Biography

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INTRODUCTION

 

This page will take you down memory lane  with pictures and narrative type comments, weaving together bits and pieces of information as it relates to some of my early research and development of GIBSON MASTERTONE PRE-WAR BANJOS,  a more or less autobiography leading up to the present time.  Verification documents, references and drawings are included and hopefully all inferences and opinions by myself will be correctly noted. As with many things from the past, one must extrapolate using the best available data to hopefully obtain valid and reliable conclusions which is not an exact science.  I am sure there are some errors present since I am relying on personal events of over 40 years ago and memory is not infallible.  I have made corrections and additions as necessary to provide the most accurate information.  My initial purpose for this page was to give credence to my wood working experience and there was a natural overlap into other areas.  I personally don't consider myself an expert at anything simply because I have never found one particular area to hold my interest and devotion but for a certain length of time, whereas many are able to find their own particular profession, hobby and passion to become a Master at it.  However,  I have never been afraid to try a new challenge and task and do think outside the box which many times is considered unorthodox.  I like the statement that Anthony Hopkins used in the movie "The Edge", "What one man can do, another can do."  However, there are many that have nurtured their God given talents that sets the standard for the rest of us pretty high.

I have  featured special  and talented friends and family that have helped and inspired me and in no way all inclusive in this section and other pages throughout this website.

I give God our Creator, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, the Praise, Honor and Glory in all things!

WILLIAM PORTER, OUR POP

Our "Pop"  William Porter taught us the value and respect of the great outdoors and we shared many memorable days hunting cottontail rabbits with all breeds of hounds and later had to use the small beagles because of the increase in the Whitetail deer population.  Pop loved woodworking and made a great porch/yard swing with the correct seat and back angle curve and used "old world techniques" such as a draw knife, chisel, etc. to fabricate his swings.   Some of my earliest wood working projects got its start from "Pop" who taught me how to make a rabbit box,  rabbit trap or rabbit gun,  which ever you choose to call them.  I made "Pop" several drill fixtures with hardened drill bushings over the years but he loved the ole way of doing things.  Pix of our Dad taken in the early to mid 1960s with my dog Brownie.  Pop passed away on August 10, 2007 after a long battle with heart disease and inserted is the last pix I took of him on July 4, 2007 while enjoying some ice cream and cookies at our home.  My sister sent me pix of his school days in 1934.  Pop had a continuous testimony for Jesus Christ, loved his Church and fellow man and he witnessed to us and those in the hospital room hours prior to his death.  He was an honest hardworking man devoted to his wife and family and is greatly missed but not forgotten! 

Above three pixs of our "Pop" William Porter taken between 1934 and July 4, 2007.

Above is a checkerboard table in my Man Cave in our basement that I built for our Pop around 1962 or 1963 in the Industrial Arts aka Shop Class at the Wadesboro High School.  The table had plenty of usage over the years by Pop and anyone who challenged him to a game of checkers.  This checkerboard table was made long before the veneered checkerboard tops were available through the wood working suppliers and constructed from solid walnut and poplar, however the tapered legs were made from glued up walnut 4/4 stock.  Table has a small drawer underneath and visible from the other side to store the checkers.  The flash from the little digital camera "washed" out much of the detail; the corner squares are from white poplar and the adjoining wood is dark walnut but the pix bleached the color out at that camera angle and doesn't do justice to what the table looks like. The table could use a make over; e.g.,  sanding and refinishing but I plan to leave it as is.  Pop was an excellent player and I rarely won a game of checkers with him since he could see about 3 more moves ahead of you all the time, however I won the first game ever played on this table.  After the passing of our Pop and Mom, I received the checkerboard table and a custom inlaid Buck folding hunter knife that I also did for him.  I certainly do miss them both!  Posted by Bill aka Mickey Porter 11-16-11.

ANN PORTER, OUR MOM

There is a special Love for one's Mother of which it is hard to find words to convey that message but I certainly let her know that I loved her and have no regrets in that area.  Like our "Pop", she was a hard working woman and loved our Dad and her children dearly and did the best she could by us and lead us in the right direction.  She had a beautiful strong Alto voice and shared her God given talent that was nurtured early on with singing and music lessons proved by a prominent Wadesboro resident.  Mom shared her singing in many services in and around Anson County. NC. and will be greatly missed but not forgotten!.  Like our "Pop",  Mom had a continuous testimony for Jesus Christ and did her part witnessing the great Love that Jesus Christ has for us all and how to obtain Salvation.

She suffered greatly the past seven (7) weeks and was a cancer survivor of about four years and finally succumbed to congestive heart failure.  During her much suffering, when asked how she was doing, she would answer "I am trying" attempting to maintain a positive attitude and outlook.  Throughout the years, during the many trials and tribulations that came her way which is a part of Life,  she would say, "And this too shall pass" of which it does given time and with the Lord's Grace and Mercy that is available to all of us.  Below a few pixs:

The above pix was taken sometime around 1941 with our Pop in the background of which was Love at first sight when he met our "to be Mom", grin if you must!  Mom is the young Lady on the front right and her Mother dressed her like a little girl for sure.  One of her sisters Molly Bowers is in the background and Rose Thomas is on the front left.

Pix of my Mom taken in 1946 holding yours truly.  My friends said this was about the best I have ever looked!  Grin if you must.

A pix taken in the mid 1950s of the the Porter kids left to right; Allen,  Mickey, Joe, (deceased) and Sue.  Back during the early black and white westerns on TV, our younger brother Joe would ride his horse which was a stick that he had fashioned reins (string) tied to it and he would make all the sound effects and motions of a horse raring up and would slap the side of his leg while he was "riding" his horse.   How he was able to run with that stick between his legs dragging the ground behind him and not getting tripped up was unbelievable.  He would tie that stick up to a hitching post just like it was a real horse at the end of his ride.   Back in the 1950s kids created their own toys and invented games to entertain themselves and others.  I have made my share of sling shots using automobile tire rubber, old shoe leather tongues and forked prongs with dogwood being my favorite.  It was nothing to roll an old tire around and if one was large enough, get inside and roll down a hill.  Old tin lard can lids and large coffee can lids  would be nailed to a piece of wood and rolled around like a wheel.  Tarzan vine swings were used across small creeks and branches and sometimes would give way with a crash to the ground, but we were tough back in those days.  About every young boy had a pocket knife and a Barlow was the standard and whittled and carved many whistles and objects.  Don't remember any kid in our neighbor that intentionally cut another kid with his pocket knife and we were allowed to carry our pocket knives to school!  We also built home made wagons, go carts; made skate boards and push scooters from metal skates and that was long before the synthetic poly wheel commercial skate boards.  Home made bows and arrows and the Biblical type David sling has thrown many rocks with varying degrees of accuracy.  The girls would make "play houses" by clearing off the ground and using pine straw to make the room dividers and rocks and other objects to simulate the furniture, etc. Making home kites or using store bought ones which required you to make a long tail to help stabilize it so it would stay aloft.  Those days are long gone!  Today, kids have digital technology devices to occupy their minds and I believe has diminished their personal creativity.....grin if you must!  Times has really changed and I certainly do miss Brother Joe!   Pix added 10-24-12.

Another early pix of Mom and Pop.

Another one of my favorite pixs of Mom and Pop taken in 1978 with Ray Newton in the background.

Pix of my Sister Susan Pettigrew and our Mom.

I have an audio file in .mp3 format about 4 Mb of  Mom singing Pearly White City around 1998 at a funeral.  Click on Pearly White City to open the file.

MARY FRANCIS "DELLA" TREXLER (GRANDMA) FEB. 9, 1892 - OCT. 9, 1974

The above picture of my Grandma with her first son Joe of which I have the large framed hand colored photograph in our home.  I lived with Grandma about the time I entered the first grade which was around 1952 and stayed there until 1964 when I enlisted with the US Navy.  My Mom and Dad lived next door to us and countless times after the passing of Grandma, Mom would say, "I know you loved her more than me" of which I never gave an answer....grin if you must!

As with most of us in our youth, we didn't realize how smart and wise the "older generation" were until some years later when we entered the normal struggle of life and the light bulb finally came on.  Grandma was a very giving person who had about a dozen rental properties that provided her income and many, many families left owing her much money over the years but she didn't have the heart to just evict as most property owners would do but allowed them to stay on until they moved.

I learned a lot of life's valuable lessons from her over the years but didn't fully understand the tremendous value and magnitude of those lessons until after she departed this earth to be with our Lord and Savior! 

