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Mar 8, 2019 - 10:35:11 AM
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1214 posts since 4/17/2009

Hello friends, and welcome to the Telemark banjo blog! After many years of planning and patience, I am having a custom banjo built, and over the course of its construction I will be documenting the progress, as well as sharing various photos, anecdotes and things I've learned about banjo construction over the years. I hope everyone enjoys this, and thanks to all who comment in advance.

First, a little history:

The Telemark project began in 2011 when I acquired the first part for the project, the tone-ring. Honestly though, the start-point was much earlier than that. All-told, it really began in 2007 when I mistakenly sold a maple banjo I dearly loved. At the time, I was a teen--what did I know?--and sold with the mindset that's plagued many of us at various times: a new banjo comes along that we think we have to have.

Laugh if you will! laugh

With the loss of that banjo, it wasn't more than a year later when I realized I'd made a mistake and wanted it back. Trouble was, I couldn't have it back--it had been consigned and sold to a buyer in Norway, far out of my reach. 

Fast-forward to 2008. I first contacted Jim Burlile about tone-rings. I was curious about the composition and dimensions of the Gibson-Crowe ring from my Blackjack, mainly because my thoughts were to build a new banjo around that engraved gold part. The email conversations that transpired between us were enough to pique my interest in tone-ring construction, as well as inform me that the Crowe ring wasn't worth reusing for a number of reasons.

From 2008 to 2011, I spoke on a very regular basis with Jim--he must have thought I was quite the parasitic teen banjo player! I was fascinated by how much he knew about tone-rings, and how and why they impacted banjo sound. It wasn't long before I became convinced that if I were to purchase any new banjo part, it needed to be one of Jim's rings. When a tone-ring transaction fell through between a local friend and I at a 2010 music camp, I contacted Jim again and requested a tone-ring. At the time, Jim was no longer making aftermarket rings--the Williams banjo project was largely finished, and he had finished selling rings to customers. His main focus was building Kenny Ingram a special banjo, one that some of you may have seen at shows with Larry Stephenson. Jim graciously poured another ring in the batch--Kenny got #1, I received #2.

~Pausing a moment to thank Jim Burlile, a man somewhat misunderstood by the banjo community. He has a huge heart, and I am greatly indebted to him for his accommodation.

With the ring procured by November 2011, we installed it in my current banjo, as it needed to have a home until I could place it in the new project banjo--, well, that and afford a new banjo laugh Most of you by now know the price of Jim's rings...not cheap! But like all fine wines...

College and other matters transpired over the intervening years. Then, in April 2016, I acquired another piece of the project--an early 50s Bowtie flange. That May, I had it cleaned and Steve Huber gold-plate it, then put it away in storage waiting to move on the banjo project.

Fast-forward to September 2018. My main focus was locating a good rim for the banjo. Many of you know I have owned a Factory Floor rim for many years, and am not a fan of "old growth wood." I could spend a dissertation on why, but the nutshell is this: too dense, too tight a grain, too heavy. Over the years since the tone-ring and many conversations with serious banjo players, I knew what I wanted in a rim...the trick was finding it. 

Enter Paul Ebbe. He still has the marketplace listing for the Cathey-wood rims turned by Jimmy Cox--I procured a special rim from him September 12 2018, and by then had enough parts to begin the banjo project in earnest. 

The next post will be concerning the flange. Thanks for bearing with the early history of the project...now we can start to see it come together. smiley

Mar 8, 2019 - 2:10:58 PM

1214 posts since 4/17/2009

To start the Telemark project, here is the Bowtie flange to be used.

I have pictured it below from my Bowtie flange album. The flange is quite unique, the underside was somewhat dull but not as much as a prewar 3, 75 or RB1. It is perfectly flat with absolutely no cupping. Underside displays pitting to the nickel plating and some finish bubbling which the gold covered nicely.

A few spots show the deep gray color of the interior, much darker pot metal than used in many of today's flange examples.

Ron Stewart helped date the flange, and based on the brighter underside plating and Doehler marque indicated it likely is an early 50s example. Dimensionally it's a catalog standard Bowtie, with an out-of-round lower inside dimension, & 10 15/16" upper insid dimension. Unlike the commoner 0.645 "fat rim" measurement and 0.600 prewar measurement, the Bowtie flange requires anywhere from 0.59 to 0.57 rim thickness, just like Earl's banjo in the 50s.

The flange was acquired in 2016, plated by Huber Banjos . For its age, the nickel was in decent shape, with no chipping to the front surfaces.

The important thing to remember about any flange is weight and strength. Gibson had resolved all structural alloy problems in their flanges by the mid-30s, and the Bowtie examples were the strongest yet during that time, partly due to their dimensions. Unlike modern flanges, this one weighs less--a key factor in why they are so desireable.

One of the most important aspects of banjo construction is weight orientation. Some parts must be heavy, but others should be lighter. Generally, it's accepted that the tone-ring functions both to "drive" the wood rim and filter certain sound frequencies for tone; the rim receives these vibrations and, depending on it's construction and density, propagates them. Anything attached to this sound unit colors and absorbs sound energy, potentially for the negative. A heavy flange, hooks, nuts and resonator all will "steal" some sound energy depending on their weight and composition. A light weight flange is an important piece of this equation, both for rim stability, but also to preserve tonal purity and sound propagation; a heavy flange of the wrong material will take energy that should be driving the rim.

Typically, a prewar reproduction flange weighs 24.5oz - 25oz depending on the cutouts and machining done to the inner ledges. This Bowtie flange weighs 21.78oz comparatively.

The Deering Banjo Co. has been vocal concerning flange mass and construction, describing the metal as "inert" in reference to its sound propagation.

Those looking to have a banjo built should investigate the matter of flange mass and construction. It certainly doesn't harm anything to know more about one's parts!

Next post will concern the rim!


