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Feb 19, 2021 - 3:18:58 PM
260 posts since 7/3/2005

So, first post in years hi everyone, I excited to say I recently bought a completely original 1927 TB-3 archtop. I even found the original tension key in the case! I'm even more excited that Eric Sullivan's building a diamonds and squares maple neck for it and fitting a Sullivan conversion tone ring to it. It's gonna be a firecracker. Here's my question, how might a conversion ring compare to a conventional ring where the rim is cut? I would never alter that rim but I'm curious what if any difference it would make. If any of you have had the luxury of comparing them I'd love to hear about it. -Matt

Feb 19, 2021 - 5:13:13 PM

13849 posts since 10/30/2008
Online Now

Well, the ratio of wood to metal mass is of course different in an uncut rim -- more wood than normal. So it's bound to have "some" effect. Only you can decide.

My understanding of the Sullivan conversion ring is that it is heavier than the original Gibson low profile flat head (the first iteration of Gibson's flat head ring) and heavier than other conversion tone rings through the years. I think that has contributed to the good reputation of Sullivan's conversion ring.

I had a late friend who had a tube and plate Granada with a Sullivan conversion ring. This was back in the 1990s. It sounded GREAT! I mean GREAT! Everyone thought so, even those who were playing original flat heads.

Feb 19, 2021 - 5:13:38 PM

252 posts since 8/4/2006

I have a 2003 Earl Scruggs Special with a Burlile ring in it. The factory ring was fine; however, the Burlile ring made the banjo come alive.

Burlile installed his ring and told me the tim would be cut. I approved it and am glad I did. In my case the tone and punch of the banjo is excellent. No regrets.

Here is a link to a North Country Bluegrass Band show. My son is playing the Scruggs/Burlile. Wish I could play like him!

youtu.be/L3857Y9_eoE

Feb 19, 2021 - 6:02:51 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

24584 posts since 6/25/2005

Hey Matt—
Is the original TB-3 ring a no-hole or 40-hole? .... I met you at one of John Hettingers gatherings some years ago.. You had a new Huber, and I was playing my 1927 TB-3 conversion which had its original no-hole archtop ring. I remember you saying it had a “prewar sound” somewhere between a 40-hole AT and a flathead. Glad to hear about your new instrument, and hope you’ll tell us about it when you get it bac from Sullivan.

Feb 19, 2021 - 6:11:44 PM
Players Union Member

RioStat

USA

5448 posts since 10/12/2009

I'd try it out with the new 5 string neck and the archtop ring....you might just be pleasantly surprised.......it is a "pre-war" Gibson tone ring, after all. 

Feb 19, 2021 - 6:42:31 PM
likes this

RB3

USA

950 posts since 4/12/2004

I can't speak to the Sullivan conversion ring, but back in late Sixties, Harry Sparks and Mack Smith, when they were the proprietors of the Famous Old Time Music Company in Cincinnati, manufactured and marketed conversion tone rings. They may have been the first to do so.

Sparky had access to pre-war flat head tone rings at the time and took small metal shavings out of the lag screw clearance hole of one of those rings and had a metallurgist at the University Of Cincinnati Engineering department do a metallurgical analysis. That was the basis of the bronze formula that was used for their conversion rings.

Mack had one of those conversion rings in his own banjo. My recollection is that it was a tenor or plectrum Granada with a 5-string conversion neck made by Bob White from Southeastern Ohio. It was a terrific sounding banjo. It was a treat for me when Mack allowed me to play it.

Feb 20, 2021 - 7:26:18 AM

260 posts since 7/3/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Bill Rogers

Hey Matt—
Is the original TB-3 ring a no-hole or 40-hole? .... I met you at one of John Hettingers gatherings some years ago.. You had a new Huber, and I was playing my 1927 TB-3 conversion which had its original no-hole archtop ring. I remember you saying it had a “prewar sound” somewhere between a 40-hole AT and a flathead. Glad to hear about your new instrument, and hope you’ll tell us about it when you get it bac from Sullivan.


Feb 20, 2021 - 7:30:40 AM

260 posts since 7/3/2005

Hi Bill long time no chat. It’s a no hole archtop. All original everything. I can’t wait to hear it. Hopefully we can catch up in the near future. I plan on attending some of the smaller non CBA festivals this year (assuming they happen)

Feb 20, 2021 - 8:45:13 AM

O.D.

USA

3601 posts since 10/29/2003

I've read here on the HO that the difference between a conversion ring and a reg flathead depended on the individual banjos ,sometimes better,sometimes not,either way.
Subjective

I have 2 banjos with conversion rings that zI like alot,however my 27 no hole a/t remains original

To each his own

Good luck

Everett

Feb 20, 2021 - 8:23:52 PM

5 posts since 3/11/2020

I put Eric Sullivan's conversion ring in an rb 100 with a Sullivan rim as well. It was( obviously) an archtop to begin with, so since I already had/ have a very " Stanley sounding" Gibson copy, I thought I'd experiment with the conversion ring in the 100. It is a really sweet, but plenty of power banjo now. Im leaving it as is, you won't go wrong with Eric's conversion ring!

Feb 21, 2021 - 4:34:24 AM

671 posts since 7/28/2005

quote:
Originally posted by RB3

I can't speak to the Sullivan conversion ring, but back in late Sixties, Harry Sparks and Mack Smith, when they were the proprietors of the Famous Old Time Music Company in Cincinnati, manufactured and marketed conversion tone rings. They may have been the first to do so.

