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An odyssey- New (?) tone ring, new sound!?

Posted by Paul Bock on Saturday, January 22, 2022

     After mulling it over for far too long, I finally decided to try something I've had a hankering to do for quite a while:  Try a different tone ring in the "Snowflake Special". 

     While the ring I installed in 2008 was 'WAY better than the original one installed in the 1984 "re-grouping" of the banjo (which was first built in 1982), I somehow felt that it just didn't take the sound completely to where I wanted it to be.  Because I was barely active for almost a full decade after that 2008 change, I resisted making a "late in the game " change ("late in the game" for me, that is) until I began to "rejuvenate" my playing in 2019.  After some mulling over of options I decided to "bite the bullet" and make one more tone ring change to see if I could get closer to what I wanted to hear; i.e., putting myself in a position to at least "check out with a smile" when "my time" came (oops, sorry for the "gallows" humor, but when you pass into "octogenarian-land" you can take those liberties, LOL!).

     The choice of what to try was actually easier than I thought it would be, especially when I recalled the words of old friend Chris Warner, made  when I first mentioned making a tone ring change back in 2006:  "Well, I've had really good luck with the Tennessee 20 in a lot of banjo upgrades."  Stupid me went in a different direction, of course..........

     Anyway, after thinking about it more and more over the past two years, I finally decide to take Chris's advice.  But before handing over "full price" for a brand new T20 I thought I'd check the BHO classifieds, and voila! - there I found a basically "NOS" ring that someone had owned for over two decades and never used.  The ring is s/n 274, and last night I tore down "Snowflake" and dropped #274 onto the rim.  It was an easy slip fit, so I buttoned the banjo pot back together, did some careful preliminary head-tightening, and left it overnight to "acclimate".

     Late this morning I reinstalled the neck, tailpiece & strings, and bridge, and with no further head adjustments commenced to try it out.  Right out of the gate, it sounds AWESOME!  Clean, crisp, definitely has what Scott Zimmerman refers to as "pop", and I know that I don't even have the head tension anywhere near optimal (that will come about the middle of next week when I receive my DrumDial and can see exactly where it is and where it's not balanced).  I'm probably going to start at 88 and work up to 90 to see what changes and how.  Then there are the "tailpiece tweaks", etc., etc., that will all be part of the setup package.

     Lest this sound like an onerous chore, let me assure all of you that, to me, it's not.  I'm an engineer, and "tweaking & measuring" (admittedly sometimes followed by "back to the drawing board", LOL!) has always been my bread & butter.  Besides, I'm using a thick, heavy two-piece-flange rim, so it's going to be interesting to see how much I can coax out of this setup as compared to the lighter, thinner one-piece-flange rim.  But right now, I have to say that the combo sounds better than this banjo ever has in its 38 years of existence (well, 40 years for the neck).  

     Stay tuned (pun intended!).  ;-)



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