Moderators welcome to move to builders. I put this here, because it concerns modification of a stock Vega tubaphone rim, which is 10 and 15/16”. It’s in an attempt to approximate what a stock 60s Vega Sonny Osborne “might” sound like. As they are very rare Vega bluegrass style banjos, they are pricey. Rightfully so.
I took a tubaphone 10 and 15/16” rim and sanded off a 1/4” tall and about same width wooden rim ledge off the very top of the rim. This is necessary to set the outer shell down far enough to look nice and to maintain overall height of tone ring assy similar to stock tubaphone height.
I disassembled a 60s Wonder, a 60s Ranger, a Wonder kinda copy, and spare bell flange assy, and couple floater Vega rims from 60s. So, the one spare rim I had for Pro II type banjo (Scruggs, Pro II) was close, only needing a quarter of an inch sanded off very top.
The Wonder and Ranger, both of which I would have more willingly sacrificed, had their respective issues with modification. The Wonder rim would have been easy. Not drop in but easy, but there was slop due to mismatch between Vega size and Rickard size. Plus, some would have still have to come off the top of wood rim. And, it’s not a bell flange assy, which is unique unto itself. remember, this isn’t about Wonder or Ranger conversion, it’s about approximating the Sonny Osborne Vega tone ring, which differs from tubaphone like Scruggs and Pro II.
The Ranger has its non reversible issues also. Even more had to come off the top of the rim, BUT, the Rickard whytle laydie 11” outer skirt fit great on outside of stock Ranger rim. BUT, I would have had to remove enough wood off top to either get too close to my stock Vega yellow label, or well into it. and, it’s still not a bell flange assy.
Using the floater parts I had I was able to throw together a stock Vega 10 and 15/16” tubaphone rim, 10 and 15/16” Vega Wonder notched tension hoop, Vega stock brackets, bell flange assy, head size and all, and install a 11” Rickard. Initially, it slipped while tightening, remember there is size mismatch. So, initially, the Whyte Laydie ring, head and tension hoop was shifting around while trying to get full head tension.
The assy got cocked, head busted at bead. Ok, take it all apart, and install plastic binding on upper rim ledge outside, with superglue, work it down with razor blade, stain, good to go. The binding is really necessary, n my opinion, unless you find some other method to prevent slip and possible head bust due to slight mismatch. Remember, this binding and stain touch up won’t be visible but it’s not much time or work to make it look right for others in the future who disassemble. You could glue on sandpaper or likely anything because it isn’t load bearing, as I initially thought. The load is going to be on the bottom of the scalloped piece, because the outer skirt is almost but not quite making contact.
It’s not much to see but only enough for slippage of 11” assy, so for head tension and easier assy and appearances sake, you need to take up that slight mismatch however you choose. And make it look nice.
So, while Vega 60s resonator 5 strings aren’t routinely thought of highly in the bluegrass world, it’s because they lack in heel fitting. This is only apparent, to me, as a very serious bluegrass Scruggs type picker. As a clawhammer guy, I would not notice any difference with the factory set screws and air gap installed at the factory. Only a bluegrass guy would notice the response rate, with metal picks and joy at medium and above tempo.
This post concerns 60s Vega twin coordinator rod flanges resonator banjos and has no bearing upon dowel stick Vega from 60s back. My Vega info may not be applicable to those. Will I do it again, sure! It sounds about like my 66 Pro II and my 67 Scruggs my 65 Scruggs. Would it sound the same in a bracket shoe Vega 60s banjo, don’t know. Is it doable, if you have marginal skills and metal ability (like me!) yes. Is it non reversible? Kinda. You could always glue wood back on the top of rim and turn it down again, but that’s work.
Would I spend the money on a Rickard ring and do this to a stock Ranger or Wonder rim? Would it sound the same as bell flange assy, I still might find out. I have other inexpensive Vega I could convert from Wonder assy or no assy to whytle laydie assy. Yep. It’s a great inexpensive tone ring, maybe a little brighter and louder with more sustain than tubaphone. In the end, I’d guess you could add a modern 11” ring of your choice if you ensure it’s shimmed with a hard material to stop movement while you assemble the banjo. Binding is cheap, easy, and unseen, and easy to scrape down to look nice. Wood or something else is going to take more time, and you’re only trying to keep it assembled into place until head tension keeps the bottom of the scalloped whytle laydie part from moving.
For around $200 and a $400 Wonder or $200 and a $300 Ranger, and some labor and mediocre talents, I believe Wonders and Rangers can be modified to full 11” tubaphone or whytle laydie tone ring Assembly. If you want a darker sound, I’d select tubaphone ring. Either way, wood has to come out.
And, as always, if you’re a bluegrass metal finger pick guy who plays up to tempo, and response rates are noticeable to you, and that extra 20% of missing tone, and why Vega is dirt cheap, remove the set screws and piece of tin, and nail, and address a proper heel fit. Get wood and not air between your heel and rim. Others may not hear any difference but it’s night and day, to a bluegrass guy. Again, I also play clawhammer and like wouldn’t notice the lack of volume and tone from stock Vega Allen set screw factory heel adjustment. It’s fast and easy for production, what they did, and clawhammer and tenor guys, who don’t need same response rate, will say, it only needs to touch in 2 spots, and you’re welcome to believe them. I’m a VERY serious bluegrass picker with a serious ear.
Not uncommon for me to strip a poly finish off an electric guitar because I hear the differences. I hear huge differences in bridges and head tensions I’d otherwise ignore bare fingered and clawhammering. I say all this because the Vega camp is primarily NOT bluegrass guys, AND, I understand both camps.
Brett, that's a lovely in-depth write up of your process, many thanks for taking the time to post it. I am purely a Clawhammer picker these days, and I have come to love 20th century Vega pots as they lie at the upper end of my banjo budget, although I must say I have never converted a tonering assembly before.
Many thanks from Bill.
You’re welcome, there is so little info about Vega bluegrass type banjos from the 60s, I’m trying to help. I play clawhammer as well as bluegrass, and appreciate the prewar Vega also. I’ve had 3-4 prewar, currently only a Fairbanks no 2 special, but am more familiar with setting up the 60s ones specifically for bluegrass response rate preferred. I hope it helps if someone runs a search someday.