Howdy folks,

I've got a nice little tenor banjo from the 1920s that's a "when I get around to it" project - when I got it the original hide head was stiffened and gone. I've got a nice piece of goat skin from a drum making friend - brown and white hair still on it - that I'd like to install. Anyone have experience taking skin to head in this manner.?


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I suggest you look at the Stewmac info on their website , basically wet it and do it then it shrinks.
Id put it in a pail of water over night. trim the hair short frist it should look very nice. Bill.""""""" hee hee
Yeh, you can wet it and stretch it. I suppose if you don't care what the banjo sounds like, it will work. Hair-on hides are much too thick and irregular for a banjo head, and the banjo structure may not be stout enough to exert much pressure on the hide to stretch it to a playable tension. Hair-on hides are traditional on African drums and by extension, maybe the banjo. I have played an Akonting which used a rawhide head, not a hair-on hide.

I'd go ahead an buy a regular hide banjo head or use some of Mark Ralston's Yellowstone material.

This banjo is a "20 year +" project and was purchased ata local flea market in the late 1970s for around $10 with the original skin hide - punctured - still on it. I'm not sure what sorta critter the hide was from but I had been scraped to a great uniformity but I've never heard the instrument. A few years ago I got the piece of goat skin from a friend (now deceased) who made drums for a living and taught several current drum makers so I did value his advice. A synthetic skin would probably be less trouble and your advice is valued but I guess I'd really like to hear the banjo as designed first but I really don't know much about banjos or hides and if it wasn't a tenor/plectrum banjo I'd have probably have passed it to to someone else long ago as I can't finger pick worth a hoot but flatpicking comes naturally to me. I dunno. Thanks but I'll keep seeking skin advice for a while - somewhere I read that groundhog ("woodchuck/marmot") hides were commonly used but I'm not sure where I got that. The goat hide seems thick but the original was probably scaped heavily and I believe I've still got it for comparison.

What kind of music do you want to play?

Bluegrassers like the brightness of plastic heads, the brighter the better. Old Time players like the real skin ones or their synthetic alternative, Fyberskin. Those choices are less bright and have a more plunky, old time sound. Plectrum playing could go either way but I think that a real skin head sounds better. I don't know when plastic heads came on the scene but all banjos used to be made with skin heads.

Forget the skin with hair on it, those are for drums and not a good choice for banjos. Use either cow or goat hides, neither are expensive and easily obtainable. You will undoubtedly find accounts of banjo heads made from various fur bearers. Even if you could find some of these skins or be tempted to process your own, they will not likely have enough surface area that is the same thickness to fit to a standard 11" pot. These accounts come mostly from the small sized skins used on mountain banjos. Anyway, not worth the effort when you can buy processed skins starting around $16 ea.

I tend to like the thicker ones, they seem to be more forgiving to swings in humidity and I prefer cow hides over goat. Heads that are very even in thickness and a nice White color will cost more than the $16 dollar variety. Vellum processed skins can have clear-ish areas and tend to be a bit thicker, they are great for Old Time banjos.

Square stock flesh hoops work better than round wire flesh hoops. I quit using round ones and make new ones from 1/8" square stock brass. The round flesh hoops can slip when tightening the head, the square stock will not.

Here are several links from Googling: "how to mount skin banjo heads".
Drum heads are much thicker then banjo skins. It might be difficult if not impossible to install this on a banjo because of the thickness. You might not be able to get the banjo hoop on. I like goat skin heads. Soaking overnight isn't really necessary but won't hurt. I usually soak in hot water for about an hour,


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