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Banjo Newsletter Review
MIKE'S BANJO MUTE
The Better Banjo Mute
Banjo Newsletter Review
by Mitch Finley
June 2008 Issue, page 32
Mitch Finley (5StrBanjo@gmail.com) lives in Spokane, Wash. where he's been slowly learning to play Scruggs and melodic styles for a decade. He plays with the band Bluegrass Spectators (bluegrassspectators.com).
For me, there have always been situations where I needed a banjo mute if I wanted to play without disturbing other people. But I could never find a mute that I could be on peaceful terms with.
A couple of years ago, I obtained one of every kind of banjo mute I could find and commenced to evaluate them all. There were mutes made of rubber, various kinds of wood, metal, and plastic, plus one that combined metal and plastic. Some didn't quiet the banjo enough, some made it too quiet. Others were so large and clunky that they got in the way of my pickin' hand. One, I swear, weighed nearly as much as the banjo, and that's only a slight exaggeration.
In the end, the best of all the banjo mutes I found was the Fielding-Cutler Banjo Mute (www.thebanjomute.com/). Its design was unlike any other, and apart from having the same fault that all the others had - no more real banjo sound - it made my banjo quiet but not too quiet, and it was easy to attach to and remove from the bridge.
Time marches on, however, and along comes Mike's Mute, available from Mike Stidd of Utah (email@example.com). I read about the Mike's Mute on the Banjo Hangout website, and in the photos Mike posted there it looked very similar to the Fielding-Cutler mute. Soon, however, with a Mike's Mute in hand I could compare the two, and the differences are significant.
The round-cornered, flat, narrow metal bar that sits atop the banjo's bridge on Mike's Mute is a little smaller than the similar bar on the Fielding-Cutler mute. In the cosmetics department, Mike's bar is an attractive, shiny brass while the Fielding-Cutler's metal bar appears to be gray steel. Neither mute presents an obstacle to the pickin' hand, although the Mike's Mute is a tad smaller.
The bracket that holds Mike's Mute to the bridge is aluminum. The bracket on the Fielding-Cutler appears to be steel. Both mutes weigh about the same, and I wouldn't call either one heavy.
The thumb screws that tighten my Fielding-Cutler atop the bridge are brass with exposed tips. As you tighten these screws they move down toward the banjo's head, and if you had a bridge shorter than the standard 5/8" the screw tips could go right into the head. The brass thumb screws on the Mike's Mute have a hollow threaded shaft through the middle of the screw. Through each thumb screw goes a small nylon screw with each nylon screw passing first through the aluminum bracket. As you tighten the thumb screws on the nylon screws they move up through the threaded centers of the brass thumb screws. This leaves only the little nylon screw heads protruding a tiny bit on the other side of the bracket "feet,", above the banjo's head.
I played two resonator model banjos with each of these two mutes in place. I would go into detail about these banjos, but I don't think this information is particularly relevant to the review of a banjo mute. It's enough to say that both banjos are high quality instruments.
Each mute rendered both banjos quiet and sweet sounding. Of course, with mute in place neither sounded like a banjo. The Fielding-Cutler mute may have resulted in a bit more of a metallic sound - a tiny bit more banjo-like? - while the Mike's Mute gave both banjos a tone that is mellow, almost lute-like. I play 3-finger styles only, by the way, so I can't speak about the effect of a mute on an open back banjo played in an old-time style. I suspect the results would be similar, however.
I concluded that both the Fielding-Cutler and Mike's Mute are superior to the dozen or so other mutes that I was able to find and evaluate, and both are about the same price ($30). But the latter gets my vote as a definite improvement on the former. Until someone invents a banjo mute built like the Mike's Mute that will leave the instrument still sounding like a banjo - albeit a quiet banjo - the Mike's Mute is numero uno in my book.