I have a short story titled Memories From The Past  which goes into some detail about her life and there is an audio file I made of her in the early 1970s with her singing which is linked on the same page.   Click on the hyperlink for additional information.  I still Love and miss her dearly!   

PORTER'S EARLY MUSICAL REPAIR AND BANJO COMPANY

William M. Porter "still kicking", is no stranger to woodworking and custom made products having owned and operated a mail order business from 1969 to 1978 under the business names of Porter’s Musical Repair and Porter Banjo Company, however I started acquiring the data and Intel collecting process much earlier.  In addition to supplying factory replacement parts for banjos, mandolins and guitars,  I custom made mother of pearl and abalone pearl inlay patterns for prewar vintage instruments specializing in Gibson Mastertone reproduction and conversion work and various stages of completion of banjo necks, resonators, fingerboards, peghead and metal fabricated parts.  I have supplied mother of pearl,  abalone inlay patterns and specialty components to Gibson (inlay patterns only via Carlton Pease), Martin (snowflake inlays via Mike Longworth), NBN, GTR, Dobro, OMI (Rudy and Ed Dopyera), Custom Shops and Instrument Builders; e.g., John Monteleone, Louis Stiver, Mandolin Brothers, Frank Neat, CE Ward, Bill Sullivan, Jim Yarboro, Bob Shoe, Rural Yarborough, Jennings Chestnut, Jim Selman, Dave Kennedy, Harold Chriscoe, Paul Tester, Tom Morgan via Paul Tester, Bill Gibson, John Janzegers, Paul Sasser, Wilburn and Brons Hasty, Bob Campbell, Andy Boarman, Joseph F. Wallo, David Musselwhite, etc., all over the United States and several countries.  I still have an old card file index of the mail order customers, however many are now deceased.   Inserted a few pixs from that time era:

  Bill Porter picking Dobro in 1975 with "The Ole Timer's Club".

This pix is around 1977 and compressing 3 to 5 plys of veneers to form a curly maple Granada  resonator back for a banjo and adjacent pix of some burl walnut resonator backs for #5 Deluxe resonators.  Press was custom made using a steel channel frame and a 20 ton manual hydraulic press with heating elements on both upper and lower molds.  The molds were made from aluminum truck pistons that were melted down and sand cast with final truing of both pieces on a tape feed NC lathe.   Harold Chriscoe of Seagrove, NC purchased the above resonator press with over 400 pieces of 15 inch square 1/16 inch thick extra nice curly and birds eye Northern hard maple veneer and Gibson original type 1/10 inch poplar for the center core of the resonator backs sometime around 1980.  Harold let Doug Hutchins have the resonator mold and raw materials of which he is not using the press but has it in storage.  John Bowles of Advance, NC ended up with the matching curly maple side pieces if I am not mistaken since they were thick enough to use for violin and mandolin sides.  Very few craftsman today fabricate a resonator back and sides identical to pre-war Gibson's.  Several custom banjo makers  "cheated" a little on the resonator sidewall construction which is acceptable by using multiple style laminations instead of the Gibson style of construction.  To basically get the same Gibson look alike or clone results, a 14 to 15 inch diameter 1/2 inch wall thickness drum hoop could be used without any steam bending and you cut it down to the required size with a band saw and cut the proper length lap taper (scarf joint) of which saved a good amount of time and did not require a lathe turning operation, only a table router set-up.  Back in the early 1970s the drum bent wood head hoops were very cheap and readily available about 25 miles from my shop.  The center poplar lamination was mimicked by using a 3/32 to 1/8 inch veneered panel which had a heavy poplar core and was easily bent to shape without steam and the outer face lamination was glued in place with contact cement and/or hide glue, etc.

My custom made sidewall press consisted of an outside diameter steel mold/ring and the center compression element that featured a three jaw lathe chuck with three special shaped cauls to contact the inner lamination.  The three jaw chuck applied enough pressure to compress the plys. 

NOTE:  Frank Neat of Russell Springs,  Kentucky recently obtained the above resonator mold/press and the side wall press from Doug Hutchins and also the Kennedy "Jellyroll" prototype wood rim machine that I used for a few years.   Updated on 05-31-10 by Bill aka Mickey Porter.  

There is night and day difference between volume and tone when swapping around resonators on some banjos that have the top tension hoop and others as well.  Gibson in later years (post-war) used glue in thin flexible membrane sheets placed between the resonator back laminations that were activated by the usage of high frequencies reducing the amount of cure or dry time!  I personally prefer the old style of construction as they seem to sound better to me!  I don't think there is a cure for Psychological Bias which I probably have!

A few more pixs from the musical instrument making days:  Sheet brass .063 thickness was die stamped to fabricate a metal flange for early Gibson tube and plate banjos.  Mr. Lomb of Waverly in NY purchased sheet brass and brass tubing for me direct from the mill and had it drop shipped and saved me a pile of money on raw material cost.  I still remember the empty coffee sacks they used to send small parts like pre-war replica banjo hook nuts and they knew how to be conservative and frugal.  Some of the best nickel plating on my tube and plate flanges were out sourced to them and the copper and gold plating was done in High Point, NC.  Old timers like Mr. Lomb are a thing of the past when it comes to helping someone get started in business!  Insufficient capital is the main failure of a small business.

      Tone hole die set in action.

The plate portion of the tube and plate flange aka two piece flange required a 60 ton press to stamp the OD/ID and was “farmed” out to a metal stamping company in Charlotte, NC of which I owned the large die stamping set and the rest of the stamping was done in house using a small 5 ton mechanical press with an indexing fixture.  I went through three (3) manufactured die sets to finally get one manufactured that was a perfect match for the original tone holes in the plate and that die set was produced with an optical grinding system directly from a black and white photo of an actual size tone hole.  Parts were then "out sourced" and nickel and/or copper/gold plated.  A few years later, Gibson Musical Instruments decided to produce the tube and plate flange again due to increased demand.  That part had not been manufactured by Gibson since the late 1920’s, however their new tube was much thinner walled than the original and they milled more off the back side of the tube for the plate to rest against and many broke where they were silver soldered together.  The plywood wood rim that Jasper Wood Products supplied them was equally as bad and would not support the tension exerted between the flange and the tension hoop, pulling the bead portion of the wood rim upward and on some banjos a complete separation.  Horrible indeed!  It is very sad not to be able to produce a replica of a part that you originally made and attribute that to the "Corporate Greed Of America" mentality!   Out sourcing parts is fine if the quality is there, however the bottom line on a spread sheet is the culprit most of the time!

The tube portion of the tube and plate flange aka two piece flange required a bender with special spiral tooling to transform a ten (10) foot section of 3/8" diameter heavy wall (.095 +- .005 inches) brass tubing into a helical coil rendering 3 complete units and it took seven other fixtures including silver soldering and a lathe operation.  My tube and plate flange was identical to the original 1925 parts or at least the pre-war original I used as a pattern since there were a couple different ID for the tubes no doubt a product of tooling changes/wear, etc. of which was a very small variance.

While manufacturing the pre-war tube and plate flange, I made a prototype plate (circa 1975) for the tube and plate flange and  used a copyrighted design from my "flaming Claw" inlay pattern and below is pix of the plate portion of the "Flaming Claw" tube and plate flange.  The tone holes (which resemble the Cape Buffalo's Horns) were cut using a jewelers saw blade and was very laborious.  I had intentions of making my Porter Flaming Claw Prewartone banjo but the inlay and parts business kept me at bay and traded the below one of a kind plate to Jim Yarboro of Gun Barrel City, Texas and he installed it on one of his Noble banjos.  I later got the plate back from him in 2004 and might put it on a banjo one of these days.  The tone hole pattern is beautiful and the proper size for sound projections from the resonator for the tube and plate flange since the standard Gibson tube and plate flange banjo sits higher out of the resonator which would normally lower the resonant frequency but the aperture (opening) between the bottom of the wood rim is increased which accounts for a slightly higher resonant frequency which seems contradictory but the acoustics speaks for itself.  My flaming claw tone holes are slightly smaller than the pre-war Gibson tone holes which I believe lowers the resonant frequency similar to the one piece flange set-up.  The aperture between the wood rim and the resonator has the same effect as enlarging or reducing the size of the sound holes of other acoustic instruments.  Bill Sullivan (deceased) of First Quality after seeing the flaming claw flange and plating it for Jim Yarboro wanted to manufacture his own plate flange with my tone hole pattern but it was copyrighted even though Jim Yarboro had the only one made and Jim Yarboro would not allow Bill to manufacture it.   I purposely did not stamp every other hook hole larger on this plate like the pre-war ones since it is to my understanding the plate aka flange could be removed by removing half of the nuts if one wanted to play the banjo in open back fashion.  However, I did stamp every other hook hole larger on the pre-war replica plates I manufactured.  Pix below:

Above pix of my Flaming Claw pot assembly which will be serial number 001FC  with a Cox maple wood rim, Gibson USA Kulesh  flat head tone ring, Porter Flaming Claw two piece flange, Huber Mahogany resonator and a Porter Custom Flaming Claw neck also in Mahogany....See my banjo construction home page for details.  Finished banjo pixs below:

 

Banjo completed in late November 2010 and is "one of a kind."   I plan to add a custom "Flaming Claw" armrest later.

