What is this new. improved Tony Pass rim that I keep hearing about on the banjo lists?
Those of you who know Tony Pass realize that he is always thinking of new ways to improve things. Well, in June of 2003, Tony sent me a new rim that has a radically new design. The upper part of the rim is the standard 3/4 inch thickness, but the bottom part is considerably thinner. Tony had noticed that if he struck a rim that had a thick wall, it had a higher pitch than a rim with a thinner wall, but the same outer diameter. Neither of us was certain why this was true, but it was distinctly so.
We reasoned that there were two factors that this could be attributed to. One factor is that a thin piece of wood is more flexible than a thick piece. which will allow it to vibrate at a lower frequency, if the weight is not too much lower. And the other, probably the factor that contributes the most to it, is that the air chamber inside the hoop of wood is larger. All we were certain of was that the rim that was 11 inches OD, and 9.5 inches ID had a higher pitch when struck than a rim that was 11 inches OD and 9.6 inches ID. The question was how would this affect the sound of the banjo.
We already felt that Gibson's famous thin rims were not the way to go. They had some bad problems. Also, we wanted to be able to support the inside edge of the tone ring. So the upper edge had to remain 3/4 inches. Tony's idea was to open up the lower part of the rim. (Don't get the idea that I had anything to do with helping Tony design this. It was his idea from the first step on. I just basically watched and listened.
Tony tried a few of these on Stelling instruments, and they were an immediate success. The bottom end was stronger, the top was still very clear and the note separation was excellent. So Tony asked me to try one on a Gibson style instrument. He sent me a birch rim which he had fitted to a Gibson USA flange and an older Stew-Mac no hole tone ring. I put a Gold Tone graphite neck on it, along with a Cox resonator.
This banjo was extremely powerful. The same thing happened with it -- great lows, great midrange, great highs, excellent separation, lots of bite and power. It was definitely an excellent sound. I also tried it with a Hopkins flathead nickel ring. The results were similar. The banjo sounded different, but it was still a knockout banjo -- plenty of power, great lows, great midrange, great highs, excellent separation. And it has continued to improve over time.
I believe Tony has discovered something new here that will revolutionize banjo design. It improves the sound without sacrificing any structural integrity. Check Tony's web site for further information. By the way, he has applied for patent protection for this new rim.