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Nickel vs Brass tone rings - difference in tone?

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Oct 19, 2019 - 9:04:10 PM

robobanjo

Canada

284 posts since 8/21/2009

Hey all - I am considering placing an order for a custom banjo with a tubaphone tone ring. I was wanting all brass hardware, but wanted to know if brass results in a different tone than nickel? Assuming there is a difference in tone between brass and nickel tone rings, is it noticeable? I play Irish tenor banjo. Thanks in advance for any insights on this matter. I don't want to make a decision I will later regret.

Rob

Oct 19, 2019 - 9:09:47 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22455 posts since 6/25/2005

I assume you mean nickel plating vs. unplanted brass. I know of no nickel tone rings. I’ve never heard a significant difference, if any at all. Others may hear some difference.

Oct 19, 2019 - 9:15:33 PM

robobanjo

Canada

284 posts since 8/21/2009

Yes, that is what I mean - nickel plated vs un-plated brass ... any noticeable difference? 

Edited by - robobanjo on 10/19/2019 21:16:06

Oct 19, 2019 - 9:20:05 PM

10173 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by robobanjo

Yes, that is what I mean - nickel plated vs un-plated brass ... any noticeable difference? 


Not to my ears. But I wear hearing aids, so what do I know?

Oct 19, 2019 - 10:36:31 PM
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14836 posts since 2/7/2003

Not even your dog can hear any difference. Seriously , no, no impact on sound

Scott

Oct 20, 2019 - 4:32:17 AM
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12265 posts since 6/29/2005

While it's true that plating on brass—nickel, chrome, gold, etc., will not affect the sound even a little bit, it's possible to make tone rings from solid nickel silver AKA German silver.

Wikipedia says "Musical instruments, including the flute, saxophone, trumpet, and French horn, can be made of nickel silver. Many professional-level French horns are entirely made of nickel silver. Some saxophone manufacturers, such as Keilwerth,offer saxophones made of nickel silver (Shadow model); these are far rarer than traditional lacquered brass saxophones. Nickel silver produces a bright and powerful sound quality"

In the past, I made a tonering model called the "CannonBell", which was solid nickel silver with a brass head bearing.  I also made the exact same design in brass and there was a considerable difference between the two, the nickel silver one being  brighter and more assertive, the brass one darker.  They weigh 37 oz., and are louder than Vega Tubaphones, which they superficially resemble.  I made two banjos with these tone rings for a folk performer who then sold his vintage TuBaPhone.  I have a bluegrass banjo with one of these and it is louder and more expressive than my 1927 archtop Granada.

As far as I know, I am the only person who makes these, and I don't sell them as a "part" so knowing this isn't very helpful other than a point of information, but I've always been surprised that nobody else has ever made nickel silver tone rings.

Oct 20, 2019 - 5:16 AM

4388 posts since 11/20/2004

Opinions clearly vary, and my experience is with Mastertone style rings, but I feel unplated rings are slightly louder and more open sounding. I won't claim to be able to pick one in a blind test, but multiple times, have installed one of each in the same banjo to hear differences and even removed the plating from a ring and reinstalled it. I had another picker play it and agreed with what I felt. Based on previous discussions, there are reputable people in both camps.

Oct 20, 2019 - 6:32:22 AM

Fathand

Canada

11508 posts since 2/7/2008

I am sure there is a difference in tone but I doubt you could hear it enough to tell the difference that one gram or less of nickel would make.

Nickel will be easier to keep clean and shiny as brass likes to turn green.

I am curious who is now selling Tubaphone rings? Last I saw, Rickard stopped selling them.

Oct 20, 2019 - 6:48:47 AM

Fathand

Canada

11508 posts since 2/7/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

As far as I know, I am the only person who makes these, and I don't sell them as a "part" so knowing this isn't very helpful other than a point of information, but I've always been surprised that nobody else has ever made nickel silver tone rings.


Do we know what Gibson Ball Bearing rings were made of? I thought I read nickel silver once. I found an old Gibson Ad but it seems to describe them as some sort of magic JuJu Beans material.

Oct 20, 2019 - 7:17:51 AM

12265 posts since 6/29/2005

I am going to say that the brass finish on a trumpet, which represents the entire vibrating body of the instrument will have a much more profound affect on the sound, than on a banjo tone ring which really doesn't vibrate much and the actual function of which is surrounded in mystery and conjecture. A trumpet is pretty directly a brass instrument, whereas the tonering on a banjo is third-tier.

A very thorough test was done on trumpets by the schilke company, where they tested raw brass, plated, and lacquered trumpets of exactly the same construction.  The test involved blind comparisons and evaluation by orchestral trumpet players and conductors, and it was unanimously decided that there was no difference whatsoever between the sounds of raw brass and plated instruments, but the lacquered ones "lost something".  Go to a symphony concert and you'll see that some brass players have removed the lacquer from their instruments, but they don't strip the plating from plated ones.

The idea that a couple of microns of nickel or gold plating on a 3 pound banjo tonering is going to change the sound is pure delusion and imagination, just like the number of holes in the tonering, although that, at least changes the weight in a miniscule way, but we all know that 40 hole PW tone rings and no-hole ones were made from different alloys in different foundries, which is why they sound different—not because of the holes.

