The banjo is considered to be one of the most adjustable musical instruments in existence.  Fortunately, an infinite range of tone(al) abilities and response degrees can be obtained through certain adjustments.

First, let's define "SET-UP", and then "TONE CHAMBER TUNING", as they are individual procedures that work hand-in-hand to result in the optimum performance of your banjo.

Your banjo should be adjusted to perform in harmony with your current ability as a player. After 35 years of playing the banjo, I personally can say that as your ability to play progresses, the set-up of your instrument will become an extremely important component in your quest to be the musician you want to be. This applies not only to the banjo, but to any musical instrument, in relation to the player.

The term "Set-Up" refers partially, to the adjustment of string height, neck pitch, bridge height, proper alignment of strings, and several other key tolerance issues that result in correct intonation, ease of playing the instrument, and the maximum output of volume and tone.

String gauge is a crucial factor that must be considered at the beginning of the set-up procedure. Playing "styles" also determine further height/action tolerances on the neck. My experiences range from using heavy gauge strings, as a youthful member of Jimmy Martins Sunny Mountain Boys, to more of a "tone and accuracy" inspired Studio environment set-up.

I will profile each individual on specific personal preferences key to their technique, and the characteristics of their banjo, to custom tailor each set-up. I have owned many fine original pre-war "Flathead" Mastertones in the past, and have learned a great deal about their tonal abilities, and more importantly, how to achieve and retrieve the tone from the instrument. This knowledge is certainly applicable to your banjo. This introduces us to a more refined procedure I call Tone Chamber Tuning.

The Flathead Mastertone Guarantee Label
Serial #66-5 circa  1935 Kalamazoo, Mich.
Un-touched  *  Un-equaled  *  Un-believable

At this point, the trained ear (for vintage tone) and the understanding of the Mastertone design concept, merged with an investment of time, and adjustment, are key factors that will deliver the response your banjo is designed to produce. For the past 20 years or so, I have earned an income performing on a number of vintage 1930's Gibson flathead banjos. I am of the opinion that even the newer banjos of this quality and design are capable of producing vintage sound, similar to what we all want, through this process of tuning the tone chamber. I have seen very favorable results from new banjos time and time again. I have developed a methodical approach to achieve those results from most any new high quality Mastertone style banjo.

For some time now, we have been hearing the term "Pre-War Sound". The "Pre-War" sound of these "acoustic marvels from old Kalamazoo" must first, "live" and "be" in your mind and memory before you can truly acquire the ability to recognize "Pre-War" sound when you hear it. We have the luxury today to buy this or that tone-ring, try this new "pre-war formula" whatever and "go for" the "pre-war" sound. Well, here is the reality of the matter. Until you have heard in person, the many different voices (actual pre-war flathead banjos) of this tonal phenomenon, for many years, day in and day out, as I have, you may not be grasping the full understanding of the meaning of "Pre-War Sound".

There is a "common thread" these banjos possess in tone and in sheer power. The sound is un-mistakable when you know what to listen for. "Tonal Awareness" you could say, in its' finest form. Just ask anyone who owns an original flathead Mastertone. We have a common bond.

It is my desire to further explore and bring forth a similar tone and power found in these vintage banjos to your banjo. This is the most time consuming aspect of the service I render. Working in a consistent, clean, smoke free and pet free environment, I know I can improve the performance of your banjo. I have a current understanding of most products on the market today that relate to pre-war banjo specs. Tone-rings, etc... I am devoting my time to build this business to go along with my present musical career. I am looking forward to helping folks achieve their desires which lie from within their banjo. I am very fortunate to have this knowledge, to have owned several great pre-war flathead Gibson banjos in the past, and to have learned this aspect of the Gibson banjo from the many great banjo players and innovators who have carved out their careers on these special instruments. If I sound like I'm some kind of "privileged character", you'd better believe that I am! To be here in the same community with so many of these legendary Masters of the banjo, and to share with them in the interest of these old flatheads, I am truly privileged.

Reflecting on "Pre-War Formula" new parts on the market today, we can all surely benefit from the efforts set forth by these entrepreneurs. We, as the banjo community, are so fortunate to have these people who love the same thing we do, to take their intelligence, their time, and their money, and invest it in the refinement and fruition of vintage banjo sound. I believe the banjos being made today by the large companies and by your local luthier are at a new high standard. I have had very satisfying results in doing complete set-ups on newer Gibson (reissue) banjos and custom built banjos. I feel this is largely due to the high quality of workmanship and parts found in these new banjos. The fact that the parts are built to pre-war specs is always a key factor in sound reproduction. I would even go so far as to say that in some newer banjos that I have set-up, the "common thread" mentioned previously, is somewhat apparent. Occasionally, in a new banjo, the "common thread" is so present, it seems miraculous. But in reality, it is proof that the focus on re-creating the essence of the classic pre-war banjo has in some instances, manifested.

Please contact me via Email for information and terms regarding banjo set-up and tone chamber tuning. I will also be working along side some of the builders and luthiers in the Nashville area who can access my services for you while your instrument is in their shop.

One closing thought to consider, your banjo should be in good repair before securing the services that I offer. Should you need assistance in that department, I will be glad to provide some options for you. Just let me know.

Together, I feel we can bring your banjo, old or new, up to and even to exceed in many cases, the sound and performance that you expect from your investment.

Thank you in advance for your time and the consideration that you have allowed me. I look forward to hearing from you.

   Charlie Cushman

Email Charlie, if you would like to discuss Banjo Set-up and/or Tone Chamber Tuning further.

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