Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Banjo Setup Question

I’ve had my (first) banjo now for about oh 8-9 months and I’ve noticed a tuning problem that i’ve been trying to tackle. It’s not a super cheap banjo and not a super expensive one either (goldtone 250)

I’ve watched videos (on here and youtube) about the banjo setup and have done the basics like the head tension and the bridge placement and I’m still having an issue.

So, I have it setup such that:

  1. all open strings are properly in tune. (default banjo tuning)
  2. all 12th fret notes are in tune (or pretty darn close).
  3. all 12th fret harmonics are in tune (again, pretty darn close).

With all of this being in tune, when I play notes on the 2nd thru about 7th fret (pretty sure every string), those notes are NOT in tune and are noticeably sharp to the ear (and the tuner of course)… it’s nothing huge but it’s enough that it’s noticeable to me. When I get above the 7th fret the notes get closer to being in tune again. And I also then notice that notes ABOVE the 12th fret start getting flat as I go up.

From everything i’ve watched/read I thought that if you had the open and 12th frets in tune then everything else should be good.

So any thoughts about what that might be and what I should check?

Maybe a truss rod adjustment is needed? (although that doesn’t seem to make sense to me based on the bahavior, but i’m no expert).

Thanks for any tips!


Hi Scott. I am no expert on such matters kind of difficult to answer such a query in a forum without actually handling the instrument, what I would do in your position is to have it checked out by a luthier. Must be a ton of expert players in your locale that you could seek advice, maybe it 's something fairly simple to resolve.

Thanks @shedrick - cuz my inexpensive (I cannot use the word “cheap”) Epiphone MB-100 Hollowback does the same thing!

It is true on all strings but mist prevalent on the B-string… which is a real bugger to keep in tune.

My lame way to compensate is to tend to the ever-so-slightly side of flatting (Can that be used as a verb? Anyway…) the open tuning on some strings that are “in-between” strings between low D and the drone g 5th string.

Even as I know that fretting is quite mathematical, it makes me even question all the fret placements in this range!

I will be interested to see responses. Can bridge alterations or pro setup overcome this issue?

Thanks for raising the issue!

So that I’m clear, the 7th fret is sharp but the 8th fret is in tune?

Hey @shedrick, all fretted notes are going to register a bit sharp with a tuner if the banjo is set up right, but this sounds like something else is going on for sure.

The one possibility that comes to my mind is a crooked neck. You want your neck to have some bow in it, but it sounds like it’s scooped out in the first 7 frets instead of a long even bow from the nut to the heel. There would be other issues, though, so I don’t know. You can check out a string height gauge here:

You can also watch this video and have saved yourself all the time of reading what I just wrote…haha

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Hey thanks all. @BanjoBen I can see the bow but I can’t really tell if it’s unusual.

Here is more accuracy about the tuning (i’ll indicate fret and +/- “cents” sharp/flat)… when you strike the string it’s always sharper and then goes flat so it’s hard to pinpoint these numbers accurately… but this is a rough idea of the patterns:

1st string: 0+0, 1+7, 2+10, 3+10, 4+8, 5+7, 6+7, 7+4, 8+4, 9+5, 10+2, 11+0, 12+0, 16-6, 17-7, 22-10
2nd string: roughly same as 1st
3rd string: 0+0, 1+9, 2+15, 3+17, 4+15, 5+17, 6+15, 7+15, 8+15, 9+12, 10+10, 11+10, 12+10, 16+6, 17+7, 22+3
4th string: 0+0, 1+10, 2+4, 3+4, 4+4, 5+2, 6+3, 7+3, 8+0, 9-3, 10-5, 11-4, 12-2, 16+5, 17+8, 22 (couldn’t read it)
5th string: 5+0, 6+12, 7+14, 8+12, 9+3, 10+2, 11+2, 12+2, 16+2, 17+2, 22-7

a 1-5 cent difference isn’t really that noticeable. But +10/12/15 is pretty noticeable

Anyway, for the most part strings 1-4 are pretty sharp from 1 thru 12. The third string is particularly bad as it’s sharp all the way up (that’s even with my bridge having a notch that is “further back” from the neck for the 3rd string). I’ve tried moving the bridge around quite a bit using the whole idea of “12th fret note compared to 12th fret harmonic note… getting them to match and having open string also in tune” and even doing that no matter what I do, that lower range is always pretty sharp.

String height:
Looks the same for each string to my eye.
Using the old calipers (I barely get to use these so very exciting! haha) (in mm/in)
1: 0.74/0.0295
5: 2.18/0.086
7: 2.28/0.09
12: 3.46/0.136
17: 3.98/0.157
22: 4.1/0.16

If I were to take it to get checked out like @Archie suggests, do you know a good person to take it to in Nashville @banjoben? Or maybe I’m just being too critical about it?

