How to fit a Vellum

Unfortunately, Vellums do not last forever. In fact, with an instrument that is played regularly, two years seems to be about the time that a vellum will last.

Because I tend to play my Ludwig quite often wearing a sleeveless shirt, the sweat from my wrist penetrates the skin near the tailpiece and it begins to weaken at that point.

In this case that is where the vellum actually split.

There are different arrangements for tensioning vellums on instruments e.g. top tensioners, bottom tensioners, hooks and shoes but the actual technique of fitting a vellum is the same generally for all Banjo Ukuleles, whatever the make.

The first job is to remove the bridge and the strings. Save the bridge and discard the strings. If they have been on for two years, now's the time to replace them.

Remove the tension screws and the bezel and lift off the old vellum from the body of the instrument.

Extract the ring out of the vellum.

Clean and polish all parts ensuring any rust spots are totally removed.

New calf skin vellums are usually 10 inches in diameter with a pencil ring drawn on underside of the vellum which is usually the rough side. This upper (playing) surface should be quite smooth and  the whole vellum should have a consistent thickness and texture. Remember this is an animal skin and may not be absolutely perfect.

Make sure you know which side is which.

Immerse the vellum in lukewarm water for about 10 minutes until soft and pliable.

Remove from water and place on a dry towel. Gently roll it up in the towel so that all the excess moisture is removed.

Place the damp vellum into position over the body, ensuring that it is the right way up, and position the square section fixing ring ready to slide on.

 

You may need assistance with this part of the operation - push the ring down over the soft vellum. It is a fairly tight fit.

On some instruments this ring may be split to allow easier fitting.

Now place the bezel on top of the drum body and gradually pull the edge of the vellum through.

You will have to fit tension screws loosely every other hole as you work round easing the vellum through, until all the skin is pulled through. As you go round ease the fixing ring upwards so that it is in contact with the underside of the bezel.

Fit the remainder of the tension screws. Begin to tighten them all gradually ensuring that the vellum is pulled through tightly and there are no wrinkles present. Work from opposite sides, tensioning the screws a little at a time until the top of the bezel is about 3 mm above the surface of the vellum.

Leave for about 24 hours for the vellum to thoroughly dry out.

When the vellum is dry it will have become quite stiff. Make a pencil mark where the tailpiece fits so that the vellum can be replaced in the same position.

Remove all the tension screws, take off the bezel and gradually slide the vellum complete with fixing ring off the drum of the instrument.

Now that it is dry the skin will be formed into shape around the fixing ring.

Taking great care, trim off the excess skin with a sharp pair of scissors to just below the surface of the vellum.

Replace the vellum complete with its fixing ring back on the drum in the same position as prior to removal.

Fix bezel in position and enter all tension screws - not forgetting to fit the tailpiece.

Tighten all the tension screws gradually working again from opposite sides until the bezel stands above the vellum by 2 mm.

 

Fit new strings and set the bridge position at twice the distance from the nut to the twelfth fret initially, final adjustments being made with an electronic tuner.

Tune up the instrument to the required key.

New strings will need constant attention as they stretch over a period of a few days.

Over the next few days, tighten the vellum a little turning each tension screw no more than quarter of a turn at a time pulling down the bezel and increasing tension on the vellum.

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