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Gibson vs Stelling, pot/tone ring design?

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Aug 6, 2020 - 9:46:50 AM
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896 posts since 2/21/2011

I understand the design difference but I'm interested in your opinions on one vs the other, i.e. advantages/disadvantages, sound, Stelling"s original block rim vs their 3-ply rim vs their Tony Pass 600 rim, etc?

Edited by - 1xsculler on 08/06/2020 10:08:09

Aug 6, 2020 - 11:23:18 AM
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13255 posts since 10/30/2008

I'm not a Stelling man, but I remember in the early years their marketing was all about the "wedge fit" of the tone ring on the rim. Not so much whether it was block or ply construction, or source of the wood. Those early Stellings had a distinctive "steely" ringing overtone sound. IMHO I think in their redesigns they have moved away from the wedge fit maybe?

Aug 6, 2020 - 11:37:57 AM

896 posts since 2/21/2011

Not sure but I believe every Stelling is built with the wedge design.

Aug 6, 2020 - 1:21:58 PM

dirigible

Canada

33 posts since 3/8/2010

quote:
Originally posted by The Old Timer

I'm not a Stelling man, but I remember in the early years their marketing was all about the "wedge fit" of the tone ring on the rim. Not so much whether it was block or ply construction, or source of the wood. Those early Stellings had a distinctive "steely" ringing overtone sound. IMHO I think in their redesigns they have moved away from the wedge fit maybe?


Stelling still uses the wedge fit design, but moved to the Tony Pass "Lost Timber" rims around 2003 (?).

Aug 6, 2020 - 2:08:12 PM
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rcc56

USA

3103 posts since 2/20/2016

I won't comment on the designs, but I recall that the Stelling company firmly established itself in the early 1980's by building a better instrument than Gibson was building at that time.

Aug 6, 2020 - 2:38:45 PM

1232 posts since 4/17/2009

I'd really like to hear a Stelling pot with a torrefied rim of some kind...I've long believed the thing holding true Stelling tone back was the rims. You just can't get any better than old wood, old prewar wood, and this new treated stuff that removes all the moisture in the wood. Stellings always had this dry uninspiring tone to me, partly due to the rims being so much more massive than a Gibson-style assembly. With the reduction in volatiles and weight that torrefied wood brings, man that would make Stellings better than prewars imho.

Aug 6, 2020 - 3:25:21 PM

KCJones

USA

879 posts since 8/30/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Pickin furry paws

I'd really like to hear a Stelling pot with a torrefied rim of some kind...I've long believed the thing holding true Stelling tone back was the rims. You just can't get any better than old wood, old prewar wood, and this new treated stuff that removes all the moisture in the wood. Stellings always had this dry uninspiring tone to me, partly due to the rims being so much more massive than a Gibson-style assembly. With the reduction in volatiles and weight that torrefied wood brings, man that would make Stellings better than prewars imho.


It's interesting you mention age. One thing I've seen mentioned before is that banjos from the 70s/80s being played now, are older than the prewar banjos when they were played in the 50s-60s. That is to say, the banjos on our favorite classic bluegrass albums were 20-30 years old at the time of recording. 

Aug 6, 2020 - 6:12:19 PM
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1232 posts since 4/17/2009

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

I'd really like to hear a Stelling pot with a torrefied rim of some kind...I've long believed the thing holding true Stelling tone back was the rims. You just can't get any better than old wood, old prewar wood, and this new treated stuff that removes all the moisture in the wood. Stellings always had this dry uninspiring tone to me, partly due to the rims being so much more massive than a Gibson-style assembly. With the reduction in volatiles and weight that torrefied wood brings, man that would make Stellings better than prewars imho.


It's interesting you mention age. One thing I've seen mentioned before is that banjos from the 70s/80s being played now, are older than the prewar banjos when they were played in the 50s-60s. That is to say, the banjos on our favorite classic bluegrass albums were 20-30 years old at the time of recording. 


The nature of the wood more than the age is important. Torrefied wood isn't very old (though it can be), and it sounds more resonant than anything else on the market I've tried. It just so happns that prewar Gibson wood sounded good from the start...and not because of mere age. The passage of time took great and made it better.

There's no Stelling I've ever heard that could best a good old flathead. Much of that has to do with the rim mass. Stelling's design is brilliant in that it reduces if not eliminates the pinching effect a Mastertone rim can have on the tone-ring skirt, killing tone. Trouble is, the design leaves the rim far more massive than a Mastertone-style rim. That kills the tone a bit.

