough to keep the tension rod nuts from falling off for sheer boredom.

It's been a long time since I spent much quality time in the back end of a banjo, but the mechanics gradually came back to me. (My grandfather's 1918 Gibson TB4 tenor, stop me if you've heard this one, was my first stringed instrument – and it seems to require adjustment regularly every 25 years or so. Gibson was having NO PROBLEMS in those years, I can tell you. But I guess I've been in it enough to teach me my way around banjernatomy.)

So this Gretsch Dixie, a few hours ago merely implying the promise of a 6-string banjo (and taking up studioffice shelf space instruments as-yet-unpurchased were jealous of) is now a banjer. (Though I can't help it, every time I think of a banjo made in Asia I think of Steely Dan, "angular banjos sound good to me.")

Yay.

Now here are my questions. I'll number them for clarity and brevity.

1 - Does anyone know if this instrument takes a short-crown or high-crown head? I hate to have to measure anything - and what faith would I have I was measuring in the right place? Mine came with a plain white Weatherking, and I fancy the Fibreskyn the Dixie later came with, to dress it up a little. (Actually "fancy" and "Dixie 6" don't belong in the same sentence. This is a plain instrument. Jane is fancier than this instrument. Its only high-falutin' adornment is the pearloid headstock face, and I bet Dixie had to beg on its humble little knees to get it.)

So that's what I need to know. High-crown or short-crown. Apparently it matters.

2 - Alas, one hates to report it, but one of the tuner buttons broke in half in my hand whilst tuning. I'm telling you the truth, Dad, I wasn't man-handling it! I was just turning it, it wasn't stuck or anything, and it just cracked and broke off! I know I said I'd take care of it, don't make me stop lessons, we're just getting to "Deliverance", I'm learning the guitar part.

So. Single open-back tuners, cute little black buttons. Anyone know where I might score one? Who has one lying about from replacing the whole set? (Yes, I'll check with Gretsch, maybe they have some spares, but...)

3 - Did we know Gretsch has apparently discontinued the Roots series banjers? I sure can't find them on the site. Not a mention. Did they need the wood for centerblocks, or what?

I mean, not that Gretsch banjers were eating the world, businesswise. I just hadn't noticed they quietly went away. Surely that makes this one (like new! NOS! Original strings! Never really played!) more valuable, right?

Not that I'm selling it. I just got it working, and I ain't just whistling "Dixie."

2

It appears the mandolins are gone as well. The resonators, however, are up to 11 models. And there are FAR too many ooks.

4

ukuleles.They are properly pronounced oo-coo-lay-lay. Most people say you-coo-lay-lee.

6

Tim, about the issue of high/low crown, stick with a medium crown like a Stewart McDonald 5 Star head. It'll be fine on just about everything.


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