Arch Top: An Archtop or Raised Head banjo is one with a tone ring which, in profile, is higher on the inside edge than the outside. The visual effect is that of a concentric circle slightly smaller than the area of the entire head that is raised slightly higher than the outside edge of the head. The sound of an archtop banjo is usually considered brighter than a comparable flat head banjo with the same size rim. This is due to the smaller vibrating area of the head of an archtop. Notable banjos that used archtop tone rings include Orpheum, Van Epps and Gibson. The arch top tone ring may be a single piece of metal with a raised lip on the inside edge. It may be a metal rod raised on metal posts or any number of other configurations.

The Armrest of a banjo is usually a metal piece that keeps the arm from contacting the head and stretcher band of the instrument. This improves comfort and protects the head and stretcher band from wear and degradation. On bluegrass banjos, it is usually has a flat surface that covers the tension hoop and the edge of the head for about six or seven inches. On old time instruments it is often a hollow metal tube or wire that extends slightly higher than the head and hoop and just to the outside of it.

Back Strap: A backstrap is a decorative feature used on fancier banjos where a contrasting piece of wood such as ebony or dyed pearwood covers the back of the peghead and runs down the back of the neck, often about a far as the fifth fret. Sometimes several contrasting laminations are used between the neck and the backstrap. This also has the effect of strengthening the weakest part of the neck.

Ball Bearing:
Ball Bearing tone ring supports were introduced by Gibson around 1919. Their construction consisted of a perforated tubular tone ring sitting on ball bearings that rested in cavities in the top of the wooden rim ("The New Gibson Banjos", Gibson Banjo Catalog, 1920 [reprint]). By around 1924 the cavities had been deepened and the ball bearings rested on springs inserted into holes drilled down into the rim from the top. The theory usually advanced for this is that changes in humidity that cause the calf skin head to loosen or tighten would be counteracted by the constant spring pressure maintaining constant head tension. For this to work, however, the height of the head and thus the action would be variable. Also, the springs would absorb some of the sound that should be transmitted to the rim. This tone ring is sometimes rated as a decent compromise for those who play a wide variety of styles. Buell Kazee (clawhammer) played one. Most people who play a variety of styles use a variety of banjos.

A banjeaurine (Banjorine) is a short-necked five string banjo with a scale in the 20" to 22" range that was used at the turn of the century as the tenor voice in banjo orchestras. These sometimes have over sized heads and often have fingerboard extensions.

Bear Claw:
Bear Claw tail pieces have individual finger-like extensions that curl at the ends to hold the strings. This is not to be confused with the Oettinger tailpiece which uses individually adjustable "fingers" for each string.

Binding: Fingerboards, pegheads and resonators are often bound at the edges by a contrasting material. Binding is usually made of plastic that can be, among other things, grained ivoroid that imitates ivory, "tortoise shell", white, checkerboard or gold sparkle. Early instruments are sometimes bound with ivory, wood or cellulose.

Block Construction:
Banjo rims are usually built by one of two methods. Laminated rims use wooden plys up to 1/8th" in thickness. Block constructed rims use blocks that are cut to fit together to make a circle of wood that is slightly larger than the final rim will be. Several such hoops are stacked and glued together and the final rim is cut from this oversize rim on a lathe. The joints are aligned so that they overlap for strength. there are many variations of this, lapjointing the blocks, keying the blocks. These are attempts to increase the strength of the final product. This method is also sometimes called Pie Wedge Construction. See also Pie Wedge Construction

Blue Grass Banjo: Banjos used in playing bluegrass music tend to have some distinct features in common. They have a resonator on the back and a heavy brass or bronze tone ring across which the head is stretched. both of these features add much sound and much weight to the instrument. Bluegrass banjos often weigh over ten pounds. Sometimes considerably over.

An onomatopoeic term describing one of the common clawhammer rhythms. Unlike the Bump-ditty rhythm that consists of a quarter note followed by two eighth notes, the boomalaka rhythm uses four eighth notes with an accent on the first and a slight accent on the third.

Bow is a banjo neck condition caused by long term string pressure curving the neck so that the neck curves upward as you approach the nut. Most old banjos have some bow in the neck. Slight bow can be corrected by placing a thin wooden shim between the neck and the pot at the top of the pot. More severe bowing can sometimes be corrected by a professional using heat to soften the glue under the fingerboard and pressure to force the neck back to shape. Instruments with truss rods can often correct this problem by adjusting the truss rod. Though this is simple, unless you know what you are doing it should be left to a competent luthier. Proper use of a truss rod involves seasonal adjustment to account for dry air in the winter that allows bowing of the neck and moist air in the summer that causes a warping action. Typically the rod is tightened in the winter and loosened in the summer.

Bracket Shoe Band:
Open back banjos use bracket shoes to hold the tension hooks that pull down the tension hoop. These bracket shoes are usually attached by a machine screw that passes through the rim and is secured by a nut on the inside. Some of the higher quality instruments, particularly the Whyte Laydies and Tubaphones use a bracet shoe band that is a metal band that slides up the outside of the rim from the bottom. The rim is turned (cut) to a smaller outside diameter from the bottom up to the point where the top of the band meets the wood. This is easier to see than to explain. The shoes are attached to the band by screws that pass only through the BAND, from the inside of the band, so that no screws pass through the rim itself. This allows for a solid rim that has more freedom to vibrate and a more massive pot.

