How to Fit a Natural Calf Skin Banjo Head
Unfortunately, skin heads do not last forever. There are many different arrangements for tensioning heads
on instruments e.g. top tension, bottom tension,
hooks and shoes but the actual technique of fitting a head is generally the
same for all.
The first job is to remove the bridge and the strings. Save
the bridge and discard the strings. If they have been on
for two years, now's the time to replace them.
Remove the tension screws and the bezel and lift off the
old head from the body of the instrument.
Extract the ring out of the head.
Clean and polish all parts ensuring any rust spots are
New calf skin heads are usually 10 inches in diameter
with a pencil ring drawn on topside of the head which is
the smooth side. This upper (playing) surface should be
quite smooth and the whole head should have a
consistent thickness and texture.
Make sure you know which side is which.
Immerse the head in lukewarm water for about 10
minutes until soft and pliable.
Remove from water and place on a dry towel. Gently roll
it up in the towel so that all the excess moisture is
Place the damp head into position over the body,
ensuring that it is the right way up, and position the
square section fixing ring ready to slide on.
You may need assistance with this part of the operation -
push the ring down over the soft head. It is a fairly tight
On some instruments this ring may be split to allow
Now place the bezel on top of the drum body and
gradually pull the edge of the head through.
You will have to fit tension screws loosely every other
hole as you work round easing the head through, until all
the skin is pulled through. As you go round ease the fixing
ring upwards so that it is in contact with the underside of
Fit the remainder of the tension screws. Begin to tighten
them all gradually ensuring that the head is pulled
through tightly and there are no wrinkles present. Work
from opposite sides, tensioning the screws a little at a
time until the top of the bezel is about 3 mm above the
surface of the head.
Leave for about 24 hours for the head to thoroughly dry
When the head is dry it will have become quite stiff. Make a pencil mark where the tailpiece fits so that the
head can be replaced in the same position. Remove all the tension screws, take off the bezel and
gradually slide the head complete with fixing ring off the
drum of the instrument.
Now that it is dry the skin will be formed into shape around the fixing ring.
Taking great care, trim off the excess skin with a sharp
pair of scissors to just below the surface of the head.
Replace the head complete with its fixing ring back on
the drum in the same position as prior to removal.
Fix bezel in position and enter all tension screws - not forgetting to fit the tailpiece.
Tighten all the tension screws gradually working again
from opposite sides until the bezel stands above the
head by 2 mm.
Fit new strings and set the bridge position at twice the
distance from the nut to the twelfth fret initially, final
adjustments being made with an electronic tuner.
Tune up the instrument to the required key.
New strings will need constant attention as they stretch
over a period of a few days.
Over the next few days, tighten the head a little turning each tension screw no more than quarter of a turn at a
time pulling down the bezel and increasing tension on the head.