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The Bacon and Day Soft Pedal Banjo Mute

 by Bud Puckett and Ed Cuneo

The B&D Soft pedal was invented by Fred Bacon and Dave Day of The Bacon Banjo Company of Groton, CT. The original patent, number 1,800,588, for The “knee mute”, as it has come to be called, was granted on April 14, 1931. It was filed in May 31, 1928. Up until that time, the knee levers were engraved with the words “Patent Pending”.

You may look at a gallery of the original patent pages here or you can download a PDF of the original patent document for yourself here so that you can view it with your Adobe Reader. If you don't have an Adobe Reader, you can obtain one here.

There are probably many banjoists who, over the years, have made good use of the knee mute, but the most salient recorded example of mute technique, would be the Bechtel recording. According to Perry, Fred Bacon taught him how to use it when he gave Perry the Bacon and Day Number 6 Ne Plus Ultra. (Incidently, for those of you who don’t know, Fred Bacon was a marvelous 5-string banjoist. You can download a real audio file of him playing here.)

Oliver "Bud" Pucket, Emory University Physicist, ret. was one of Perrys' plectrum students. An excellent machinist, Bud made the mute on Perry's 'Bacon and Day Number 6 Ne Plus Ultra', and it was he on whom Perry depended for all his mute adjustments. Bud has made a list of suggestions for setting up the mute. All numbers refer to the original patent drawings.

1. Prior to making the following adjustments, make sure your banjo head is at the desired tension. Remove the resonator.

2. The mute should be located slightly behind, and parallel with the front edge of the bridge, i.e. 1/16" or less. There are 4 threaded screws holding the mute assembly onto the dowel stick. To change the position of the mute on the dowel stick, loosen those screws and replace the mute at its new location. Before tightening the 4 screws, make sure the armature is in the proper location, parallel with the bridge.

3. When engaged, the cork must be flush with the head. Push the pedal in until the cork contacts the banjo head. The armature or ‘cross bar’ as it is called in the original patent, must be equidistant from the head along the entire length of the bridge. If it isn’t, remove the mute assembly, loosen up the small set screws which hold the armature in place, and make the necessary adjustments to make the armature equidistant from the banjo head along its entire length.

4. Nothing should bind the mute. Obtain a free action. This might require you to slightly bend the push rod. If you look at the original patent drawing figure two, you’ll see that there are two nuts on the end of the push rod (#29). Remove the nut on the very end of the rod. It is not needed.

5. The push rod will have a nut remaining on the inside of the bell crank lever. This lever, (#25), inside the banjo, translates the motion of the knee lever and rod so that the mute assembly is pushed toward the banjo head. Tightening or loosening the remaining push rod nut, will help adjust the position of the stop finger (#37) at the end of the knee lever, so that the stop finger rests on the rim and simultaneously softly contacts the bell crank lever when the knee lever is in the resting position.

6. Engage the mute with a piece of paper between the armature and the banjo head. The piece of paper should be tightly held at each cork bearing location along the armature when the mute is engaged. If the paper is not uniformly tight, place a piece of paper, about 1" by 5" on the head, under the armature. Get a piece of fine sandpaper (250-400) and place it on top of the paper facing the armature cork bearings. Push the pedal in until the cork bearings softly contact the sandpaper. Move the sandpaper back and forth, sanding off a small amount of the armature cork bearings. Check the contact points again with paper. Repeat as necessary until the armature cork bearings, engage the head firmly and uniformly when the mute is engaged. This will compensate for head tension variations which effect the degree of head sag at the bridge.

A PDF with these instructions can be found here.