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Dec 2, 2020 - 12:35:34 PM
18 posts since 1/30/2019

So, say I have a cheap, nameless, student resonator banjo, and I wanted to add a tone ring where it's lacking one, to improve my sound with what I've got, you know? I'm considering buying a cheap tone ring part online, being the broke high schooler I am. I'm guessing—relatively of course—that this would improve the poor tone that I've been trying to fix since I got the instrument. Any feedback or advice would be appreciated

Dec 2, 2020 - 12:56:42 PM
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13612 posts since 10/30/2008

Usually wood has to be removed from the top of your banjo rim to make room for the metal tone ring that you purchase.

Some beginner banjos have a relatively thin, cheap rim that is literally not stout enough to support a metal tone ring.

It will be simpler, cheaper (in the long run) and more satisfying if you sell/trade your beginner's banjo for an intermediate banjo that already has a tone ring designed into it. Beginner banjos are easily resalable to other beginners.

This is the path that untold thousands of beginning banjo players have trod.

Dec 2, 2020 - 12:58:56 PM
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8051 posts since 8/28/2013

You'll have to modify the rim in order to fit a tone ring. That can get complicated, requires the right tools, and might be beyond your budget if you have to have the work done by someone.

I don't advise adding anything to a cheap nameless banjo; they just aren't worth the hassle and modifications seldom make them better. As the saying goes, you can't polish a turd.

Instead, I advise putting the money you'd spend on modifications into a banjo that's higher quality to begin with.

Dec 2, 2020 - 1:18:10 PM

1053 posts since 1/9/2012

While fitting a typical tone ring would require turning your rim on a lathe to get it to fit, there are alternatives that sit right on top of the rim. The top of such a ring has to be rounded, but its cross section can be a 1/4" diameter circle or a rectangle with a rounded top. (There are high end banjos with the latter.) To make room, you could use a band saw, table saw, or hand saw and a rasp and/or sandpaper.

Dec 2, 2020 - 1:44:53 PM

1572 posts since 4/13/2017

NativeWolf
I know you said that your banjo is nameless, but I'd like to know, is it a bottlecap banjo? Is it one of those "open back but with a resonator stuck on"?

I ask because I may have an idea for you. Can you post some pictures of the pot assembly, inside and out?

Dec 2, 2020 - 2:29:43 PM

18 posts since 1/30/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Lemon Banjos

NativeWolf
I know you said that your banjo is nameless, but I'd like to know, is it a bottlecap banjo? Is it one of those "open back but with a resonator stuck on"?

I ask because I may have an idea for you. Can you post some pictures of the pot assembly, inside and out?


I think it is. I've taken it completely apart actually, and fair warning, it's pretty bad. I may just wait until I can afford a more decent one as previously suggested, though I am curious. Hold on, I'll see if I can post any

Dec 2, 2020 - 2:51:07 PM

18 posts since 1/30/2019

Here we go




Edited by - NativeWolf on 12/02/2020 14:55:20

Dec 2, 2020 - 2:58:11 PM

1572 posts since 4/13/2017

The rim in that banjo is junk, to say the least.

How many brackets does this banjo have? 12? 16? 18? 24?

A possible route to take would be to buy a new rim, plus a tone ring. I sell block rims and can fit them to whatever hardware you need.

However, as others have suggested, you'd be better off buying a new banjo. By the time you'd pay me for a hard maple rim fitted to all the hardware and finished ($130ish), plus a good tone ring (upwards of $200), you'd have almost enough money to get yourself a good intermediate banjo.

Try looking at a Recording King RK-R35 or RK-R36. New, I think they run around $700 or $800, but used, you may find one for $500.

Dec 2, 2020 - 3:05:21 PM

18 posts since 1/30/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Lemon Banjos

The rim in that banjo is junk, to say the least.

How many brackets does this banjo have? 12? 16? 18? 24?

A possible route to take would be to buy a new rim, plus a tone ring. I sell block rims and can fit them to whatever hardware you need.

However, as others have suggested, you'd be better off buying a new banjo. By the time you'd pay me for a hard maple rim fitted to all the hardware and finished ($130ish), plus a good tone ring (upwards of $200), you'd have almost enough money to get yourself a good intermediate banjo.

Try looking at a Recording King RK-R35 or RK-R36. New, I think they run around $700 or $800, but used, you may find one for $500.


Yep, I figured it was. And it looks like 24. I do feel like it'd be the better option to purchase a new instrument at this point, so thank you for those suggestions

Dec 2, 2020 - 3:36:29 PM
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6760 posts since 12/5/2007

Nathhan, With a decent bridge and a proper setup, you should be able to make what you have sound pretty good.  The only thing you should buy is a box of fender washers to install under the the lugs that hold the J-hooks.  Depending on how long the lug screws are you might have to buy some slightly longer screws because of the thickness of the fender washers.