Around 1976, I started inlaying an engraved mother of pearl PREWARTONE block at the 15th fret to the fingerboards  of my Flaming Claw  banjo and used the logo PREWARTONE on my banjo strings and received a US Trademark Reg. No 1,044,105 on July 20, 1976 for PREWARTONE.  I never did go into production with the banjo because I could not keep up with the custom inlay and parts sales.  The parts and inlay business was really booming after the movie Deliverance came out in 1972 featuring the instrumental "Dueling Banjos" but sales started really dropping fast around the end of 1977 and I had a lot invested in tooling, whereas Japan started turning out "imitation" parts, accessories, inlaid Gibson style fingerboards/pegheads, banjos and reproduction stuff like crazy.  Japan supplied a tube and plate Gibson copy flange retail priced cheaper than my raw material cost for my own replica two piece flange!

Pix above of my 1970's catalog mailed out and hard to believe the price of a Gibson flat head tone ring which retailed for $33.00.   A saying from one of my Ole Timer's Club friends Brutus Gale, "That was back when a dollar was big as a bed sheet" which was a fairly accurate statement;  a little before the inflation of the mid to late seventies kicked in.  I find it hard to believe today that one could keep so many things going but when you are in your early twenties,  the energy and enthusiasm level has to be at a maxim as compared to the senior citizen status now....grin on that statement.   It was an excellent experience and did meet and make a lot of friends over the years!  The above address (now a vacant field) and telephone numbers are obsolete.

During my mail order business days, I purchased metal standard stock banjo, mandolin and guitar components directly from manufacturers that supplied Gibson and other musical instrument manufacturers like;  Kluson, Waverly, Grover, Zaharoff, Bird's Eye Maple, Schaller, Harris Ltd., etc. and  was able to sell at a minimum of 20 percent below retail price (MSRP) and items manufactured in West Germany (specialty items) such as wood purflings, bindings, etc. , a sizeable mark-up was possible before the devaluation of the dollar took place.  Ebony back in those days was jet black with very little white streaks and the wonderful Brazilian rosewood before the trade embargo!

Pix of several banjo fingerboards and pegheads being inlaid with mother of pearl.  Mother of pearl price in the early 1970’s was around $35.00 per pound.  Now the price is over $400.00 per pound.  In the 1970's,  Porter was considered "The Source" for accurate Pre-War reproduction inlay patterns.  I normally kept about 20 sets of pre-cut inlay patterns for each standard pattern on hand and inlaid in the Gibson pre-war style by cutting a hole through the peghead and fingerboard material.  With many pre-cut inlay pieces on hand, I was able to choose an individual inlay piece that matched the pre-cut hole in the peghead and fingerboard with a high degree of precision.  Gibson and their vendors stacked up a dozen or more peghead veneers and pegged them together and cut through all of the veneers using a German made marquetry saw using a large #6 jewelers saw blade. If your saw is accurate enough and you don't force feed/cut the material, the piece on the bottom of the stack will match the original pattern very close.  Inlays produced today using the high technology CNC machines are far more accurate and precise but lack the individual artistic touch and variation in design that the Gibson pre-war instruments posses.  Current CNC production inlays emulating Gibson patterns look like they are cut using a cookie cutter, meaning each individual piece is exactly like the other without the old style square saw cut backs into the design which gives it character and eye appeal.  Gibson used poplar wood (heavy veneer) at least 1/10 inch as a backing for their Mother of Pearl and Abalone inlays and it not only gave support to the material but used as a means to maneuver the material into the jewelers saw blade.  I have seen a few tenor/plectrum necks cannibalized for the inlays that had mahogany used as backing for the mother of pearl inlays, but this is rare!  The German made marquetry saws Gibson used for their pre-war inlays has long since been out of production and the new machines are not as accurate.

CNC machines (routers) producing mother of pearl and abalone inlays and inlaid fingerboards and pegheads is definitely the way to go for production and there are some fine examples of artistically produced designs only limited by the programmers artistic ability since cutters are now very small and durable!  I certainly don't mean to detract from the many artists using those machines but I personally don't like them on pre-war Gibson inlay designs though.  It just doesn't have that variable hand cut look to the inlays.  CNC machines definitely has the precision not found in hand cut designs.  I am sure if Gibson had access to such machines in pre-war days, they would have used them!  No more inlays that I do, the cash outlay just doesn't justify owning a CNC machine.   

A trick in removing Gibson inlays and backing from pre-war fingerboards is to use vinegar saturating the inlay area and the vinegar will normally dissolve the binder used in the filler.  Try it and you might be surprised! 

         

 

Above pixs of a few of my Gibson Mastertone banjo mother of pearl inlay patterns (master patterns) I cut and had them photographed and offset printed patterns for cutting and inlaying purposes.  Little digital camera doesn't capture the detail in the cuts since they are mounted under glass.   It was individuals like myself and many other custom instrument makers that "forced" Gibson Musical Instruments to reintroduce their old style Mastertone series banjos due to the huge increase in demand.  It only took them about four (4) decades to get back on the band wagon so to speak.

NOTE:  GIBSON USA takes a firm and aggressive stance against all makers of counterfeit instruments and their distribution channels, therefore I would caution anyone against making a complete Mastertone aka Masterclone of their instruments, present day and past using the Gibson logo on the headstock although the early inlay patterns sans the Gibson logo are subject to public domain. 

Pix of some of the Gibson Mastertone Pre-War tenor and plectrum necks collected over the years of which most were manufactured prior to 1930 as evidenced by their FON and the quality of the inlays.  I counted about 35 at one time and had an original Pre-War five string RB3 (late) neck that Tom Morgan of Tennessee had cut in half to see how the truss rod worked; at least that's what Paul Tester of Landover Maryland - deceased related to me of whom I purchased the neck from.  The neck was operational at the time it was cut in half end to end and I believe had a broken heel that was repaired.  The above 1/2 RB3 neck (5th string side) is in the above pix, 4th from left in the background beside the Hearts & Flowers neck which has the Mastertone letters inlaid in the peghead!   If memory is correct, the truss rod configuration is opposite from what one would think, but what makes it work is the entire truss rod is still below the center line of the neck, therefore the weaker side gives it in to the force straightening the neck if the neck is bowed.  However, the truss rod doesn't work for a back bowed neck.  My entire Gibson pre-war neck collection was sold to Wayne Peterson in Minneapolis, Minn.,  but he said he didn't get the pre-war 1/2 5-string banjo RB3 (late) neck and can't remember who I sold or traded it to or if I had both halves of the neck at one time either!  CRS disease I guess!  The 1/2 neck did have some of the original inlays still in the headstock and fingerboard at the time I owned the neck.

UPDATE on the RB3 late 1/2 neck cut in half lengthwise; I talked with Jim Runnels at Huber Banjos today 11-16-11 and Jim verified that the neck they have is the one pictured above, RB3 late model leaves and bows and also has the neck heel repairs.  There is a link on the Banjo Hangout that gives a complete history of that RB3 late neck.  Joe Spann sent pixs of the RB3 late 1/2 neck and someone had removed the peghead overlay cap and replaced it with a much thicker material (without inlays) and had distorted the true shape of the peghead some.  I can't say for sure it is the same neck but in all probability,  it appears to be one and the same.

http://www.banjohangout.org/topic/220350

TOM MORGAN, "THE DEAN OF BLUEGRASS LUTHIERS"

I also talked to Tom Morgan on 11-17-11 and he remembered the neck very well, however I failed to ask him where he got the neck from.  Tom did state that it did not come from Paul Champion's banjo.  Pix of Tom Morgan below:

Tom Morgan from Dayton, Tenn. is considered "The Dean of Bluegrass Luthiers" and through Paul Tester (deceased), I received very valuable information,  samples and specifications of  Pre-War wood purflings, bindings, inlay trim, original neck carved heels for carving patterns, etc.;  to have those specialty items manufactured in West Germany that were not available at the time, whereas I later offered them through my mail order catalog to builders.

