Set-up, Repair & Restoration Services
1 Initial set-ups
New banjos very often (some would say “invariably”) require a fairly complicated set-up procedure to get them playing at their best. Few factories carry out anything more than fairly rudimentary set-up work and even fine hand-made banjos can settle in transit and need “tweaking up” on arrival with the proud new owner. The Banjo Works carries out an extremely thorough set-up job on all the banjos offered for sale (whether new or used) and can perform the same service on banjos purchased elsewhere.
To give you an idea of the extent of the work normally done, a routine set-up job at the Banjo Works would include:
- adjustment/alteration of tuning pegs - often involving the substitution of a geared 5th string peg for a friction type or the fitting of replacement tuner buttons that actually fit the tuner shafts properly
- adjustment/alteration of top nut - always involving the re-cutting of the string slots to the appropriate depth and size and often involving the substitution of a bone top nut for a plastic one
- levelling and dressing the fretting - always involving the levelling of the frets with a diamond stone, the re-profiling/dressing/polishing of frets themselves and the polishing and oiling of the fingerboard
- setting the line and angle of the neck - often involving dismantling and altering neck fixings and sometimes involving re-cutting the heel of the neck to a more appropriate angle/radius
- setting the tension of head - always involving tightening up the bracket shoes and hooks + nuts, sometimes involving replacing an inappropriate or defective head
- setting the co-ordinator rods - always involving setting the correct tension, sometimes involving adding an extra fixing or an extra co-ordinator rods on single-rod models
- aligning and securing the tailpiece - usually involving correcting misaligned fittings, often involving adding more secure fixings to the tailpiece
- fitting brand new strings and a decent quality bridge - it’s a matter of policy to discard all factory-fitted strings and bridges; and even some quite high-grade banjos come with poor strings and bridges of quite doubtful quality
- testing and “tweaking” playability and action - all the staff who carry out this kind of work are experienced banjo players; whilst many guitar techs are perfectly capable of carrying out all the above functions (most aren’t very different from guitar work), the final touches to get a banjo playing and sounding right do depend, to some extent, on experience rather theory.
Hopefully this helps to explain why banjo set-up jobs are rather longer (and thus a bit more expensive) than guitar set-up jobs. The end result is well worth having - a properly set-up banjo is a completely different beast from the run-of-the-mill “music shop” instrument.
This sort of service costs between £40 – £100 (depending on the type of instrument). Typical prices quoted as at September 2011.
This service can often be provided on a “same day” basis for those who want to bring their instrument to the Banjo Works by prior appointment. For those who prefer to send their instrument by post or carrier, the return carriage charge is £10 to most UK postcodes (please consult the table of delivery charges for the cost to outlying areas)
2 Maintenance set-ups
Banjos, being made of lots of different parts, have an inherent tendency to move around with the vibrations created by playing them. Threads come loose, parts stretch, nuts, bridges and frets wear down and all manner of small bits and pieces need adjustment.
This can be compared to the normal processes of wear and tear on a motor vehicle - you need to have your banjo (as well your car!) serviced from time to time. Even the most beautifully and carefully made instruments will need a periodic "set-up" to keep them playing at their best.
One way to do this is to bring your instrument (by prior appointment) to the Banjo Works. It will be carefully examined by an expert who will determine what needs to be done; you’ll get a cost estimate right away.
In most cases, it will be a matter of a few adjustments, a general "tightening-up" and the replacement of a couple of inexpensive but vital parts. This can often be done on a "same day" basis and normally costs between £40 and £100, depending on the type of banjo and what needs to be done. Typical prices quoted as at September 2011
If you can't bring your banjo personally to the Banjo Works, you can send it by post or carrier (a well packed banjo is very robust - "mummify" them in bubblewrap and put them in a stout cardboard box!). ParcelForce 48 service from your local Post Office is often the simplest way. An expert will carefully examine your banjo, determine what needs to be done & contact you with an estimate of the cost. If you’re happy with that, the work will then be carried out. Your banjo will be returned to you by Fedex. This is the same reliable service that the Banjo Works uses for all deliveries. This costs just £10 to most UK postcodes (remote areas cost more - same rates as for the standard delivery service). Your banjo will then arrive back with you in peak playing order!
If your banjo has had a knock or is playing badly, it may need rather more than just a "set-up" job. The system is much the same as for "set-ups" except that it is less likely (though not impossible) that the job can be done on a "while-you-wait" basis. It all depends on what needs to be done. Most jobs can be turned round fairly quickly and a replacement instrument on temporary hire can often be provided for those who cannot bear (or afford!) to be without a banjo! Costs vary according to the work necessary but will always be fully estimated and agreed before the work is carried out. Things like new top nuts, new heads, re-frets, replacement tuners etc are routine and reasonably priced - jobs like repairing/replacing broken necks or fitting new fingerboards do tend to be a bit more expensive.
Banjos which have deteriorated to the point where they are barely playable (or even unplayable) will probably need a complete rebuild and restoration. This is often a good deal less expensive than you might think. It is usually cost effective on most classic instruments unless they are very badly battered indeed. Again, the system is much as for "set-ups" & "repairs" except that restorations always take a while. An approximate delivery date is always provided with the estimate for the costs - but the date cannot be guaranteed. It must be understood that the timing of major restoration jobs always has to be flexible - instruments which have lain unused for many decades can prove to be curiously reluctant when it comes to persuading them to come apart. The Banjo Works always uses non-destructive methods (for instance, when removing old frets or fingerboards) - and these methods can sometimes take much longer than “brute force & ignorance”. Such is life - if you do want a particular family heirloom restored for a significant anniversary or birthday, it’s best the ensure that it comes for an estimate well in advance of the date!
Other types of banjo work
In addition to "set-ups", "repairs" and "restorations", the Banjo Works also carries out conversions (tenor banjos fitted with 5-string necks etc) and modifications (tone rings fitted, resonators added, fingerboard scoops installed etc). Whatever sort of job you want done, contact the Banjo Works for an estimate!
It's worth bearing in mind that the Banjo Works has large stocks of both new, reproduction and genuine period spare parts. The Banjo Spares and Accessories catalogue shows a great many of the new and reproduction parts but cannot show the vintage parts on the site - there are simply too many of them. Vintage banjos can often be restored using genuine period parts which are identical to lost originals. This is a good deal more economical than having to make brand new reproduction parts from scratch - though that too can be done if need be!
The experience and expertise of the Banjo Works is substantial. There is no exact record of the number of banjos that have been set-up, rebuilt, refurbished or restored over the years. The new and used banjos done for “stock” run to something over 10,000 banjos but this leaves out the set-up, repair & restoration jobs done on customer's instruments. These probably add something like a third as many again. By now, there are very few types of banjo that haven't come through the workshop. Every job that comes in gets the benefit of this level of experience and expertise which few people in the UK could match
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