Bracket Shoes:
Bracket shoes are metal pieces that are secured to the side of the banjo rim. The tension hooks pass vertically through a hole in the shoe head, hooking over the top of tension hoop. The tension hooks are tightened by a nut that is threaded onto the hook below the bottom of the shoe head. Some inexpensive banjos use a ball head or hex shaped bracket shoe head that is essentially the head of a bolt that passes through the banjo rim from the outside. In this case, the bolt head itself has a hole drilled through it to accept the hook and no separate shoe is used. Early shoes tend to be L shaped, Later shoes such as those used on the Whyte Laydie are essentially a pointed oval with the bottom half of the oval extending below what would be the normal L shaped shoe.

The bridge is the part of the banjo that transfers the vibration of the strings to the head, which vibrates in turn, amplifying the sound produced. It usually consists of a maple body with thin piece ebony across the top. The body usually is shaped like a bridge with two or three feet with arches cut through between them. Bridges can take many other forms as well with early instruments having a wider variety of shapes. Included among these is the Grover "Non-tip" bridge, which has a slotted ebony transverse support. On a banjo, like a violin, string tension and the friction between the head and the bridge feet hold the bridge in place. See also Compensating Bridge.

The basic rhythm of clawhammer banjo is often described as Bump-Ditty, Bum-diddy or other similar sounding words. Notationally speaking, in common 4/4 time the rhythm consists of a strong first beat, a slightly less accented third beat and a non accented fourth. IN 2/4 time you could describe it as ONE TWO and ONE TWO and ONE TWO and... where "ONE" comes on the first beat, "TWO" comes on the second beat and "and" comes on the second half of the second beat.

The part of the tuning peg that you grasp when you tune the string is referred to as the button. On early instruments the button is part of the entire tuner and is made of wood, Ivory, Celluloid or Ivoroid. On later instruments it is a separate piece that is affixed to the shaft of the tuner with a screw and is usually plastic, ivoroid or pearl.

Chromatic: The word "Chromatic" , as a musical term, refers to the chromatic scale which uses all twelve notes (half steps) in the octave as opposed to eight used by the diatonic scale. In common banjo parlance, it refers to a playing style that is fundamentally melodic but which uses a lot of contrasting pitches and chords that do not typically appear in traditional bluegrass music.

Chubby Dragon:
The Chubby Dragon is a famous headstock inlay of engraved mother of pearl which graced the pegheads of the higher grade Bacon FF Professional banjos early in this century, These instruments are among the most sought after open back banjos by both collectors and players. It appears in the first advertisement for the Bacon line published in 1906, on the Bacon "Professional" No. 3 model.

Clamshell tail pieces were used on some Gibson Mastertone banjos. They have a cover that opens and closes like a clamshell. The cover is often removed as it slows string changing and tends to vibrate sympathetically.

Clawhammer is a banjo playing style that consists of a downstroke, where the top of the fingernail of the index or middle finger strikes a string or strings and the thumb catches on the fifth string. The thumb releases, sounding the fifth string on the offbeat. In Clawhammer, the thumb is used more freely and can play other strings than just the fifth. Clawhammer is more melodic in character and Frailing more rhythmic. Drop thumb frailing is another term that describes this style. For a more detailed and insightful article, see Frailing Vs. Clawhammer . See also Frailing, Double Thumbing and Drop Thumb. See also Frailing, Double Thumbing and Drop Thumb

Cluck: The Cluck or Chuck sound is a percussive sound produced by almost simultaneously striking the string with one finger and damping it with another. Almost everyone who does this has a method that works for them and it is not easy to teach. Usually it involves holding the fingers so one sticks down slightly farther than another and striking the strings sharply but not following through so that the second finger stops on the strings. It produces a click sound that can be subtle or very strong and loud.

Compensating Bridge:
Most banjo bridges are straight. Most banjos have intonation problems as you go up the neck and use the lower strings. the third string especially tends to go sharper as you play higher up the neck. The reasons for this lie in the physics of the vibrating string and the fact that each string is a slightly different length (OK, the fifth string is a very different length but hear me out.) If you look at the strings on a banjo, you will notice that they are laid out in a slight fan shape from the nut to the bridge. this means that the outer strings are slightly longer than the inner strings and the third string is the shortest as it is the middle string. The length to diameter ratio of the strings also plays a part. [Comment by TAT: The explanation I've heard most frequently is the one also given by Larry Sandberg in BANJO REPAIR - that string gauge, or diameter, which determines the amount of tension in the string when tuned to pitch is the major culprit in intonation problems. However, the slightly increased scale length of the "outside" strings, (one and four, and five) sounds quite plausible. SEE ALSO Compensated nut.]

Coordinator Rods:
Gibson Mastertone banjos and most other Bluegrass-type banjos use one or two coordinator rods instead of a dowel stick to connect the neck to the pot. On these instruments, two threaded bolts protrude from the end of the neck where it attaches to the pot. They pass through corresponding holes in the rim. The coordinator rods have a female thread on one end that is screwed onto the neck bolts on the inside of the pot. If only a single coordinator rod is used, the upper neck bolt is fastened by an ordinary nut. The other end of the rods are male threaded . The upper coordinator rod slips into a blind hole on the inside of the tailpiece end of the pot and a nut is used to apply pressure against the pot. The lower rod passes through a hole in the pot and has both an inner and outer nut that tighten against the rim. The tailpiece hanger is also held in place by the outer nut. The rods can be used to slightly adjust the action by changing the tension of the upper and lower rods but this can have a negative effect on the sound of the instrument by disturbing the natural vibration of the instrument.

