How to Tighten and Tune a Banjo Head

Updated March 23, 2017

Banjos are stringed instruments played in many different genres of music, including folk, country and bluegrass. Most banjos have four strings on the main neck of the banjo and one string above the fret board, which is shorter and higher than the others. Tightening a banjo head helps the instrument have a richer tone, and tuning the banjo allows you to accurately play songs.

Place a soft chamois loosely over the brackets of the banjo head. This will help prevent scratching and damage to the banjo while you are adjusting the head.

Place the wrench on the banjo head brackets. Gently turn the wrench and bracket clockwise to tighten the head. Turn it approximately a quarter of a turn.

Place the straight edge on the front of the bridge, with the edge hanging over it. Check to see where the strings align on the straight edge. Generally, banjo heads should be tightened so the strings fall between 1/16 to 1/30 of an inch above the bridge bracket.

Place the wrench back on the bracket and turn it clockwise to tighten it. Continue tightening, loosening and measuring until the head is at the standard tightness, or the tightness you prefer.

Turn on your digital tuner or strike your tuning fork. Pluck the first string of the banjo as you normally would when playing it. Keep your hand on the tuning peg so you can make adjustments as you play.

Compare the reading of the digital tuner to the note you are trying to achieve, usually a D with standard banjo tuning. Continue to compare the reading while turning the tuning peg and plucking the string. Turn the peg to make the string tighter for a flat string, or loosen it if the note is sharp. If you are using a tuning fork, follow this same process, adjusting the string until it matches the pitch of the fork.

Repeat this process with all the strings on the banjo. Standard banjo tuning has the second string in G, the third string is an octave lower in D, and the fourth string is another octave lower in B. The top short string is tuned to G, an octave higher than the second string which is also tuned to G.

Double check the tuning by playing a chord, or going through a picking pattern and making sure the notes are being played in tune.

Things You'll Need

  • Banjo
  • Small wrench
  • Digital tuner or tuning fork
  • Straight edge
  • Chamois
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About the Author

Tatyana Ivanov has been a freelance writer since 2008 and has contributed articles to "Venus" and "Columbus Family." She continues to write humor pieces for a number of popular culture blogs. Ivanov holds a Bachelor of Arts in media studies from Hunter College.