If you've ever worked with wood, you'll notice when you drop some pieces of old, dry maple that they just clink like a marimba key, they sound so musical it isn't funny. Other pieces sound dead and dull. The ones that sound musical are always light as a feather; the ones that sound unpleasant are heavy, usually higher moisture content. Final mass in a rim is key for tone, and I am certain a Stelling with a torrefied rim would send most people running for one.

Aug 8, 2020 - 11:50:49 AM

2569 posts since 4/16/2003

OP:

Stelling rims are (construction-wise) completely different from Gibson, and nothing interchanges.

As for "the sound"... well... they sound different as well.
Whether you like or prefer "the Stelling sound" is... up to you.

No one here can adequately explain what YOU hear.
The only way "to know" is to listen for yourself and make a decision...

Aug 8, 2020 - 2:15:37 PM
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13153 posts since 6/29/2005

The Stelling design is very different from Gibson, and good for them for having the wit and ethical wherewithal to develop their own design.

The Stelling wedge fit flies in the face of the Gibson "slip-fit" idea—they are completely opposite in concept, at least theoretically.

The skirt (which causes all the "fit" problems) on Gibson tone rings is not necessary for very much in this day and age—it was put into the original design of their cast-bronze tone rings because in 1926, there were only skin heads, and you need a skirt to facilitate wet-setting of skin heads—all the old high-quality banjos of that era, Vegas, etc, had skirts, usually very thin and flexible, but because Gibson was incorporating the skirt into a casting, it had to have some dimension to allow machining as a post-casting operation, so they are 78 thousandths M/L and completely inflexible, becoming tight in the summer, loose in the winter, as we know.

There is a member of this forum who makes skirtless tone rings ( I believe by cutting the skirts off of regular flathead tonerings), which I'm sure work spectacularly well, having all the sound and none of the "fit" problems.

The Stelling design does not have the fit problem caused by the skirt—any seasonal expansion or contraction of the rim will have a minimal impact on the way the tone ring fits—it will always be tight, but able to slide up and down minimally, because it's a taper, so the contact area never varies seasonally—the salient feature of the design.

Because of the tapered nature of the tone ring, it's very difficult to engineer laminated rims to work properly with the design, which is why they embraced block rims—it has nothing to do with the sound (rims don't produce the sound), it is all about manufacturing considerations, and because of the compression fit nature of the Stelling design, which, in my opinion, works in harmony with and takes advantage of the best attributes of block rim construction. 

As an aside, I am currently developing a cast bronze tone ring which will also be skirtless, but in a different way that Stelling or Gibson—you can always add a skirt as a separate piece if you need one—it's a tough challenge to develop a design that's unique and proprietary within the narrow constraints of the top of a, 11" banjo rim.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 08/08/2020 14:21:34

Aug 8, 2020 - 3:40:54 PM
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765 posts since 11/27/2005

Ken LeVan - I can't wait to see your new design.

Aug 8, 2020 - 4:36:36 PM

lanemb

USA

131 posts since 3/11/2018

I have a Gibson and a Stelling. Two totally different sounds. I love them both. I have had the Gibson the longest. The quality of the Stelling workmanship is absolutely superior to the Gibson hands down. The Gibson has a bright ring. The Stelling has a mellowed beautiful tone. Both fret easily. Because it is newer I tend to baby the Stelling a little more than the Gibson. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

Aug 8, 2020 - 8:06:59 PM

11086 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Pickin furry paws

I've long believed the thing holding true Stelling tone back was the rims. You just can't get any better than old wood, old prewar wood, and this new treated stuff that removes all the moisture in the wood. Stellings always had this dry uninspiring tone to me, partly due to the rims being so much more massive than a Gibson-style assembly. With the reduction in volatiles and weight that torrefied wood brings, man that would make Stellings better than prewars imho.


Stellings have been using Tony Pass "Timeless Timber" rims for a long time now. Rims made from old wood recovered from Lake Superior. It's pretty old.

Not that I know anything, but I think the Stelling tone ring has more to do with Stelling sound than the rim ever could. In cross-section, Stelling's ring is a solid triangular hunk of metal vs. the hollowed-out inverted "V" of a Mastertone style flathead. 


Aug 9, 2020 - 9:17:08 AM

kevin

USA

1279 posts since 5/4/2003

Has anyone who makes the "superior" after market rings for Gibson type banjos cast one for a Stelling ? I would think so, since there is not much new in the banjo tinkering world, but I have not heard of it.