D-Tuners: See Tuners

Double Thumbing:
Double thumbing has been used to describe consecutive thumbed notes within the frailing motion. The exact meaning of this term, like most other old time banjo styles seems open to some interpretation. Some use it to describe the alternating thumb and index finger of the two finger old time picking style, or the same alternation in downstroke, "melodic" clawhammer playing ("Clawhammer Style Banjo" by Ken Perlman, 1989, p. 83) See also Frailing, Clawhammer and Drop Thumb See also Frailing, Clawhammer and Drop Thumb

Dowel Stick: The Dowel stick is a wooden stick, usual square in profile that protrudes from the end of the neck and passes through a square hole in the rim and butts into or is mortised into the far wall of the rim. It is usually used on open back banjos. [Sometimes called a Perchpole]

Drop Thumb:
Drop thumbing is a clawhammer technique that uses the thumb to play strings other than the fifth. See also Frailing, Double Thumbing and Clawhammer

Ears: Usually a banjo neck is made from a piece of wood a little over 2" wide. Since the peghead is wider than this, it is necessary to add width to the peghead area by gluing two pieces of matching wood to the sides of the peghead part of the neck. These are the ears or Peghead Ears. In ads for vintage banjos it is not uncommon to see a description that includes "Damage to one ear" or some other reference

The A.C. Fairbanks Electric was the first banjo to use the scalloped tone ring that was later to be used in the Whyte Laydie model banjos. The scalloped tone ring is based on a patent granted to Fairbanks December 30, 1890, and the "Electric" models (not using any electricity) were made available in the early 1890s ("History of the Fairbanks Banjo Company" by E.J. Kauffman, in the "5-Stringer", Summer, 1977, No. 126) . In 1894, A.C. Fairbanks sold his interest in the company. A version of the "Electric" was sold with the scalloped tone ring inverted - with the scallops pointing down from the tone ring. This variant was manufactured at the same time the original design was being sold, and seems to have been abandoned around 1900 (Kauffman, 5-Stringer, Fall Issue 1997). The "Electric" models are popular with both players and collectors. Some extremely fancy Electrics were produced as presentation pieces in the mid to late 1890s. The Electric became second in the Fairbanks line in 1901 when the Whyte Laydie was offered and third in 1908 with the availability of the Tubaphone. It was available into the early 1930s. Electrics were produced with a full-spun rim and, as a "special Electric" with a half spun rim. Most were Mahagony but maple was also used. Herschel Fenton advertised and sold banjos marked "Electric" circa 1890. Very different from Fairbanks, probably made by Buckbee.

End Pin:
The end pin is a screw that passes through the banjo rim into the end of the dowel stick. It usually has a round or hex shaped end with a hole for securing the tailpiece bolt.

Ferrule: The Ferrule is a square, slightly tapered metal sleeve that fits over the small end of the dowel stick. It's function is decorative and it usually only appears on high quality instruments.

Fifth String Capo:
A banjo capo only holds down the first four strings. If you capo at the second fret, the fifth string must also be raised two frets. This can be done by tuning the fifth string to a higher pitch but this increases the tension on the string and can cause failure. It also changes the feel of the fifth string. A fifth string capo is used to hold down the fifth string behind one of the higher frets so that the pitch is raised without having to retune. The most common type of fifth string capo is a series of tiny hobby railroad spikes that are placed about a third of the way behind the 7th and 9th (and other) frets. They are left sticking up just high enough to slip the fifth string under so it is held down tightly. Some retuning is required as the spikes increase tension more than fingers do so they tend to sharpen the pitch. Sliding fifth string capos have a small rail screwed into the side of the neck and a metal spring clip or adjustable finger that holds down the fifth string. This is easy to use and requires little if any retuning but requires two screw holes in the side of the neck which can ultimately reduce the resale value of the instruments.

Fifth String Nut:
The fifth string nut is a small, usually cylindrical post of bone, ivory or pearl that serves as a guide and bearing surface for the fifth string as it comes from the tuning peg. Some instruments use a spike in place of the fifth string nut which holds the string down tightly as it passes over the fifth fret. People who often fret the fifth string tend to like the spike arrangement or a nut that is in line with the fifth fret instead of behind it as these arrangements allow for the best intonation on fretted notes.

Fifth String Peg:
The fifth string peg is the tuning device for the fifth string. On most modern instruments this is a geared tuner that is inserted into the side of the neck. the string post sticks up from the tuner housing. Older instruments used either a mechanical friction tuner that is made of metal with a button that matches the buttons on the other tuners or an actual violin style tuner that is all one piece. These are typically ivoroid, Ivory, wood or celluloid.

Finger Board Extension:
Fingerboards usually terminate against the side of the stretcher band where the neck meets the pot. Some banjos have a fingerboard that is slightly higher and is allowed to extend over the head. This is often done on instruments with short necks such as tenors and banjeaurines as a way to increase the number of frets without increasing the scale. These instruments are often less suitable for frailing as the extra height of the fretboard interferes with the thumb action of the frailing stroke..

The fingerboard is the part of the neck over which the strings pass and are pressed against when noting. It is usually ebony, rosewood or dyed pearwood.

Five Star:
Stewart Macdonald produces a line of banjo parts and accessories including strings and heads and tuners under this name.

Many resonator banjos use a metal flange to cover the gap between the rim and the resonator wall. Some are individual pieces that fit between the nut and the bracket shoe. others use two or three pieces the same way. On many banjos, including the Gibson Mastertone and it's many copies, the flange takes the place of the shoes and is cast in one piece (One Piece Flange) or two pieces (Tube and Plate Flange.) These fit snugly up against a ledge or protrusion of wood on the outside of the rim.

