Unfitted 3-ply maple rim -tonebelled
from Janet Davis Acoustic Music
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Tonebelled 3 ply maple rim for banjo
What is the Bill Palmer Tone Bell (TM) System?
by Bill Palmer
I have always liked the sound that Earl Scruggs' banjo had on the Foggy Mountain Banjo album. When I first heard it, I did not realize that there was a lot of reverb on the album, but I didn't let that stop me from trying to achieve the goal I had in mind, which was to duplicate that sound.
I tried all sorts of things. I changed brands of banjo, I used different strings. I was always just a little bit away from what I was looking for. As I tell you this, bear in mind that I did not have much money to work with. I was still in college, and earned all my money playing gigs and teaching guitar and banjo.
The key came to me in 1966 in a letter from Davis Kennedy, who was a luthier and banjo technician for the Gibson plant in Kalamazoo. He described a method of altering the banjo rim itself. This was a radical system that was far more complex than anything I wanted to try myself.
In 1969, I bought a prototypical Mastertone which had bowtie inlays, a fiddle shaped headpiece and mandolin frets. There were only a few of these made. It was pretty good, but the tone ring was a piece of die cast junk! I ordered a tone ring from Stewart-MacDonald. This had no holes in it, but it sounded a little better than the original Gibson ring. I began to analyze the situation, and I realized what part of the problem was. The chamber inside the tone ring did not communicate with the outside world. It was a dead air space. Dead air is an insulator. It is what makes acoustical tile work. If you seal off the sound hole of your guitar, it muffles the sound. The sound was there, but it couldn't get out.
I took the banjo to a friend of mine who turned wooden columns for a living. He used a router with a 3/8" corner round bit to round off the inner edge of the wood rim. Now the edge of the tone ring would be able to vibrate like a bell.Well, the difference was amazing. The fellows I worked with couldn't believe it was the same instrument. We played with amplified instruments, and I played the banjo over a mike. This was the best 5-string banjo I have ever touched. It had lots of bass, lots of treble, and it would sustain a note for a long time--for a banjo. And it was LOUD! And it sounded a lot like Earl's banjo on that album!!!
WARNING -- Do not do this yourself unless you understand that in doing so, you will render any warranty you have from the factory absolutely null and void.
Just so you will not have to damage your instrument, I have authorized Janet Davis Acoustic Music to manufacture Tone Bell (TM) rims and to do the necessary routing on your present rim. I highly recommend that you purchase a new rim, because this will eliminate the need to risk voiding your warranty. Besides, they are quite inexpensive.
If you have one of the following tone rings, the Tone Bell (TM) system will probably work quite well for you:
Gibson-Kulesh 20 hole ring
Stull Model 12 tone ring
Tennessee 20 tone ring
Stewart-MacDonald or Buck Tone ring without holes.
*Prices subject to change in the event of the manufacturer's increase.
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