Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Tone ring

This may be a silly question but here goes anyways, I own I guess a starter banjo a morgan monroe MNB-1 rocky top. I was wondering if you can buy a tone ring and replace the rolled tone ring without any trouble? also if you can are tone rings different? I found one on ebay for $125. it seems with the price of upper end banjos with the tone rings are a quite bit more than your rolled tone ring banjos, more so than $125.

Hi burton,

Yep, you can pay several hundred dollars easy for a good tone ring. To fit a tone ring on a rim the rim needs to be cut down on a lathe and fitted for that specific ring. It is fairly expensive to have done (I’d guess more than your MM cost new), and you are never sure exactly what you will get until it is all put back together.

Most of the banjos that people spend the money on to put rings in are already top grade banjos. Gibsons out of the 1920’s for instance had a brass hoop fitted to the wood rim. In the 1930’s music evolved to get louder and banjos evolved to follow by adding a tone ring. Many "20s Gibsons are re-cut to replace the hoop with a tone ring.

There is a lot of difference in tone rings and I would recommend playing and listening to several different tone rings in several different banjos before ever buying one.

Banjo Hangout has several sound files where guys have put two different tone rings in the same banjo and recorded it both ways. These are really good to listen to to get an idea of some of the differences in tone you can get from different rings.

From what I’ve been reading, word has it that the sand cast bell bronze rings are the best out there…but I also hear they will cost you a small fortune. I don’t really know why or the reasoning, but some say they are better than a die-cast or any other rolled style metal. I know the basic process for sand casting, just not so sure about why its better so long as the metal is the same thickness and quality.

Been a long time since I studied any metallurgy. Don’t know the whys and wherefores.

My father was a patternmaker by trade at a place (foundry) where they made ships bells and brass hardware for high end boats. We still have a ships bell (dinner bell) hanging from the porch post at the house. Has a beautiful ring that carries through the whole neighborhood.

Sweet! Like the ring from a good banjo…I never really knew the difference until I compared the ones I was playing to this MM I got. Definitely less forgiving lol.