I would say believe what you want to believe—it's a free country, but don't spray lacquer on a banjo tone ring.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 10/20/2019 07:22:48

Oct 20, 2019 - 8:02:09 AM
Players Union Member

rudy

USA

14578 posts since 3/27/2004

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

I am going to say that the brass finish on a trumpet, which represents the entire vibrating body of the instrument will have a much more profound affect on the sound, than on a banjo tone ring which really doesn't vibrate much and the actual function of which is surrounded in mystery and conjecture. A trumpet is pretty directly a brass instrument, whereas the tonering on a banjo is third-tier.

A very thorough test was done on trumpets by the schilke company, where they tested raw brass, plated, and lacquered trumpets of exactly the same construction.  The test involved blind comparisons and evaluation by orchestral trumpet players and conductors, and it was unanimously decided that there was no difference whatsoever between the sounds of raw brass and plated instruments, but the lacquered ones "lost something".  Go to a symphony concert and you'll see that some brass players have removed the lacquer from their instruments, but they don't strip the plating from plated ones.

The idea that a couple of microns of nickel or gold plating on a 3 pound banjo tonering is going to change the sound is pure delusion and imagination, just like the number of holes in the tonering, although that, at least changes the weight in a miniscule way, but we all know that 40 hole PW tone rings and no-hole ones were made from different alloys in different foundries, which is why they sound different—not because of the holes.

I would say believe what you want to believe—it's a free country, but don't spray lacquer on a banjo tone ring.


Ditto Ken's thoughts on plating on tone rings.

Spraying or coating a unplated or plated tone ring can also create problems when you tighten the head.  A coating will often interfere with the mylar's (or hide's) ability to be drawn over the tight radius of the tone ring without binding.

Some of the details here are currently being discussed in this SETUP topic posted in the "Other Banjo-related Topics, Clawhammer / oldtime" forum.  It probably should be posted in this forum, related to setup, but it was posted there.  There are many good comments relating to open back setup, so I encourage participation in that topic.

Edited by - rudy on 10/20/2019 08:05:13

Oct 20, 2019 - 9:17:10 AM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22455 posts since 6/25/2005

Note that nickel silver is mostly copper. 

Oct 20, 2019 - 9:42:27 AM
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12265 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Bill Rogers

Note that nickel silver is mostly copper. 


That's right—it's a form of "cupronickel" and the alloy I use is 18% nickel.  18-8 stainless steel is also 18% nickel for whatever that's worth—both of them are "no-nos" for people with nickel allergies.

In terms of my use of 18% nickel silver in banjos, I will say it's a little harder than 260 brass, harder yet than 360, a little harder to bend than either, and has a different ring, just when you bang on it.  I have made tone rings, bracket bands, tailpieces and armrests from it, and it's virtually indistinguishable from nickel plated brass once polished, but of course, it's not plated, so the color goes all the way through.

If I could get stock in the right sizes, I would make entire banjos from it including tension hoops, shoes, hooks and nuts, but it's not available in small quantities in very many thicknesses & shapes—I wish it was.

Oct 20, 2019 - 11:37:46 AM

DSmoke

USA

732 posts since 11/30/2015

So if you want to preserve the look of the brass on the tone ring what do you do? Would a thin layer of shellac applied like a french polish work? Or maybe a wax that is buffed off leaving enough to prevent corrosion?

I am also curious what the magic JuJu bean TB3 ball bearing is constructed of.

Oct 20, 2019 - 1:15:16 PM

12265 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by DSmoke

So if you want to preserve the look of the brass on the tone ring what do you do? Would a thin layer of shellac applied like a french polish work? Or maybe a wax that is buffed off leaving enough to prevent corrosion?

I am also curious what the magic JuJu bean TB3 ball bearing is constructed of.


I wouldn't put anything on a brass tone ring.  In fact, I no longer even patina the tone rings on the banjos I make with patinated brass parts.

If you polish it, it will remain brassy looking for many years, getting slowly darker. You could probably rub on Renaissance wax or something like that as a protector and that wouldn't have any ill affect, also the wax would make the head slide better.

According to Julian (Winnie) Winston, the tone rings were nickel plated.  See his page about his 1925 8104-10 Granada

http://www.julianwinston.com/music/my_granada_banjo.php

Oct 21, 2019 - 1:57:14 AM

4436 posts since 9/7/2009

This banjo was coated with paint inside and out. Did the coating hamper the sound? If it did, you would need earplugs to play it!

youtube.com/watch?v=r41xjvmLJV...rpRkfVj0M

Oct 21, 2019 - 5:52:23 AM

12265 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by BNJOMAKR

This banjo was coated with paint inside and out. Did the coating hamper the sound? If it did, you would need earplugs to play it!

youtube.com/watch?v=r41xjvmLJV...rpRkfVj0M


It's quite possible that the tone ring being able to "ring" is of no importance whatsoever. After all, they are normally pushed down hard against the rim, dampening any tendency to vibrate.

David Politzer has said that the tone ring adding stiffness to the pot is its primary function, so it's quite possible they could be (and have been) made from stone, concrete ceramic, any rigid material, and it wouldn't matter if they were painted, epoxy coated or finished in any way. (?)

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