Tom was decades ahead of the old and new pack of banjo builders/banjo gurus and certainly is "THE DEAN OF BLUEGRASS LUTHIERS"!  Take a look at the below links for additional info:

http://lfs.alexanderstreet.com/liner/39a76d2a16f1b32a3e4ce0b34d9cf8e4/FW31072.pdf

DC Bluegrass Union

Picture of Paul Tester picking banjo with Harold Wilson 1972 or 1973; courtesy of Harold Wilson

Note:  Wayne Peterson doesn't have any of those Gibson necks left, however he does have plenty of old catalogs and a few other odd ball necks and other things of interest for the collector!  10-29-09.

I used the best of Gibson's inlay work in order to get a master pattern cut for myself.  Some of Gibson's inlay work were horribly cut and most of their inlaid fingerboards and peghead has a tremendous amount of filler but I have seen some examples that would be hard to replicate that were nearly perfect also.  The workers at the factory were on production and got paid extra for anything above their production quota according to George Hall of Kalamazoo, Michigan - deceased.  There were a few "odd balls" in the above group made by Gibson and had a Bella Voce with a different fingerboard and have seen and had original necks with mismatching inlay patterns apparently ordered by the original customer.  It appears that Gibson's only consistency was their inconsistency

There is a very noticeable difference in the quality of Gibson inlays prior to the 1930s and surviving records point that two different companies provided Gibson with inlaid mother of pearl pegheads and fingerboards before and after the 1930s.  Joe Spann, Research Library Director is authoring a book on Pre-War Gibson which will uncover and unlock a lot of information concerning various facets of Gibson's history and banjo production!

       

Above pixs of a custom inlaid Smith and Wesson skinning knife that I did for myself around 1975.  I retired that knife to my show case in the early 1990s.  The mother of pearl inlays are from a copyrighted pattern of mine titled “Flaming Claw” and my standard pattern I used on banjos and Dobro aka resophonic guitars.  The inlay work on the knife handle was all free-hand if I remember correctly due to the curvatures of the handle on all sides.

Specialty items and parts such as the Pre-War Kershner banjo tailpiece, banjo hook nuts, Pre-War wood purflings for Gibson Mastertone banjo Granada,  #4,  #5 Deluxe and Martin Pre-war wood purflings were made in West Germany for me and the first to offer those exact reproduction items for sale.  There were some close imitations out there but none as precise as those I had made.  Note:  Pre-War references prior to WWII.

BANJO RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT - GIBSON MASTERTONE TONE RING SPECTROGRAPHIC ANALYSIS

Part of my early banjo research and development involved having several pre-war Gibson Mastertone banjo tone rings (flat head and raised head) analyzed with the then state of the art spectrographic analysis machines to ascertain what the actual composition of their tone rings were and for those that think it was some great secret,  the alloy used was a standard Navy G bell brass alloy according to former Gibson employee George Hall (deceased) who worked for Gibson from 1927 through out 1933.  The thing about pouring a composition alloy made up of different metals such as copper, tin, zinc, lead and other metals, the evaporation rate and alloy will change when reheating and pouring  the same ingot and the analysis results proved this and enough tone rings were analyzed to find out the common alloys used.

It should be noted that alloy composition specifications usually has a specified tolerance; minimum and maximum percentage of variance of the main element used such as copper which can be as high as four (4) percent which can actually be classified as a different alloy mixture specification.   A good example is the closeness of QQ-B-691 Comp. 6 and QQ-B-701a grade 6x tin bronze alloys below.

During THE GREAT DEPRESSION ERA, it appears from spectrographic analysis results that Gibson apparently used what ever copper alloy either Navy G, Tin Bronze or variants supplied to them of which is understandable.

Joe Spann, Research Library Director,  posted an article on 08-19-09 in www.banjohangout.org  whereas, he  researched surviving Gibson financial records showing large regular payments to Star Brass Works of Kalamazoo, Mich. (circa 1895-1961) from Gibson that reached a high of 3600 dollars per month as of April 1930 and very convincing evidence that Star Brass Works was Gibson's main or only source for tone ring castings at the time.   Joe authored a book titled, SPANN'S GUIDE TO GIBSON 1902-1941; click on the hyperlink to take you directly to www.amazon.com for purchase.  I highly recommend this very informative one of a kind reference to Pre-War Gibson.

As for the best sounding pre-war tone ring to my ears it was the Tin Bronze alloy and not the Navy G but that is only my opinion since hearing is subjective.  I have heard one stainless steel tone ring mounted on a good three ply wood rim that had it all; ring was turned from a solid piece of material (440C?) and not cast.  Far to expensive to attempt to manufacture and sell one that way!  

Many have asked about how Gibson pre-war tone ring alloys varied and the COPPER content varied from a minimum of 64.87 percent to a maximum of 98.8 percent.  The 98.8 percent Copper (Cu) was from a TB7 flat head tone ring which was the most radical departure from the Navy G bell brass or tin bronze.  I received sample scrapings from John Monteleone Guitars of Islip, New York on 03-19-76 of the above tone ring and also traded some mother of pearl inlays to John Monteleone for a couple partial castings of the tone ring shape for my research.

An analysis from a TB3 40 hole raised head FON 9237-10 belonging to James Fuquay (deceased) of Danville, Va. had a Copper (Cu) content of 64.87, Lead (Pb) content .87, Iron (Fe) content .052, Tin (Sn) content .082 and Zinc (Zn) content 34.05 and Nickel (Ni) content .072 and smaller traces of Bismuth (Bi) , Arsenic (As) and Silver (Ag) no doubt products of the plating or impurities.

One of the lower FON 40 hole raised head tone rings model 3 FON 836-1 1930s had the following:  Copper (Cu) content 86.9, Tin (Sn) content 8.3, Zinc (Zn) content 4.1 and Lead (Pb) content .7 all in percentages.  This tone ring was nearly identical to QQ-B-691 Comp. 6 called Tin Bronze.  I received a portion of the above raised head tone ring from Clarence Hall of Stuart, Va. on 01-01-75 for the analysis; pix below holding the banjo.  Notice this alloy is very close to the QQ-B-701a grade 6x that Gibson found on the 1929 TB-3 raised head tone ring they had analyzed!

Current alloy matching the TB3 RH Tone ring FON 836-1 is Leaded Tin Bronze aka Leaded "G" Bronze UNS Copper Alloy C92300 with composition as follows: Copper (Cu) 87%, Tin (Sn) 8%, Zinc (Zn) 4%, Lead (Pb) 1%.  I don't believe you will find a standard alloy today that is closer than the C92300 to match one of Gibson's Pre-War tone rings that I had an analysis done on.

Left to right:  Gene Parker, Doug Hutchins, Clarence Hall and Allen Mills

A pre-war raised head Gibson banjo Uke tone ring (never installed) serial number 69 with no holes drilled in it was found at the factory by Davis E. Kennedy who worked for them prior to 1970 and the analysis of that tone ring was:  Copper (Cu) content 69.8, Lead (Pb) content .006, Iron (Fe) content .013, Tin (Sn) content .042, Nickel (Ni) content .014 and Zinc (Zn) content 30.1 percent.  I let Jim Yarboro of Gun Barrel City have that tone ring several decades back.

Gibson did their own analysis of a 1929 TB-3 raised head tone ring per Davis aka Dave Kennedy who had a copy of the original document as follows:  Copper (Cu) 84.48, Tin (Sn) 10.63, Lead (Pb) .43, Iron  (Fe) trace, Zinc (Zn) 4.5 balance and all are approximate.  Alloy commonly called trolley brass similar to Federal specification QQ-B-701a grade 6X or 85-10-1-5  referred to as Tin Bronze

It should be noted that trolley brass is a much harder alloy than the QQ-B-701a grade 6X alloy tested by Gibson and not to be confused with this alloy QQ-B-701a grade 6X which is Tin Bronze and not true trolley brass

Trolley brass was used to manufacture trolley wheels that contacted the overhead trolley line (power source) to make the connection to the motors on the trolley cars and had to be a hard enough alloy to prevent premature wear of the wheel.  Picture taken from the internet of what a trolley wheel looks like:

Open this link for additional information.

