Many instruments are damaged by heat during the summer, and by sudden temperature changes in winter.
Glues holding your instrument together can soften with heat, causing parts to shift. Don1t leave your instrument in your car on a sunny day; the temperature inside can build up quickly. Also, avoid other direct sources of heat. Many imported instruments are less prone to heat damage because they are built with high-tech glues (this can also make them more difficult to repair), but any instrument can be damaged by heat.
Sudden temperature changes can encourage the head to split or cause cracks in the finish. If your instrument has been out in the cold, let it warm up gradually in the case before taking it out and playing it. This will also prevent moisture from condensing on your instrument.
Low humidity in winter is not usually an issue for banjos unless your banjo has a skin head. If this is the case, you will need to keep your instrument in a humidified environment or possibly loosen the head slightly. A good quality skin head is less likely to split due to dryness.
Traveling can pose a few hazards. Instruments are safer in a hard shell case, but remember to guard against heat damage. Also, airlines are notorious for damaging instruments. You may not be allowed to carry your instrument on board, and your instrument is often treated no better than someone’s socks and t-shirts. Think twice before deciding to fly with your instrument. Consider shipping it instead.
Be aware that your instrument can be damaged while it is in the case, even a hard shell case. If the case happens to fall over the most frequent damage is cracking the neck near the headstock. Be careful when leaning the case upright. And watch out for some of those guitar stands that don’t securely hold banjos….
Contemporary banjos use steel strings. You’ll need to decide between light and medium gauge strings, but that’s about it. If your banjo was made around the turn of the (last) century it was probably made for gut strings. Nylon is the modern equivalent. While many of these banjos will hold light gauge strings, caution is recommended. Some tuning pegs and tailpieces are particularly vulnerable to damage, and sometimes the entire banjo is too lightly constructed for steel strings.
The metal parts on your banjo are usually chrome or nickel plated. Chrome is pretty low maintenance. Nickel plating requires a little more attention. When you touch nickel plated parts, oils left behind will tarnish the plating. Wiping these parts down frequently using a clean, soft cloth will help keep the parts bright. If the tarnishing does not wipe off readily you can use Simichrome polish, however, be sure that you remove all polish residue. Use polish sparingly, and if you want to do a more thorough job of it, it’s best to take the banjo apart so that you’re sure you’ve cleaned off all the polish. Better yet, just easier to wipe the instrument off regularly….
Heads may stretch a bit over time, which affects tone and can cause the strings to buzz against the fingerboard. Using the appropriate sized bracket wrench, go around the rim and give each nut a quarter turn, no more! Scrutinize the results before deciding if you need to repeat this process. Over-tightening can split the head, occasionally along an edge where you might not even notice the damage as you keep trying to tighten, tighten, tighten….
IF YOUR BANJO IS DAMAGED
First, loosen the strings to reduce the tension on the instrument, so the problem doesn’t get worse. Leave the strings on–just loosen them. When you bring your instrument in for repair it helps us to evaluate your instrument if the strings are still on. Also, the sooner a repair is done, often the easier (cheaper!) it will be. (And if you try to fix it yourself and fail, it may cost you more if we have to remove old glue….)