Edited by - Pickin furry paws on 03/08/2019 14:17:31

Mar 8, 2019 - 3:39:02 PM

7380 posts since 1/7/2005

"Generally, it's accepted that the tone-ring functions both to "drive" the wood rim and filter certain sound frequencies for tone; the rim receives these vibrations and, depending on it's construction and density, propagates them. Anything attached to this sound unit colors and absorbs sound energy, potentially for the negative. A heavy flange, hooks, nuts and resonator all will "steal" some sound energy depending on their weight and composition. A light weight flange is an important piece of this equation, both for rim stability, but also to preserve tonal purity and sound propagation; a heavy flange of the wrong material will take energy that should be driving the rim."

It's accepted by whom? I don't know where you obtained this information, but my experience has led me to somewhat different conclusions. 

DD

Mar 8, 2019 - 6:27:38 PM

1214 posts since 4/17/2009

quote:
Originally posted by Dan Drabek

"Generally, it's accepted that the tone-ring functions both to "drive" the wood rim and filter certain sound frequencies for tone; the rim receives these vibrations and, depending on it's construction and density, propagates them. Anything attached to this sound unit colors and absorbs sound energy, potentially for the negative. A heavy flange, hooks, nuts and resonator all will "steal" some sound energy depending on their weight and composition. A light weight flange is an important piece of this equation, both for rim stability, but also to preserve tonal purity and sound propagation; a heavy flange of the wrong material will take energy that should be driving the rim."

It's accepted by whom? I don't know where you obtained this information, but my experience has led me to somewhat different conclusions. 

DD


Hi Dan, thanks for your comment. Accepted by myself and those with whom I've spoken. 

There are all kinds of theories about how banjo sound mechanics work, why the banjo sounds the way it does, etc. Until there is a united, concerted scientific effort to decipher such things, there are going to be various theories. Each to his own smiley

Without the tone-ring, a banjo sounds very much the same, provided the rim is of a good wood that is light, stiff and seasoned. The tone-ring adds a great amount of weight, which in some ways actually ruins the energy transfer from strings to head to rim by interrupting it with an otherwise gigantic piece of metal...unless we include the matter of tone-ring alloy and construction. If the tone-ring is improperly made--and there are bad rings out there, scores of them--the banjo has less volume and tone than it would otherwise have. A good tone-ring properly cast, however, transfers energy well, and filters frequencies to actually enhance the sound of the banjo. 

The tone-ring adds a very complex factor into the mix, which is why there is no such thing as "one great tone-ring" and "one great rim." Each interact with each other, some work together, many don't.

Mar 8, 2019 - 6:41:45 PM
Players Union Member

rudy

USA

14497 posts since 3/27/2004

quote:
Originally posted by Pickin furry paws
quote:
Originally posted by Dan Drabek

"Generally, it's accepted that the tone-ring functions both to "drive" the wood rim and filter certain sound frequencies for tone; the rim receives these vibrations and, depending on it's construction and density, propagates them. Anything attached to this sound unit colors and absorbs sound energy, potentially for the negative. A heavy flange, hooks, nuts and resonator all will "steal" some sound energy depending on their weight and composition. A light weight flange is an important piece of this equation, both for rim stability, but also to preserve tonal purity and sound propagation; a heavy flange of the wrong material will take energy that should be driving the rim."

It's accepted by whom? I don't know where you obtained this information, but my experience has led me to somewhat different conclusions. 

DD


Hi Dan, thanks for your comment. Accepted by myself and those with whom I've spoken. 

There are all kinds of theories about how banjo sound mechanics work, why the banjo sounds the way it does, etc. Until there is a united, concerted scientific effort to decipher such things, there are going to be various theories. Each to his own smiley

Without the tone-ring, a banjo sounds very much the same, provided the rim is of a good wood that is light, stiff and seasoned. The tone-ring adds a great amount of weight, which in some ways actually ruins the energy transfer from strings to head to rim by interrupting it with an otherwise gigantic piece of metal...unless we include the matter of tone-ring alloy and construction. If the tone-ring is improperly made--and there are bad rings out there, scores of them--the banjo has less volume and tone than it would otherwise have. A good tone-ring properly cast, however, transfers energy well, and filters frequencies to actually enhance the sound of the banjo. 

The tone-ring adds a very complex factor into the mix, which is why there is no such thing as "one great tone-ring" and "one great rim." Each interact with each other, some work together, many don't.


Is the research of David Politzer, CalTech scientist specializing in particle physics and winner of a Nobel Award worthy of consideration?  He's putting some of that research acumen to work in analyzing the mysteries of the banjo.  David is a Hangout member abd contributor and has a few things to offer about how the banjo produces sound and the various modifiers involved.

http://www.its.caltech.edu/~politzer/

Mar 8, 2019 - 8:08:49 PM

1214 posts since 4/17/2009

quote:
Originally posted by rudy
quote:
Originally posted by Pickin furry paws
quote:
Originally posted by Dan Drabek

"Generally, it's accepted that the tone-ring functions both to "drive" the wood rim and filter certain sound frequencies for tone; the rim receives these vibrations and, depending on it's construction and density, propagates them. Anything attached to this sound unit colors and absorbs sound energy, potentially for the negative. A heavy flange, hooks, nuts and resonator all will "steal" some sound energy depending on their weight and composition. A light weight flange is an important piece of this equation, both for rim stability, but also to preserve tonal purity and sound propagation; a heavy flange of the wrong material will take energy that should be driving the rim."

It's accepted by whom? I don't know where you obtained this information, but my experience has led me to somewhat different conclusions. 

DD


Hi Dan, thanks for your comment. Accepted by myself and those with whom I've spoken. 

There are all kinds of theories about how banjo sound mechanics work, why the banjo sounds the way it does, etc. Until there is a united, concerted scientific effort to decipher such things, there are going to be various theories. Each to his own smiley

Without the tone-ring, a banjo sounds very much the same, provided the rim is of a good wood that is light, stiff and seasoned. The tone-ring adds a great amount of weight, which in some ways actually ruins the energy transfer from strings to head to rim by interrupting it with an otherwise gigantic piece of metal...unless we include the matter of tone-ring alloy and construction. If the tone-ring is improperly made--and there are bad rings out there, scores of them--the banjo has less volume and tone than it would otherwise have. A good tone-ring properly cast, however, transfers energy well, and filters frequencies to actually enhance the sound of the banjo. 

