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Tone Amp Placement Lessons Learned Today, 09/18/2017

Posted by yellowdog on Monday, September 18, 2017

This morning I decided to spend some time experimenting to determine the best location and orientation for my own folded tone amp in my Gibson Mastertone tenor banjo.  - Because I had just put on a new set of strings and wanted to get the best sound from my banjo for a few  MP3 demo recordings which I plan to post somewhere on my website.  But I certainly wasn't prepared for the surprise that I got when I made a few changes in the location of the tone amp.  That's what I want to describe for you here.

First, let me say that I don't use a resonator on my Ginson Mastertone tenor, which is a 1950's era "Bow Tie" model, and haven't for many years simply because I prefer the sound of an open back.  And, second, let me say (or confess), that I have previously advised (in the instructions) placing the tone amp with the tape to the left, which would put the side with the steel "tone piece" (the "harmonic loudspeaker") next to the player and the low frequency audible sound emitter (with the two staples) close to the banjo head.  Well, I hate to admit it but this advice of mine, which seemed good at the time, isn't good anymore!  Because I got all kinds of different sounds out of my banjo this morning - some with incredibly strong bass notes and some with increadibly strong and brilliant highs, and all with wonderful sustain.  In other words, there is no "best" location or orientation because it all depends on the sound that you are looking for, and, of course, the banjo that you have.  So, I won't advise where or how to place it ever again, but I'll tell you what I learned so you can get the sound that you want.

​The first thing that I learned, which is most important for open back banjo players, is to be sure that the harmonic loudspealer is not touching your shirt - because it won't deliver its beautiful sound if it does.  A sure way to avoid this problem is to orient the tone amp on the banjo rim with the tape on the right which puts the harmonic loudspeaker next to the banjo head.  Bending the low frequency emitter up (right) 90-degrees at the bend line also helps keep the low frequency emitter from touching the shirt (or resonator) so this is another reason to use this "reverse" orientation.  A photo of this "reverse orientation" is in the photos section of my BHO homepage.  (The pure white rectangle on the banjo rim in the photo is a light reflection from my photo light.)

The second important thing that I learned is that the location of the tone amp tape on the rim makes a huge difference in whether highs or lows are emphasized.  Here I am referring to the tape either being close to the tone ring or far away from it.  If the tape is close to or touching the tone ring high tones will be emphasized, and if the tape is farthest away from the tone ring lows will be emphasized.  It is easy to move the tape between these two limits of rim "depth" to find the balance between highs and lows that you prefer.  Again, locating the 90-degree-bent low frequency audible sound emitter close to the player helps low frequencies.

What amazed me most this morning from these placement experiments was the amount of tonal change that is available to the player by simply moving the tone amp to different locations on the upper inside surface of the rim, and/or changing its orientation with its tape either to the player's left or right.  Making these changes was both easy and fun, but the most important thing is that I got the sound that I wanted.  You can, too.

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