Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Maybe a dumb question

What are overtones? I keep reading about overtones, and I’m not sure exactly what they are. For example, I bought a new tailpiece from the store because I don’t like the look of the one I have without the cover, and I abhor the cover. It claims to “tame overtones”.

Thanks in advance!


The best way I can explain it is: Grab your banjo, play the third string relatively loudly, and listen for the other strings ringing out— those are overtones; at least, I think they are.


I think Michael_Mark is on the right track. They are notes that don’t really belong. They don’t ring out as if you picked them, they just sorta mix in with the note you did pick, so that your note doesn’t sound quite right.
In the case of your tailpiece, the overtones may be coming from that short bit of string from the bridge to where the tailpiece makes contact. By dampening the vibration of that short string, it eliminates the overtones they may produce.
I hear the right tailpiece is also good at scaring away tigers. I don’t suppose you have seen any around your place since you bought it?
I’ll bet this guy wishes he had a banjo!

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Overtones (frequencies greater than the fundamental) can be very good and provide more complex sound. If your strings just provided the fundamental without harmonic overtones, you would probably be putting a new set of strings on. The story is much more complicated than this – check out wikipedia which has more than a person really needs on the subject. Sympathetic vibration is on the other hand not usually welcome.