Flat Head:
The classic Bluegrass banjo has what is known as a Flat Head tone ring. Whereas the archtop ring has it's highest point on the inside of the ring, the flat head is tallest on the outside, directly above the outside edge of the rim. This arrangement tends to increase the bass response and depth of sound due to the larger vibrating area.

Flat Top:
See Flat Head

Flesh Hoop:
A plastic banjo head has a molded in bead around the outside edge to give the stretcher band purchase. When calf skin is used, a wire hoop called the flesh hoop is folded into the skin to provide the same sort of bead for the bottom of the stretcher band to push against.

One of the peghead inlay patterns made famous by the Fairbanks/Vega company. It most often appears on the Fairbanks Whyte Laydie Style No. 3 Tu-ba-phone (made by Vega) but also is found on the Style No. 7. It is also found on early Bacon Professional Model No. 2 -- also made by Vega.

Flying Eagle:
The flying eagle inlay pattern is an Art Deco stylized pattern used by the Gibson company. It is also known as Reno style because of Don Reno, who's banjo neck was inlaid with this pattern.

A Frailer is a banjo that is used for frailing or clawhammer. The term is often employed to describe a banjo that is old, simple and playable but otherwise nondescript.

Frailing is a style of banjo playing that involves striking down on the string with the back of the index or middle fingernail, catching the fifth string with the thumb, then releasing it. the basic rhythm is often described as a bump ditty sound. There are many variations to this but the basic "Bump-Ditty" rhythm is produced by a downstroke with no thumb-produced offbeat followed by another down stroke with a thumbed offbeat. Rapping, Knocking and Framming are other terms used to describe this style of playing. See also Clawhammer, Double Thumbing and Drop Thumb

Fretboard: See Fingerboard.

A fretless banjo is one that has no frets. Usually they are open back banjos that are played in the clawhammer style. [The earliest banjos in the eighteenth and nineteenth century lacked frets. The earliest factory made banjos after the Civil War were also made without frets, although sometimes "flush frets" -- frets set in level with the fingerboard -- were installed as position markers. By the 1870s, most factory made banjos were supplied with frets, though factory-made fretless banjos continued to be made into the early 20th century. A "folk" tradition of hand-made fretless banjos continued in isolated rural areas, and continues to the present day. See Proffitt Style.

Frets: Frets are metal wire with a cross section not unlike a mushroom. They are pressed into slots in the fretboard and serve as hard contact points for the strings when they are pressed down.

Fybreskin Head:
Fibreskyn banjo heads are made from the same basic material as standard plastic heads with the addition of fibers on the surface that increase the weight and mimic the look of a skin head. They are often used by clawhammer players but seldom on bluegrass banjos as they tend to produce a darker sound.

Galax Lick: This term is used to describe several different clawhammer licks. One is a slide on the first string from the first to the fifth fret that is finished by two consecutive thumbed fifth strings. The other is an arpeggiated brush starting on the low pitched strings and ending with the thumb on the fifth string. I suspect there may be other Galax Licks as well.

The initials GB are one of a group of initials that were and are used by the Gibson company to differentiate between types of banjos. The common ones are: RB - Regular Banjo (five string) PB - Plectrum Banjo TB - Tenor Banjo MB - Mandolin Banjo GB - Guitar Banjo

Gourd Banjo:
A gourd banjo is a simple instrument that uses a gourd with a hide stretched over a hole as the pot with a fretless neck.

The Gryphon headstock inlay was used by A. C. Fairbanks in the Whyte Laydie No. 2 and many other moderately well appointed banjos. In some of the finest banjos it was inlaid into the back side of the peghead.

Hammer On: A hammeron is when you use one of the fingers of the left hand to strike sharply onto a string. Often this is done just after picking the same open string with the right hand. It produces a second note without picking again.

Hand Stop:
The hand stop is the area of the back of the neck directly behind the nut where the neck thickens. This, in addition to giving the hand something to rest against at the end of the neck, increases the strength of the neck in an area that is weekend by the cutout for the neck tension rod nut. Instruments without tension rods often do not have this feature.

The head is the vibrating surface of the banjo. It is usually made of mylar or calfskin but wood and metal have been used for certain applications.

Head Bearing:
Head Bearing is another term for Tone Ring. See Tone Ring.

See Peghead

Hearts and Flowers:
The hearts and flowers inlay pattern was used on certain Gibson Mastertone banjos, including Earl Scruggs'. This is probably the best known inlay pattern.

The Heel is the bottom of the banjo neck where it meets the pot. This is usually flattened and often has a cap of contrasting wood or other material. On some older instruments the Heel is rounded.

Heel Cap:
The Heel Cap is a decorative piece of contrasting material, usually wood such as ebony or rosewood, that covers the bottom of the heel of the banjo neck.

Heel Carving:
Fancy banjos often have a carved heel. The area from the pot to several inches down the neck past the heel is the area usually carved though sometimes the entire neck is carved on presentation instruments. The patterns are typically floral or scroll in nature though busts are not uncommon.

Hooks and Nuts:
Hooks and nuts are used to pull the tension hoop down tightly over the head of the banjo. They usually have a hook at the top and are threaded for the nuts at the bottom. The hook passes down through a bracket show [shoe] that extends from the side of the banjo or through a metal flange.

