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Apr 4, 2020 - 5:45:02 PM
1182 posts since 4/13/2017

I'm sure this has been a topic of hot debate. However, I would like to know why it is that so many people prefer ply rims. Tony Pass proved that the block rims are more stable as well as more consistent (read this if you're not sure what I'm referring to).

I much prefer block rims. Not to be different from all these manufacturers, not to call the ply rim insufficient (they've worked for years, so they're not insufficient for sure). I prefer them for many reasons.

According to a test that Tony Pass conducted (documented in the article above), the ply rims are not in the wood's natural state. It remembers being in its natural state - straight not round.  The more wood you remove using a lathe (or any other tool), the more capable that wood becomes of trying to straighten itself out. With the block rim does not have that issue, since all the wood in the rim is in its natural state - straight. However, I do realize that prewar ply rims are sorta an exception to this.

Also, I prefer a block rim because I listened to the tap note of two rims. One a recording king 3-ply rim and the other my own block rim. Both were made of hard maple. The tap note of the block rim was significantly louder and clearer than that of the ply rim. In fact, the tap note of the ply rim was basically nonexistent, more of a thud. The tap note of my own block rim was bright, clear, and loud.

A third reason I prefer block rims are one can build a woodie with one, which cannot be done with a ply rim. And quite honestly, I much prefer woodies to full-weight tone rings. My music teacher has one built from scratch, and the same guy who built his converted my 90's Alvarez, and two of my friends' RK R35s. These banjos are absolutely the best banjos I have ever played. They are loud, crisp, clear, and have an excellent tone, and are also 3lbs lighter than the average banjo. My teacher has an '88 Granada, an absolute hoss of a banjo, and he much prefers the woodies, as does everyone who plays banjo that I know (and I know a lot of them). 

Fourth and finally, they are so simple to build. I do not have a lathe, but I have a router. I have built two block rims and have a third in the making. They are so easy to build. 

Perhaps I am not seeing the cons in block rims nor the pros in ply rims, but would someone please enlighten me as to why ply rims are better, even after reading Tony's article?

Edited by - Blue20Boy17 on 04/04/2020 17:48:02

Apr 4, 2020 - 6:24:06 PM

573 posts since 11/21/2018

Well....All I can add is that I played on stage and carried a 3 ply maple rim completely unfinished in my banjo between WA state and Eskimo Alaska on flights in the cargo holds, on a boat on the salt sea, in hot cars through deserts, etc. and it stayed  round and sounded great for 40 years.

Only in 2019 did that rim finally get a stain and finish job and it's still sounding great in my banjo. The rim was bought through Roger Siminoff and is either his or possibly even a Stew Mac. So I'm not seeing durabilitiy as a problem...

Even if it wasn't "perfectly" round to a decimal point, after 40 years the ring still fit fine without turning down the rim, etc.  If block rims are easier to build then that could be an advantage for that builder.

There are numerous wood tone rings made for placing on 3 ply rims so that's always an option if someone wants to lighten up a banjo or prefers that sound.  I've picked on other owner's Stellings both with and without a block rim and really couldn't hear a difference that would jump right out at me but that's me.  

Edited by - northernbelle on 04/04/2020 18:40:07

Apr 4, 2020 - 6:41:20 PM
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7057 posts since 8/28/2013

I won't debate your own preferences, but I will point out a few things I disagree with in your thoughts.

1. Bent wood may have some tendency to go back to its original state, but that fails to account for Steinway piano "laminated," or as you call them "ply," rims that were made in the 1870's and still retain their original shapes. Nor does it account for bentwood furniture, carriage and automobile bodies, tennis rackets, and probably dozens of other things that have been made for ages with laminates. (Ken LeVan a while back posted photos of some pretty amazing structural things made with bent laminates; things that couldn't possible even hold together with blocks.)

2. A ply rim can and has been used since the nearly the dawn of the banjo for so-called "woodies." Take apart an inexpensive Buckbee; you won't find blocks, you'll see only bent wood.

3. There have been numerous debates about "tap tones," and there are quite a number of banjo builders who believe they are virtually meaningless. The rim is for supporting the head, and any tap tone is a petty consideration when one considers all the other parts of a banjo that affect tone, such as bridges, necks, head type, down pressure of the strings, and rim thickness and rigidity.

