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Where Purchased: Little Mountain Music
I recently received a new nickel-plated BanjoMate Tone Enhancer from Doug Campbell of Little Mountain Music for comparison against the two unplated models that I have used for the last several months. I have found the unplated version performs as advertised – it does increase volume somewhat and enhances the tone of the banjos in which I have installed it. The changes are not dramatic but are definitely noticeable and can be altered by changing the position of the metal plate in the resonator. The new nickel-plated Tone Enhancer performs equally as well.
For the comparison I installed the Tone Enhancers in a number of different banjos with substantially different tones and setups. The banjos used were:
1. Ode Style D (1977)
2. Gibson RB-3 (1993)
3. Stelling Master’s Cross Deluxe (1988)
4. Gibson RB-4 Custom (1993)
5. Fender Artist (early 70’s)
6. Parts Banjo w/ Cox rim, Fitch Nitro II ring, Fawley maple neck and reso
7. Parts Banjo w/FQM cryogenic ring on Cox rim with a Fawley maple neck and reso
8. Parts Banjo w/ FQM Old Growth rim, Beartracks ring with a walnut RB-4 copy neck and reso.
I placed the plate with one side parallel to the neck slot in the resonator and as close to the neck slot as possible. This seems to yield more low-end response yet still provides ample “punch”. I used the same placement of the plate in all of the banjos as this position gives the tone that I prefer. In each banjo I tried the nickel-plated model, the unplated model and finally, with neither of the Tone Enhancers installed.
What I found was a bit surprising. Although both models of the Tone Enhancer worked well in all of the banjos, the nickel-plated model sounded best to my ear in those banjos set up with a heavier tailpiece and a tighter head. They include the Ode, Stelling and parts banjos No. 6, No.7 and No. 8. (All of the parts banjos have either a Kerschner or Price tailpiece.) The nickel model seemed to increase the low-end response more than the unplated model and gave those banjos more punch and clarity. Comparatively the unplated model worked better than the nickel version in those banjos that I have set up with Presto tailpieces and looser head tension. They include the RB-3, RB-4 and the Fender Artist (Grover tailpiece). In those banjos the unplated model increased the low-end and punch.
The nickel model is slightly heavier than the unplated one which may account for the difference in banjos set up for a brighter tone although I did find that it brought out the low-end response. The Velcro mount made it very simple to change between the models and to move the unit around the resonator.
Obviously this review is totally subjective and only represents what I hear from the Tone Enhancers. I am a Kerschner tailpiece fan and like my banjo heads moderately tight. I look forward to hearing reviews from those that prefer Prestos and looser head tension. Overall though I like the performance of the Tone Enhancers. Both models offer flexibility and control in altering and improving a banjo's tone but now prefer I the nickel-plated version.
Overall Rating: 10
'Cox Kentucky-5' 2 hrs
'WTB Flathead TPF Rim' 5 hrs
'Gibson Bryant/Hatfield' 6 hrs
'Kulesh Tone Ring' 6 hrs
'Yates BT 1949' 7 hrs