Internal Resonator: Internal Resonator banjos have a hollow rim that serves as a resonator. the Bacon FF Professional was an internal resonator banjos. From the back the rim is much thicker than standard and has "f" shaped holes in the rim cap to let the sound out.

Kerchner: Kerchner tailpieces were used on some of the higher grade openback instruments such as the Tubaphone Deluxe. They have a long flat surface with holes for each string to pass through. They are considerably heavier than presto tailpieces. [They were first marketed around 1912, and were supplied with Bacon Professional models as "Bacon-Kerchner" tailpieces.]

Knee Mute:
Some Bacon and Day and other banjos used knee mutes to muffle the sound. They consisted of a lever sticking down from the bottom side of the pot that could be activated by knee pressure.

Machines: Another word for Mechanical tuners.

Mastertone banjos are made by the Gibson company. They defined the bluegrass banjo form when the first bluegrass banjo players chose them over other top banjos of the period. They are characterized by a heavy bronze tone ring, resonator metal flange with distinctive holes and one or two metal coordinator rods that attach the neck to the pot. [They were first advertised in 1919, and had the so-called "trapdoor" resonator and ball-bearing support for the tone ring (no springs).] Entire books and definitive articles have been written about these banjos. Suffice it to say that prewar Mastertones are the most sought after bluegrass banjos with much the same mystical quality boasted by prewar Martin Guitars and Lloyd Loar F5 mandolins.

The initials MB are one of a group of initials that were and are used by the Gibson company to differentiate between types of banjos. The common ones are: RB - Regular Banjo (five string) PB - Plectrum Banjo TB - Tenor Banjo MB - Mandolin Banjo GB - Guitar Banjo

Melodic style banjo is a style that involves playing tunes note for note instead of working the most important notes into a roll pattern. Bill Keith was one of the pioneers of this style.

Metal Clad Rim:
Many old banjos from the 1880s through the turn of the century used a wooden rim with a German silver sheath. Sometimes both the inside and outside were covered. Many of the Fairbanks Electric models were made this way. Some people speculate that this feature was an attempt to modernize the banjo to distance it from it's folk roots. The fact that S.S. Stewart used this construction technique might lend credence to this theory.

Minstrel banjos were built during the time when minstrel performances were popular (1830s to 1870s). They are usually very simple instruments with a thin single-ply rim and a fretless neck. The head is held on by as few as six brackets or tacked into place.

In ads for banjos or any written description of a banjo, the initials MOP refer to Mother of Pearl.

Mother of Toilet Seat:
Mother of toilet seat is another name for the pearlized plastic used for fingerboards and peghead overlays and resonators. Some very expensive instruments used this material.

Neck Angle: The neck angle is the angle that the plane of the fingerboard intersects the plane of the head. It is usually around three degrees.

Neck Reinforcement:
Banjo necks are often reinforced to help protect against bowing caused by string pressure. The Simplest reinforcement takes the form of a laminated neck that has vertical laminations, the middle of which is often of contrasting wood. This can be seen as a stripe down the middle of the back of the neck. A rectangular steel rod can also be inserted into a groove in the neck under the fingerboard. These two neck reinforcement techniques are not adjustable. A round metal rod with a nut on one end is inserted into the neck much like the non adjustable metal reinforcement. Tightening and loosening the nut can adjust the neck for warp and bow.

No Knot:
The No Knot tailpiece is a simple tailpiece with studs over which to loop the strings. It has no mechanism for applying downward pressure on the strings. The original no Knot tail piece used small cams to clamp the stings in place without needing to tie a knot in the string. The cam version is rarely encountered.

The nut lies across the neck at the juncture of the fingerboard and headstock. With grooves for each string, it provides a bearing surface for the strings much as the bridge does at the other end. Most nuts are made of bone, ivory or pearl but some early instruments use wood. Man made materials are sometimes used as well.

Oettinger Tailpiece: This tailpiece has individual fingers for each string so that tension may be adjusted for individual strings. It was featured on some high end banjos during the twenties thus many are gold plated. Most are four string though five string versions were also available. They appear frequently on Bacon and Day banjos and some high end Vegas.

Old Time Banjo:
Banjos used for playing old time music tend to vary considerably more than bluegrass banjos. They tend to have no resonators but this is not a hard and fast rule. Reed Martin plays a Tubaphone #9 with a resonator. There are many schools of old time banjo playing but they can very loosely be separated into two families. Those who play instruments with no tone ring or a simple brass rod tone ring, and those who play instruments such as the Whyte Laydie, Tubaphone, Electric or Orpheum type banjos that have a substantial tone ring. The former groups often identify themselves with a particular player or region such as "Galax", "Round Peak" or Kyle Creed.

One Piece Flange:
Gibson Mastertone banjos were and are made with two types of flanges. two piece and one piece. The one piece flange is a solid cast piece of metal with holes drilled to accept the hooks. See Flange.

Open Back:
Open Back banjos are banjos that do not have resonators.

Pancake Tuners: See Tuners

Pancakes: See Tuners

PB: The initials PB are one of a group of initials that were and are used by the Gibson company to differentiate between types of banjos. The common ones are: RB - Regular Banjo (five string) PB - Plectrum Banjo TB - Tenor Banjo MB - Mandolin Banjo GB - Guitar Banjo

The peghead, or headstock, is the part of the banjo neck that holds the tuning pegs. Most banjo pegheads have four tuning pegs that pass through the peghead from the back. Some, particularly older instruments have slotted pegheads where two longitudinal slots are cut into the peghead and classical guitar type tuners are used. Turn of the century Zither Banjos often have all five tuners on the peghead with the fifth string disappearing into a small hole in the fretboard just aft of the fifth string nut, passing through a tiny brass tube, and reappearing behind the nut at the base of the peghead. Most banjos have a peghead overlay. This is a thin piece of wood, usually ebony, rosewood or black-dyed pearwood that covers the face of the peghead providing a nice contrasting background for inlay work.

