Since 1996, I have been playing 4 string banjos. I also teach for many years. I have seen many banjos change over the years and know what it takes to make a banjo sound great.
If I had 10 students starting today, 6 to 7 of them would tell me “I’ve kept this old banjo in my closet for 20 years. It was time to learn how it plays.” Most people don’t realize that the banjo can become out of tune even if it is just stored in a closet. It is important to give your banjo tender love!
Important – A nice instrument cannot be replaced. It is a known fact that low-end instruments are more difficult to learn. It is more difficult to play and harder to control. It’s much more fun to play a low-end instrument for a while, then move to a better quality one. Students start with a cheap instrument and then move to the Cadillac after a few years. This is backwards. This is backwards. Many people don’t have enough money to buy a banjo. They might also have an older banjo that they can learn on. These people will benefit from this article. Don’t let anyone fool you into believing that we will make your $100 Japanese-made banjo sound like a Gibson Mastertone. While we will make it sound better than before, we won’t turn your Ford Escort into Cadillac.
Item #1: new strings

The most significant change you can make to your banjo’s sound is changing the strings. It is easy to do at home. You should also be aware of your string gauge. Many string manufacturers label their sets with words such as light gauge, medium, and medim-light. I recommend that you choose medium light. Mediums will be too hard on your fingers. You might prefer lighter gauge strings if you have small fingers or are young. To find your preferred set, you will need to experiment with different sets.
It is a good idea to change your strings every 8 hours of play time. If you’re bringing the banjo out from the closet for the first-time in weeks, months or years, make sure to get them changed. Even if the banjo is not in use, strings can corrode, wear down, rust, and become dull. For questions, please consult the author.
Item #2: Set the bridge
The bridge is the little piece of wood that the strings cross just before reaching the end. Your banjo will not make the correct notes if the bridge isn’t in place. The bridge isn’t fixed; it is held in place by the string pressure. It can also be moved. An electronic tuner is required to set the bridge.
Take the distance between the nut and the 12th fret. Next, measure the distance between the nut and the 12th fret. After this, tune your banjo. Once your banjo is tuned, fret the 1st (or higher) string at the 17th fret. Then, check what your tuner says. This will result in a G note when the bridge is correctly adjusted. If the tuner states that the note is too sharp then move the bridge towards the tailpiece. Check again, adjust. If the tuner states that the note is flat (e.g., the tuner claims it is), move the bridge toward the neck. Check again, tune and then retune. Continue to check, move, and retune until the 1st fret of the 17th fret is showing an in tune G.
Handy tip Once the bridge has been set, you can change one string at the time. This will ensure that the bridge does not move.
Item #3: The head
This adjustment can make a big difference in the sound quality of your banjo. This adjustment is often feared by beginners, but it’s not necessary. You will need a few sockets or nut drivers, as well as a screwdriver. It is very simple. The head, which is the white “skin”, that you can use to play like a drum and the big white circle that forms the banjo’s face, is coincidentally also the head. The head can sound “mooshy” or “tubby” if the brackets holding it in place loosen. You get that banjo zing with a tight, crisp head!
First, remove the banjo’s back (also known as the resonator). The resonator is usually held on by four thumb screws. These screws can usually be removed without the use of tools. Sometimes you will need to use a screwdriver in order to remove the screws that hold the back together.
Flip the banjo upside-down and you will see the brackets or “fingers” that ring the banjo. Bracket nuts are located at the bottom of these brackets. These brackets and nuts can be used to attach other nuts and bolts. Grab your sockets and nut drivers to determine which size bracket nuts will fit over them.
Once you have the right tool, tighten one nut. Important: Don’t try to force the nut down. Just “snug” this bracket. If you turn the nuts, it’s possible for the head to crack or spit. Move on to the next nut by snagging it with very little force.
Banjo repairmen recommend that you tighten one nut first, then move on to the next one. You will work your way around the banjo tightening each pair in this order. Keep the nut tightened to a minimum.
You’ll probably find the banjo looser if you go back to the original one. You may need to do 3-4 passes around the banjo to get it right. Once everything is tightened up, you can put on the resonator and start to enjoy.

You can make your low-end banjo last longer with a little love and tender care. Although I recommend that you buy the best banjo possible, reality is that you will have to make do with what you have. These simple tips will make your banjo sound better and allow you to enjoy its playability.