The tone-ring adds a very complex factor into the mix, which is why there is no such thing as "one great tone-ring" and "one great rim." Each interact with each other, some work together, many don't.


Is the research of David Politzer, CalTech scientist specializing in particle physics and winner of a Nobel Award worthy of consideration?  He's putting some of that research acumen to work in analyzing the mysteries of the banjo.  David is a Hangout member abd contributor and has a few things to offer about how the banjo produces sound and the various modifiers involved.

http://www.its.caltech.edu/~politzer/

 


Thanks, Rudy. There is no question his work about the banjo will be appreciated...not sure why you're asking the question that way, friend.

Mar 8, 2019 - 8:33:54 PM
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Players Union Member

rudy

USA

14497 posts since 3/27/2004

Hi Matthew,  Nothing meant by how I asked the question.

I certainly don't know the exact science behind the tone ring, but my experience with banjo making indicate something completely different than the conclusions you have reached for yourself and what you've heard from others, but as you say to each his own.

In any case what you're doing will prove educational for you, and that's the entire point.  Almost everyone who gets into banjo construction reaches conclusions about how the beast functions, and I've written here about what I consider as the "head-tone ring- rim continuum" and how the parts function as a unit.  I'm always amazed that players put much stock into the importance of the rim, but I've been following the forum long enough to see how cyclic the nature of opinions are.  Go back and read how vitally important a tight tone ring fit was considered and how virtually everyone parroted the same thoughts.  A few years latter it was "universally accepted" that a tight tone ring choked off tone.

Which was it?  Did player perception change that much, or do forum readers succumb to pseudoscience presented by a few learned banjo mechanics?  It can't be both, so I always suggest that players temper their acceptance of how the banjo functions with a heathy dose of pessimism.

You see the same thing going round with tone rings, brass formulations, shapes, brands, etc.  I'd be VERY surprised if the majority of players could tell the difference in a blind taste test.  It's all great fodder for forum arguments, but as you know, there's just not a whole lot of science to support it, and the bigger problem with the scientific approach is the subjective nature of our hearing.

It will be interesting to read your posts about what you find as you complete your project.

Mar 8, 2019 - 9:05:49 PM

1214 posts since 4/17/2009

quote:
Originally posted by rudy

Hi Matthew,  Nothing meant by how I asked the question.

I certainly don't know the exact science behind the tone ring, but my experience with banjo making indicate something completely different than the conclusions you have reached for yourself and what you've heard from others, but as you say to each his own.

In any case what you're doing will prove educational for you, and that's the entire point.  Almost everyone who gets into banjo construction reaches conclusions about how the beast functions, and I've written here about what I consider as the "head-tone ring- rim continuum" and how the parts function as a unit.  I'm always amazed that players put much stock into the importance of the rim, but I've been following the forum long enough to see how cyclic the nature of opinions are.  Go back and read how vitally important a tight tone ring fit was considered and how virtually everyone parroted the same thoughts.  A few years latter it was "universally accepted" that a tight tone ring choked off tone.

Which was it?  Did player perception change that much, or do forum readers succumb to pseudoscience presented by a few learned banjo mechanics?  It can't be both, so I always suggest that players temper their acceptance of how the banjo functions with a heathy dose of pessimism.

You see the same thing going round with tone rings, brass formulations, shapes, brands, etc.  I'd be VERY surprised if the majority of players could tell the difference in a blind taste test.  It's all great fodder for forum arguments, but as you know, there's just not a whole lot of science to support it, and the bigger problem with the scientific approach is the subjective nature of our hearing.

It will be interesting to read your posts about what you find as you complete your project.


Hi Rudy, been enjoying reading David's experiments...I've been experimenting with banjo pots for years, tapping away at tone-rings, rims, and the assembled units to assess what their separate and combined sounds convey. His comments regarding the geometry of the top of the pot, as well as his findings about the rim restricting tone-ring vibrational motion are very interesting. I personally believe the matter of tone-ring tightness to the shell is an under-explored avenue that will yield all kinds of useful findings.

The prewar world is so rife with the "slip fit" philosophy that I find it leaves little room for experimentation of things that interest me, haha! Some of the best banjos I've heard have insanely tight tone-rings, including Sonny's Granada that Wynn Osborne recorded on--some of the finest sounding banjo music. I am strongly considering having the tone-ring I've reserved for this project fitted tighter than I'd like, just so I can play with the sound by removing small amounts of wood to test some theories I have on the matter.

Educational for me--100%. Banjo acoustical physics have puzzled me for years, and this project represents both a banjo I've needed for a long time, but a testing grounds for various theories of mine. I am a terribly curious person by nature, and the only cure is to test things until I find the answer.

In my 16 years of playing banjo, I've witnessed the "tone-ring only" era which is slowly being eclipsed by the "rim only" era. Things will shift back as you say, esp when advancements in reproduction of the various parts emerge. In recent years, torrefied wood has fueled the "rim only" crowd; but all it takes is a new tone-ring that does a little more than the others out there to stoke the "tone-ring only" folks laugh

I'm a firm believer that it takes a lot of understanding to effectively choose a tone-ring and rim. They are a unit, and one either accidentally stumbles on/buys a good set, or spends years like me studying and learning how they best interact with each other before building. 

On the whole, I am most excited to share the sound findings once the banjo is assembled. One can never have too much information about these things, haha. 

Mar 9, 2019 - 2:30:29 PM

1214 posts since 4/17/2009

With the flange and tone-ring procured, I turned my attentions to finding an appropriate rim for the "Telemark" banjo project.