See Dowel Stick

Piccolo Banjo: The smallest member of the banjo family. Banjo orchestras popular before the turn of the century used the piccolo banjo as the soprano voice. The scale is short, on the order of sixteen or seventeen inches and the pots are around seven inches or so.

Pie Wedge Construction:
Pie Wedge Construction is another term for Block Construction. The rational is as follows. If you cut a wooden hoop out of a flat board, the grain would be all in one direction and as the wood dried the hoop would become a definite oval. Some banjos have been made with two or three or more such hoops glued one atop the other with the grain running in different directions for each layer. this helps counteract the ovaling effect. By cutting small blocks all with the grain running as much lengthwise as possible, you can make a wooden hoop with grain that runs nearly in a circle. When this dries it will be nearly as round as the day it was made. The pie wedge concept comes from the idea that if you cut a 12" round piece from a board then cut it like a pizza, you could remove a nine inch circle from the middle and be left with the blocks mentioned above. See also Block Construction

Pie Wedge Resonator: The Pie Wedge resonator is named for the wedge shaped construction that can be clearly seen from the back. The Vegaphone Pro of the twenties and early thirties is an example of a banjo that used this type of resonator.

In bluegrass style banjo a pinch is using the thumb and middle finger to simultaneously pick the fifth and (usually) first strings. It is a rhythmic device and often is used on the second and fourth beats of a measure alternating with the thumb alone on the first and third beats on one of the inside strings.

Planetary Tuners:
See Tuners

Planets: See Tuners

Plectrum: [A pick - usually what is now referred to as a "flat pick". Beginning in the ragtime era, banjos were used in dance orchestras that used pianos, violins and sometimes woodwind and brass instruments. The contemporary three-finger playing style on gut strings could not be heard, so banjoists, taking a lead from mandolinists, began using a pick or plectrum and metal strings to increase the volume of their instruments so they could be heard. In this style of playing, with more elaborate chord changes and modulations, the fifth string, whose pitch was not commonly modified by fretting, became an annoyance, so often it was simply not installed. Eventually the tuner and space for the fifth string was left off in manufacturing, creating the "plectrum banjo". This instrument had the same scale length as the traditional five-string and was tuned the same, but lacked the fifth string attachments and was played with a (flat) pick rather than the fingers.]

Position Markers:
Position markers are Inlays in the fingerboard. Their purpose is to make it easier to know which fret is which. A simple pattern my be small dots or diamonds. Usually the twelfth fret gets two dots or some other distinctive inlay to distinguish it as the octave.

The Pot is the entire assembly of the round part of the banjo. It consists of the Rim, Shoes or flange, Tone Ring, Resonator, Head, etc.

Presto tailpieces were used on many of the original Gibson Mastertone banjos. Some are adjustable for string tension.

Prewar Planets:
See Tuners.

Proffit Style:
A type of banjo built by Frank Proffit. A simple mountain fretless banjo with a small head set into a larger wooden rim.

Pull Off:
Pulling off is a technique whereby a finger of the left hand initiates a note by releasing a fretted note suddenly with a plucking motion.

Railroad Spikes: Model railroad spikes are used as fifth string capos. See Fifth String Capo

Raised Head: See Archtop

Rapping: See Frailing, Double Thumbing, Drop Thumband Clawhammer

RB: The initials RB are one of a group of initials that were and are used by the Gibson company to differentiate between types of banjos. The common ones are: RB - Regular Banjo (five string) PB - Plectrum Banjo TB - Tenor Banjo MB - Mandolin Banjo GB - Guitar Banjo

Reno Style:
Don Reno played a three finger style of banjo that also included a lot of single string work that involved playing more or less like a guitar player with a flat pick. Instead of using a flat pick, he used the thumb and index or thumb and middle fingers.

The Resonator is a device attached to the back of a banjo that is designed to reflect the sound forward.

A banjo rim is the round part that holds the head. It is usually made of wood but can also be made of metal or plastic.

Rim Stick:
See Dowel Stick.

Round Peak Style:
This topic inspired much debate among the Banjo-L faithful. Riley Baugus, who lives in the Round Peak area writes...
Let me see if I can shed any light on this whole thing. Round Peak is just that, it is an area in Surrey County, NC nearly halfway between Mt.Airy and Galax just off Hwy 89. It is actually one of the mountain peaks that makes up the beginnings of the Blue Ridge Mountains above the foothills. Many people from this area played a style of banjo called RoundPeak style. Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, Kyle Creed, Charlie Lowe, Dix Freeman, Gilmer Woodruff, lots of players and most of the ones that I have mentioned can be heard on recordings.

Scale Length: The Scale Length is the distance between the nut and the bridge. Banjo scale lengths vary somewhat but for standard size banjos (not banjeaurines, piccolo banjos, cello banjos etc.) tend to have scale lengths in the 26" to 27" range though there are many that are slightly shorter or longer. Notable examples of scale lengths are:

Fairbanks-Vega banjos tend to have scale lengths of 26" (with the 10 3/4" pot), 27" (with the 10 15/16" pot) and 28" (11 13/16" pot)

Gibson banjos usually have a 26 1/4" scale.

