|02:06A Tone Ring or Head Bearing is usually a circular metal piece that fits on the top of the rim. The head makes contact with the tone ring, not the rim. Simple banjos may have no tone ring or a small brass rod formed into a hoop and nested on the rim.
Many of the great banjos are defined by their tone rings. The Fairbanks Whyte Laydie tone ring and Tubaphone tone rings made those models among the most sought after of their day. Mastertone banjos use a heavy bronze tone ring that gives them a very strong sound.
The first Whyte Laydies appeared in 1901 or 1902. The tone ring was essentially the same as had been introduced on the "Electric" Models in the early to middle 1890s, based on an 1890 patent. The tone ring assembly was a solid ring which was set on top of a scalloped "truss", which in turn sat on the top of the rim. The Whyte Laydie was distinguished from the "Electric" by its light (unstained) finish, and the metal bracket shoe band encircling the outside of the drum, but used the same tone ring. The bracket shoes were attached to this band, so that holes for them did not have to be drilled through the wooden drum.
The "Tubaphone" tone ring was introduced in 1909 in a banjo advertised as "the Improved Whyte Laydie" banjo. Thus the various Whyte Laydie models bridged the transition from the "Electric" Tone Ring to the "Tubaphone" tone ring. Delving deeper into trivia, A.C. Fairbanks received a patent in 1887 for banjo improvements that included a hollow metal tone ring, that was apparently never manufactured. The hollow square perforated metal tone ring, the "tubaphone" did not receive a patent until 1914, though the innovation had been marketed since 1909, or 1910.
[The source for all this and many other banjo delights is Elias J. Kauffman's History of the Vega-Fairbanks Company, serialized in American Banjo Fraternity's "5-Stringer" publication, beginning in 1976]
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LAST UPDATED 10-17-2014 05:17