During Bloomin' Bluegrass 2017, a banjo friend of mine, Matt Tessier, suggested in passing that I contact a BHO member about some old wood he had bent into rims by Jimmy Cox. I regrettably forgot about the suggestion for some time--laugh if you must!--until August 2018, when I happened to be searching the BHO marketplace and stumbled upon Paul Ebbe's listing for rims.

550Spyder provided a wonderful rim for the project, and was gracious to accommodate my stipulation concerning the rim's weight.

And often undiscussed factor in banjo construction is the mass of the rim. The type of species of rim wood, size of plys, etc are more commonly discussed and are certainly important, but I find the mass is just as important a factor in how the rim ultimately performs.

I've been fortunate enough to have been able to weigh the rims of several old banjos, and have had several more people graciously provide the weights of rims from banjos too distant from me to test. Overall, the old rims are consistently lighter than many modern rim examples.

Over the years, I've used several modern rim weights against the old ones, several Coopermans, a Factory Floor, and a few others whose maker is unknown. The newer rims weighed 16oz to as high as 22oz. Comparatively, the old rims weighed anywhere from 14.4oz to as high as 15.9oz.

Several factors have led me to believe why the old rims weigh less, not the least of which is the effect of time on the stabilization of the wood. Many articles written concerning old violins concur that time plays a large role in wood's stabilization, specifically the lowering of its moisture content for a number of reasons.

Certainly, the old rims have been around long enough to have a lower moisture content...simple tests with a digital moisture meter can prove that. However, time isn't the only factor in why the old rims weigh less.

One reason some wood weighs less is due to the lack of or restriction of the moisture-wicking elements like hemicellulose. Such water-soluable polysaccharides are responsible for transmitting nutrients through the tree, but are a problem when it comes to wood's stabilization and sound. Various tests have shown that when these elements are reduced or removed, wood behaves "more musically." Such examples range from the steam-bending of rims (which helps dry the wood out) to the modern phenomenon of torrefaction. There is well-documented evidence to show that the torrefying of wood reduces or "cooks away" the resins, sugars etc which restrict sound transmission due to their retaining water. Many describe torrefied wood as sounding more musical, vibrating "cleaner" or "truer" or "longer" than wood with higher moisture content.

Torrefaction is slowly starting to make its way into the musical world, found in banjos made by Warren Yates, some guitars by builders such as Dana Bourgeois, etc.

It's still fairly difficult to find a torrefied rim, as the process itself reduces the wood's moisture so much that it is inflexible for bending into a 3-ply rim. Obviously, wood must have a certain minimum moisture content depending on its intended function; too low, and it cracks if bent. Hopefully, there will be some 3-ply rims produced in ensuing years.

Since torrefied rims are somewhat hard to find, I went searching for a lighter rim where the wood had been stabilizing for a period of years. Enter Paul Ebbe's rim.

As the pictures below show, the wood is noticeably darker than typical sugar maple. I've spoken with several luthier friends in an attempt to identify the species, and some have suggested that it's Red Maple, others have said it may be old sugar maple that's just had a number of years to dry out. I suspect the wood may be Red Maple, since the wood's location at sourcing was the Marquette area of MI. Red Maple is by far the commoner maple there from what I've read...maybe some can help identify the wood. Ken LeVan I know has used Red Maple in some of his banjos, so I bow to his expertise in these matters.

The rim blank, measuring 7/8" thick, 2.25" tall weighs in at 19.2oz...looks like it might get down to 15.5 oz once machined into a rim, or so my volumetric math tells me. Will know when it arrives back from Steve Huber.

In the next post, I'll discuss the tone-ring to be used.


Mar 9, 2019 - 2:44:25 PM

922 posts since 1/26/2012

This will be fun to watch. It's always nice to see the process someone goes through in choosing their parts and building an instrument. Whether or not your theories about what's best are grounded in science, if they get you to the finished banjo that you want, then they work.

I don't think that you can assume that using the best flange from one brand and the best rim from another and the best tone ring from yet another guarantees that they'll all come together to make the best instrument. What makes them the best could be how they work with the other parts in those instruments. It's kind of like Golden Doodles- people say that if you mix a Golden Retriever and a Poodle, you get the best of both breeds. Not necessarily. You could get the worst of both breeds, or more likely, something in between.

All that said, I think you're going to have a fine banjo in the end, because you're using quality parts from quality builders, and have clearly put a lot of though into how they should go together. Thank you for sharing.

Mar 9, 2019 - 2:47:35 PM
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7380 posts since 1/7/2005

Have you looked into the acoustic properties of stone tone rings?

Check out this web site and play the video. Like the bumble bee, according to popular knowledge, it shouldn't work. But it does. And exceptionally well IMHO. 

https://bluegrasstoday.com/coall-instruments-and-banjolit-open-workshop-in-bratislava/

DD

Mar 9, 2019 - 3:44:37 PM

Brett

USA

1936 posts since 11/29/2005

You really have to temper your topic, or your expectations, for your specific audience you want to pick their brains. It does no good to get responses on bluegrass banjo setup and preferences when clawhammer or tenor banjo players or builders who likely can marginally play, respond. One has the to play bluegrass banjo at fairly competent level to discuss bluegrass banjo response rates.
So, you’ll get someone start saying Bacon & Day was the best design or that brackets vs 1 piece pot metal flange is no different,etc. response rates between different playing styles makes for apples, oranges, and pear discussions.

Mar 9, 2019 - 4:22:22 PM
Players Union Member

rudy

USA

14497 posts since 3/27/2004

quote:
Originally posted by Brett

You really have to temper your topic, or your expectations, for your specific audience you want to pick their brains. It does no good to get responses on bluegrass banjo setup and preferences when clawhammer or tenor banjo players or builders who likely can marginally play, respond. One has the to play bluegrass banjo at fairly competent level to discuss bluegrass banjo response rates.
So, you’ll get someone start saying Bacon & Day was the best design or that brackets vs 1 piece pot metal flange is no different,etc. response rates between different playing styles makes for apples, oranges, and pear discussions.


