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Jun 1, 2019 - 12:58:17 PM
1 posts since 6/1/2019

I am trying to decide on an open-back banjo to get. I have been playing for several years on a banjo with a wooden tone ring, and now that I am playing more in a small band, I want a bit more sound without being too loud (a tubaphone tone ring is too loud for me!). I hope to find a banjo that can be very versatile and can be the main instrument I use for solo work, jamming, and my band. I want a pretty full, mellow sound that is still pretty clear. Do you think that a rolled brass tone ring could work? Maybe a Dobson? I have heard some rolled brass banjos that I really like, but it seems that Dobsons are more variable to my ear. Do both of these options tend to be mellow? Would a 12" pot be good for a mellow instrument of either tone ring?

Does a wooden pot versus a metal rim make a tonal difference?

thank you, everyone!!!!

Jun 1, 2019 - 1:35:40 PM

Bill H

USA

1257 posts since 11/7/2010

Regardless of the tone ring, there are lots of other variables that influence tone and volume. Head choice, head tension, bridge, strings. I had a banjo with a brass tone ring that I put a cloudy head on and it became very bright and loud. One thing I have noticed playing a Tubaphone, is that though it may sound quite brash at first, your ear becomes accustomed. I think that's true of any instrument. So, in a perfect world you could line up a bunch of banjos to try out and pick your favorite.

Happy hunting.

Jun 1, 2019 - 2:11:38 PM

R Buck

USA

2645 posts since 9/5/2006

A tone ring adds weight. A banjo with a wood tone rim and a 12" pot can have lots of volume. The next step up is a brass ring that is on the wood rim. I personally am not a fan of the Dobson ring much preferring the Whyte Laydie or the Bacon with an internal resonator. The tubaphone sounds good but the style M with the bracket band is heavy. Try setting up your banjo for the best volume/tone and if that does not work, then look around.

Jun 1, 2019 - 2:20:24 PM
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11943 posts since 6/29/2005
Online Now

Questions  often come up about the difference between one wood or the other and metal tonerings vs wooden ones.  I like to think of my banjos as being all-purpose. I think of all my banjos as being the last one you’ll need (but that’s a builder’s conceit, so take it with a grain of salt).  A woman I made a banjo for just won the traditional banjo competition at the Topanaga Banjo and Fiddle contest with it, so it’s her main instrument.

Maybe some sound files can help you with your dilemma— here are some comparisons—I am not including TuBaPhones,  since you have said you don’t like them.
What I am showing here is made of two alloys, kind of like a hybrid between a rolled brass tonering and a vintage Fairbanks Electric— I call it the “Tone~Wave.

 

 The other is an ipe woodie with a brass skirt that overhangs the inside of the rim like a Dobson and, unlike other woodies adds stiffless to the construction (which is what a Dobson does, believe it or not)
The ipe is heavy.

These represent two very different tone ring constructions, each with its own particular qualities.
So, I will post comparisons between the two - everything here is 11”, but I have also made 12” samples, but not as well organized.  I don’t find much if any difference between walnut and maple, but as a baseline test, here is maple vs walnut, both with the brass tonering—the weight is the same and the tonerings are the same - only the necks and part of the rims are different - maple vs walnut.

Next is a comparison of the Tone~Wave brass tonering vs the ipe SuperWoodie—both banjos are walnut, so the variable is just the tonerings - brass vs wood.

The last is a little different -2 banjos wth woodie tone rings- one walnut with the SuperWoodie, weighing 7# 14 oz  vs cherry with a 6061 aluminum tension hoop, bracket band, and tailpiece and a teak SuperWoodie, weighing 6# 8 oz, similar to the Topnaga winner banjo.
So the variable is not only rim and neck wood, but the tonering and a near2# weight difference - these ought to sound really different, right?

"Mellowness" is very subjective and I think of it as being influenced by the head (particularly head tension) and bridge as much as anything else. You can tone a banjo down but you can't make it provide something that isn't there to begin with.

Anyway, here are sound samples so you can hear the difference.

I hope this is helpful—it's a complicated subject.


Jun 1, 2019 - 7:01:51 PM

1812 posts since 2/7/2008

My open back has a Whyte Laydie tone ring and I like it quite well. Decent volume, mellow sound, nice plunk.

Jun 1, 2019 - 10:39:36 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22107 posts since 6/25/2005

The Fairbanks scalloped tone ring preceded the advent of the Whyte Laydie by 10+ years, in the Fairbanks Electric. The story is here, and well worth the reading: Among other things, it explains why many modern so-called Whyte Laydies really aren’t.

http://hschwartz.com/FairbanksBanjos/FairbanksBanjos.html

That said, Electrics and Electric-style banjos are lighter and mellower than the Whyte Laydies, which nave a heavy metal bracket band. Most modern banjos with the scalloped tone rings lack a bracket band and are thus more akin to the Electric model. 

Both Electrics and Whyte Laydies are capable of a wide range of tonal color—and volume—depending on setup and the lightness or heaviness of the right hand.  Note that setup would include type and tension of the head; type and wood of the bridge and type of tailpiece and type and gauge of strings.