Aug 9, 2020 - 2:13:14 PM
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13153 posts since 6/29/2005

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

I've long believed the thing holding true Stelling tone back was the rims. You just can't get any better than old wood, old prewar wood, and this new treated stuff that removes all the moisture in the wood. Stellings always had this dry uninspiring tone to me, partly due to the rims being so much more massive than a Gibson-style assembly. With the reduction in volatiles and weight that torrefied wood brings, man that would make Stellings better than prewars imho.


Stellings have been using Tony Pass "Timeless Timber" rims for a long time now. Rims made from old wood recovered from Lake Superior. It's pretty old.

Not that I know anything, but I think the Stelling tone ring has more to do with Stelling sound than the rim ever could. In cross-section, Stelling's ring is a solid triangular hunk of metal vs. the hollowed-out inverted "V" of a Mastertone style flathead. 



The diagram says it all—two completely different approaches. No wonder they sound different, and the solid chunky tone ring is really what makes the Stelling sound different— assuming that the block rim is whence the sound cometh is really ascribing the wrong cause to an effect—it has nothing to do with that.

I also think that the way the Stelling flange is seated on a taper is a more sensible design than Gibson's, but give credit where credit is due—Gibson's OPF design was done in 1928 - 1929, was revolutionary and a great piece of industrial design at the time—equal to the Ford 8-N tractor IMO,  and has been copied umpteen million times by many people both talented and hacks, here and abroad, who at this point, conveniently don't even consider that they are copying someone else's design—not Gibson's fault since they let it slide and can't defend themselves. Despite being copied too much, It's a good design. Stelling's design, on the other hand is proprietary, so Stellings will remain Stellings, at least for the time being.

Aug 9, 2020 - 2:54:31 PM

11086 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan
I also think that the way the Stelling flange is seated on a taper is a more sensible design than Gibson's, but give credit where credit is due—Gibson's OPF design was done in 1928 - 1929, was revolutionary and a great piece of industrial design at the time

Don't want to hijack this discussion too much.

But when Gibson designed the one-piece flange to replace the two-piece tube and plate, for some reason they moved away from the simple idea of the top of the flange pushing up against and being restrained by a protrusion or ledge of wood and moved that pressure point to that new lower step on the one-piece flange's inside wall.  Wouldn't it have been a cleaner, simpler and fully logical design for the flange to have a flush inside wall and have the top of the outside bead push up against the bottom of the band of wood between the flange and tone ring?

Bill Rickard's discontinued bracket flange fit that way. So does a Deering flange.  I had the step of an old '70s Aria flange milled off to make it go on a rim that way.


Edited by - Old Hickory on 08/09/2020 14:55:23

Aug 9, 2020 - 4:18 PM
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banjoez

USA

2366 posts since 7/18/2007

I’ve had several Stellings with both block and 3 ply rims. The Tony Pass block rims seem to be lighter than the 3 ply rims and the thick early block rims. They produce a more well rounded tone than earlier rims IMO. Less harsh with a more, dare I say, Gibson-like tone. It has been said that if there was ever a prewar Stelling the TP rims are what gives them that attribute. I’ve liked every one I’ve played with the TP rims. Powerful and well rounded up and down the neck. Stellings excel in volume and clarity. No Gibson new or old can touch a good Stelling in those areas.

Edited by - banjoez on 08/09/2020 16:26:41

Aug 9, 2020 - 6:47:23 PM
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kevin

USA

1279 posts since 5/4/2003

I was referring to the composition of the tone ring , not the rims. Seems all of the ring makers have their own formula . Has any one tried these different formula metals and cast a Stelling ring?

Aug 10, 2020 - 1:45:44 PM
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11086 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by kevin

Has any one tried these different formula metals and cast a Stelling ring?


Other than Geoff himself possibly experimenting with different alloys, my guess would be no.

With about 7,000 Stelling banjos made in total (as of May 2017) that's a pretty limited market. If you consider that most, if not all, Stelling owners buy Stelling for the sound, then it seems there might not be a significant number of owners who want to spend hundreds of dollars to experiment with the sound of their Stelling.

From what I've read in other tone ring discussions, it costs a lot of money to make the casting molds for a tone ring.  So a  hypothetical maker would have to incur a big up-front cost, then go through test pores and finishing processes (I don't know the terminology) to get it right.  With a total universe of 7,000 banjos, only a small percent of which would ever get a replacement tone ring, the maker is probably looking at creating one of the most expensive tone rings on the market.

No one did this early on in Stelling history because the designs were patented, so they couldn't. Geoff's banjo pot patent expired in 1992, so it's my understanding anyone is free to copy the Stelling wedge fit tone ring, rim and flange.  Apparently no one thinks it's worth doing, even with lower cost Chinese manufacture.

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