Gibson tone rings from the period 1949 to 1969 were as follows:  Copper (Cu) 85%, Tin (Sn) 5%, Lead (Pb) 5%, Zinc (Zn) 5% per alloy specifications which doesn't mean that is what they always obtained.  I do not have the original document on file to validate so take it or leave it since I relied on notes taken.  I have never been impressed with those tone rings which has too much lead to tin ratio.  Here again, this is my personal opinion!  These rings were later manufactured by Riverside Foundry and Galvanizing Co. and weighted about 3 lbs. 4 oz.

Gibson later flat head tone rings 1970+ era, catalog TOR898 were the Navy G Bell Brass consisting of:  Copper (Cu) 88%, Tin (Sn) 8% and Zinc (Zn) 4% and their weight was about 2 lbs. 4 oz. (far too light) and manufactured by Kulesh.  Fair sounding banjos with a pre-war wood rim!  These tone rings sounded horrible on the Jasper Wood Products multi-ply wood rims that Gibson used at the time on their new line of RB250s, RB800, etc. using the tube and plate design.  If memory is correct, they had a G stamped on the inside of the tone ring.  This tone ring had a good composition but needed the extra mass to make an excellent sounding banjo.  My friend Jim Yarboro of Gun Barrel City, Texas added an addition brass ring to the inside radius portion of this tone ring to give it the extra mass needed.  I don't have the date when Gibson went back to the heavier (standard) 3 lb. 4 oz. + - tone ring which probably was after 1978 when I sold my business.

I have copy of a Gibson factory drawing (reduced scale) of the 1970s TOR898 flat head tone which has G-BB stamped on it on the inside of the skirt portion of the tone ring near the neck lag bolt hole.  Gibson later had the tone ring cast to the full weight from the many complaints they received from vendors including myself that the tone rings were far too light in mass.  The original factory reduced drawing depicts the light weight tone ring.  It is to my understanding, Gibson used a pre-war light weight flat head tone ring as a prototype for their TOR898 1970s flat head tone ring but I don't have any written documentation as that info was verbal only.  The reduced factory drawing supports the light weight tone ring but not my favorite weight tone ring; a decent alloy though.

An example of a pre-war flat head with the light weight flat head tone is one of the Royal P-T Mastertones FON 9360-13 shown on Greg Earnest website  which validates post war Gibson did in fact copy an original pre-war flat head tone ring for their TOR898 tone ring.

Why Gibson chose the Navy G Bell Brass versus the QQ-B-701a grade 6X or QQ-B-691 Comp. 6 called Tin Bronze which in my opinion is superior is a mystery which was available in the 1970s.  All three of these alloys are not that far apart and George Hall simply stated Gibson used Navy G Bell Brass which is within 3.52 percent of these two alloys as far as the Copper (Cu)  portion goes and with the Zinc (Zn) portion within .4 percent;  whereas the Tin (Sn) varies 2.63 percent.   Naturally, the mass of the above tone rings will each be different in weight if machined to their standard specifications because of the heavier copper element content variance and will have a different "tap tone". 

If I were to have a custom tone ring cast today; I would use Copper (Cu) 85%, Tin (Sn) 10% and Zinc (Zn) 5%  which is very close to alloy QQ-B-701a which is Tin Bronze and machine the inside radius to where the tone ring weight was around 50 to 51 ounces.  Without having a special formula cast,  one could just as easily use a standard alloy available today C90300 which is tin bronze and has a nominal Copper (Cu) 87.5%, Tin (Sn) 8.3%, Zinc (Zn) 4.0% and as with any alloy there is a minimum and maximum tolerance specified by the foundry/supplier and also a listing of the other impurities which are very small.

Current Alloy UNS C92300 Leaded Tin Bronze aka Leaded "G" Bronze described above would also be a "dead ringer" to cast a matching alloy to Gibson tone ring # 836-1.  Find the right outside diameter tin bronze pipe centrifugal cast with the correct wall thickness needed and machine the tone ring from something that has already been cast and formed!  I do not have the manual that specified the breakdown of the alloys that were standard and available back in the Depression Era of which many are now obsolete.  It went to the landfill with other research and development materials that I had collected over the years. 

NAVY M BRONZE C92200 is another leaded tin bronze with nominal % by weight as follows:  Copper (Cu) 88%, Tin (Sn) 6%, Zinc (Zn) 4.5% and Lead (Pb) 1.5% within the spectrum of alloys found in the pre-war tone rings.

TOBIN BRONZE is a tin bronze alloy that is within the spectrum of alloys that have showed up in pre-war Gibson tone rings tested over the years by different craftsmen looking for that Great Depression Era sound with the "text book" composition as follows:  Copper (Cu) 82.67%, Tin (Sn) 12.4%, Zinc (Zn) 3.23%, Lead (Pb) 2.14% with a few other elements to round out to 100%.  John aka Jean Janzegers used this alloy for tone rings he had cast back in the middle 1970s rendering good sounding banjos on a well made or pre-war 3-ply wood rim.  Tobin Bronze was used in the manufacturing of gears for the US Navy and many other applications.

U.S. GOVERNMENT BRONZE, spec. G is Copper (Cu) 88%, Tin (Sn) 10%, Zinc (Zn) 2% with the tin and zinc being 2% different from the Navy G Bell Brass of the TOR898 Gibson 1970s tone ring.  Most of the 1970s Kulesh tone rings were machined way less than 3 lbs. and more in the range of 2 lbs. 4 oz.

Naval Bell Brass 523B2 is now obsolete and consisted of:  Copper (Cu) 78%, Tin (Sn) 22%.  Note:  Higher tin content provided better protection in the harsh salt water environment but makes a harder tone ring to machine.

Commercial Bell Brass 523B2a consists of:  Copper (Cu) 81%, Tin (Sn) 19%.

Paul Tester (deceased) of Landover, Md. related to me on 09-16-76 that Steve Ryan's tone ring alloy was composed of:  Copper (Cu) 80%, Tin (Sn) 15% and Zinc (Zn) 5% according to Steve Ryan.  I do know they were top of the line tone rings making excellent sounding banjos and some of his flat head tone rings went as high as 3 lbs. 9 ozs. in weight.

Gibson prewar tone rings can be grouped with those with ZINC (Zn) content about 5 percent and those with ZINC (Zn) content about 30 percent.  I don't have a clue as to why the ZINC (Zn) content varied that much in the prewar Gibson tone rings that I had analysis reports completed on other than a totally different alloy mixture and composition!   Several other individuals and companies have done extensive analysis of Gibson pre-war tone rings and it is to my understanding their findings like mine prove that Gibson used whatever bronze alloy casting that was supplied by their vendor(s) with the alloys all over the the bronze alloy spectrum.  Getting some of them to publish their findings might be difficult since they are in the business to make money and desire to stay ahead of any serious competition which is good business sense.  I definitely do not buy into all the tone ring hype either.

GIBSON PRE-WAR TONE RINGS - DOUBT IF TWO ARE IDENTICAL

My research did not reveal any two tone rings having exactly the same composition (although close enough to identify a specific intended alloy) and doubt there are such tone rings but it certainly is possible.  Tone ring high profile (flat head)  weight and mass, (45 to 55 oz.) depending on the alloy either Navy G Bell Brass, Tin Bronze or alloy mixes between those are more critical to that ole pre-war flat head sound (tone ring portion only) than a percentage or two variation in a specific alloy.  I am referring to the basic alloy components of copper, tin and zinc.  Other alloys added for machine ability such as lead, however does make a drastic change!  Changing percentages of alloy components varies the tone ring weight even with the same physical tone ring size/dimensions.  My favorite Gibson pre-war flat head tone ring weight was from 50 to 52 ounces to my ears and produced the sound that I liked the most, however many 48 oz. tone rings are excellent as well!

With all the well known and talented individuals and Companies manufacturing and selling tone rings with claims their tone rings match the Gibson pre-war formula, I surmise about any tin bronze composition/formula either current,  pre-war or obsolete alloy used today would substantiate and validate said claims due to the wide variance of alloys that are in those Gibson pre-war tone rings!

There is simply NO single Gibson Pre-war Tone Ring Formula!  Period.  Show me a pre-war document detailing the alloy and I will "eat crow."

