October 22, 2010 by Tim
When I purchased my vintage banjo uke, I knew I was taking a chance that it would be a wall hanger. The head was torn and I had never replaced a banjo head or tried anything like that before, but I figured what the hell, how hard could it be? It is not hard to do once you know how, but finding out how ro replace a head of an in-line banjo ukulele compared to a regular banjo head with the outside brackets proved to be impossible. That is why I wrote this. So that someone else who is looking for how to do this may find something on it.
What was I suppose to do? I e-mailed Elderly music and asked and they responded with instructions on how to do it for a normal banjo. It even came with a PDF, but not what I needed. I was happy that they at least took the time to respond since they really could have offered to fix it and I would pay them. I searched and searched and stumbled on to Aaron Keims Ebay listing for a banjo uke with an in-line head like mine. So I messaged him (Yeah we are friends on Facebook, but really he has a billion friends) and he replied with a simple set of instructions that basically said to just do it and not to tighten it all the way. it made sense since you tighten a regular head after it dries so leaving room to tighten seemed good. thankfully I had enough to do it twice.
Any how, thank you Aaron for taking the time to reply and giving me the confidence to do it.
Here is how to replace an in-line ukulele banjo head
1. take the old head off. Just loosen each screw a little at a time and moving around the ring until they are all loose. You could just take each screw out, but I worry that the tension on the existing head will make the screw holes widen when it pulls on them. Do it how you like, I might be weird. (NOTE: The first step normally would be to mark the orientation of the outside ring, but I figure the ring is old and needs paint. If not painting make a line on the ring and body so you know how it was before you took it off. Old instruments are not perfectly round)
2. Prep the outside ring and body. The outside ring on mine was rusty so I took a wire brush to it and then sprayed it a flat black. Paint all sides of it, it will get wet when installing the new head. For the body make sure that none of the old head in the space where the ring holds the head down. It can be stuck or slightly glued. As a precaution I filled the screw holes with a small dab of glue. I do this to close the holes a little. The holes will not completely close and will leave a dent for you to feel where the screw goes. Give it a day or two to harden and for the paint to dry on the outer ring. Now is also the time to do any sanding/refinishing/repairs to the body and neck. You will not want to take the head off once you get it back on.
3. So you think you are ready to put the head on? Let us do some prep work to avoid some easy mistakes. As I mentioned before, the body is not perfectly round. The outer and inner ring will usually fit one way. Find that orientation where they just fit. The outer ring will just fall in and match-up with the screw holes. Once you have the orientation make a pencil mark on the ring and body to help when you are installing the head.
4. Cut the head to size. Some people will cut and oversized piece then trim later, but I found that wastes the head material. I just put the body down and traced it. Where the neck is just finish drawing the circle. I also made sure to cut my head as close to the edge of the larger 14″ piece as I can. If you do that you can get 2 heads out of it if you mess up the first one. Once you have a circle drawn on the skin cut it out. Mark the smooth side because you will not be able to tell when you are putting the head on because it is wet. Just a small pencil mark on and edge will do. I wrote TOP.
5. Now you have a stiff piece of goat skin cut to size. How do you stretch it and make it bend o your will? I like to torture it with really hot water. Find a bucket or something that would cover the skin if it was standing on its side (That is how it will float, very surreal looking) I used a small cooler. Fill it with the hottest tap water you can and soak the skin for 5 minutes. While it soaks get everything you need to install the head with in arms reach of where you are going to do the deed. Once you start you have a limited time before it starts to get stiff again.
6. Pull the head out once it has soaked for 5 minutes and dry it with the towel. I just put it on the towel and rolled it in the towel to get the surface water off.
7. Make sure the inner ring is in place and laying flat and lay the head on the body. Make sure that the smooth side is up and that it is centered as possible.
8. place the outer ring on making sure that the pencil lines are aligned. Press down the outer ring until it is half way in.
9 . Take your awl and poke a hole through the head at each hole of the outer ring.
10. Insert the screws into each hole and screw them in until they are flush with the outer ring as it is halfway in.
At this point you are now tightening the head and things can get really hard.
11. Start going around the outer ring and tightening the screws a few turns at a time until it is just level with the body. You can tighten more but don’t, you need room to tighten after it drys. A note; I found it almost impossible tighten it as I got it close to level with the body. I found that pushing the ring in with my fingers a little then tightening down to meet the ring really helped, you just need really strong hands.
12. Let the head dry for at least 5 days (longer if you live in a humid environment). You will feel that it dry the next day but it may still be wet under the outer ring so give it time.
13. Once it is dry try to tighten the screws a quarter to a whole turn to do a final tighten. Tap to make sure it sounds generally the same all the way around and tighten low sounding spots. You will never be able to tune the head like a regular banjo so don’t go crazy.
I hope this all made sense. I am sorry there are not more pictures. I got caught up in doing it and did not take a ton of pictures. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments so others can see them, or feel free to e-mail me with questions. Either way I will do my best to answer you.
The Post on what and all I did to the this uke to make it playable is in this post.