Monday, April 7, 2014

Jeffrey Weitzel Banjo Bridge: Test Drive


On 7 April I received this maple bridge from Jeff Weitzel, designer and builder of Weitzel Banjos (http://weitzelbanjo.com) who offered a bunch of perks -- including his own recipe for a five string bridge --  in a kickstarter-like effort to finance his experiments aimed at melding traditional banjo shapes and new designs.  His website is worth a visit.  He’s got some exciting innovations, and his designs pair these inventive forms with a reverence for traditional building choices, and tasteful, artistic wood selection. 

I asked for a 5/8 inch bridge, and as a consequence I could only put it on my A scale.  I’ll go back to Jeffrey later and buy myself a 6/8 incher so I can see how these bridges do on my standard scale banjos. 

Here’s my test drive video:



The banjo you see in this video is a Style S Vega pot – probably off of a banjo mandolin from the late 1920s – grafted onto a Wyatt Fawley neck. 

The only change I had to make to the bridge was to deepen the slots for the first and fifth strings; I tend to have a sledgehammer approach to down picking, and once I made those changes the first and fifth strings stayed in place, standing up to my hard playing attack.

There’s a good bit of mass to this bridge, and it produces precisely the kind of thump I like.  I can’t say the bridge made the banjo sound brighter, nor can I say it softened the sound.  I can say that the bridge sharpened the sound each string gives off, and maybe made for a little bit more volume, and crack, always good with a little banjo like this one.   It did give each string a good amount of tension so that they each stand up to hard playing.  I like the feeling of bridge stability that I’m getting on the Remo Weather King head.  I would guess that the mass and dimension of the bridge at each foot would provide good stability on a skin head. 

I like playing “musical bridges” with my banjos, and I’ll try all sorts of newfangled bridge innovations just on the possibility that something new might change things up in either the direction I like for my sound, or in a potentially exciting new and unanticipated trajectory.  This bridge gives me a little bit of each – a solidification of the formula I look for in a bridge, plus some unexpected dividends. 
--> After playing it for a while, the Weitzel bridge does add some depth to the fourth string, as far as I can tell, and it also lets that string stand out and stand in good balance with the rest of the strings.   I should say that sometimes, to my ear, an A scale banjo can sound like a toy instrument.  Cranking it up a few frets can to my ear sound a bit tin-like but this banjo gives my A scale a serious sound, and gives me what I would describe as sharply defined notes. 

I’m going to keep this one on the A scale banjo and as a consequence I’m going to look forward to playing this little one more.

Standard Banjo Disclaimer:  I have no entangling alliances with Weitzel Banjos.  I enjoyed Jeffrey’s website explanations of his experiments, and got myself a bridge and a cap emblazoned with his logo as the perks that came with throwing some pocket change at his crowd financing effort. 

Play hard,

Lew



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