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Some "tweaking" of the Tennessee 20 Tone Ring

Posted by Paul Bock on Saturday, August 12, 2023

     Lat time I posted, I allowed as to how I may have "fixed" the Tennessee 20 tone ring installed in "Snowflake".  Well, I didn't, although I got close.  But I may have fixed it now, so perhaps some of the following will be useful. 

     First off, the banjo sounded OK - still a bit "trebly" to my ear - but OK.  Then about a week ago I was scrolling through some "tone ring setups" in the various blogs and found the one with comments from "Mr. Desert Rose".  He noted that , despite it being counter-intuitive. a Tennessee 20 likes a *TIGHTER* head for better bass response (well, up to a point).  So, I decided to try it.

     I used the drum dial to measure the head tension at six points around the head.  Tension varied from 85.5 to 89.  I carefully "tweaked" the brackets, took more measurements, tweaked some more, etc., etc., until all six test points for the drum dial showed about 89.5 to 90.

     The change was impressive!  The sound is much fuller, good balance of treble to bass, and really "pops" the way old banjos did in the '50s with tight calfskin heads (yes, I am that old!).  I also noted that the harmonics on the 5th, 7th, & 12th frets are much clearer and cleaner, as is the one just beyond the fingerboard end (Earl used that one with his left-hand little finger sometimes). The overall volume and punch is really excellent! 

     Picks made a modest but not startling change in the sound.  Shelor SS picks are a bit more "trebly", but only very modestly so when compared to Dunlop nickle-silver 0.020s.  This indicates (to me, at least), that the tone ring is really controlling the sound, and since I prefer the "feel" of the Shelors on my bent & aging fingers I'll keep using them.  The bridge is a Purcell - I forget which exact "flavor" - but sounds fine.

     I can't say enough good things about the drum dial.  If you're "searching" for the "sweet spot" on a banjo setup this tool may help you find it - especially if you have trouble discerning subtle differences with the "head tapping" approach.

Happy pickin'!




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