Banjo NewsLetter, March 2014

BNL: Any Changes in your banjo set-up?

BF: A couple of significant changes. I’m using a Zero Glide fret that Wayne of Gold Tone is promoting.

I tried it and agreed it was an improvement on my banjo. So right in front of the nut there is a fret. Instead of the strings sitting in the nut, they sit on the fret, and the nut just glides them to the pegs. Whenever you have a good luthier working on your banjo nut, they’ll make the nut the same height as a fret, so it is a continuation of the frets right to the beginning of the neck.

We used to see this on a lot of banjos in the 70’s and 80’s from Korea, and I always assumed it was a cheaper way to do the nut. It actually means the nut sounds exactly like the fretted notes. So if you’re doing music like I do, where you’re going back and forth from open to closed strings in different places up and down the neck, having them sound exactly the same is an improvement. I found it was a fuller sound. I’m a fan of that. There are claims that it improves tuning, as the sting is less likely to get caught in the nut.

And the other thing I changed was a thumb pick. I finally switched to a Blue Chip. I tried it before and did not like it when I used their banjo pick. It was too short for me. When I was in Telluride a couple years ago, and saw the Jerry Douglas model, I tried that one and thought it sounded really good. It’s long enough and has a great sound. I have been using that pick for well over a year and there is no wear on it. It sounds fuller and I don’t have to acclimate to a new pic every few months.

With the new thumb pick and the Zero Glide nut, when I saw Zakir Hussain after not seeing him for a while he said, “Your banjo sounds really different, and really good.” I thought so too, but I had gotten used to it. I didn’t realize what a difference it made

                                                                                                                                                                             Banjo NewsLetter, March 2014

Béla Fleck Interview by Jake Schepps