The reason you need to add the fender washers is that your rim is pretty soft and, when you tighted the nuts on the J-hooks, the lugs will rotate up and you will never be able to get your head up to proper tension because, as you tighten the J-hooks, they will keep trying to rotate up.

I attached 2 files.  One is a picture that shows fender washers that I installed on a 2013 Fender FB-300 which, for the most part is exactly the sort of banjo that you have.  The other file is an MP3 recording that I made of that Fender FB-300, after I set it up, compared to a 1993 Gibson Earl Scruggs Standard.  The recording is raw and un-altered, presented just as it was recorded.  I doubt you, or anyone can tell the difference.

I've never met a banjo that I couldn't make playable and decent sounding.  That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Good Luck!


Edited by - xnavyguy on 12/02/2020 15:37:33

Dec 2, 2020 - 4:11:08 PM

1572 posts since 4/13/2017

quote:
Originally posted by xnavyguy

Nathhan, With a decent bridge and a proper setup, you should be able to make what you have sound pretty good.  The only thing you should buy is a box of fender washers to install under the the lugs that hold the J-hooks.  Depending on how long the lug screws are you might have to buy some slightly longer screws because of the thickness of the fender washers.

The reason you need to add the fender washers is that your rim is pretty soft and, when you tighted the nuts on the J-hooks, the lugs will rotate up and you will never be able to get your head up to proper tension because, as you tighten the J-hooks, they will keep trying to rotate up.

I attached 2 files.  One is a picture that shows fender washers that I installed on a 2013 Fender FB-300 which, for the most part is exactly the sort of banjo that you have.  The other file is an MP3 recording that I made of that Fender FB-300, after I set it up, compared to a 1993 Gibson Earl Scruggs Standard.  The recording is raw and un-altered, presented just as it was recorded.  I doubt you, or anyone can tell the difference.

I've never met a banjo that I couldn't make playable and decent sounding.  That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Good Luck!


That is crazy! Those two banjos sound SO similar! I can barely tell any difference in the tones of them.

I said barely, though.

To my ears, it appears that the 2nd banjo has a little clearer tone and just a little more bite. Would this be the ESS? I have not a clue. Just a guess.

Dec 2, 2020 - 4:30:32 PM
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1053 posts since 1/9/2012

I'm with xnavyguy. If the tuners and frets can do their jobs, it's going to sound like a banjo. You describe yourself as a broke high schooler. It sounds like it's time to save for that hundreds of dollar purchase rather than making it now. What I described (i.e., with a 1/4" D brass ring) is very accessible DIY. It's not for nothing that banjo is sometimes described as the hot rod of musical instruments. A lot of people do their own tinkering -- and it's an education.

To source the raw material, I thought of MacMaster-Carr (macmaster.com). I'm sure cheaper is available somewhere, but they carry everything. 3' of 353 brass rod is $9 + shipping. (The + might kill you; I didn't look into it. Do you have a good local hardware store?) The ring doesn't have to be perfect, and the ends can be soldered, brazed, or left unattached. It will work.

Dec 2, 2020 - 7:14:38 PM

8051 posts since 8/28/2013

That's one of the worst rims I've ever seen. To fit anything to it, even a simple 1/4 inch brass ring, would require EXTREME care, so that it doesn't delaminate, chip, or be otherwise damaged.

While I agree that improvements can be made to these junk banjos, it can also be a bit of a crapshoot. I have had to work on some really bad banjos, and while they can be improved tonally, I've found that they many times still lack volume. Also, most improvements to these involve set-up, and that's about all that I would do to one. You need some experience to get the maximum out of these student monstrosities, and if you lack experience, be prepared to spend many hours experimenting to reach the optimum sound.

Other than the suggestion of fender washers to alleviate some of the stress on the soft wood, I would only attempt set-up experiments. It isa surprising how much can be done with head tension and tailpiece adjustments, different strings, and decent bridges.

Because you are currently a self-described "broke high schooler," I think that set-up is your best bet. You probably shouldn't even try to fit even a "cheap" tone ring, which will require some careful fitting and still need to be properly set-up. The less money spent now, the sooner you can afford an intermediate or even better banjo.

Dec 2, 2020 - 8:26:49 PM
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6760 posts since 12/5/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Lemon Banjos
quote:
Originally posted by xnavyguy

Nathhan, With a decent bridge and a proper setup, you should be able to make what you have sound pretty good.  The only thing you should buy is a box of fender washers to install under the the lugs that hold the J-hooks.  Depending on how long the lug screws are you might have to buy some slightly longer screws because of the thickness of the fender washers.