Absolutely!

I sometimes wish the two "camps" were divided into two different forum areas.  I have zero interest in resonator banjos, but even after you read the topic it's not easy to say which camp the topic is relating to.

Some of the mechanics apply, but often times not.

Mar 9, 2019 - 5:51:34 PM

7380 posts since 1/7/2005

quote:
Originally posted by rudy

I sometimes wish the two "camps" were divided into two different forum areas.  I have zero interest in resonator banjos, but even after you read the topic it's not easy to say which camp the topic is relating to.

Some of the mechanics apply, but often times not.

Don't forget about the jazz banjo camp, the dixieland banjo camp, the Irish banjo camp and the classic banjo camp. 

Several decades ago there was nearly only one banjo camp--the bluegrass banjo camp.   Unless you count the Scruggs banjo camp, the Stanley banjo camp, and the progressive bluegrass banjo camp. Banjo pickers tend to be a bit exclusionistic. 

DD


Mar 9, 2019 - 6:53:17 PM
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Players Union Member

rudy

USA

14497 posts since 3/27/2004

quote:
Originally posted by Dan Drabek
quote:
Originally posted by rudy

I sometimes wish the two "camps" were divided into two different forum areas.  I have zero interest in resonator banjos, but even after you read the topic it's not easy to say which camp the topic is relating to.

Some of the mechanics apply, but often times not.

Don't forget about the jazz banjo camp, the dixieland banjo camp, the Irish banjo camp and the classic banjo camp. 

Several decades ago there was nearly only one banjo camp--the bluegrass banjo camp.   Unless you count the Scruggs banjo camp, the Stanley banjo camp, and the progressive bluegrass banjo camp. Banjo pickers tend to be a bit exclusionistic. 

DD


 


I was tryin' to be diplomatic.

In reality my preferance would be "Open Back Banjos That Would Appeal To Clawhammer And Melodic Players" and "Everything Else...".  wink

Edited by - rudy on 03/09/2019 18:54:51

Mar 9, 2019 - 8:41:22 PM

1214 posts since 4/17/2009

quote:
Originally posted by Pickin furry paws

With the flange and tone-ring procured, I turned my attentions to finding an appropriate rim for the "Telemark" banjo project.

During Bloomin' Bluegrass 2017, a banjo friend of mine, Matt Tessier, suggested in passing that I contact a BHO member about some old wood he had bent into rims by Jimmy Cox. I regrettably forgot about the suggestion for some time--laugh if you must!--until August 2018, when I happened to be searching the BHO marketplace and stumbled upon Paul Ebbe's listing for rims.

550Spyder provided a wonderful rim for the project, and was gracious to accommodate my stipulation concerning the rim's weight.

And often undiscussed factor in banjo construction is the mass of the rim. The type of species of rim wood, size of plys, etc are more commonly discussed and are certainly important, but I find the mass is just as important a factor in how the rim ultimately performs.

I've been fortunate enough to have been able to weigh the rims of several old banjos, and have had several more people graciously provide the weights of rims from banjos too distant from me to test. Overall, the old rims are consistently lighter than many modern rim examples.

Over the years, I've used several modern rim weights against the old ones, several Coopermans, a Factory Floor, and a few others whose maker is unknown. The newer rims weighed 16oz to as high as 22oz. Comparatively, the old rims weighed anywhere from 14.4oz to as high as 15.9oz.

Several factors have led me to believe why the old rims weigh less, not the least of which is the effect of time on the stabilization of the wood. Many articles written concerning old violins concur that time plays a large role in wood's stabilization, specifically the lowering of its moisture content for a number of reasons.

Certainly, the old rims have been around long enough to have a lower moisture content...simple tests with a digital moisture meter can prove that. However, time isn't the only factor in why the old rims weigh less.

One reason some wood weighs less is due to the lack of or restriction of the moisture-wicking elements like hemicellulose. Such water-soluable polysaccharides are responsible for transmitting nutrients through the tree, but are a problem when it comes to wood's stabilization and sound. Various tests have shown that when these elements are reduced or removed, wood behaves "more musically." Such examples range from the steam-bending of rims (which helps dry the wood out) to the modern phenomenon of torrefaction. There is well-documented evidence to show that the torrefying of wood reduces or "cooks away" the resins, sugars etc which restrict sound transmission due to their retaining water. Many describe torrefied wood as sounding more musical, vibrating "cleaner" or "truer" or "longer" than wood with higher moisture content.

Torrefaction is slowly starting to make its way into the musical world, found in banjos made by Warren Yates, some guitars by builders such as Dana Bourgeois, etc.

It's still fairly difficult to find a torrefied rim, as the process itself reduces the wood's moisture so much that it is inflexible for bending into a 3-ply rim. Obviously, wood must have a certain minimum moisture content depending on its intended function; too low, and it cracks if bent. Hopefully, there will be some 3-ply rims produced in ensuing years.

Since torrefied rims are somewhat hard to find, I went searching for a lighter rim where the wood had been stabilizing for a period of years. Enter Paul Ebbe's rim.

As the pictures below show, the wood is noticeably darker than typical sugar maple. I've spoken with several luthier friends in an attempt to identify the species, and some have suggested that it's Red Maple, others have said it may be old sugar maple that's just had a number of years to dry out. I suspect the wood may be Red Maple, since the wood's location at sourcing was the Marquette area of MI. Red Maple is by far the commoner maple there from what I've read...maybe some can help identify the wood. Ken LeVan I know has used Red Maple in some of his banjos, so I bow to his expertise in these matters.

The rim blank, measuring 7/8" thick, 2.25" tall weighs in at 19.2oz...looks like it might get down to 15.5 oz once machined into a rim, or so my volumetric math tells me. Will know when it arrives back from Steve Huber.

In the next post, I'll discuss the tone-ring to be used.


