How to Use the Pocket-Dial
The Pocket-Dial is easy to use. Just follow these steps:
- Select the scale you want to use – Simple, Skin or Standard
- Calibrate your Pocket-Dial for that particular scale.
- Measure your banjo head’s tension.
- Adjust your banjo head’s tension as needed.
Step 1 – Select Scale
The Pocket-Dial face has three scales to choose from:
- Simple Scale (blue)
The blue “Simple” scale is based upon a simple 0 to 10 point scale. Most banjo players prefer to adjust their head to a reading of “10.” One or two points higher will produce a tighter and brighter tone; one or two points lower will produce a looser & warmer tone.
- Skin Scale (brown)
The brown “Skin” scale is intended for banjos with natural heads like goatskin or calfskin. Due to the varying surface texture and stiffness of natural heads, it is typically difficult to adjust the tension to a specific number reading across the entire surface of the head. Also, aiming for a specific number can result in over-adjusting one or more specific areas of the head, resulting in an uneven tension hoop or possibly damaging the skin. Instead of aiming for a specific number, the Skin scale presents a target “green-zone” corresponding to the range of readings preferred by most players with natural skin banjo heads.
- Standard Scale (black)
The black “Standard” scale utilizes the standard machinist’s dial scale as found on other precision mechanical measuring instruments. Most banjo players prefer to adjust their head to a reading of “90,” which corresponds to “10” on the blue Simple scale. Again, one or two points higher will produce a tighter and brighter tone; one or two points lower will produce a looser & warmer tone.
Step 2 – Calibrate Device
After deciding upon the scale you want to use (Simple, Skin or Standard), calibrate your Pocket-Dial for that particular scale.
Hold the Pocket-Dial firmly against a very hard and flat surface (i.e., granite countertop, glass mirror, etc.) with the probe tip pointing into the surface.
- Slightly loosen the thumbscrew that locks the dial face.
- While holding the device firmly against the flat surface, slowly turn the dial face until the needle points exactly towards the calibration mark (the “target” symbol above each scale name) corresponding to the scale you plan to use.
- Gently re-tighten the thumbscrew to lock the dial face orientation.
- Your Pocket-Dial is now calibrated and ready to use for the scale you have selected.
Note: It does not matter where the needle points when not using the Pocket-Dial. The only critical factor is that the needle points to the selected scale’s calibration point when held firmly on a hard, flat surface.
Step 3 – Measure Tension
To measure the tension of your banjo head:
- Hold the Pocket-Dial firmly on the surface of your banjo head near the outer edge. If you press really hard, particularly on a very loose head, you can distort the reading.
- Lift, relocate and place again. Do not drag or slide the Pocket-Dial across the head surface as this may cause scuff marks.
- Check the measurement at 5 to 6 places around the outer edge of the head and note the readings.
You can do this with or without strings installed as it will not measurably affect the reading in the target tension range.
Step 4 – Adjust Tension
To adjust the tension of your banjo head, follow these steps:
- If you have a resonator style banjo, carefully remove the resonator back.
- Use a properly fitting wrench to tighten or loosen your tension nuts as needed. Turn them just a little bit at a time, – perhaps just an 1/8 or 1/4 turn each, and work your way around the rim.
- Use the Pocket-Dial to check your readings again, then repeat step 2 as needed until target tension is achieved.
If your banjo has a synthetic head, try to optimize your tone by adjusting a little more or less in certain areas to get the same number reading across the entire surface. If your banjo head is natural skin, don’t worry about the numbers, – just use the skin scale and aim for readings grouped in the green zone.
Use this table as a rough guide to help determine your target reading.
Please note that every banjo and every ear is different. A reading that sounds best on your banjo may not sound best on another banjo, even if it’s the same model. The most common issue is a head that is too loose, particularly in the case of natural skin heads.
*Note: Some players may prefer very loose heads at or below this reading for their particular musical style.