Mounting Skin Banjo Heads, by Mike Longworth, LongworthM@aol.com
Date: Wed, 17 Jul 1996 06:40:23 -0400
Subject: Re: Skin heads
Mounting skin heads? Yuck! Some of us are around who did it in the old days,
and even then you could buy mounted heads from Rogers unless you were
Remove the old head, and strip and clean the mounting hoop. (Forget this if
you have a plastic head, and go try to find an old flesh hoop of the proper
size). Most seem to be steel (not flesh), and the joint needs to be taped so
it won't cut the skin.
Cheap heads are goat, and better heads are calfskin. The Rogers three star
was Earl's favorite, and mine too. The unmounted head should be several
inches larger than the final dimension say about 15" for an 11" size. Go
soak your head ( the banjo head) until soft and pliable, in warm
water.....wring it out and get ready to mount.
The tension hoop (stretcher band for Gibsonites) and brackets should already
be removed. Removing the resonator is a must, and the neck is helpful, if
convenient. If the fingerboard crosses the head, removal of the neck is a
must. Have a pair of pliers ready with good gripping. I use Bernards, now
marketed as Sargent, which have jaws that close parallel. The top usually
looks like a duck's head, with a cutter that is useful for strings, etc.
Lay the soft, wet head on top of the rim, on top of tone ring, and center it.
Place the flesh hoop over it and push down, placing the stretcher band over
it. and push down until the band is where you want it, or at least far down
enough that you could connect the brackets. Remove the stretcher band, and
fold the excess skin over the flesh hoop. Then you put the stretcher band
back on, install a few hooks and nuts, and use the pliers
to pull the excess skin tight around the flesh hoop (on the inside of the
After the head starts to stiffen a bit, you can use an Exacto or razor
blade to trim the excess skin by cutting it against the inside of the
stretcher band (not over the head or tone ring. CAREFULLLLLLL!
After the head is mounted, let it dry, usually overnight and certainly until
it is completely dry. Then you can start to adjust it.
I may have missed something. It has been years since I did anything but a
banjo uke head (usually goat). Let the other folks chime in.
I well remember skin heads. Soggy in humid weather head, and sounded Yuccy!
Brittle and apt to break if they got too hot and dry. Always unpredictable
(keep you eye on the barometer) I quickly became used to a plastic head, and
wouldn't want anything else. Skin heads are too expensive, and unreliable,
but they do have a different sound. Might be better for some applications,
like classic and clawhammer type work.
If you can manage to have the brackets (hooks and nuts) mounted but loose,
this will save time, but may not allow you to set the body flat down on the