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Sep 16, 2019 - 6:39:49 PM
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862 posts since 3/1/2012

Just got myself a nice flush fret 1895 Morrison banjo. Morrison patented his steel tone ring on pins driven into the pot concept in 1882. i am wondering how that should look. The second photo shows one of the pins, but I’m not seeing evidence of a tone ring, or is it just very small?
Any Morrison experts out there?




Sep 16, 2019 - 7:09:42 PM

862 posts since 3/1/2012

And the patent drawing.


 

Sep 17, 2019 - 8:20:25 AM

1533 posts since 1/13/2012

The tone ring is missing. You can see the nail heads through the head in the first photo.

Andy

Sep 17, 2019 - 1:25:09 PM

862 posts since 3/1/2012

Andy--yup. No tone ring. Argh! Just stopped by the hardware store and got 2 pieces of 1/8 inch x 3 ft steel rod (the second one is for when I screw up the first one...). Now the joys of bending it into an exact 10 7/8 circle to fit on those pins!
All I can figure is that whoever put a new skin head on way back when decided he didn't need the 'spare part'.
And the saga continues...another observations: the flush frets used to be raised frets--in a couple spots you can see file marks.
Also, the person who sold me this said it was circa 1895. The multiple stamps just say Jas. Morrison, and give the date of 1882, so all I know for certain is that it wasn't before that.

Sep 17, 2019 - 2:44:05 PM
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1842 posts since 1/16/2010

Congrats on the Morrison Jim! Shame that it doesn’t have the tone ring/hoop! Funny though, yours isn’t the first one that I’ve seen without the tone ring...I’ve seen several. I’m wondering if some were made with, and some without?

Here’s a picture of the ring from the inside of mine.

The ring is hollow steel, and it’s about 3/8” diameter.

I’d ditch that tailpiece, bridge, and those strings too. A good wooden replica late 19th century tailpiece, 2 footed maple bridge, and some light guage gut/nylon...would really make that puppy sing! 


Dow


 

Edited by - Texican65 on 09/17/2019 14:50:01

Sep 17, 2019 - 4:19:13 PM

862 posts since 3/1/2012

Dow—looks like we are neighbors. I’m in Olympia.
How would a person go about making a tone ring from hollow steel without it crimping when you bend it? Might have to go with a solid piece of steel rod, just to avoid that issue.
I agree about a better tail piece; do you have a photo of yours?
Also agree about the bridge and using nylgut strings.

Sep 17, 2019 - 7:21:08 PM

1842 posts since 1/16/2010

quote:
Originally posted by IMBanjoJim

Dow—looks like we are neighbors. I’m in Olympia.
How would a person go about making a tone ring from hollow steel without it crimping when you bend it? Might have to go with a solid piece of steel rod, just to avoid that issue.
I agree about a better tail piece; do you have a photo of yours?
Also agree about the bridge and using nylgut strings.


Heck I'm very unskilled when it comes to fabricating items out of anything...not sure how they could have made the hollow ring back then? It's not a very heavy ring, and there are 2 holes in it directly across from each other where tiny screws anchor it to the rim. The holes for the screws allow me to see into the ring, showing me that its not solid. 

Ya, Olympia is only an hour away...I'd love to come by sometime and check out your collection, and pick a few of those old birds. I could bring my Morrison...it's the only old banjo I have. 

Here's some before and after restoration photos of my Morrison, and a sound clip. Let me know what else I can help with!

Dow


Sep 17, 2019 - 7:31:25 PM

862 posts since 3/1/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Texican65
quote:
Originally posted by IMBanjoJim

Dow—looks like we are neighbors. I’m in Olympia.
How would a person go about making a tone ring from hollow steel without it crimping when you bend it? Might have to go with a solid piece of steel rod, just to avoid that issue.
I agree about a better tail piece; do you have a photo of yours?
Also agree about the bridge and using nylgut strings.


Heck I'm very unskilled when it comes to fabricating items out of anything...not sure how they could have made the hollow ring back then? It's not a very heavy ring, and there are 2 holes in it directly across from each other where tiny screws anchor it to the rim. The holes for the screws allow me to see into the ring, showing me that its not solid. 

Ya, Olympia is only an hour away...I'd love to come by sometime and check out your collection, and pick a few of those old birds. I could bring my Morrison...it's the only old banjo I have. 

Here's some before and after restoration photos of my Morrison, and a sound clip. Let me know what else I can help with!

Dow

 


Come by sometime--I always like to show off the collection.

Sep 17, 2019 - 7:31:45 PM

1842 posts since 1/16/2010

I forgot the tailpiece shot! This is a wooden one similar to what would have been on it in the late 19th century. Joel Hooks made it, also the solid ebony bridge I am currently using too. Joel used to sell these items, however i'm not sure if he still does? They are very well made. I've also seen the old metal "Daisy" tailpieces on them, which I have one also. Heck, they could have had a number of different styles on them back then.