Edited by - Bill Rogers on 06/01/2019 22:57:59

Jun 2, 2019 - 9:21:37 AM
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741 posts since 8/7/2017

Josh Turknett (of "Laws of Brainjo" fame) designed 3 similar banjos with different voices, which are built by Cedar Mt. Banjos. Josh posted sound files of each (in bottom quarter of page):

clawhammerbanjo.net/the-brainjo/

I have the Hobart model, with brass rod tone ring, and like it very much. I believe Cedar Mt. builds Brainjo models in lots, so you have to pre-order.
--------------------
His Laws, which I found very helpful:
banjohangout.org/archive/298553

Jun 4, 2019 - 7:29:26 AM
Players Union Member

Helix1

USA

332 posts since 4/17/2019

The rolled brass tone ring is the best for you in my opinion, renaissance head and light strings

Mine weigh 6.75 pounds, I play my own banjos in performance on stage, ensemble or solo. They play well with others

Think about which voice you would like to project from lighter to darker, mid-range to bass then choose Cherry, Sassafras or Mahogany
I have Helix reviews you can look at
Glad to help if I can


 

Jun 4, 2019 - 3:38:40 PM

PaulRF

Australia

3023 posts since 2/1/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

Questions  often come up about the difference between one wood or the other and metal tonerings vs wooden ones.  I like to think of my banjos as being all-purpose. I think of all my banjos as being the last one you’ll need (but that’s a builder’s conceit, so take it with a grain of salt).  A woman I made a banjo for just won the traditional banjo competition at the Topanaga Banjo and Fiddle contest with it, so it’s her main instrument.

Maybe some sound files can help you with your dilemma— here are some comparisons—I am not including TuBaPhones,  since you have said you don’t like them.
What I am showing here is made of two alloys, kind of like a hybrid between a rolled brass tonering and a vintage Fairbanks Electric— I call it the “Tone~Wave.
 

 

 The other is an ipe woodie with a brass skirt that overhangs the inside of the rim like a Dobson and, unlike other woodies adds stiffless to the construction (which is what a Dobson does, believe it or not)
The ipe is heavy.

These represent two very different tone ring constructions, each with its own particular qualities.
So, I will post comparisons between the two - everything here is 11”, but I have also made 12” samples, but not as well organized.  I don’t find much if any difference between walnut and maple, but as a baseline test, here is maple vs walnut, both with the brass tonering—the weight is the same and the tonerings are the same - only the necks and part of the rims are different - maple vs walnut.
 

Next is a comparison of the Tone~Wave brass tonering vs the ipe SuperWoodie—both banjos are walnut, so the variable is just the tonerings - brass vs wood.
 

The last is a little different -2 banjos wth woodie tone rings- one walnut with the SuperWoodie, weighing 7# 14 oz  vs cherry with a 6061 aluminum tension hoop, bracket band, and tailpiece and a teak SuperWoodie, weighing 6# 8 oz, similar to the Topnaga winner banjo.
So the variable is not only rim and neck wood, but the tonering and a near2# weight difference - these ought to sound really different, right?
 

"Mellowness" is very subjective and I think of it as being influenced by the head (particularly head tension) and bridge as much as anything else. You can tone a banjo down but you can't make it provide something that isn't there to begin with.

Anyway, here are sound samples so you can hear the difference.

I hope this is helpful—it's a complicated subject.

 


Wow Ken, those are some great sounding banjos.  Quality all the way.

Jun 4, 2019 - 5:34:15 PM
likes this

11943 posts since 6/29/2005
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by PaulRF
quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

Questions  often come up about the difference between one wood or the other and metal tonerings vs wooden ones.  I like to think of my banjos as being all-purpose. I think of all my banjos as being the last one you’ll need (but that’s a builder’s conceit, so take it with a grain of salt).  A woman I made a banjo for just won the traditional banjo competition at the Topanaga Banjo and Fiddle contest with it, so it’s her main instrument.

Maybe some sound files can help you with your dilemma— here are some comparisons—I am not including TuBaPhones,  since you have said you don’t like them.
What I am showing here is made of two alloys, kind of like a hybrid between a rolled brass tonering and a vintage Fairbanks Electric— I call it the “Tone~Wave.
 

 

 The other is an ipe woodie with a brass skirt that overhangs the inside of the rim like a Dobson and, unlike other woodies adds stiffless to the construction (which is what a Dobson does, believe it or not)
The ipe is heavy.

These represent two very different tone ring constructions, each with its own particular qualities.
So, I will post comparisons between the two - everything here is 11”, but I have also made 12” samples, but not as well organized.  I don’t find much if any difference between walnut and maple, but as a baseline test, here is maple vs walnut, both with the brass tonering—the weight is the same and the tonerings are the same - only the necks and part of the rims are different - maple vs walnut.
 

Next is a comparison of the Tone~Wave brass tonering vs the ipe SuperWoodie—both banjos are walnut, so the variable is just the tonerings - brass vs wood.
 

The last is a little different -2 banjos wth woodie tone rings- one walnut with the SuperWoodie, weighing 7# 14 oz  vs cherry with a 6061 aluminum tension hoop, bracket band, and tailpiece and a teak SuperWoodie, weighing 6# 8 oz, similar to the Topnaga winner banjo.
So the variable is not only rim and neck wood, but the tonering and a near2# weight difference - these ought to sound really different, right?
 

"Mellowness" is very subjective and I think of it as being influenced by the head (particularly head tension) and bridge as much as anything else. You can tone a banjo down but you can't make it provide something that isn't there to begin with.

Anyway, here are sound samples so you can hear the difference.

I hope this is helpful—it's a complicated subject.

 


Wow Ken, those are some great sounding banjos.  Quality all the way.


Thanks, Paul,

I appreciate that.

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