I have only been playing banjo since December, but I am already changing out the parts! Today I installed a new bridge, handmade by Tim Purcell. I ordered it from his site.
Tim makes bridges out of many different types of wood, some of it reclaimed from old buildings and sunken logs. Because I am playing clawhammer, Tim recommended a bridge made of Black Locust.
I installed the bridge on my Deering Goodtime Americana. Deering makes a new bridge that they call a “smile” bridge that has the outside feet shorter than the center to compensate for the concave nature of the banjo head. Reviews of this bridge are very positive, but it costs $45. Tim Purcell’s handmade bridges are only $22, and as you can see in the picture, they also have the curve on the feet.
Does it sound better? Well, the difference is subtle, but I think so. I hesitate to post audio files of my banjo playing because I am such a beginner, but remember that I have only been playing for four months. I will upload two versions of my shaky rendition of Old Joe Clark recorded with my iPhone 5 SE.
Original Stock Deering Goodtime Bridge:
New Tim Purcell Black Locust Bridge:
As you can tell from the clips, I am not yet anywhere good enough to justify swapping out bridges. However, I would say that the Purcell bridge has a bit more old timey “chong” than the Deering bridge. What is “chong” you ask? I’m not really sure. It is a technical banjo term I just made up.
Update: After playing a few more tunes I can definitely say that this Black Locust bridge gives a richer sound with more bass and better note definition. Notes up the neck, which sounded a bit muffled before, now have more clarity and punch. It’s a keeper! Now I just have to keep practicing and learn to play better.