Golden Doodles...that would be fun to put into the Mastertone block laugh

Mar 9, 2019 - 9:45:20 PM
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229 posts since 8/7/2007

Matthew,

Thermally modified rims have been available for about three or four years now. We have used them in quite a few banjos and they seem to provide good tone and volume. Going back to something you covered in an earlier post about weight, the modified rims are definitely lighter in weight.

As far as production is concerned, they are kind of a pain. Way expensive and loss of plys due to issues is high. I guess we have had about 75 -100 made so far. We actually made a Festival model banjo that was made from thermally modified red maple for the rim, resonator, neck, and bridge. Sold about 25.

To continue on we have started making block rims from the modified wood and have had great results. Very stiff, very stable, and light weight. So far they seem to respond well with any ring fitted to them with the ring fitting on with a slip fit. Also good results with a tone hoop. I think being stiff, stable, light weight, a bit more resonant, add up to a good foundation for the bridge and head to their job.

Thanks for taking the time to share your build and thoughts.

Eric

Mar 10, 2019 - 6:06:40 AM

12162 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Pickin furry paws
quote:
Originally posted by Pickin furry paws


...As the pictures below show, the wood is noticeably darker than typical sugar maple. I've spoken with several luthier friends in an attempt to identify the species, and some have suggested that it's Red Maple, others have said it may be old sugar maple that's just had a number of years to dry out. I suspect the wood may be Red Maple, since the wood's location at sourcing was the Marquette area of MI. Red Maple is by far the commoner maple there from what I've read...maybe some can help identify the wood. Ken LeVan I know has used Red Maple in some of his banjos, so I bow to his expertise in these matters.

The rim blank, measuring 7/8" thick, 2.25" tall weighs in at 19.2oz...l


Golden Doodles...that would be fun to put into the Mastertone block laugh


The color is consistent with the color oif pre-war rims - here's a close-up of the scarf joint on a 1927 rim:

besides the color, you'll notice the quarter flake on the top, as the rim slats were cut in that orientation - flat cut with the quarter showing on top.  based i on my experiences, the weight tells you whether it's red maple, sugar maple or beech.  The original Gibson spec said "maple or beech", and looking at the flake on the 1927 rim shown, it's not out of the question that it could be beech.

Rims (TPF thick ones) I have made from red maple weigh 20 oz. or a little less OPF ones weigh 15 oz. because they are thinner.  Basically, a red maple OPF rim will weigh between 15 and 16 oz.  Sugar maple or beech would be more.

As concerns the individual contributions of any part of a banjo, I think of it holistically, which is to say, the sum of the parts.  You can't knock on a rim, ding a tone ring or a flange and tell what the assembled banjo is going to sound like, and I think the importance of the rim as a part has much more to do with geometry and physical characteristics, stiffness being the most important of those, than the species of wood - David Politzer would agree with that.

agreeing with your last statement -Golden Doodles are a lot of funsmiley!

Mar 11, 2019 - 3:58:44 PM

1214 posts since 4/17/2009

esullivan Thanks for your post, Eric! I've seen that very Festival banjo, it's a beauty. Looking forward to the banjo neck you're making for me, best regards for this week and stay warm! Spring is coming soon.

Regarding rim wood, I've become convinced over several key factors that help shape the overall sound of the banjo.

1. Species of maple
2. Location and microclimate of said species of wood
3. Grain structure in general, both median and individual measurements
4. Process of wood curing
5. Construction processes

Over the years, I've tried to find every peer-reviewed, professional study on maple wood as regards its function in musical instruments; to date, the best articles and data have been compiled by those in the Classical world analyzing violins. Here is one such useful article:

journals.plos.org/plosone/arti...e.0002554

There also is an interesting study concerning the matter of sonic vibrations and their reduction of the internal friction present in wood. The study revealed that exposing wood to even a few hours of sound provided measurable reductions in its internal friction--likely proof, in my book, that part of wood's musicality comes through the oft-discussed phenomenon of "playing in." It would appear that there are scientific reasons for this audible fact.

But I digress. In the above-linked study, researchers found no large differences between old and modern wood's median densities (suggesting that modern wood selection and fabrication into musical parts is not as far off from the "old ways" as previously thought), but that density differential was very different. The article discusses Norway spruce predominantly (to be expected as the article concerns violins), but enough of their data about maple suggests strongly that old wood is superior to new wood, as far as it concerns density differential.

This brings up another issue: in what way am I meaning "old" wood? As we all know, wood is old simply by right of years passing from when the tree was cut and seasoned; it can also mean the play-in time on said wood; it can further mean treatment processes that stabilized the wood, which "aged" it not in years but sound quality.

There is what I consider to be a very great misnomer in the musical community whereby quality sound is often referred to as "old." The assumption dictating this description is governed largely by the unscientific popular presumption that time alone makes wood sound better. However, modern method and research is showing that seasoning processes moreso than mere time impact sound quality for the better.

Not to restate my earlier post, but enter torrefied wood.

In the Classical world, many wood treatment theories have been proposed to explain why certain old violins sound better than newer ones. Each of the theories have their proponents but as yet have not produced consistent results in sound quality to be compelling. However, I think the parameters of evidence fueling these theories constitute useful data that can and should guide future banjo wood selection.

The parameters are obvious, I think:

Wood sounds better as it's played, due to the reduction of internal friction.
Treated wood is more stable, mainly due to a reduction in hemicellulose and resins which retain more moisture than is musically acceptable.
The resulting moisture reduction has an inexplicable but audible effect on certain sonic aspects, such as sound power, projection, tonal balance, etc.

I concur with Eric Sullivan on torrefied maple producing better sound and volume, simply because the scientific data shows that wood treatments reducing moisture make wood more stable, resistant to humidity changes, more even density grain-to-grain, low early wood/late wood density differences, etc.

Ken LeVan brings up several interesting points regarding wood mass, as well.

