Marc Nerenberg's Review of the Banjo Bolster

“I received a Banjo Bolster a few weeks ago from Ric and Deb Hollander, the folks who first developed it for Ric’s banjo, and now make and sell them through their new website -

I tend to be a sucker for every new banjo device I hear about, most of which don’t turn out to be nearly as good or useful as I thought they would be, and I find myself unable to use them and simply abandon them. But my experience with trying out the Banjo Bolster was pretty much the exact opposite of that scenario.

When I first heard about the Banjo Bolster, I have to admit that I was a complete skeptic. I couldn’t really see much point to it. Having been a banjo player for over a half century now, I was secure in the idea that the various different-sized blocks of foam rubber that I’d been using practically since I started playing were perfect for me - and were all I would ever want to use. After all, I had done plenty of my own experimenting with them when I was younger to perfect them to my taste. There was a learning curve back then, of course, but eventually I learned exactly how, when, and where to use them to get my banjos to sound just the way I wanted them to.

Thus, being an old guy who thinks he knows everything by now, I was almost certain that if I tried a Banjo Bolster, I was quite unlikely to be impressed. But at least I was open-minded enough to give it a chance to see if I might possibly be wrong, though I was not expecting to be surprised. Yet, surprised I was, indeed!

When it came time to test-drive one, I realized that I had to specify one banjo to use it with and provide certain measurements to have it custom fitted. So, I chose my 1927 Whyte Laydie (conversion from a tenor by the late Mike Ramsay) because it seemed to have a problem with pronounced unwanted overtones from the time I got it, and it had taken considerable experimentation on my part at that time to fashion and position just the right size and shape of foam block to tame them and get a sound I really like. Also, I have several other 11” pot banjos with nearly identical dimensions, so I figured it would fit those as well.

I do have other banjos that have 10”, 12” and 13” pots, but only one of each size, so I figured those would just “lay by the wayside. during this checking it out process. But, as chance would have it, I was playing my 13” Goat-skinned headed Romero at the very moment the Banjo Bolster arrived in my mailbox. This particular banjo seems to have developed some unwanted overtones during a long stretch of being not played at all during the pandemic. It’s now actually in the hands of a luthier being adjusted and newly set up, but at that time it had taken considerable experimentation by me to figure out how to diminish those overtones with a small block of strategically placed foam.

So, having the Banjo Bolster in my hands for the first time, and being curious, I extracted that block of foam from the Romero, and plunked the Banjo Bolster into it, though expecting that it probably wouldn’t work, not being the right size for a proper fit. But, in fact it did work - really quite well!

Then I tried the Banjo Bolster out in various positions inside that huge head and found that each different place I put it seemed to tame the overtones, while producing banjo sound with different tonalities, depending on where I positioned it. I was starting already to be impressed by just how easy the device was to use, and what variety of tonal characteristics it was opening up for me, that were quickly, almost effortlessly, achievable.

After a while, when I finally got out the Whyte Laydie to try the device inside its pot, the experience repeated itself exactly - except, this time, being custom fitted for the size of pot, it was even easier to position, and would stay more securely and perfectly in whatever places I put it.

This time I also experimented with positioning that varied between having the Banjo Bolster not touching the head at all, to applying very light pressure on the head, and finally, to making full contact with the head. In every case, it tamed the unwanted overtones, and varied from no muting of volume, through slight muting, to a similar level of full muting that I would get with a block of foam firmly wedged between the head and the dowel stick running the full length of the head.

Each of these sounds has its own application and use, and I was much impressed at the absolute simplicity there was in changing between them - a big plus when performing for an audience!

But the real clincher for me was that over the next several days, I was working intensively on writing and arranging a song, spending hours every day trying out different ideas, playing the banjo a lot. At a certain point I realized that I had forgotten completely for days that the Banjo Bolster was in there all that time without me realizing it.

It just sounded really good. There were no extraneous unwanted sounds to distract me from what I was doing, or even make me think about the sound. Yet, I had been definitely listening closely all that time because I was critically examining and constantly reworking and refining what I was playing.

That realization that banjo with the banjo Bolster inside it just sounded so really good and natural, while being such an intuitively easy device to use, has me sold. Now I want one for every banjo (though I’ll probably settle for one for each different pot size that I have, rather than each individual instrument).

I think this is one of the best innovations in banjo related technology to come along in a long time. Like the scoop at the high end of the neck that makes it easier to play directly over the neck and take advantage of the unique tonal qualities there, or Nylgut strings that allow you to get the tone and warmth of the banjo’s original gut strings without the hassles of actual gut, the Banjo Bolster makes it easier to get your banjo to sound its best, with the added versatility of easy re-positioning to find just the right sound for you.

 - Marc Nerenberg  Montreal West, Quebec