Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Discuss the Banjo lesson: Be An Educated Banjo Buyer

Buying an instrument can be an intimidating process, especially when you don’t know the folks you’re buying from! In this series, Jake gives us an education on the basics to look and listen for so that you can have confidence while shopping! (Or, you can just buy from my General Store and not worry about it.)


Jake mentions it’s worth it to replace the bridge with a higher-end product. Would you be willing to suggest a higher end bridge(s) from the Banjo Ben Store that I could order? Would like to brighten the tone on my Flatiron Banjo a bit. Adjusting the tailpiece to 3/8" off the drum head helped enourmously!

Also, a question I might have for Jake, is something that alot of Banjo players probably ponder on: Is there a good way to clean a banjo? Specifically around the drum? I find that short of dismantling the banjo, it’s essentially almost impossible to clean all the hardware. Is there a ‘magic-bullet’ solution?

Thanks! Neil (Waterloo, Iowa)

Hi Neil, Many many years ago I replaced my bog standard Fender bridge for a Snuffy Smith original bridge after recommendation by a banjo expert. Back then I lacked any knowledge of banjos and followed the advice offered to me. The bridge has served me well for 11 years and I feel the advice given to me was good. I see many top banjo players using a Snuffy Smith bridge, it has a distinctive logo hot branded into the wood. Since I purchased my bridge I do believe Snuffy passed away and the company changed hands,


I’ll second the Snuffy. To add to that recommendation, when I went to buy it, Jake hit me up and recommended the JD Crowe spacing, and I love it.

Here’s the link.

Hello Mark. Quick question and sorry to bug you, but what is the difference in “JD Crowe Spacing” ? I’m a little nervous presenting my motor skills with an alternate spacing…if this is the case. Are the strings wider apart? Or more narrow? Thanks.

Slightly wider apart. For me, it meant less string missing or picking 2 strings at once. As long as I had been playing on standard spacing, I was surprised at how natural the Crowe spacing felt.

Yeah, I’ve got pretty big fingers…maybe the Crowe spacing would work. With large fingers it’s easy to have a false stroke on inside-rolls with the middle finger on the 2nd string. You can relate to this I’m sure. A tiny bit more space might be helpful as long as the 1st and 4th don’t fall off the fretboard due to the spacing. Maybe I’ll order one here and see how it goes. The slightly higher version might help my fretted string buzz too. Thanks Mark.

oops… removed as this was not the appropriate thread for my question!

Thanks for the quick tips on each of the three instruments! Prior to joining up as a gold pick member to learn banjo, I never would have considered purchasing a mandolin or a guitar…but now I’m no so sure! This is a useful and practical topic, and expect to refer back to it again.

1 Like

@Jake, great guitar video. And it looks like Dean’s guitar had ALL of the issues you mentioned (was that a little crack on the nape? was the fretboard “gouged” a little? Definite creases in those frets, top cracks, split crack on the end pin, etc.). Very informative!



This is a very interesting insight… but I was curious as to how and why the bridge is a good place to start.

What I mean to ask is… In what ways does the better bridge enhance the sound? Also, what are your feelings about sanding the bottom to essentially lower the action? Is this a risky think to do when you buy a “better” bridge… Or is that not a good idea?

My Banjo just died but I had done this with the original bridge that came with it because the action up the neck seemed too high.

Any feedback is appreciated… :grinning::facepunch:

It’s all about tone transfer from the strings to the head. Think of it like this. If your bridge were made of rubber, you’d get bad sound transfer and the tone would be muddy. If you used something solid like steel, you might get better transfer, but the tone would probably be super bright and tinny. So a good bridge will hit that sweet spot, or Goldilocks zone for the right transfer.

I’ve done it. You just have to make sure your sanding surface is flat and that pressure on the bridge is positioned properly so that you’re not sanding either end (or either side!) unevenly. That’s a lot harder than it sounds, though, so I would recommend starting with some small tweaks to the coordinator rods first.


Thanks @Mark_Rocka.

Good advice! I appreciate it.

1 Like