I have to grin at all the claims of the new and improved pre-war original clone tone rings from the same makers every few years, but that is what keeps  $ cash $ in the cash registers and banjo makers and pickers happy!  I am not discounting that some later clone tone rings are better than their earlier counterparts and some worse but it is possible to do it right the first time with all the technology at our disposal today!  One of my pet clichés,  "Normally you get what you pay for" doesn't always work for the vast amount of high dollar, high technology Masterclone tone rings available today.  I expect the next development will be some secret alloy mined from the surface of the moon to give that pre-war sound.  Grin if you must!   I certainly do not buy into all the post-war tone ring hype although different tone rings can make a difference in individual banjos, which can go either way in tone enhancement.  If your pockets are keep enough, purchase a new 2K plus high dollar tone ring.....each to his/her own and in your own mind it will be worth the investment since the brain will hear that tone whether real or not!  Yes, I am grinning too!

I can make the analogy or comparison of the sale of prewar clone tone rings to the deer hunter who will spend 40 dollars per ounce for deer urine taken from one single doe in heat (estrous) in hopes of harvesting the next Boone and Crockett World Record Buck and that is about as clean and to the point as I can tell it!

The problem is not so much as knowing what the intended alloy is in some of those pre-war tone rings, but the difficulty in getting a consistent pour from tone ring to tone ring!  A single tone ring using the old sand cast method that was widely used in the depression era might yield several different analysis results at different places within the tone ring due to the method of pour and the cooling rate.  Today, there is technology available that is non-destructive to the part being analyzed and it would be great if someone would take one of their "Holy Grail" banjos and have the tone ring analyzed at different places to ascertain what the alloy is and the variance at different places of the tone ring and let the rest of us in on it!  But wait, the magician doesn't reveal his secrets either...go ahead and grin because I am!  Even with the known composition of a pre-war flat head tone ring, and a reproduction with an exact match, that still doesn't guarantee you the pre-war sound even though very, very close!

This could be the (missing link) that I have overlooked and maybe others too!  However, I have taken samples near the top of tone rings,  the lower portion and mid-way but have not had several samples taken and analyzed from the same tone ring to ascertain a metal pour variance within the tone ring!

Centrifugal casting of modern tone rings is far superior to the pre-war sand cast method producing a much more consistent and purer tone ring, however the expense is greater for short production runs!  We must remember that Gibson was a "Production Orientated Company" and built banjos as cheaply as possible for profits with the available technology of the time! 

Tuning individual components like sound boards and backs for maximum resonance along with other instrument components ceased to exist after Lloyd Loar left Gibson and production and profits became paramount.  Accurate electronic acoustical testing instruments such as signal generators, frequency counters, dual-trace oscilloscopes, sonograms, etc. were decades away, therefore trial and error time tested methods were in usage at the time!  Has the banjo made any break through advancements since then with all the technology we have at our disposal today?  Not much in my opinion except for increased production with the advent of CNC machines and other technologies!

PRE-WAR BANJO 101

"There is no one single Magical banjo component manufactured today whether it is a tone ring, wood rim, flange, resonator, neck, etc. that will match and fulfill the sound that is in one's own head or psychic emulating the elusive Gibson pre-war Mastertone sound; it is just the nature of the beast!"

I attribute this phenomena as PSYCHOLOGICAL BIAS.  Simply stated, "Humans harbor biases.  These prejudices influence what we hear. In other words, if you EXPECT one banjo and/or component to sound better than another - it will!  This phenomena or Psychological bias has been tested and proven by many double blind tests of all types to fully document and support this phenomena." 

If the banjo is not a pre-war original and uses the pre-war Gibson Mastertone design, it is a copy or clone, regardless of who made it!

POST-WAR MASTERTONE "COPY CATS"

Please feel free to quote me on the above statement with all the "Copy Cats" out there making banjos and still sucking "hind tit" without much originality whatsoever!   It is mere economics and nothing else.  In the past, I have been guiltily of the same thing but it is what the consumer wants however paradoxical as my statement eludes to!  If you use a Gibson one piece flange design (identical shaped tone holes), 3-ply wood rim, flat head tone ring to Gibson's specifications, identical resonator shape and configuration, basic pre-war inlay patterns, peghead shape, neck shape including the hand volute; you still have a copy of a Gibson Pre-War Mastertone aka a Masterclone.   The same goes for any instrument.

MY FAVORITE PRE-WAR GIBSON FLAT HEAD BANJO

I have a sound file of a Gibson RB75 flat head Serial Number DA5055 belonging to John Bowles which in my opinion is one of the best examples of what in my mind is the Gibson Pre-War Mastertone Sound;  brilliant highs, rich lows, right amount of sustain, even note clarity, note separation and evenness throughout the range of the neck.  The sound track recorded without the benefit of EQ effects and studio enhancements and a fairly faithful reproduction of the true sound.  Strings were a few years old on the "banjer"; imagine what it sounds like with a fresh set of strings:

DA5055  sound file in .mp3

There is a massive difference from actually hearing that sound and being able to hold the banjo and feel the nuance of vibrations created of which permeates beyond the ear drum into the inter soul and being of which words cannot adequately convey and describe!

Many have alluded that the "Holy Grail" pre-war banjo sound so many have referred to over the decades as far as the Gibson pre-war Mastertone flat head banjo itself, is more or less a product of accident or random chance of the specific components.  Every Gibson pre-war flat head is not a jewel tone wise, yet still has a certain distinctive sound, some much better than others!  There has not been conclusive evidence to support that Gibson actually did prior tests of various tone ring metal compositions prior to the production of the raised head and flat head tone rings and there was no mention of any tests done by George Hall, Gibson employee 1927 thru 1933 that was present at the factory with the introduction of the both the raised head and flat head tone rings.  George Hall simply stated they (Gibson) used Navy G bell brass which was not an exact science as evidenced by the spectrographic analysis reports of a sampling of their tone rings.  Gibson apparently used whatever tone ring casting supplied to them from their vendors at the time.   Gibson no doubt requested Navy G bell brass, aka Tin Bronze from their foundry vendors for their tone ring castings, however as stated, they certainly received tone ring castings that are all over the spectrum.  The Federal specifications manual that I once had, broke each alloy down with a nominal percentage by weight for each alloy within the composition and a minimum and maximum allowance for each alloy which could easily  be classified as another alloy; e.g., QQ-B-701a grade 6X or QQ-B-691 Comp. 6 called Tin Bronze.  Look above to see how close these two alloys are and others that are within the Leaded Tin Bronze alloys.  Gibson's goal was producing a quantity of instruments as cheaply as possible yet maintain some level of Quality Control....you be the judge!     

Since original Gibson pre-war flat head Mastertone banjos of all types are rare as far as their production numbers in comparison to the raised head Mastertone banjos, it makes them more valuable plus the majority of the banjo icons desired the Mastertone flat head banjos for their Bluegrass sound.  No one including myself has a definitive scientific answer and/or evidence why those pre-war Mastertone flat head banjos sound the way they do.  Post-war Gibson themselves and other banjo manufacturers have not been able to duplicate the complex tone of those pre-war flat head Mastertone banjos although some of the current Masterclone banjos (copycats) are very, very close; e.g., Huber, Sullivan, Yates, etc., to that particular tone or "rattle" those Stallions possess.  As paradoxical as this statement, "I have little respect for anyone who is a copycat."   I have personally been there myself but have seen the light.....grin if you must!

How many times have "we" purchased an instrument that had that magic sound we wanted at the time and find out a month or so later after really playing the instrument that it did not have that magic sound we were looking for?

Personally, I would own a stable full of those ole pre-war Gibson Mastertone flat head Stallions but my pockets are too shallow...grin now!   

PRE-WAR GIBSON DIDN'T THROW MUCH STUFF AWAY - A FEW ANOMALIES MENTIONED

Anyone who has owned or had the opportunity to view original Gibson pre-war Mastertone banjos either flat heads or raised heads up close and personal that have been completely disassembled will find all kind of anomalies and various imperfections that have been salvaged at the Gibson factory such as three ply wood rims that have a couple additional filler strips glued in place on the resonator side of the wood rim to hide very ugly ill fitting glue joints of which some times the banjo is a complete dud because of a non-responsive wood rim.  Gibson placed the best fitting three ply laminations that did not need filler strips next to the resonator (not always) and the worst fitting side under the tone ring which was hid from view unless disassembled.  Many times the tapered maple or poplar filler strips being 1/8 inch in width appear on both the upper and lower side of the wood rim and extended about 1/4 inch in depth into the wood rim and sometimes not that deep, just enough to hide the bad glue joint.   Raised head to flat head wood rim conversions will go beyond the depth of the filler strips manifesting the bad glue joint and reveal the bottom of the channel since the wedge shaped filler strip did not bottom out in the wood rim groove cut and there was an air or glue gap. 