Many old time banjo players that play with fiddle players prefer a shorter scale, 24"- 25", that enables them to play in the keys of D and A without a capo and without the added stress of tuning a standard banjo up to pitch.

People who play both fretted and fretless often choose a "Scale" for their fretless banjos that is slightly shorter than their fretted ones due to the fact that finger placement on a fretted banjo is behind the fret and on a fretless it is ON the imaginary fret. Bear in mind that the "scale" of a fretless banjo is variable depending on the bridge placement.

Banjeaurines have scales usually in the 21" to 23" range

Scooped Fingerboard:
A scooped fingerboard has its thickness reduced for a few inches from the pot. This allows more space between the strings and the fingerboard in an area where many clawhammer players strike the strings.

Scruggs Style:
Scruggs style is the basic bluegrass three finger style of banjo playing. Named after Earl Scruggs, it involves working the melody into a near constant stream of notes called rolls. For emphasis, the melody notes are usually played with the thumb.

See Fifth String Capo

Spin-on Resonator: Spin on resonators are attached by a single bolt in the center that engages a threaded insert or nut attached to the dowel stick.

Spun Over Rim:
See Metal Clad.

Style 7 (no. 7):
The fanciest standard Whyte Laydie banjos were known as Style 7 or No. 7.

Style 9 (n0. 9):
The Style 9 Tubaphones were the fanciest of the non-custom Tubaphones. The inlay pattern was basically like that of a style 7 Whyte Laydie.

Tailpiece or Tail piece: The tailpiece is the attachment point for the ends of the strings after they pass over the bridge. Typically, it attaches with a long screw that passes through the end bolt. Some are simple anchor points and others are adjustable to apply more or less pressure on the bridge. Check out Mike Holmes' Mugwumps website for more on tailpieces and other items of interest. See also Oettenger Tailpiece, Bear Claw, Clam Shell, Kerchner, Presto, No Knot

TB: The initials TB are one of a group of initials that were and are used by the Gibson company to differentiate between types of banjos. The common ones are: RB - Regular Banjo (five string) PB - Plectrum Banjo TB - Tenor Banjo MB - Mandolin Banjo GB - Guitar Banjo


Tension Hoop:
The Tension Hoop of a banjos is usually a metal hoop that is drawn down to tighten the head of a banjo. Some hoops have notches for the tension hooks, some have a groove that goes around the entire circumference of the hoop, a few have holes that the hooks fit into. Simple hoops have no allowance for aligning the hooks, which simply fit over the top of the hoop. Top tension banjos have specially designed hoops that accept a bolt down through the top so that the head may be tightened without removing the resonator. Some of the oldest banjos use wooden hoops or no hoop at all, merely tacking the hide into place.

Tension Rod:
A Tension Rod is an adjustable neck reinforcement made of steel and threaded for a nut at one end, usually the peg head end. Tightening the rod can reduce neck bow, loosening it reduces neck warp.

Thick Ebony Fingerboard:
Old banjos from before the turn of the century are often advertised for sale having thick ebony fingerboards. The reason this is significant is that these instruments use no internal neck reinforcement and a thick fingerboard can strengthen the neck enough to make the instrument suitable for steel strings.

Thin Rim:
Earlier banjos tended to have a thinner rim or shell than modern banjos. The typical modern bluegrass banjo has a rim that is 3/4" to 7/8" thick. Early instruments often had rims as thin a 1/4". When referring to Whyte Laydie banjos, the term Thin Rim describes the earlier instruments which had thinner rims than the later ones.

Three Finger Style:
Playing the banjo using the thumb, index and middle finger is loosely termed Three finger style. [This method was first used by "classical" banjoists in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, who adopted the style from the guitar, and played on gut strings without picks. In the modern context ] Most people are referring to Scruggs style when they use this term. Snuffy Jenkins is one three finger player who predates Scruggs. Don Reno, along with the single string style he is known for, played a three finger style that was, according to Tony Trischka, distinctly different. Among other things, his three finger work tended to use a lot more of the B string when playing rolls where others would use the G string. [Bluegrass three-finger-players use a thumb pick and finger picks to play.]

Three Ply Rim:
Three ply rims are used in the best quality bluegrass banjos (excepting, of course, Stellings that use block construction) Such rims are made of three plys of 1/8" thick Rock Maple. Cheaper instruments often use more laminates, five or seven or even a continuous wrap of thin wood. The fewer plys, the less glue, the less glue the more wood.

Three Star:
Rodgers, a past producer of fine calfskin banjo (and drum) heads, produced a line of heads called Three Star.

Tone Chamber:
The Tone Chamber is another name for Tonering. See Tonering.

Tone Ring:
A Tone Ring or Head Bearing is usually a circular metal piece that fits on the top of the rim. The head makes contact with the tone ring, not the rim. Simple banjos may have no tone ring or a small brass rod. Many of the great banjos are defined by their tone rings. The Fairbanks Whyte Laydie tone ring and Tubaphone tone rings made those models among the most sought after of their day. Mastertone banjos use a heavy bronze tonering that gives them a very strong sound. [Again, this may be too picky but the first Whyte Laydies appeared in 1901 or 1902. The tone ring was essentially the same as had been introduced on the "Electric" Models in the early to middle 1890s, based on an 1890 patent. The tone ring assembly was a solid ring which was set on top of a scalloped "truss", which in turn sat on the top of the rim. The Whyte Laydie was distinguished from the "Electric" by it's light (unstained) finish, and the metal bracket shoe band encircling the outside of the drum, but used the same tone ring. The bracket shoes were attached to this band, so that holes for them did not have to be drilled through the wooden drum. The "Tubaphone" tone ring was introduced in 1909 in a banjo advertised as "the Improved Whyte Laydie" banjo. Thus the various Whyte Laydie models bridged the transition from the "Electric" Tone Ring to the "Tubaphone" tone ring. Delving deeper into trivia, A.C. Fairbanks received a patent in 1887 for banjo improvements that included a hollow metal tone ring, that was apparently never manufactured. The hollow square perforated metal tone ring, the "tubaphone" did not receive a patent until 1914, though the innovation had been marketed since 1909, or 1910. -- The source for all this and many other banjo delights is Elias J. Kauffman's History of the Vega-Fairbanks Company, serialized in American Banjo Fraternity's "5-Stringer" publication, beginning in 1976]