The reason you need to add the fender washers is that your rim is pretty soft and, when you tighted the nuts on the J-hooks, the lugs will rotate up and you will never be able to get your head up to proper tension because, as you tighten the J-hooks, they will keep trying to rotate up.

I attached 2 files.  One is a picture that shows fender washers that I installed on a 2013 Fender FB-300 which, for the most part is exactly the sort of banjo that you have.  The other file is an MP3 recording that I made of that Fender FB-300, after I set it up, compared to a 1993 Gibson Earl Scruggs Standard.  The recording is raw and un-altered, presented just as it was recorded.  I doubt you, or anyone can tell the difference.

I've never met a banjo that I couldn't make playable and decent sounding.  That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Good Luck!


That is crazy! Those two banjos sound SO similar! I can barely tell any difference in the tones of them.

I said barely, though.

To my ears, it appears that the 2nd banjo has a little clearer tone and just a little more bite. Would this be the ESS? I have not a clue. Just a guess.


Hunter, I can't remember which is first & which is second but I agree with you that the 2nd one has a bit more sparkle & clarity which is a characteristic of virtually every ESS that I've ever heard.  That Fender wasn't just a setup job.  When I got it, the peg head had been broken off.  The owner was a student of a teacher that I helped with the Wounded Warrior project at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio.  I had resurrected and donated a bunch of banjos to his project and most of them were much like Nathan's.

My first banjo was very much like Nathan's, except it had an aluminum rim (not a bottlecap) that had a very loud shrieky tone that I hated.  I joined the Hangout and reached out with questions of what I could do to help the tone.  All the responses were very negative and not too helpful, much like some of the ones in this thread.  I'm just trying to help Nathan and give him a little hope.

Dec 3, 2020 - 4:37:31 AM

2728 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello Jerry,

Welcome back! I remember a post of yours adding more wood to an aluminum pot. The tone was pretty good.

Diminishing returns is a real challenge with some banjos. If the hooks feel very light and non-metallic , they are prone to failure. Why? head tension is a crucial requirement of a banjo being a banjo. This makes the components of head tensioning needing to being resilient to failure. Many stories like this start with a broken hook or failed shoe. This story starts at modification.

I started on a resonator Gretsch. This came with a failed perch to neck attachment. I got it working enough to take lessons. I was graduating from high school then.

Back then, the cheap instruments had metallic parts. I could get to an acceptable tension easily.

Today, throw-away instruments seems to be then norm. Plating of metal is replaced by painted chrome. Banjos look pretty but are mere images of a banjo should look like. Sound is usually nothing like famous players recordings.

Dec 3, 2020 - 11:31:29 AM

312 posts since 12/28/2014

You can put a basic brass hoop into anything you want assuming you have the proper tools or ingenuity, it will almost always not be worth the effort but Totally possible. I put a home made brass tone ring into my epiphone mb-100 with a router and a jig, made the banjo 5x better and my hours of work increased the value back to the original msrp of 180$ ??.

Closest you might get to making a very cheap banjo tone ring fancy would Be a Dobson style ring. But anything heavier than that would need a thicker pot than what your likely going to find on a budget banjo, but some cheapies are made thick so... depends.

All that said if you like projects do it! It’s fun and you’ll learn a lot about banjo building with a low risk instrument. But if you just want a instrument that sounds better your better off saving up and getting a nicer banjo. For the time, labor, Material cost and risk it’s not worth it.
Before you start cutting your rim though I would try xnavyguy’s tried and true method of trying some new bridges, strings, heads and other smaller parts before surgery.

Dec 3, 2020 - 2:55:59 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

13295 posts since 8/30/2006

I concur with xnavyguy

Fender washers and
1/4” brass round stock are both available at ACE hardware

Rolling round stock is done in many ways but accurately with a 5” radius form
You want the circle to be a little small
34.55” = C

Dec 3, 2020 - 3:56:30 PM

DRH

USA

586 posts since 5/29/2018

From the pictures it looks like the manufacturer formed a turned-out radius on the top of the rim where it meets the head. The rim is so thin the head energy is probably being damped by the rim.

I'm going to suggest a different approach to the tone ring. Have a ring cut from 1/4" plate steel with 11.0 OD and 9.0 ID. On the top side machine a 1/4" radius on the OD. Then machine the remaining top surface with a bevel from the edge of the radius to the ID, such that the thickness at the ID is about 0.1". Then machine a step in the back side so it sits on the rim radius. Paint it gold so people won't ask why you used steel (which probably doesn't matter anyway).

