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Guide to Banjo Setup     
Adjusting the truss rod

At this point the banjo should be ready to play. There are still several adjustments or modifications that can be done to improve the sound or playability of the banjo. Some of these are adjustments and some are replacements. First we should look at how the banjo plays.

The first concern here is string height or “action.” There are several ways to change the action on a banjo. I talked about using the coordinator rods earlier to do this. These can be used to change the action but with the penalty of bending the rim out of round and losing tone. Another bad way to do it is to loosen the neck and put some kind of shim between the neck and the rim. This is usually even worse than using the coordinator rods since it seriously reduces the contact between the neck and rim. Most of the overtones created by the neck will be gone giving the banjo a much thinner sound.

Three factors are left that can be used to change a banjo's action. First of all you should check the curvature of the neck. If the neck is badly bowed the action will usually be higher than desirable. The remedy is to adjust the banjo's truss rod. This is something that makes many banjo players nervous. This is probably a good thing. There is always the possibility of damaging the neck by overtightening the rod. If you REALLY don't want to do this but the neck needs adjusting, take your banjo to a qualified repair person. If you do want to know how to do this adjustment read on.

Note Icon WARNING!
If you chose to adjust your own truss rod BanjoTrain is NOT responsible for any damage you might cause. Information is provided for reference purposes only. IF YOU BREAK IT, IT'S YOUR FAULT.

Keeping the neck in proper alignment is crucial to being able to get the most out of the instrument. Many if not most banjos, guitars and mandolins need adjustment from season to season. In areas where it is necessary to run the furnace in the winter dryness can cause the wood in the neck to contract. The neck and the fingerboard are usually different types of wood that react differently to changes in humidity adding to the problem. Typically this means that necks tend to bow backwards in the winter and upwards in the summer. This can either cause the strings to buzz or the banjo to be hard to fret.

Most banjos sold today have a truss rod inside their necks. The only obvious sign of one is the cover over the end of it on the bottom of the peghead usually butting up to the nut. The basic concept of a truss rod is simple. It's a long metal rod sitting in a channel cut into the neck that's covered by the fingerboard. The end nearest the heel of the neck is anchored in place. The other end is is threaded with a nut accessible by taking of the cover plate on the the peghead. When the rod is installed it has a slight bow upwards in the middle of the rod. Tightening the truss rod nut pulls the peghead end of the neck “downward” balancing the pull of the strings in the other direction. Putting on heavier gauges of strings or just having really old strings can increase the amount of string tension causing the neck to bow “upward” making the strings sit higher off of the fingerboard. Or, the neck itself can change shape due to changes in humidity between Summer and Winter, especially if you need to run a furnace all winter. Often necks bow backward due to dryness when the heat comes on causing the strings to buzz because the neck now has a hump in the middle. All of these changes can make it necessary to adjust the truss rod to restore the proper shape of the neck.

Let's see how to find out if you have a problem that can be solved by adjusting the truss rod of your banjo.

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