Edited by - G Edward Porgie on 04/04/2020 18:43:09

Apr 4, 2020 - 6:58:27 PM

7616 posts since 1/7/2005

quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

I won't debate your own preferences, but I will point out a few things I disagree with in your thoughts.

1. Bent wood may have some tendency to go back to its original state, but that fails to account for Steinway piano "laminated," or as you call them "ply," rims that were made in the 1870's and still retain their original shapes. Nor does it account for bentwood furniture, carriage and automobile bodies, tennis rackets, and probably dozens of other things that have been made for ages with laminates. (Ken LeVan a while back posted photos of some pretty amazing structural things made with bent laminates; things that couldn't possible even hold together with blocks.)


Not to mention, every guitar ever made. 

DD

Apr 4, 2020 - 7:07:46 PM

10671 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Blue20Boy17

A third reason I prefer block rims are one can build a woodie with one, which cannot be done with a ply rim. 


Gibson "00" (RB-00, TB-00) banjos were three-ply thin-rim woodies with only a bead of rim wood at the top as a bearing surface.

As to the rest of your message, who knows? I assume it must take less labor to make laminated rims, otherwise we would have seen more manufacturers going to block.

I think another advantage of block rims reported by Ken LeVan is that they have much less glue than a 3-ply laminated rim.

Apr 4, 2020 - 7:12:36 PM

7057 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Dan Drabek
quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

I won't debate your own preferences, but I will point out a few things I disagree with in your thoughts.

1. Bent wood may have some tendency to go back to its original state, but that fails to account for Steinway piano "laminated," or as you call them "ply," rims that were made in the 1870's and still retain their original shapes. Nor does it account for bentwood furniture, carriage and automobile bodies, tennis rackets, and probably dozens of other things that have been made for ages with laminates. (Ken LeVan a while back posted photos of some pretty amazing structural things made with bent laminates; things that couldn't possible even hold together with blocks.)


Not to mention, every guitar ever made. 

DD


Violins, Lutes, bowlback mandolins,  Alphorns, drums..

Apr 4, 2020 - 7:32:54 PM

288 posts since 4/15/2003

quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory
quote:
Originally posted by Blue20Boy17

A third reason I prefer block rims are one can build a woodie with one, which cannot be done with a ply rim. 


Gibson "00" (RB-00, TB-00) banjos were three-ply thin-rim woodies with only a bead of rim wood at the top as a bearing surface.

As to the rest of your message, who knows? I assume it must take less labor to make laminated rims, otherwise we would have seen more manufacturers going to block.

I think another advantage of block rims reported by Ken LeVan is that they have much less glue than a 3-ply laminated rim.


Deerlng John Hartford model (22 frets) - 3 ply maple rim with grenadillo tone ring - a woodie

Apr 4, 2020 - 8:02:30 PM

1182 posts since 4/13/2017

Ok...on some of my points I was a little incorrect...I had forgotten about the early Gibson woodies.

However, that Recording King R-35 rim I have came out of a brand new R-35 and the owner (one of my friends) had it converted to a woodie since one of our other friends had an R-35 and converted it to a woodie and it made it a significantly better sounding banjo. That rim was brand new and is out of round. I made my latest block rim exactly to the dimensions of that 3-ply rim, and when I held them against each other to check how the center diameter lined up, the RK rim would only line up on two opposing sides.

The friend who built those woodies has also built banjos with tone rings, and he had the very same issue as Tony Pass when machining 3-ply rims - the rim would get slightly out of round and cause the tone ring to tighten up on only two points. This guy knows banjos. He took my Alvarez that isn't worth $300 bucks and made it sound as good as any high-dollar banjo I've ever played (including my own Gibson set up by the same guy).

Also, with the bent furniture, 0.010" doesn't affect whether or not the chair can be sat in (unless it has been made so thin already that 0.010" will cause it to snap, of course).

For the John Hartford model, is that granadillo made of plies on top of the maple plies or blocks on top of the maple plies?

Apr 4, 2020 - 8:21:41 PM

316 posts since 5/29/2015

A tool used by (some) violin and bow makers:

https://www.cremonatools.com/lucchi-meter.html

 

Plenty of controversy.

