Adjusting Banjo String action can range from easy to highly involved. Before any adjustments are made to change the string action on your banjo neck, the neck should be examined for proper straightness. Using a straightedge or pressing the 3rd string at the 1st and 22nd frets, check to see if the banjo neck is bowed. If the edge rocks, the neck is bowed back. If there is a gap at the 9th fret, the neck is bowed forward. If the edge makes even contact with all the frets, it’s perfectly straight. Ideally, the neck should have a slight bit of FORWARD bow. This will allow for lower string action on your banjo neck with less buzzing. Tightening or loosening the truss rod VERY slightly will make the proper adjustment. Do not force it! If you’re in doubt, see your local friendly repairman. When the neck is properly adjusted, measure the action as stated in the action section. A very quick fix would be a higher or lower bridge. If you really love your bridge, the next step is a more involved adjustment inside the pot assembly. The most involved and difficult adjustment requires removing the neck, reshaping the heel, etc. Leave this to the experts! Temporary adjustments can be done by adding shims between the neck and rim. This will not hurt the banjo if done carefully; however, some slight loss of tone and volume could happen since the neck isn’t perfectly fit to the rim. This is much more critical on high quality banjos. Very slight adjustments can be done with the coordinator rods. On banjos with tone rings, it is very important not to stress the rim out of round. Again, this should be checked by a qualified repairman if at all in doubt.
This article is an excerpt written by Mike Munford from Ross Nickerson’s The Banjo Encyclopedia “Bluegrass Banjo from A to Z” . The Banjo Encyclopedia includes a full chapter on Banjo Maintenance and banjo repair by 2013 International Bluegrass Association Banjo Player of the Year and repair guru, Mike Munford.
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