Much like the violin world believes the story that Stradivari tapped on trees with a hammer, the banjo world clings somewhat to the notion that all banjo rims were constructed of sugar maple. However, if we consider the location where Gibson sourced their wood, and realize that the vaster number of maple trees in said location were acer rubrum not sugar maple...

Ken's picture (from I believe Bill Porter's website) shows an excellent example of what I'm talking about. The wood can't be sugar maple due to the color. Since the tone-ring and head have been protecting that portion of wood from light, excessive oxidation, etc., it's a fine place to check for the species of wood in any rim.

As far as what my rim is made out of, I doubt beech...I've worked with that wood a lot, and the medullary rays create a distinctive pattern on the flatsawn face drastically different from maple. I agree with Ken that my rim likely is acer rubrum.

Deering I believe calls this wood "violin maple," a statement that's received some unfair criticism until one investigates why they call it that. I suspect their reason comes from the violin world, for when one searches the species of maple in Strads and Del Gesus, acer platanoides and acer pseudoplatanus are most commonly suggested. Both are considered "soft" maples with lower density, similar stiffness and better modulus of rupture. A bonus is that soft maples typically display better and more consistent figuring than sugar maple. Ken is right that stiffness is important...what I believe the prewars had was stiffness without accompanying density.

I don't believe tapping or dinging on rims, tone-rings etc will relay how good an instrument will sound, but the activity does reveal certain frequency biases the instrument will have. It has been shown in violin tests that larger wood growth rings, longer F-holes, etc all produce greater sound power and emphasis on lower frequencies; it is reasonable to assume that a banjo whose rim taps at a lower pitch or its tone-ring that vibrates at lower frequency will be a darker sounding instrument.

All great violins, banjos, guitars have strong lower frequencies complimenting their harmonics. Instruments that tend to be bright are never hurt when low frequencies are strengthened. It is common to use more open-grained wood in violas and cellos...I suspect the same would suit certain banjos. One of my goals in selecting a rim was to find wood with grains not smaller than 2mm...the banjo shares most of its tuning area with the viola, and the largest grain structure I've seen on old violas is not smaller than 1.5mm and does not exceed 3mm. Tighter grain would contribute to the banjo sounding brighter; good for an archtop, not as much for a flat head type construction.

And yes...what about Golden Dilly? xD

Edited by - Pickin furry paws on 03/11/2019 16:09:59

Mar 11, 2019 - 6:00:10 PM
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12162 posts since 6/29/2005

The rim photo is not from Bill Porter's website, it's of my own 1927 Granada, one of the ones Gibson made in 1927 from earlier, very well made ball-bearing rims. The joints are nearly invisible, but a number of them have been found on high end models, some documented in the earnest banjo site.  It's worth noting that because they were made from existing ball-bearing rim blanks, they have phantom holes inside, which makes them lighter than normal  TPF rims.

Here's how they were made as a point of interest— The cross-section in the center shows the approximate size of the 24 phantom holes.

Mar 12, 2019 - 8:43:15 AM

92 posts since 1/24/2019

Hey Ken that’s interesting. I wonder why the went to all the trouble to fit and glue a section of 3-ply rim to the top, instead of just leaving the holes, or simply plugging them?

Mar 12, 2019 - 10:09:33 AM
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12162 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Bobby Burns

Hey Ken that’s interesting. I wonder why the went to all the trouble to fit and glue a section of 3-ply rim to the top, instead of just leaving the holes, or simply plugging them?


I have no idea. Apparently, they saved these old rims, sometimes for a couple of years, to re-purpose for certain banjos.

It's a fascinating subject and one wonders why more rims aren't made even today with deliberate spaces inside to lighten them.  It alters the metal-to-wood ratio of TPF pots in much the same way as OPF constructions do.

Here's a link to the "Cecil George" original 5-string RB4, which has one of those rims, including pictures

http://www.earnestbanjo.com/gibson_banjo_RB-4_mastertone_8914-4.htm.

Copy related to it:

"This banjo conforms in all respects to standard specifications at the time for an RB-4; however, close inspection does reveal some hidden irregularities which give an insight into Gibson's banjo production practices of the time.  The factory order number #8380-2 can be faintly seen written in pencil inside the resonator just above the large chalk number; the same factory order number is also stamped on the outside of the rim at the neck junction.  The lot #8380 dates to 1926 and an original ball-bearing RB-4 #8380-9 has recently surfaced; #8914-4 was apparently assembled using reworked components originally destined for RB-4 #8380-2 which remained in inventory at the factory two years later.  As is the case with the other observed banjos from lot #8914, a splice is visible on the inside of the rim, indicating that this rim had originally been prepped with holes for a ball-bearing tone ring assembly and was then modified for a cast raised-head ring by removing the drilled upper portion of the rim and replacing it with a solid cap.  One additional detail showing that this rim was reworked at the factory is the presence of additional screw holes for the L-brackets in the earlier orientation with the lower hole on the left and the upper hole on the right."

What I can say is that the one I have - 8769-20,  is a very good-sounding banjo.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 03/12/2019 10:10:05

Mar 16, 2019 - 3:17:05 PM

1214 posts since 4/17/2009

Very interesting, Ken LeVan ! Phantom holes...omg I love that. Raises the question...should we have air gaps in the rims to get the prewar sound... xD

Mar 16, 2019 - 3:43:16 PM

1214 posts since 4/17/2009

The tone-ring for the project is my old Burlile ring. I obtained the ring from Jim in November 2011 for a project, and the ring has proven its worth by taking what otherwise is a rather useless heavy sugar maple rim and getting a decent tone from it. To my thinking, if any tone-ring can take a rim with unsuitably high moisture content and make it sound right...good ring, don't ever sell it! laugh

When Jim cast the ring for me, we discussed its shape and weight at length, since both effect tone substantially. I won't repeat earlier statements, but suffice it to say that the tone-ring acts (among other functions) as a filter, enhancing or reducing frequencies to help shape banjo tone. There's a reason the old RB1s and other "tone-hoop" banjos sound the way they do...and why the great tone-ring banjos of the 30s sound the way they do, haha. 

