Banjos Heads – Calf Skin or New Technology?
Banjos originated hundreds of years ago somewhere on the African continent. They were brought over to America in the 17th century along with the African slaves. These “banjars” as the African’s called them, were made up of animal skin (also known as “vellum”) tacked on to a hollowed half of a gourd with three or four strings stretched over a planed stick. The strings were usually made from waxed horsehair or gut. Gut? Not terribly appetizing, but a musical instrument non the less and the beginning of a musical adventure in history – the evolution of the Banjo.
Today most banjos heads are made of mylar plastic or simulated calf skins which are also called Fibreskyns. Although you can still buy banjos (and banjo heads alone) made with authentic calf skin, it’s not as common and more costly.
The downside of calf skin heads is that they are affected by moisture. Humidity causes the head to become loose which then causes the banjo to lose high end response. Dry days would likely cause the head to shrink and tighten, which often lead to breaking.
Deering Banjos explains the difference between White Frosted Banjo Heads and Fibreskyn Banjo Heads. They have some video as well so you can hear the difference.
TOP FROSTED: crisp, bright, with a quick, snappy note response without too much sustain. Because the head has a slightly sand paper hard coating on the top, the bridge does not shift too easily if bumped/adjusted. This helps give the fast finger picking passages clarity with good note distinction and somewhat stifle some of the unwanted sustain.
FIBERSKYN: intended to approximate the look as well as the sound of the old calfskin heads. This head has a warm, round tone; oftentimes called a “plunky” or Appalachian mountain sound. Note distinction is not sharp but is deeper toned, with a roundness that works well with any playing style. Because of its appearance, this banjo is also a great choice for those players who are part of the re-enactment groups or those who are looking for a very traditional appearance.
We have banjos in stock here at Acoustic Vibes with all the above heads- Come in and try them for yourself?
*Disclaimer: Acoustic Vibes Music, Inc does not own any of these photographs. All information in this blog was found on the internet, at frets.com and at deeringbanjos.com*