..and out of my price range.

Apr 5, 2020 - 12:33:37 AM
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4812 posts since 5/14/2007

I think tradition has a lot to do with the opinions people express in the block vs ply rim debate. And the tools required are considerably different. I know that routers can carve a block rim, but most makers use a lathe. That's more tool than the steam and mold required for a ply rim.

As for which is better, the answer is...I dunno.

Apr 5, 2020 - 1:18:58 AM
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3012 posts since 5/29/2011

Which is better, Ford, Dodge, or Chevrolet? The myriad of answers to that question will be purely opinion and personal preference. The debate on block vs. ply rims is going to be the same way. The fact is that there are going to be plenty of people who have their own preference and will not be swayed by what other people say.

Apr 5, 2020 - 1:35:27 AM
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eljimb0

USA

1990 posts since 7/24/2007

When I see Robin Hood shooting the bad King's men with a block bow.. I will be first in line to get one. :)

Apr 5, 2020 - 3:35:37 AM

4476 posts since 11/20/2004

Good banjos can be built with either type. I have owned both and played both, including Tony Pass thin skirts and 2 or 3 Lammers block rims. When I found the sound I liked, it happened to be from old 3 ply rims.
If I decided to build a rim, it would likely be from blocks, just due to my tools, but I doubt I could expect the same tone as a 90 yr. old 3 ply.

Apr 5, 2020 - 4:46:48 AM
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1182 posts since 4/13/2017

quote:
Originally posted by Culloden

Which is better, Ford, Dodge, or Chevrolet? The myriad of answers to that question will be purely opinion and personal preference. The debate on block vs. ply rims is going to be the same way. The fact is that there are going to be plenty of people who have their own preference and will not be swayed by what other people say.


obviously the answer is Chevrolet ;)

Apr 5, 2020 - 6:31:10 AM

12873 posts since 6/29/2005

This seems to be a subject that never can go away, and never does, partly because there is no objective definitive answer or method of comparison other than as Dan Drabek has suggested, dropping a block rim and a laminated one off the roof of a building onto a concrete surface—the block rim would shatter and the laminated one would bounce.  I really want to do that at some point because I would so thoroughly enjoy seeing a block rim burst into a lot of pieces—I would want to record the sound it made and do a slow motion video.

I've made all kinds of rims over the years, including finger-jointed ones, which I don't think any one else makes.  I have no commercial axe to grind, do not sell rims, do not have some special branded wood type or marketing program to promote them, have no vested interest to protect—I am just trying to make the best possible rims for the banjos I build, which I do.

Having said that, laminated rims are the best method, all around, and if properly steamed and glued, they DO NOT want to return to straight, you have a lot of latitude to engineer them and they don't have a bunch of brick-wall type glue joints.  Finger-jointed rims are next best, have very little glue (for whatever that's worth, if anything), but are extremely difficult and dangerous to make and require a veneer on the inside for cosmetic reasons.  Block rims are my least favorite, and are most useful for unusually shaped rms like Stellings or some design that wants a special profile on the outside where laminations would need to be precisely engineered.  I will admit that block rims are the best choice if you can't make laminated ones—anyone can make a block rim.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 04/05/2020 06:35:05

Apr 5, 2020 - 7:19:08 AM

7057 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

This seems to be a subject that never can go away, and never does, partly because there is no objective definitive answer or method of comparison other than as Dan Drabek has suggested, dropping a block rim and a laminated one off the roof of a building onto a concrete surface—the block rim would shatter and the laminated one would bounce.  I really want to do that at some point because I would so thoroughly enjoy seeing a block rim burst into a lot of pieces—I would want to record the sound it made and do a slow motion video.

I've made all kinds of rims over the years, including finger-jointed ones, which I don't think any one else makes.  I have no commercial axe to grind, do not sell rims, do not have some special branded wood type or marketing program to promote them, have no vested interest to protect—I am just trying to make the best possible rims for the banjos I build, which I do.

