The Pocket-Dial is a simple, convenient and precise tool used to help measure and adjust the tension of your banjo head, – one of the most critical factors in helping your banjo sound its best. It is small, lightweight, fits easily in your banjo case, and specifically designed to work with both synthetic and natural skin banjo heads.
“I need my banjo to sound its very best before we hit the stage, and the Pocket-Dial helps me do that!”
– Russ Carson, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, @81crowe
“I really like it! Takes a lot of the guess work out and sure makes the banjo sound better!”
– Mike Snider, Grand Ole Opry Member & National Banjo Champion
“It works, it’s easy to use, and the option of having a scale specifically designed for natural hide heads really appeals to me. I truly enjoy using mine!”
– John Balch, HideBanjoHeads.com
“It’s small, lightweight, fits right in my banjo case, and really easy to use. I recommend one for all my students who want their banjo to sound the very best it can!”
– Banjo Ben Clark, BanjoBenClark.com
Pocket-Dial & Case $149.00 (free shipping USA)
Be sure to watch this new product video featuring
Russ Carson, Mike Snider, John Balch & Banjo Ben Clark!
HOW THE POCKET-DIAL WORKS
The Pocket-Dial works by measuring the deflection of a banjo head under a precision spring-loaded probe tip. This deflection, measured in just a few thousandths of an inch increments, is proportional to the tension of your banjo head within the range commonly preferred by banjo players.
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.
How often should I check my banjo head tension?
Natural skin heads should be checked often, particular as weather or playing environment changes. Synthetic heads need adjustment less often. In either case, it is a good idea to check your banjo’s head tension after travel, after changing the strings, after keeping or playing your banjo outside for an extended time, or after changing heads. If your banjo sounds too “muddy” or “punchy,” that is a good sign that the tension may need adjustment.
Does the Pocket-Dial measure tension in pounds?
No, the Pocket-Dial measures deflection of a precision spring-loaded probe that presses into the head. This deflection, measured in thousandths of an inch increments, is proportional to the tension of your banjo head within the range commonly preferred by banjo players.
Does it matter how hard I hold the Pocket-Dial down on the head?
Just hold it firmly on the head. If your banjo head is very loose, it is possible to press down hard enough with the Pocket-Dial to distort the reading.
Should I check and adjust the measurement at each tension hook?
You can, but it is not typically necessary. Checking at 5 or 6 locations around the perimeter of the head is usually sufficient.
Should I check and adjust the measurement with or without strings on?
It is okay to leave your strings on. The difference in measurements with strings on versus strings off is not significant.
Readings on my Pocket-Dial do not exactly match readings on another device I use. Why is that?
Mechanical dial indicators have varying levels of precision, typically +/- .0005” (half a mark). This means that readings may not be exactly the same between devices. If you prefer, you can calibrate your Pocket-Dial to match another measuring device exactly by calibrating the measurements at a particular location on the head.
What is the best surface to use for calibration?
A smooth granite countertop or glass table. A wood table is too soft. Do not use a smartphone, tablet or computer screen as a calibration surface. They are not stiff enough and can be damaged in the process.
How often should I calibrate my Pocket-Dial?
It is a good idea to check and make sure your Pocket-Dial is calibrated each time before you use it.
My Pocket-Dial needle does not point to the calibration point or stay on the calibration point when I pick it up to use it. Is something wrong?
The only time the needle needs to point to the calibration point is when you are holding the device firmly on a hard, flat surface. When the device is not in contact with any surface, it does not matter what number or scale the needle is pointing to.
When I adjust a natural skin banjo head, can I make it tighter or looser than the green zone?
Some players with natural skin banjo heads prefer tension groupings slightly tighter or looser than the “green zone” region on the dial. This is an individual preference and can still be measured with the device. Measurements on very loose heads (readings below 5 on the Simple scale) can be affected by how hard you hold the device down on the head.
Why should I not try to aim for a specific number reading on a natural skin banjo head?
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.
How does the Pocket-Dial differ from other recommended devices and methods for properly tensioning banjo heads?
The Pocket-Dial is designed to offer an easy-to-understand scale system, accommodate both synthetic and natural hide heads, and be small and light enough to conveniently fit in your banjo case.
⚠️ WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals including lead, which is known to the State of California to cause cancer. For more information, go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.