Dow




Sep 18, 2019 - 7:36:17 PM
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862 posts since 3/1/2012

Here are the latest photos of the Morrison. One of my long-suffering luthier friends took off the head and exposed the pins that SHOULD have a steel tone ring sitting on them. Second photo shows one of the holes for the screws that hold the tone ring in place.
Next job is trying to fabricate an acceptable tone ring from a steel rod. Apparently the original one would have been hollow, but I'm not sure how to bend a hollow steel rod without it crimping. May just go with a solid one...




Sep 18, 2019 - 11:24:09 PM

John Firth-Smith

Australia

67 posts since 3/13/2010

Hey Jim - I have a Morrison banjo exactly like yours same inlay, friction pegs, raised frets and in very good original condition it has its tone rim and a Buckbee type tailpiece with a 5 pointed star - it has a plastic head and Nygut strings = one of my favorites I am gong to replace the head with vellum even though it sounds good now and when I do I will document the tone ring and post photos but yours will probably be up and playing by then - serial number on mine ( on Dowel stick} 237 or could be 287 hard to read

Sep 19, 2019 - 5:46:41 AM

4673 posts since 9/21/2007
Online Now

Removing the ring was likely the easiest way to be able to use a taller bridge and lower the action for "old time" playing with wire strings.

It is strange that people can't play "old time" on old banjos without making changes to them.  I wonder why that is?

Sep 19, 2019 - 8:26:39 AM
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10702 posts since 4/23/2004

quote:
Originally posted by IMBanjoJim

Here are the latest photos of the Morrison. One of my long-suffering luthier friends took off the head and exposed the pins that SHOULD have a steel tone ring sitting on them. Second photo shows one of the holes for the screws that hold the tone ring in place.
Next job is trying to fabricate an acceptable tone ring from a steel rod. Apparently the original one would have been hollow, but I'm not sure how to bend a hollow steel rod without it crimping. May just go with a solid one...


A good "at home" method for bending small diameter tubing is to use a product called "cerrobend". This is a bismuth/lead alloy (sometimes called "Wood's metal").

Basically, cerrobend melts at low temperature (around 150F). You plug one end of the tube and pour it full of the melted alloy. Once it solidifies, you can bend the tube without fear of collapse (within reason). Once you have it bent the way you want it, you reheat (we used a hot water bath) and pour out the alloy. We usually used this for small diameter stuff (1/4" or less) as we had dedicated mandrel-type benders for everything else (1/2" to 2-1/4").

Sep 19, 2019 - 8:48 AM

esmic

Canada

236 posts since 6/27/2011

Jim- Don't know what experience you have bending metal into circles, but you'll need something more than a hammer and wooden jigs. At the very least, look for a hand-cranked ring roller. Old tech that is still available today pretty cheap, and it works.

harborfreight.com/gear-driven-...6790.html

You would likely still have to use a filler inside to bend a hollow tube.

Edited by - esmic on 09/19/2019 08:51:03

Sep 19, 2019 - 10:44:02 AM

1533 posts since 1/13/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Removing the ring was likely the easiest way to be able to use a taller bridge and lower the action for "old time" playing with wire strings.

It is strange that people can't play "old time" on old banjos without making changes to them.  I wonder why that is?


Um... maybe because banjos made over a hundred years ago were not designed for steel strings, or for the modern adaptations of old time styles that people play today?

Andy

Sep 19, 2019 - 11:06:01 AM

4673 posts since 9/21/2007
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by Andy FitzGibbon
quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Removing the ring was likely the easiest way to be able to use a taller bridge and lower the action for "old time" playing with wire strings.

It is strange that people can't play "old time" on old banjos without making changes to them.  I wonder why that is?


Um... maybe because banjos made over a hundred years ago were not designed for steel strings, or for the modern adaptations of old time styles that people play today?

Andy


Sorry Andy, I was taking a shot.  

Sep 19, 2019 - 11:12:51 AM
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10702 posts since 4/23/2004

What size steel tube are you thinking of using?

1/4" diameter brake line is cheap and very easy to bend by hand...no need for internal support for such a big diameter bend (11"?). You should be able to bend it (brake line) over a simple form...like a 10" cardboard concrete form or even a good sized cooking pot.

Another (albeit more expensive) option might be copper rod. For an 11" banjo you will need 36" minimum...better to have extra working length, say 40-48" so you can overlap to get the full bend across the joint.

No need to solder or weld the end, the head will force the ends together. If I used hollow tubing, I might make a dowel-plug to keep things together while I mounted the head. Exact diameter isn't terribly critical either (other than it needs to be pot OD or less).

Many ways to skin this cat!

Sep 19, 2019 - 12:57:58 PM

1842 posts since 1/16/2010

Pretty neat! Definately appears as if it had the ring at one time. What a shame for somebody to have removed it for perhaps what was such a silly reason! Any chance at asking the previous owner where it might be?

Sep 19, 2019 - 3:38:47 PM

862 posts since 3/1/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Texican65

Pretty neat! Definately appears as if it had the ring at one time. What a shame for somebody to have removed it for perhaps what was such a silly reason! Any chance at asking the previous owner where it might be?


Nope. Bought it online fom a music store down in California. We can only speculate where and when the tone ring was tossed.