Having said that, laminated rims are the best method, all around, and if properly steamed and glued, they DO NOT want to return to straight, you have a lot of latitude to engineer them and they don't have a bunch of brick-wall type glue joints.  Finger-jointed rims are next best, have very little glue (for whatever that's worth, if anything), but are extremely difficult and dangerous to make and require a veneer on the inside for cosmetic reasons.  Block rims are my least favorite, and are most useful for unusually shaped rms like Stellings or some design that wants a special profile on the outside where laminations would need to be precisely engineered.  I will admit that block rims are the best choice if you can't make laminated ones—anyone can make a block rim.


I would really enjoy a video of a block rim being dropped off of a building. It's not that I think block rims are the Devil's handiwork, it's just that I sometimes enjoy the shattering of unusual objects. A friend and I used to throw burnt out fluorescent tubes into the company dumpster just to hear the noise they made while breaking.

Apr 5, 2020 - 7:41:50 AM

433 posts since 2/6/2011

Blue20Boy17 Why do you say that a woodie can't be made with a laminate rim?

Apr 5, 2020 - 8:49:44 AM

12873 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie
quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

This seems to be a subject that never can go away, and never does, partly because there is no objective definitive answer or method of comparison other than as Dan Drabek has suggested, dropping a block rim and a laminated one off the roof of a building onto a concrete surface—the block rim would shatter and the laminated one would bounce.  I really want to do that at some point because I would so thoroughly enjoy seeing a block rim burst into a lot of pieces—I would want to record the sound it made and do a slow motion video.

I've made all kinds of rims over the years, including finger-jointed ones, which I don't think any one else makes.  I have no commercial axe to grind, do not sell rims, do not have some special branded wood type or marketing program to promote them, have no vested interest to protect—I am just trying to make the best possible rims for the banjos I build, which I do.

Having said that, laminated rims are the best method, all around, and if properly steamed and glued, they DO NOT want to return to straight, you have a lot of latitude to engineer them and they don't have a bunch of brick-wall type glue joints.  Finger-jointed rims are next best, have very little glue (for whatever that's worth, if anything), but are extremely difficult and dangerous to make and require a veneer on the inside for cosmetic reasons.  Block rims are my least favorite, and are most useful for unusually shaped rms like Stellings or some design that wants a special profile on the outside where laminations would need to be precisely engineered.  I will admit that block rims are the best choice if you can't make laminated ones—anyone can make a block rim.


I would really enjoy a video of a block rim being dropped off of a building. It's not that I think block rims are the Devil's handiwork, it's just that I sometimes enjoy the shattering of unusual objects. A friend and I used to throw burnt out fluorescent tubes into the company dumpster just to hear the noise they made while breaking.


I always used to like Mythbusters" because they would blow things up and it was very entertaining—the climax of the show was often someone saying "fire in the hole" and detonating a dynamite charge inside a cement mixer to blow out the hardened concrete, or something like that.  Those guys could have done a spectacular series about banjo myths.

Apr 5, 2020 - 8:56:37 AM

433 posts since 2/6/2011

Ken LeVan The Slow Mo Guys on You Tube would be good too.
youtube.com/watch?v=NeKXvINnk04

Apr 5, 2020 - 9:24:27 AM

2626 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,

Marketing attempts are everywhere. A case is presented to suggest that what we have is deficient. You must buy this product.

I have one of Ken LeVan’s finger-jointed. I like this banjo with the right bridge. In the vein of public opinion, my family likes my RB-12 with its three ply maple rim.

With a block rim, the Tony Pass, finger-jointed, pre-war Gibson TB-00, and Helix rims can endure more geometric shaping. To compromise a 3-ply geometry weakens the structure.

Tony Pass has a geometric tone chamber geometry. Helix has his version. Block rims make this possible. 3-ply rims are shaped for the rim and hardware attachments. The resultant chambers are generic.

Edited by - Aradobanjo on 04/05/2020 09:26:20

Apr 5, 2020 - 10:22:54 AM
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RBuddy

USA

1567 posts since 7/2/2007

I think it's of little value comparing construction techniques of banjo rims to boats or bows or furniture or flinging rings off tall buildings into concrete. Banjos rarely have to survive those things. Dropping rims from waist height would probably be a legit test and about every rim mentioned would survive a real world test like that.

Block or bent and laminated rims have proven themselves worthy of the task for decades.

