Although banjos were initially made without a tone ring, the introduction of one revolutionized the banjo’s sound. Many banjo players prefer the original sound that comes with a banjo, but more modern users who are looking to expand the range of their banjo think a tone ring is the way to go. One question that you may have is whether the addition of a tone ring is possible or worth it?
Can you add a tone ring to a banjo? Absolutely. Many banjos are found secondhand and need refurbishment in order to play as well as they can or to have a more defined sound. Many tone rings are created by aftermarket companies and can fit most banjos that are around today. Before selecting a tone ring, you should make sure you know the measurements and materials of your banjo in order to get the most accurate fit.
As with most instruments, the sound of a banjo entirely relies on your personal preference. While adding a tone ring to your banjo requires some extra work and knowledge about the instrument, it is relatively easy to do, and it can give you an entirely new sound to play with.
Adding A Tone Ring To A Banjo?
Original banjos did not feature a tone ring most of the time. The lack of a tone ring gave them a unique sound that made them so popular. Although it is a classic sound, not everyone enjoys the authentic sound of a banjo, and it can be challenging to create or play modern music with a traditional banjo. A tone ring allows the player to keep their favorite banjo and create a new sound that it did not have before.
Tone rings are an easy way to give a banjo a brighter sound favored by many players who fall into the finger-picking range. Tone rings can be made from various metals, and all offer a different sound to another. Some metals can have a bright sound, while others have a more muted sound. The weight of the metal itself will have a significant impact on how bright the tone ring can help your banjo sound.
How Do You Add a Tone Ring to a Banjo?
If you are using a recently designed banjo, you will not have any problems finding a tone ring that you can easily install on your instrument. Depending on the material of the tone ring, you may have an easier time with it. Some rings may require you to cut or saw down parts of your banjo in order to get a snug fit. There is also the option to use tape to help your tone ring fit. Many owners prefer to send their banjo to someone who has either created the tone ring or has experience in altering instruments.
The tone ring is typically installed right below the drumhead and above the pot of a banjo. There are certain banjo types that do not allow you to install a tone ring because they already come with one or are on the more affordable end where changes to the banjo would not be worth it. Changes in the tension of the drumhead or other areas of the banjo may give you the sound you are looking for without too much work.
Many of the more affordable banjo options are made of materials such as aluminum. These can have a poor reputation for easily breaking or falling out of tune, but that also could be a result of the construction as opposed to the material itself. Aluminum banjos typically have a more metallic sound than banjo players are wanting, and they often cannot have a tone ring changed or added.
If you are currently using an aluminum banjo, try adjusting the tightness of the head and any screws or nuts that you can find. This may help the banjo have a sturdier sound and lose some of the ringing that they are often associated with.
Should You Add a Tone Ring to a Cheaper Banjo?
Most banjo players who are starting out are looking to get the best sound possible out of their banjo. The problem with this is that not all banjos are created equal, and that cheap banjo may either not be able to be altered, or it may already have some sort of tone ring that it comes with.
While nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it, it may end up being a lot of work for little reward. You could also spend more money getting another tone ring and the materials needed to install it and find yourself with little change to your banjo.
Banjos come in a wide variety of price ranges. With some research, you can find affordable options that have everything you need your banjo to have. With a higher-priced banjo, it may already sound the way you like, and you are more likely to find parts that you can use further into your experience with the banjo to change things that you may not like.
If you are looking to get into banjo playing as a hobby and have the extra money to spend on it, then it is highly recommended to buy one that is middle to upper of your price range. It will cost you less time and money, in the long run, to get your banjo to where you want it to be.
Is The Sound That Different?
Deciding if a tone ring is right for you ultimately depends on the style of music you are interested in playing. As mentioned earlier, many of the older banjos did not have a tone ring, which allowed them to play music that leans more towards folk or bluegrass. For those looking to have a more authentic and older sound to their banjo, sticking with what it initially has or adding a brass tone ring can help you achieve that sound.
A tone ring will help your banjo sound different than your friend’s banjo, depending on the ring you select. They can also help your banjo become louder or hold a tone or a vibration for a more extended period of time, which can also change the sound your banjo has. There is also the option of having a domed-type tone ring or a flat tone ring. The higher the arch or dome of yours, the higher the pitch will be when you go to play it.
Should You Have a Metal or a Wooden Tone Ring on Your Banjo?
While this is technically another aspect of personal preference, it is a simple question that you can quickly answer for yourself. If you are looking for the most authentic sound you can get from a banjo, picking a metal tone ring will give you that metallic sound that you are after. While a wooden tone ring may be constructed to have a similar sound, it is hard to beat a tone ring that is made of brass. A wooden tone ring may also help to keep the weight of your banjo down.
If you are not sure about what sound you are looking for, it may be worth the effort to head into your local store or look at some videos online to decide for yourself. Wooden tone rings give a denser and flatter sound since wood can absorb some sound vibrations coming from your banjo. Tone rings that are made of metal such as brass provide a brighter sound to your playing and can help your sound vibrations last longer.
Tone rings can be added to banjos but the question is whether or not the addition is worth it. Adding a tone ring can be a costly upgrade so it may not be the best choice if you have a cheap banjo. The better choice may be to upgrade to a different banjo that already has a tone ring.
If you do decide to add a tone ring to your banjo, it may require some modifications. It’s best to have someone that knows what they are doing to do this for you rather than take on the challenge yourself. This, of course, will add to the cost of adding the tone ring so again, you’ll have to decide whether or not the addition is worth it.
Furthermore, you’ll discover a different sound from your banjo after the tone ring has been added. This sound will vary based on your banjo and the type of tone ring selected. The only way to know what this sound will be like is to give it a try and hope for the best!