Clearly, a tone-ring does not make a great banjo; as Ken observed, a banjo is the sum of its parts. Tone-rings aren't for every banjo, either. Some don't need them; some shouldn't have them in my book! To my ear and personal tastes however, a banjo needs a tone-ring if it's going to have a particular metallic sound. The hardness of the brass, as well as its molecular structure greatly impacts the final tone: too dense a metal and the tone-ring will require more input before it "comes into its own;" too light a structure, and the tone-ring will lack body, power and tone.

I've included some old pictures of the ring circa 2012, since the ring currently sits in my old banjo. I will take some new photos as it looks today once I tear down the shell, and some sound samples of the ring's frequency response profile.

Concerning the photos:

Some will recall a certain photo of a Burlile tone-ring that became somewhat infamous here on the BHO. The photo showed what is a typical casting imperfection that raised the issue of Burlile's manufacturing procedures. You will note in several of my attached photos that there are casting imperfections in my ring, as well; these are common in the sand casting process. As the tone-ring anneals, sand from the mold sometimes falls into the casting, creating little unique indentations in the metal. Once the tone-ring cools completely, the sand falls out, leaving a certain shape. This in no way impacts the tone of the ring. Close inspection of prewar rings shows the same imperfections, which Gibson often had covered or patched with pure tin before having the rings plated. 

For those interested, I do not recall what the ring weighs, but once I tear the old shell down, I will weigh it on my digital scale smiley


Mar 25, 2019 - 9:56:51 PM

1214 posts since 4/17/2009

Well...in my haste to move things along on the Telemark project, I neglected to go into the studio and record tap-tone samples of the Burlile tone-ring xD And now that the shell is with esullivan for fitment, will have to record them once it returns :)

In the mean time, here are some photos [of most] of the metal parts:


Edited by - Pickin furry paws on 03/25/2019 21:57:51

Mar 25, 2019 - 11:00:03 PM

1214 posts since 4/17/2009

For the neck, I planned on going with the typical figured acer saccharum to match the resonator until my curiosity about alternative woods turned up torrefied timber.

Long story short, I've known about torrefied lumber since 2015 when Warren Yates began video'ing samples of his banjos featuring several components made with the process. The sound difference in torrefied timber is striking, evident even in low-quality audio compressed by various host sites like YouTube. I remember the first time I heard torrefied lumber. What struck me first was what I can only describe as the tonal complexity. The timbre of the instrument was more musically pleasing and expansive. Regular kiln-dried lumber has a rather modest, neither good-nor-bad sound by comparison, but not striking, not sparkling. Notwithstanding certain factors like wood structure, manufacturing techniques and assembly, torrefied wood to me is an unquestionable choice for instruments.

There are some statements I've read concerning the tone of torrefied wood, viz, that it sounds "old," "vintage" etc. I am not sure it sounds like either of those descriptions; both words raise two issues: what is "old sound" and how does each person describe what is old to begin with. We all know describing sound is somewhat of a bottomless pit; words inadequately express anything tbh, especially as they regard impressions of sound on the ear. To me, the time an instrument is together comprises an irreplaceable and irreproducible effect that no component or manufacturing technique can achieve. I've spoken earlier about this as it regards old violins, viz, an extensive study found that exposing seasoned and green timber to mere hours of sonic vibration had a measurable effect on the internal friction present in both. It's proof in my book that playing instruments alone has the long-term effect of positively changing their tone. All a component like torrefied lumber can do is [either]:

1. assist in the long-term dimensional stability of the instrument, esp between fitted parts
2. alter the tone to please the tastes of the musician

Torrefied lumber doesn't make an instrument sound old; it can make it sound good, I think, even consistently so. As mentioned when I first heard this type wood in a banjo, I was thrilled by the sound. It sounded better than all the other wood out there, and I think the reason is scientifically verifiable as well as simple. Wood comprises various moisture-absorbing elements held together by lignin. I need not elaborate on how unpleasing green wood sounds, or the reasons! laugh Every classic instrument, be it prewar banjo, mandolin or guitar demonstrates the positive effect of stable wood on the sound. There's good data showing the wood in old instruments is drier than new seasoned wood, particularly more consistent densities between early wood and late wood. The stiffer, lighter wood simply vibrates and resonates better because it is more uniform and freer of water. 

There has been discussion concerning the long-term stability and sound of torrefied lumber. Though time alone will provide a definitive answer, I think there's an obvious indication: wood that's more stable will last longer and continue reacting better to sound.

It's sort of a funny discussion to me, since no one really questions the long-term stability of kiln-dried wood--wood with a measurably higher moisture % than torrefied wood. If kiln-dried lumber has proven reliable, how then will an even more stable piece of wood? wink Ah, it reminds me of the arguments against X-braced mandolins years ago, how some said they would sound good for a time than fall apart laugh

Obviously, the particular component made from torrefied lumber has a massive affect on the sound, too. A torrefied neck may not create as striking or pleasing a difference as say a torrefied rim. In truth, though I would have liked to have found a torrefied rim for the Telemark banjo, I'd already owned the Ebbe rim since Sept 2018, and knew it needed to go into the project. The neck wood became the obvious choice.

After reading extensively regarding the torrefaction process, I started seeing a direct correlation between the temperature and the final color of the wood. Any temperature past 165 Celcius darkened the wood exponentially--perhaps not an issue for a rim, but for a banjo neck next to whiter acer saccharum veneers, not as pleasing an option.

Fortunately, I found a wonderful lumber outlet offering mildly torrefied neck blanks. American Specialty Hardwoods sent me this blank of what they named "honey roasted" wood:

It's noticably darker than your typical maple, but not jarringly so. Hopefully, it won't take too much effort to match with the resonator. smiley The blank is now with Eric Sullivan being turned into a banjo neck.


Edited by - Pickin furry paws on 03/25/2019 23:06:06

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