I personally like block rims, I like the way they are constructed and I like the way they look. I wouldn't build a block rim that was much less than 5/8" thick unless it had a sturdy veneer on it. Even if I were building bent wood laminated rims I would not go thinner than 1/2". That's just where I set my limits. In my opinion, too many blocks make a block rim weaker and making a block rim too thin with longer blocks builds in weakness because the long grain ends up crossing the width of the block also creating weakness so I don't do that either.

Both methods have strengths and weaknesses that come into play for builders when deciding how to build. When you glue a woody ring or rim cap to a 3 ply rim does it make the overall rim weaker? IMO, it makes a block rim even stronger.

If I want to build with a  2 or 3 ply rim I buy them from one of the handful of professional rim makers. They have machinery to
bend more accurately and glue uniformly better than most small shops. Definitely better than mine.

One of the first rules of woodworking is having well fit wood parts prior to gluing. Meaning if you put the pieces together that you want to glue there should not be any gaps without clamps or you are building 24/7 stress into the structure itself by forcing it.  Having bent  plenty of guitar and violin sides, they rarely if ever come off the pipe or bending form absolutely perfect. Wood doesn't bend like copper tubing, it isn't a uniform material. I know I would have difficulty making 3 pieces of >1/4" wood bent into 11" circles fit well enough together that it wouldn't take every clamp and caul in the shop to force them.  Of course that's breaking all the well established rules of a good wood joint - and probably why 3 ply rims occasionally delaminate.  I know every block in my rims meets the first rule of wood gluing, they fit tight without clamps -- so that is the method I use. It insures a glue joint as strong as the wood. Wood joints are clamped to specified PSI to spread the glue to required film layer to allow wood to wood contact and strength, not to force non conforming members together.

There is no need  to say every method but mine is inferior and usually when I hear that, I know it's more sales pitch than science. There are rims constructed in ways that I'd worry about putting strings on them but I don't build that way so don't have to worry about them.

Cheers and stay safe!

Edited by - RBuddy on 04/05/2020 10:23:54

Apr 5, 2020 - 11:00:35 AM
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7616 posts since 1/7/2005

quote:
Originally posted by eljimb0

When I see Robin Hood shooting the bad King's men with a block bow.. I will be first in line to get one. :)


The combination of bent laminations and block construction can work nicely for both bows and banjos.

 

Apr 5, 2020 - 11:52:41 AM

966 posts since 1/26/2012

It has been proven time and time again that it doesn't matter what you use when you build a banjo- which type of rim, which type of tone ring, which type of bridge, which type of strings, which type of tuners, etc- you can make a really good banjo. There are certain materials and techniques that are better suited for getting a particular result, and even then it can be debated, but none of it is better or worse than the rest. It's all just opinions.

Apr 5, 2020 - 12:16:27 PM
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eljimb0

USA

1990 posts since 7/24/2007

Lead By Example!
This thread is Wonderfull. We have managed to politely discuss an enormously complex and contentious issue without condescension .. without frippery .. without aggression! Our cousins who make jokes about banjos and the people who own and play them, can't discuss toilet paper without blaming some version of the powers that be ...or lack of them. Be proud!

Apr 5, 2020 - 2:48:15 PM

7057 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Aradobanjo

Hello,

Marketing attempts are everywhere. A case is presented to suggest that what we have is deficient. You must buy this product.

I have one of Ken LeVan’s finger-jointed. I like this banjo with the right bridge. In the vein of public opinion, my family likes my RB-12 with its three ply maple rim.

With a block rim, the Tony Pass, finger-jointed, pre-war Gibson TB-00, and Helix rims can endure more geometric shaping. To compromise a 3-ply geometry weakens the structure.

Tony Pass has a geometric tone chamber geometry. Helix has his version. Block rims make this possible. 3-ply rims are shaped for the rim and hardware attachments. The resultant chambers are generic.


I think the Weymann "Megaphonic" rims show that more than a generic shape can be accomplished with a laminated structure.  

Apr 5, 2020 - 5:43:16 PM

2626 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,

The few Weymann instrument survivors seem to be a testament of their resiliency. Many such banjo businesses are gone. It seems that 3-ply rims won out any doubters over the last 50+ years. 

What seems to be the norm, anything trademarked long ago must have been successful. A research of every turn into the 20th banjo business shows none but a few survived. The end is Weymann is history. 

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