Thanks all.

Man that’s weird. Silly question, but worth asking. Is it possible the strings are old? I’ve seen one case where a set of strings had been played on so much it became impossible to set the intonation. It was a lot like what you’re describing.

I don’t know of anyone who’d be able to get it in and out very quickly. Bring it over to my house. It’ll be good to meet you and play your banjo. We can call Jake while you’re over here and see if he can mess us up even more :joy:

I’m in Mount Juliet. You take the OHB exit off 40 and head toward the lake. Shoot me an email at and we’ll figure out a time.


Well now I’m jealous. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


Now that’s what I call Great Customer Service Mr Clark.

Wow… now THAT is an example of the a person demonstrating the teaching passion and involvement. Ben is much more than just a teacher. He mentors and takes personal time/interest.

We are NOT in this alone… as one might fear from internet teaching. I feel a genuine sense of community and neighborly companionship amongst those found on the forum here… even as many are hundreds - even thousands of miles apart - as in the case of @Archie!

I had wondered if my particular situation with sharp fretted notes was somehow tied into the “bowing” of the neck… as my action seems high in the upper neck frets past 12th.

I had made sure my bridge was placed properly between harmonic and fretted notes at the 12th fret… but alas, the notes between are sharp - especially obvious when doing a “string tuning” without the Snark.

I will have to measure… and embarrassing as it is… my Banjo does have the original strings… so changing can only help!

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@WillCoop A good community is only created from good leadership. Over the past ten years I have been on lots of other teaching sites and banjo forums and on some I have been treated pretty badly so can say with all honesty none can compete with the level of service and commitment to their students than @BanjoBen has to offer his. It takes a lot of guts, commitment and $$$ to start with nothing except a dream and the skills the good Lord provided and go on to create a resource such as this.

Like many here I stumbled on Ben’s early attempts to teach banjo on YouTube, paper scribbling’s an all. I quickly warmed to his cheeky cheerful personality and after a trial period I had no hesitation to sign up as a Life Member. Over the years Ben has befriended me and continues to inspire me daily not just learning to play banjo but spiritually .

I know what it’s like struggling to learn on my own without proper guidance and also receive a lot of bad and time wasting advice. Anything I can do to help a fellow student or give a little something back is an honour for me.


Actually… is 8 months of playing every day for an hour or so considered old when talking about banjo strings? If so… then yeah they’re old.

I’m so used to bass guitar I don’t have a good frame of reference for banjo strings. (plus you can boil bass guitar strings and make them last longer… yeah it sounds weird but it works).

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Wow… thank you!

Oh man now I’m nervous… it’s like meeting a celebrity!


I assume you remove the strings from the guitar before chucking them into boiling water

No, I go 8 months pretty often without changing strings if I’m not going to be playing in front of anyone. As long as you’re sure they were new strings when you got it, I think you can check that off the list of possible problems.

Definitely go see Ben.


Don’t you mean Royalty Scott. Nothin to it Buddy I’ve met the Queen’s Daughter

Can you look down the neck from head to base and see if it looks twisted at all? Is the bridge OK? No bows or warps? I’m sure Ben will sort you out…heck we’ll all just come along…when’s the next plane from UK to US lol :wink:


@BanjoBen to the rescue! Thank you sir!

And yep @jonathanplymouth the first question was indeed the issue. So Ben looks at it… plays it (wow!) and then tweaks around with the bridge a bit and then takes a look down the neck and shows me the pretty obvious twist in the neck. The neck doesn’t seem warped, but where it attaches to the base it’s clearly not squared up. According to Jake (Jake Stogdill?) the neck, when assembled, probably wasn’t held in place very well when they tightened everything down and twisted a bit. You could especially see it after Ben took the back wooden thingy off (I know there’s a name for it but I don’t know what it is). Here’s a couple of pics:


You can see how the left side (1st string) is noticeably higher than near the 5th string.

So with his advice (and Jake’s) I was able to loosen everything up and get it alot closer to being squared up (there is quite a bit of play when everything is loosened up).

Here’s the after:

not perfect but pretty darn close… and the pictures aren’t the best but it’s much more straight now.

And boom! What a difference… after getting the bridge back in place and getting 0 and 12 in tune everything is so much better in tune now. The notes are a tick bit sharp still but no where near what it was and hardly noticeable. And the notes beyond the 12th fret are no longer flat like they were.

100 percent better!

Again Thanks for help @BanjoBen (and Jake)!