The vellum on a banjo is the membrane behind the strings and the bridge of the instrument that vibrates when the strings are plucked. Traditionally, vellum is made from a specially treated and stretched calf's hide. However, plastic membranes are available for the instrument as well. Vellums usually need to be changed every few years because they can absorb moisture and disintegrate over time. The sound of a banjo will change as the vellum gets older.
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Things you need
- Banjo key (for tension screws)
- Cotton rags
Strip your banjo. Remove the strings and the bridge. According to the site Banjo Ukulele, if your strings have been on the banjo for two years or more, you should discard them. Set the bridge aside for reuse.
Remove the tension screws using the banjo key and the old vellum. Once you unscrew the tension screws, you should be able to lift the ring or bezel off the front of the banjo and remove the old vellum. Generally, there is another ring inside the vellum, which you should remove and keep for later use.
Clean the inside of your banjo. Vellum can absorb humidity and transfer it to the inside of your instrument. Clean any dust and rust spots from the interior of the banjo using cotton rags.
Soak the new vellum in water. Your new vellum should be hard and difficult to work with until you soak it in water. It will need to stay immersed for at least 10 minutes before it is soft enough to unroll and stretch over your banjo's vellum hoop. Remove it from the water and lay it on a towel to absorb excess water.
Position the vellum over the banjo. Make sure that the vellum has the right side facing up. The right side of the vellum should be smoother than the wrong side. Additionally, the wrong side can often have manufacturer's markings, stamps or pencil lines. Replace the fixing ring for the vellum carefully, ensuring that no wrinkles appear on the surface.
Replace the bezel onto the front of the banjo, and begin to pull the excess vellum through it. Banjo Ukulele advises tightening every other tensioning screw as you pull the vellum through. After you have finished, tighten the rest of the tensioning screws. Let the vellum sit for approximately 24 hours so it can dry completely to the shape of your banjo.
Remove the bezel and the vellum. You will need to carefully trim the vellum so that it fits properly into the banjo, but not so short that it can become loose. Trim around the edge of the vellum ring on the inside.
Reassemble your banjo. Take care to tighten the tensioning screws equally, as an uneven tension can affect the sound of your instrument. Replace the bridge and restring the banjo.
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