Photo courtesy of Frank Schoepf, Hampstead, Maryland

Above picture of wood rim TB2 FON 9487-28 that was ruined by cutting it down to fit a Stelling flat head tone ring and Bernd Gassmann of Laudenbach Germany retrofitted another wood rim for the botched conversion (of which he was not responsible for) and made the above wood rim slice and flange cut away plaque as a Christmas gift for Frank Schoepf, banjo historian and scholar of Hampstead, Maryland.  You can clearly see how Gibson glued the tapered wedge filler strips in place.  Bernd Gassmann sent me an email on 05-15-13 about the wood rim slice plaque he made for Frank and gave some additional information, quote Bernd, "As Frank already mentioned, the rim was from a Tb-2 conversion FON # 9487 – 28 and was totally ruined underneath the Tone ring.  When it came into my shop, a Flat head tone ring was installed, just held in place by the head tension and had no contact to the rim on the inside (there was a gap of about .040”) To my astonishment, the banjo had a real good sound with a lot of punch and not too much sustain, which would be normally expected from a free vibrating tone ring.  Well, the good old pre war rims – even working after such a fatal surgery!

As you can see from the attached pictures, the rim was originally made for an earlier model (presumably a Style 0 or Oriole), since it had the 22 holes for the shoe brackets, which were covered up by the lip of the flange. They just glued a veneer in and outside the rim so it could be used again for OPF-models.  No waste at that time!"



To use the ole cliché, A picture is worth a thousand words, more pictures are even better!  Pix of Frank Schoepf (left in pix) and Bernd Gassmann, Master Craftsman and custom banjo maker in Laudenbach, Germany:

Below a scan of the top section of a TB11 wood rim dissected end view showing the installation of the tapered wedge wood filler strips:

  Photos courtesy of Frank Schoepf

Top view of TB11 wood rim

I expect this was for cosmetic reasons instead of a better sound but from an acoustic standpoint it would tend to be superior.  I know of one such original wood rim from a Pre-War Mastertone that was sawn in half (not by me) to find out why the banjo was a total dud and revealed at least an 1/8 inch width (void)  space between one of the three ply laminations the entire height of the wood rim which Gibson glued a filler strip on the bottom and top of the wood rim to conceal the bad open joint.  There are several theories about "Dead Space" in wood rims as to the relationship of vibration transfer within the wood rim from well know authorities but I take it as a grain of salt without merit!  I equate such theories as something that cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; those theories are simply an opinion! Tone rings many times are way too loose (tone ring will come off wood rim if wood rim is inverted) by gravity alone with too much slop or either too tight fitting (tone ring will not come off the wood rim without excessive force or having to use a band type clamp to twist tone ring off the wood rim) or worse heat the tone ring.  Tone ring should be able to be removed from the wood rim with hand/thumb pressure and at the point that you think you will not be able to get the tone ring removed from the wood rim, and go back onto the wood rim without much difficulty...that is the optimum fit in my humble opinion, however many prewar Mastertone banjos have sounded great with a loose fit but they probably would have sounded much better with a proper fit.  Improper neck heel angle fit to the wood rim requiring the wood rim to be grossly distorted by the coordinator rods to adjust the action has ruined many good original banjo wood rims that have a permanent set (oblong shape) on the bottom of the wood rim which can bend the lower portion of the tone ring out of round, depending on the alloy used and thickness of the lower portion (skirt) of the tone ring.  The list can go on and on.   According to George Hall, Gibson Great Depression Era employee, they (Gibson) did not throw much stuff away if it could be used at all due to lean depression times.  Gibson carried that psychology of being frugal into post war production as well.........looks like we might be heading that way again too!

Below are a few pixs taken by Ken LeVan of Shunk, PA of a 1927 Granada Hearts & Flowers two-piece flange tenor 40 hole raised head FON 8769-20 that he purchased about 45 years ago that shows one of the anomalies mentioned above.  The wood rim was cut down at the factory and had another piece added to the top of the wood rim of which we think they used a ball bearing wood rim and simply cut off 5/8 of an inch off the top and glued part of another wood rim to hide the holes drilled in the top of the wood rim that contained the washers and springs....a "guesstimate" at the best since the label was added over the splice after going through their finish room.  Many examples of this spliced rim alteration for the two piece flange have shown up over the decades since their manufacture and alteration by Gibson: 

Below exploded view of the banjo pot assembly:

Photos courtesy Ken LeVan, Shunk, PA.  Ken is a top of the line craftsman and artist! 

Below is a pix of another spliced wood rim from the same FON (Factory Order Number) 8769-16 that has the Mastertone decal installed over the top of the splice and done at the factory no doubt using up rims that were previously fitted for the ball bearing tone ring and retrofitted for the raised head tone ring.  A few other banjos with spliced rims also.  Check this link out for additional pixs

Visit:  www.earnestbanjo.com  for additional information and pictures on the above instruments.

Back in the early 1970s, I missed the opportunity to purchase at least one pre-war flat head high profile Mastertone banjo that started out at the factory as a raised head and Gibson cut the wood rim down and installed a flat head tone ring with the cut decal in place, whereas I surmised it was a post-war conversion but years later proved to be a factory pre-war conversion.  Back then without decades of experience identifying the "quirks" of pre-war flat head tone rings,  I didn't want to gamble on purchasing a conversion, whereas I certainly didn't trust the banjo trader offering the instrument for sale and that was probably my main concern.  I would not trust that banjo trader in an out house with a muzzle on!  I think many of us can look back and see numerous mistakes we have made instrument trading, etc.!  

Bronzes from "Henley's Twentieth Century Formulas, Recipes And Processes" circa 1916.

"The composition of bronze must be effected immediately before the casting, for bronze cannot be kept in store ready prepared.  In forming the alloy, the refractory compound, copper, is first melted separately, the other metals, tin, zinc, etc., previously heated, being then added; the whole is then stirred and the casting carried out without loss of time.  The process of forming the alloy must be effected quickly, so that there may be no loss of zinc, tin, or lead through oxidation, and also no interruption to the flow of metal, as metal added after an interval of time will not combine perfectly with the metal already poured in.  It is important, therefore, to ascertain the specific weights of the metals, for the heavier metal will naturally tend to sink to the bottom and the lighter to collect at the top.  Only in this way, and by vigorous stirring, can the complete blending of the two metals be secured.  In adding the zinc, great care must be taken that the latter sinks at once to the level of the copper, otherwise a considerable portion will be volatilized before reaching the copper.  When the castings are made, they must be cooled as quickly as possible, for the components of bronze have a tendency to form separate alloys of various composition, thus producing the so-called tin spots.  This is much more likely to occur with a slow than with a sudden cooling of the mass."

The above reference certainly shows the difficulty of pouring bronze alloys in the Gibson Mastertone era and gives some insight why there are so many different variations in the analysis reports of Gibson pre-war tone rings from the same original alloy mixture!  

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE WOOD RIM

I will put my money on a good three-ply wood rim especially Gibson pre-war, one without any voids covered up at the factory by splicing a filler strip between bad glue joints or a  current well made one piece layered old growth hard northern maple ( Acer saccharum) KENNEDY "jellyroll" style wood rim versus an original pre-war tone ring any day of the week as far as sound production (volume and timbre) goes!  A good wood rim is the heart beat of the banjo.  All things have to be made and fitted correctly but again the wood rim is the key component when comparing banjos to banjos.  If I were in the business of selling a special one of a kind tone ring, then there might be a different sales pitch but I am not in the business of selling neither tone rings or wood rims and can afford to be objective, unbiased and conclusions made backed up by experimentation with enough scientific evidence to prove my point.

Reproduction Gibson style 3-ply maple wood rims made back in the 1970's through the 1990's along with current ones, whereas  many of them after 10 years (and some within a few weeks) have shown a slight separation of the plys either by the wood shrinking or the glue line shrinking.  Some of the early Mastertone 3-ply wood rims show the same thing, however most and the better sounding banjo's wood rims are very tight and not able to detect any separation of the laminations either by sight or feel.   Gibson gave a boost to their pre-war wood rims with the installation wedge shaped wood filler strips glued in place between separated plys for cosmetic reasons when fitting the tone ring and flange and certainly helped the 3-ply wood rim integrity for tone enhancement/propagation if the plys did not have excessive void places between the laminations.  Many outstanding Gibson pre-war 3-ply wood rims were also installed in their contract non Mastertone brand banjos they produced during the Great Depression more out of a necessity.