Top Tension:
Top tension banjos use bolts that pass down through holes in the tension hoop to tighten the head of the banjo. These were used originally to avoid removing the resonator to tighten or loosen the head. With calfskin heads this must be done frequently as weather changes can have a dramatic effect on head tension.

Trap Door:
The Gibson Trapdoor banjos of the early twenties had a closed back with a D-shaped door that could be opened or closed to increase sound and alter tone. There is an oval hole in the trapdoor and a small button handle. According to Gibson's advertising these were the first Mastertones but the construction was much different than the Mastertone that became the standard Bluegrass banjo.

Truss Rod:
See Tension Rod.

Truss Rod Cover:
The Truss Rod Cover is a decorative cover for the area behind the nut at the base of the peghead where the tension rod nut is accessible. It is usually plastic though other substances are used including metal and mother of pearl.

The A. C. Fairbanks Tubaphone was developed in 1909 as a top flight professional banjo that produced a strong, loud tone that could fill a concert hall. It uses a square tube with a heavy wire bead around the top as a resonator. the tube has holes drilled into the inside of the ring. Tubaphones, like Whyte Laydies, are among the most sought after instruments by old time banjo players.

Tube And Plate:
A Tube and Plate Flange or Two Piece Flange was used on certain Gibson Mastertone banjos. One piece is a metal tube that encircles the rim and is pulled up against a corresponding wooden lip that is cut to the same radius as the tube. This is drilled for the hooks to pass through for tightening the head. The second part is a flat plate that fits under the tube and serves as a decorative cover for the opening between the resonator and the rim. Most people find the one piece flange more desirable.

The part of the banjo that adjust string tension. There are many different kinds of tuners from simple violin type tuners that are made from wood, ivory, cellulose or plastic and rely on the friction of a slightly tapered shaft fitting tightly in a correspondingly tapered hole to maintain string tension, to complicated locking mechanical tuners. The violin type tuners work very well for gut or nylon strings as long as they fit properly into their holes. Steel strings are much more difficult to tune without some kind of mechanical advantage. Planetary tuners or planets are mechanical tuners that use a system called planetary gears to produce (usually) a four to one gear ratio, meaning you turn the tuner button all the way around four times for the post, where the string attaches, to turn around once. This gives you mechanical advantage and enables precise tuning. Unlike other mechanical tuners, such as Pancake tuners on which the shaft that the button is mounted on is offset from the post that the string attaches to, planets have the button shaft and string post in a straight line. Prewar Planets are very desirable and with pearl buttons can sell for as much as $500.00 per set. Modern reproductions are available from Stewart Macdonald (Five Star Brand). Pancake tuners take their name from the low profile round gear housing seen from the back of the peghead (flat like a pancake). As mentioned above, the button shaft is offset from the string post. Grover Two band tuners are high end mechanical tuners produced by Grover that had two grooves around the gear housing. Grover is currently making reproductions of these. D tuners: Also called Scruggs, Keith or Scruggs-Keith tuners, these have two locking screws protruding from the side of the gear housing. They allow you to lock a bottom and top note and turn the tuner rapidly from one to the other.

Tuning Pegs:
See Tuners

Tunings: The banjo can be tuned a number of different ways. Bluegrass players usually use the tuning of gDGBD with the occasional foray into gDGCD and a few others. Old time music has hundreds of tunings. See the Banjo-L home page for Anita Kermode's compiled list of banjo tunings.

Two Star Neck: A banjo neck with a star in the peghead and another at the fifth fret is often referred to as a two star neck. The other position markers are usually simple dots.

Vegaphone: A Vega Tubaphone with factory installed flange(s) and resonator, from circa 1923.

Violin Tuners: See Tuners

Warp: When a banjo neck warps, it bends backward so that the neck is high in the middle. This causes strings to buzz. Mild warp can sometimes be removed by heating and bending the neck back into shape.

Waverly made various banjo parts including tailpieces and tuners. Stewart McDonald now owns the Brand.

Whyte Laydie:
The A. C. Fairbanks Whyte Laydie is probably the most highly sought after old time banjo. They were first made in 1901 and continued into the 1950s. The tone ring is the scalloped ring developed for the Electric model. The Whyte Laydie was the first Fairbanks banjo to use a bracket shoe band to avoid drilling holes through the rim for the bracket screws.

The Wreath inlay pattern was used on certain Gibson Mastertone banjos. The headstock has a wreath inlay, the position markers are more delicate than the other standard Gibson styles.

Zither Banjo: Zither Banjos were popular in England around the turn of the century. They have a smaller than normal head that is set into a resonator that is approximately flush with the head. The strings were a combination of Steel and Gut.