I took my banjo to a jam last week and met another banjoist who had the same make and model and it sounded so much better than mine. We use the same brand and gauge of strings, and the same picks, so how could that be?
Although there are now many five-string banjos running loose around Australia today, very few pickers know how to set them up. A poor setup means that a good banjo can sound awful bad. The setup secrets are many, but boil down to a combination of things, including: the tension of the banjo head (the plastic skin); the type of bridge; the type and adjustment of the tailpiece; and the way the neck fits with the rim (among other things; we won’t talk here about tone rings because it takes too long). To help get your ‘jo into fine, cracking working order, seek out a five-string banjoist who has played bluegrass for a long time and just ask – is my setup OK? Most banjoists will be happy to give advice; some will be happy there and then to re-adjust yours to get the best out of it. But a word of warning. Banjo pickers are like old motorcycle parts collectors. They can talk for hours about obscure bits and what makes a difference. Be prepared to listen long. But take their advice if you’re not happy with the existing tone of your instrument. It could be the beginning of a new relationship with the banjo you were about to trade.