Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Railroad spikes

can some one explain to me railroad sipkes and how they are used to play in different chords…I play guitar and understand the use of the capo… but having a problem understanding how the spikes are used…and the relationship or tuning of the high G string if you use the spikes. I’ve not really been able to find much info how the subject.

thanks for your help

When you capo the first five frets of a banjo, the capo will not affect the high G 5th string (I think it’s the 5th string, anyway, it’s the short string).

The railroad spikes (so called because they are parts from HO Scale toy train equipment) allow you capo this string by holding the string down behind the fret. So if you use a capo on the second fret, then you use the spike to hold down the string behind the 7th fret.

thanks, i appreciate the response…this banjo thing is a little different…but will keep working and praticing

For songs in A flat (1st fret) up to C (5th fret) you can capo the fifth string together with the lower four strings, using railroad spikes. The position of th spikes can vary, I have em at the 2nd, 4th and 5th fret, so A, B and C but for b flat I will capo the fifth string at the 2nd fret (A) and tune up the string half a note. I read somewhere that experienced banjo players won’t capo at the fifth fret anyway because they will play songs in C without a capo, so in open G tuning.

Songs in D are played using the open G tuning, but with the fifth string either tuned up OR capoed at the 2nd fret. This will change the standard gDGBD into aDGBD. For songs in E and F you can then again tune up all strings equally.

Not sure what your plans are, but I have found several remarks that it is wisest to let spikes be installed by an expert, as this is a tricky thing to do correctly (position of the spike will affect the banjo, too tight/loose, sharp edges etc). Unless you are a very handy guy, of course… In that case, I have a little bag with six spikes here plus there is a very clear YouTube vid about installing spikes :wink: !

Yep if not familiar with the qualities of wood and what can happen when you force the spike with out pre drilling can cause extensive damage to the fret board and you may have to replace possible the whole neck . I do my own rail road spikes but not every one is inclined to understand the limits of woods so if you are not sure please pay a professional to do that for you . I don’t think they charge that much to install them . Music touches the soul of man !

— Begin quote from "welder4"

…I don’t think they charge that much to install them…

— End quote

Any idea how much we’re talking here? I called Guitar Center today and he said he would install them for $15 each.

I know nothing about it, but $15 seems pretty steep. If it were mine, I’d order some and stick them in myself.
Here’s a page that gives some how-to (from respected instrument repair person, Frank Ford). … pike1.html
On the “more” page he shows how to remove them as well. Seems like a fun and easy project with little chance of severe problems. I have a numbered drill bit set that would cover whatever size the spikes are and you can get a cheapy numbered drill bit set for about the price of GC installing a single spike.

I think you’d be much better off checking the area for a reputable luthier who regularly works on banjos. a box store is not normally the best place to have instruments worked on.

People have done this themselves with varying results from "it worked’ to “I need a new fingerboard now”. Again you should get advice from someone who regularly services/sets up/builds banjos.

Would you let the staff at Menards repair your house just because they deal in building materials?

Or Kmart could install spikes because they sell guitars too?

Spikes are banjo specific and a banjo is not a guitar.

Welp, yall convinced me. Any idea how to find a good luthier?

first link is to repair forum

and here is one to some Texas pickers that you could ask.

It’s taken me awhile, but I finally found a luthier in my area (3 hours away, actually) that has good reviews and is recommended by the several local musical instrument stores.

I’m still not sure what a good price is, but he’s charging me $10 per spike. I figure I’d rather pay him the money instead of me messing up the frets and paying to have those fully repaired.

I’m having them put on the 7th, 9th, and 10th frets. I think that should pretty much cover me at jam?

Dang… I was hoping you were gonna come over and let me experiment on your banjo :laughing:

I have no idea what is “normal” for spikes, but I suspect what you listed will cover most needs. You can also drop the tuning of that string to match many more keys as needed.

Many will put one at 8th fret for Bb. But you can always tune the string.

The 10th is optional as the G note open of the 5th string is part of the C chord. also the key of C can be played both un-capoed out of a C position or capoed at 5th out of G position with the 5th string at the normal G note.

It is also possible to tune the fifth string up a 1/2 step and use the 9th fret spike for the keys of C and F.

All just depends on your preference. Some use 4 spikes and some use three. I have been told it is a bit harder to get 4 of them sounding right, with no buzzing, though.

I’m betting you will spend much more time playing out of Bb than C (unless there is a woman singing lead) though in mornal jam circumstances.

Just picked up my banjos. I had no idea I would experience such separation anxiety last night.

— Begin quote from "fiddlewood"

Many will put one at 8th fret for Bb. But you can always tune the string.

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Funny you say that fiddlewooed. I intended to put a spike at Bb, and just had a brain fart I guess. I oftentimes get flats and sharps mixed up, and this is one of those times. I went into the shop and originally told him 7,8,9 and then called him back 10 min later and told him to change it to 7,9,10. Bah!

Oh well. Lesson learned. I can still tune to Bb. And maybe now I’ll be the one to discover that long lost B#.

For A tuning can you just capo fret 2 and tune 5th to A. Not sure as the string seems really tight. I play classical guitar so the G string is causing me some havoc :sunglasses:

— Begin quote from "tertom"

For A tuning can you just capo fret 2 and tune 5th to A. Not sure as the string seems really tight.

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I’ve heard a lot of people do that. I’ve also heard of some people tuning the 5th string up to Bb. They also recommend carrying an extra set of strings with you if you tune it that high.

Thanks -anyone out there had busted strings changing 5th G to an A?

Here is a question though. Are installing the spikes really recommended? I read a page about how they are the best thing since sliced bread, and that all the pros use them. But who out there actually does? I stumbled across an article about them the other day and I was shocked that I had never heard of these before!

I have spikes on both my banjos. I’ll use them when I use a capo and for some odd tunings. I learned a version of Angelina Baker (or Angeline the Baker) where you play tuned to open G but spike the 5th string at A (so it makes it easy to play in D).

If you plan on playing with other instruments, then you’re probably going to have to capo (unless the others want to play all night in G and C) and in that case, the spikes will come in pretty useful. So yes, many players use them.

There is also a 5th string capo if you don’t like the idea or the feeling of little pieces of metal in the fretboard. There are installation complications with this as well.

I’ve had spikes on all but one of my banjos…the other had a 5th string capo that I really didn’t like…got in the way of my thumb and didn’t work well.