Sep 26, 2019 - 1:25:55 PM
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862 posts since 3/1/2012

Well I lucked out on the tone ring problem. Vern Marr, down in Pendleton, Oregon, had an old, hollow Orpheum tone ring that fit perfectly. Thank you, Vern!
Interestingly, once the tone ring was in, the 2 inch hooks were not long enough. This tells me that whoever took off the tone ring and re-installed the head no longer needed longer hooks.
A friend and I swapped, and I put the 2 1/2 inch hooks on.
Strung it up with nylgut strings, and, allowing for the strings to stretch, it sounds really good.
I still want to put an older looking button on the 5th peg, and I’m not entirely happy with the bridge height, so a bit of work still, but it is finally playable.
Will post a video in a few days.




Sep 26, 2019 - 7:29:39 PM

1842 posts since 1/16/2010

Cool Jim, she’s a’ comin’ along! Surprised that the Orpheum ring fit, ya lucked out on that one partner, happy for ya though. Can’t wait to hear it.

What size is the pot again?

Dow

Sep 27, 2019 - 7:36:47 AM

862 posts since 3/1/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Texican65

Cool Jim, she’s a’ comin’ along! Surprised that the Orpheum ring fit, ya lucked out on that one partner, happy for ya though. Can’t wait to hear it.

What size is the pot again?

Dow


Pot is 10 7/8.

Is there any way to tell the date on these Morrison's? Could be anywhere from the 1880s to 1910. Did the inlay patterns stay consistent? Can you date it that way?

Sep 27, 2019 - 10:51:55 AM

1842 posts since 1/16/2010

Heck...I'm not really sure 100% how to date them? Joel or John would be the guys.

I do know that James Morrison started his company in 1870 in New York City. The "Morrison patented steel hoop banjo" was first offered in 1875. And Morrisons were still being sold in New York until 1912.

Vess Ossman and Tommy Glynn played Morrisons at an 1893 performance at Madison Square Garden. The banjos they are photographed with look very similar to the one I have, same amount of brackets, inlays, frets. I'd need clearer photos to see the other small details though.

Assuming mine came with original hardware, the friction tuners are ebony maybe with leather washers and metal posts? I'd be comfortable saying 1890's as its almost identical to the one in the photo, but I'm not positive. I've seen earlier Morrisons with older style friction tuners like violin pegs...perhaps they are earlier....1880's?

Something to do with 3 octave necks as well. I dont think they were made until the mid 1880's on higher end banjos and weren't standard until the mid 1890's on other banjos? Joel correct me if I'm wrong. Our banjos dont have 3 octave necks Jim...so, they might be early/mid 1890's....unless even after 3 octave necks were created...Morrison banjos were still made like they had been in previous years. As better banjos became available, pros like Ossman weren't playing banjos like the old Buckbee built Morrison any longer.

Dow




 

Sep 27, 2019 - 12:41:37 PM
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csacwp

USA

2372 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by Andy FitzGibbon
quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Removing the ring was likely the easiest way to be able to use a taller bridge and lower the action for "old time" playing with wire strings.

It is strange that people can't play "old time" on old banjos without making changes to them.  I wonder why that is?


Um... maybe because banjos made over a hundred years ago were not designed for steel strings, or for the modern adaptations of old time styles that people play today?

Andy


We have a winner! But yeah, I think Joel was being sarcastic. 

Sep 27, 2019 - 12:54:44 PM

862 posts since 3/1/2012

And it sounds like this...


Sep 27, 2019 - 9:59:07 PM

134 posts since 2/5/2014

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks
quote:
Originally posted by Andy FitzGibbon
quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Removing the ring was likely the easiest way to be able to use a taller bridge and lower the action for "old time" playing with wire strings.

It is strange that people can't play "old time" on old banjos without making changes to them.  I wonder why that is?


Um... maybe because banjos made over a hundred years ago were not designed for steel strings, or for the modern adaptations of old time styles that people play today?

Andy


Sorry Andy, I was taking a shot.  


Sorry to go off track.  (By the way, nice-sounding banjo, Jim!  Congratulations.)  But I keep pulling my hair out (what's left of it) over comments like these.  If you were as old as I am, you would remember that virtually no one was stringing his or her banjo with nylon or gut in the 1960s--not Pete Seeger or Doc Watson or Hedy West or Tommy Jarrell or even the New Lost City Ramblers, for heaven's sake.  Heck, I don't think anyone knew where to find nylon strings, except perhaps classical guitar strings or fishing line.  More to the point, I can't think of any Southern banjo hero from the 1920s--Charlie Poole, Clarence Ashley, B. F. Shelton, et. al.--who recorded with anything but wire strings.  So we did the same.  (By the way, most of us had never heard of the giants of the classic banjo world who did use gut or nylon strings.  They existed in a parallel universe, as did jazz banjoists.)   So we "customized" old instruments to lower the action for frailing, usually by placing a shim between the neck and the rim.   And probably damaged more than a few antique banjos.   Now we know better and have more respect for the historical fabric and physical properties of the old instruments.  And have actually come to like the sound of nylon strings on early banjos.   But that definitely wasn't the case 50 years ago.  

Edited by - Bob Sayers on 09/27/2019 22:01:47

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