Sparky had access to pre-war flat head tone rings at the time and took small metal shavings out of the lag screw clearance hole of one of those rings and had a metallurgist at the University Of Cincinnati Engineering department do a metallurgical analysis. That was the basis of the bronze formula that was used for their conversion rings.

Mack had one of those conversion rings in his own banjo. My recollection is that it was a tenor or plectrum Granada with a 5-string conversion neck made by Bob White from Southeastern Ohio. It was a terrific sounding banjo. It was a treat for me when Mack allowed me to play it.


Feb 21, 2021 - 4:35:09 AM

671 posts since 7/28/2005

I'd sure like to find one of them! Do you know if any are still around, Wayne?

Feb 21, 2021 - 4:45:12 AM

140 posts since 9/1/2018

Anyone ever use a Ritchie Dotson conversion tone ring?

Feb 21, 2021 - 5:49:11 PM

14 posts since 1/7/2009

Hi again everyone. I'm Rick.
I've got a Goldstar GF-85 and I love it. But I want to change out the tone ring.
Can I get a Huber ring for it or do I have to change out the pot rim also?
Thanks,
"The Bluegrass Salesman"

Feb 21, 2021 - 6:48:59 PM

13849 posts since 10/30/2008
Online Now

Rick, the you don't need an arch-to-flat conversion ring. A regular flat head ring should swap right into your banjo with 2 caveats

1. The "skirt length" of the outside face of the tone ring. They come in long and short, and have to be matched to your rim's construction. A good flat head ring supplier should know which skirt length your Gold Star 85 needs. "Ask Steve Huber" I bet he knows.

2. How round or out-of-round your rim may be. If it's out-of-round you may have issues getting your tone ring off, and a replacement on. Usually requires a quick trip to a lathe to put the tone ring fitting surface into round again. Or judicious sanding.

Feb 21, 2021 - 8:26:45 PM
like this

DIV

USA

5507 posts since 8/18/2004

Many years ago, I went on a prewar journey and learned a tremendous amount after trying countless tone rings (conversion as well as full flathead) and long story short, If I were doing it all over again...I would have stick with the full, uncut prewar rim and use the Sullivan AT-to -flathead conversion ring. Excellent results....man, the time and money I could have saved!

Feb 22, 2021 - 4:12:29 PM

14 posts since 1/7/2009

Thanks "Old Timer".
My banjo is a flat head and the rim is clean round. I need to contact Huber but I'm not sure how.
Any body know how to get in touch?
Thanks

Feb 22, 2021 - 6:27:33 PM

260 posts since 7/3/2005

huberbanjos.com Might do the trick or 625-264-4959

Feb 23, 2021 - 1:02:22 PM

hbick2

USA

327 posts since 6/26/2004

I contacted Harry Sparks to get information about the conversion rings. Here is what he said:

Early on, in the 1970s, The Famous Old Time Music Company had several tone rings cast at Central Brass in the Mill Creek valley of Cincinnati. All of the tome rings were cast out of 80/20 Bell Bronze using only virgin ingot. This came as the result of a test made by Randy Wakefield's brother who was a student in the UC engineering program. To the best of my memory they used a piece of equipment called a spectrometer. We gave him two samples, one from an original 1930s Gibson RB3 banjo flat top tone ring and the other from a early thirties Gibson style 3 raised head tenor banjo. Sample scrapings were taken from inside the hole in the tone rings for the upper lag bolt in the neck that attaches to the coordinator rods. We first removed the plating, both nickel, and then scraped shavings of brass from inside the holes. After I had given the
samples to him to test I realized I had not marked which banjo each sample
came from. When we talked to him about the mix up, he laughed because he
had already run the samples through the spectrometer and they were exactly
the same. He then showed us a book that was some sort of major reference
information about all various metal compounds. One section was dedicated
to Bell Metals. Among many compounds listed was one called "German Bell
Bronze" which was 80% virgin Copper and 20% virgin Tin. The term "virgin
ingot" meant the metal was at least 95% pure. Traces of other metals were
found in the Gibson Rings but NO MAGMESIUM FLUX. Further this reference
book said that using Magnesium Flux was detrimental to the quality of bells
made with this alloy. When we went to Central Brass and told them I didn't
want them to use any flux in the casting process, Jim Bowman, the owner said
I would have to pay for every casting whether not it was successful. He did
say we could recycle the casting that were not successful. Flux helped the
molten brass flow through the nooks and crannies of the form. Since we
couldn't use flux we made the outer leg of the casting thicker so we would
have fewer failures.

After we got the rough castings from the foundry, we took them to a machine
shop for turning. The first one was bootlegged in a shop at Cincinnati
General Hospital's maintenance shop and the gentleman that turned the ring
told us to get the hell out of his shop and don't come back. The noise the
ring made while being turned was such that he had to wear ear protection.
He also ruined tips on a couple of cutting points until he figured out the
ring was work hardening and he had to use carbide tooling to cut it.

The Famous Old Time Music Company produced several tone rings and we didn't keep good records. The real purpose for making these "conversion rings" was to stop folks from butchering original archtop Gibson banjo shell to receive
flat head tone rings that were being made by a few folks. We used an original RB3 flathead tone ring dimensions (one that J D Crowe played for years) and modified them to fit an archtop shell. We sold several to StuMac early on but when my partner, Mack Smith didn't want to invest in full production of a large number of tone rings, StuMac had someone else make their tone rings from then on. We tried to stamp a touchmark in the rings but after breaking two we gave up. One of the ways we could recognize our rings was that we did not polish the inner slope from the head to the shell. In those days most folks buffed all surfaces.

If I have left out something, feel free to ask questions. I'll do my best
to remember.
Sparky

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