This will add mass and stiffness between the head and rim, which I think is the real purpose of the tone ring.

And don't forget the fender washers.

I'd make you one myself but I pissed off the waterjet supervisor in February and haven't had much access to that side of the shop lately.

Dec 3, 2020 - 4:34:17 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

13295 posts since 8/30/2006

That’s thoughtful Doug
I think his budget means he has to sweep their shop
Then go back and play the banjo for them

I get Cherry plank ends this way, play for the cabinetmakers

I also play for the model railroad club Midnight Special and Wabash cannonball

Edited by - Helix on 12/03/2020 16:35:01

Dec 3, 2020 - 8:45:06 PM

8051 posts since 8/28/2013

I still feel that the addition of even a rudimentary ring on such a garbage rim is a waste of time and effort. Plus, you need the proper tools for the job (a sanding block might work, but a rasp would be too coarse and has the potential to tear up such a flimsy structure (if fender washers are needed, surely the rim is too fragile for any kind of aggressive cutting tools).

I'd go the set-up route. If that doesn't help enough, you could consider adding another lamination to the inside of the rim. I've seen embroidery hoops that might be added fairly easily to help stiffen the thing. With sufficient stiffness, it might then be possible to trim it for a simple round brass ring, although with a decent structure, that might no longer be necessary.

Dec 4, 2020 - 5:43:59 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

13295 posts since 8/30/2006

being the broke high schooler I am.

ReAd from the beginning. Calling his rim junk is redundant and rude. No need to call attention to yourselves and personal preferences.

He took the banjo apart = analysis. Then he will be synthesizing = putting something together.

This OP has shown inventiveness and curiousity.

A tone ring, hoop, round thang can be added with care.

Who is to kill this guys fun? Not me. He can tinker all he likes. Might come up with something no one ever thought of to use on a banjo like an Ossicle.

Dec 4, 2020 - 6:22:58 AM

5549 posts since 12/20/2005

About a year ago, I set up a bottle cap banjo for a cousin. I did nothing more than tighten the head, replaced the bridge and put on some new strings.
The action wasn't bad, the banjo was playable.
It sounded pretty decent. A lot better than I was expecting.
I don't want to discourage you from going down the road of modifying the banjo. I think it would be great learning experience.
However, you might keep in mind, this banjo does have some value as is. It could be sold or used for a trade in.
If the modifications don't work out, you will be left with a banjo that has no value, and you will have to start from scratch.
It might be more feasible to play it as is, save some money, and sell the banjo for whatever you can get for it.
Right now it's a buyer's market. It won't take all that much money to buy a decent used banjo.

Dec 4, 2020 - 6:52:58 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

13295 posts since 8/30/2006

Well done , Leslie

Dec 4, 2020 - 7:27:33 AM

5549 posts since 12/20/2005

Thanks for that Larry.

Nathan, I will add, if you decide to upgrade, while you are saving some money, I would definitely consider getting in touch with some of the banjo makers here to see if they can make a banjo for a budget. Does not have to be fancy.

Helix (Larry) is one of the great ones. My next banjo will likely be one of his. He has done some work for me, and I was amazed with his experience and capability.

Ken Levan makes outstanding banjos. Some of the best banjos ever made.

Zach Hoyt would be another.

There are others as well. Not trying to leave anyone out.

You might be surprised to learn what you might be able to come up with.

Good luck with whatever you decide.

Dec 4, 2020 - 7:55:17 AM
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8051 posts since 8/28/2013

"Calling his rim junk is redundant and rude."

It also happens to be the truth. The truth is usually only "rude" to thin-skinned know-it-alls, and I think the O.P. is more intelligent than that. If multiple people say his rim is trash, so be it. It can be too easy to dismiss a single comment as being from a nasty old crank.

Knowing what a person has to begin with is the most important first step in any improvement project. It can influence the choices one makes. If the O.P. doesn't know that his rim may be too thin to support a ring of any sort, or if he believes he needs no further alterations of that rim, or if he doesn't know the limitations of working a soft or brittle wood, he could very easily do damage to this rim. Rather than improving his banjo, he could actually make it worse or even ruin it completely.

Dec 4, 2020 - 12:36:50 PM

2636 posts since 4/16/2003

I wouldn't try kludging some kind of tone ring onto that rim.

Put the banjo you have now back together and get it sounding/playing as good as you can "as it is".

Save your money and start to look for something "higher up".
It will be better-spent that way.

Brands to investigate:
- Recording King
- Gold Star
- Gold Tone

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