There is a noticeable difference between the craftsmanship of the Gibson three ply wood rims prior to 1930 and most of the two piece flange wood rims were far superior in the plys fitting together with more precision requiring fewer "filler strips" to hide a bad glue joint!  Many of the pre-war wood rims for the two-piece flange had a center ply thickness between .312 to .375 inches and many observers get confused by the installation of the filler strips thinking they are looking at a five (5) ply wood rim. 

Note:  All three ply thicknesses normally started out the same thickness (.312) but turning the outside diameter and the inside diameter to allow for the finished OD and ID reduced their thickness.  It appears that Gibson did some type of "visual" grading of their wood rims aka "shells" since their higher grade of instruments have the better fitting wood rim plys and many of what I would classify as seconds have appeared in the factory floor sweep banjos, non-Mastertone brand banjos they produced during the 1930s and early post-war banjos using what they had on hand.   However, there have been many flawless wood rims on the non-Mastertone banjos they sold to various companies like Montgomery Ward, etc. and those banjos have made outstanding conversions.  

  1974 R & D Jellyroll wood rim using Dave Kennedy's prototype wood rim machine. 

Take a close look at the above pix of the glue line of the "jellyroll" wood rim that I personally made using Dave Kennedy's prototype wood rim machine and dissected manifests  what a glue line or the lack of a glue line should look like.  No voids in a wood rim laminations equals a superior sounding banjo with all other things being correct.   The jellyroll wood rim  makes more engineering sense to me for absolute flawless glue lines with less things that can get out of tolerance such as;  wood thickness, wood lamination length, taper angle length, grain structure from different wood billets/fletches,  etc., but now we get back to the Holy Grail Syndrome because Gibson did not invent and use the process even though one of their former pre-war employees George Hall conceived the idea many decades before Dave aka Davis Kennedy built his prototype wood rim machine or at least that is what George Hall related to me.  There is no question that Dave aka Davis Kennedy built the first jellyroll wood rim building machine and at least one other instrument maker has followed Kennedy's lead in this area!  It is to my understanding that Davis Kennedy supplied Gibson with his jellyroll wood rims (at least 60 units) but he could not supply their demand and one other individual copied Dave's jellyroll wood rim construction and attempted the same thing (supplying Gibson) with wood rims. 

I have not seen another "jellyroll" wood rim manufactured that would equal the ones produced on Dave Kennedy's prototype wood rim machine with such a flawless lamination glue line/fit.  Very few Gibson pre-war wood rims (post 1930s) would come close, especially at the scarf aka lap glue joint!  

There is no magic to steam bending wood and contrary to what many believe,  "steam does not add moisture to the wood; it actually dries it out".  Steam uses molecular water present in the wood to transfer heat.  Those that attempted to manufacture the one piece continuous length "jellyroll" wood rim after Dave Kennedy's invention simply did not fully understand that without heating and pressing the 1/4 inch thick steamed piece of wood (10 feet or more in length) against a forming wheel, the steamed wood would cool down too quickly to effectively get a 100% glue line without voids between the laminations.  Dave Kennedy's wood rim machine: 1) Steamed the wood, 2) Bent the steamed wood around a forming wheel, 3) Dried the lamination and 4) Glued the laminations in one process with the prototype machine requiring at least two people since the forming wheel was gear driven with a hand crank.  I am thinking that it took five (5) minutes for the forming wheel to make one complete revolution due to the gear ratio of the hand driven gear box.   Pix below of Dave Kennedy's jellyroll wood rim machine in operation:

Below are pixs taken by Luthier Chris Cioffi of Springfield, Tennessee; telephone 615-382-1376 showing how Gibson made their pre-war wood rims for the tube and plate flange and an excellent drawing by Chris of how they mortised a piece of maple into the outer lamination to get the extra diameter needed to capture the radius portion of the tube.  The tube and plate flange wood rim is one of the strongest wood rim systems made but was and still is very labor intensive and replaced with the introduction of the one piece flange (OPF). 

Check Chris Cioffi Banjo Services out at:  Banjo Hangout:  Chris has the expertise and qualifications to do banjo repairs/construction needed!

You have to look very close at most of the Gibson pre-war tube and plate flange wood rims to notice the glue line of the mortised in strip of wood (tenon).  Gibson did not waste labor by tapering the ends of the tenon as evidenced by the gap which was covered by the heel of the banjo neck.  Jimmy Cox at Cox Banjos, Topsham, Maine 207-725-4677, in my humble opinion is one of the best post war three ply wood rim makers today, including the mortise and tendon wood rim for the tube and plate flange.

Some argue that three separate laminations make a better rim because of the different grain structure but enlarge the pixels in the lower pix above of the jellyroll wood rim and observe a noticeable contrast between the grain structure of the wood layers even though the single piece of wood is from the same fletch or billet!  It appears that three separate pieces of wood were used to create the jellyroll wood rim, whereas one single length of Northern hard maple was used.   Wood density, grain structure pattern variance along with cell crystallization within a single piece of wood is a somewhat shielded mystery as to the relationship between it's final effect on timbre or tone and the ability to propagate sound waves!  I do not have a conclusive scientific answer as to the cellulose crystalline structure in a developing wood cell wall and what takes place within the cell wall after the wood has been harvested, kiln and/or air dried, steam/heat bent, etc., but  I know what works most of the time!

Wood rim advertising is now taking on the same hype (that is the clean or politically correct word usage) as are tone ring manufacturers and just maybe the Holy Grail Wood Rim will be revealed from eight (8) decades of obscurity!

Hard Rock maple was a colloquial term used and derived from different types of Maple trees, the rock maple tree and the hard maple tree and came about in the 1960s advertising when the Colonial American style of furniture was in demand again.  Hard maple  (Acer saccharum) is heavy, strong, hard, tough, stiff, close grained and shows mineral lines and grey streaking in the heart wood with over 200 species and shrubs worldwide and divided into two groups: hard and softSugar maple (or rock maple: acer saccharum) is the most common hard maple.  Silver, Red Maple and Box Elder are more common soft maple species and grow across North American and are less dense. 

Also, I have no evidence that animal hide glue is superior to our modern glues as far as giving that magical timbre to an instrument.  Hide glues are definitely not as strong as the original Titebond (aliphatic resin) glue that I have used since the late 1960s and my own tests have the wood pulling apart before the glue line shears.  There are places where animal hide glues are called for such as violin tops, etc. where a part at some point in time might need to be removed, but I sold my electric glue pot decades ago and have no desire to purchase another one either!  If you witness wood separation at a glue line, doesn't that give you a clue something is wrong?  The majority of wood rim separation of the plys normally is: ply lengths too long,  faulty glue, absence of glue to begin with, improper clamp pressure and application time or too much moisture content in the wood when the glue was originally applied and several other factors more difficult to ascertain.

If everyone thought "inside the box" as some of our traditionalists, we would still be using long bows as implements of war instead of our laser and GPS guided smart bombs!  I know this is a two edged sword statement, but someone has to say it again and the parallel can be made to musical instruments as well.  I myself am guilty of using the ole cliché, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" and there are many applications to use such a statement but hide glue is not one of them.  

If I had to put a percentage on the relationship of the importance of the wood rim versus the tone ring, I would go at least 75 percent in favor of the wood rim and this is a very conservative conclusion.  Even a pre-war high profile flat head tone ring on a poor wood rim will yield poor results but an excellent well made maple 3-ply or jellyroll wood rim will yield good to excellent results with about any modern Gibson style reproduction high profile well fitted tone ring!   If there were no merit to my assessment of the pre-war wood rims on lesser model Gibson banjos without a tone ring, why are they so expensive today and in such great demand just for the pre-war 3-ply wood rim and/or resonator in order to covert to a Mastertone?  Most will render a timbre or tone that is normally not found using current manufactured reproduction 3-ply wood rims and the wood rim is the foundation or building block of the banjo...... that is why!  This is an example of the aging of the wood rim after assembly/construction for over 80 years.  Just purchasing old wood that has been dormant for many decades and centuries cannot be equally compared to the finished product that time and mother nature has done it's "magic" to enhance the timbre.  That's my story and I am sticking to it!

Anyone desiring to learn about quantitative analysis for the cellulose la crystalline phase in developing wood cell walls by ,Yutaka Kataoka and Tetsuo Kondo, there are articles available that get into scientific detail but will cost you about $ 38.00 per article.    Go to www.sciencedirect.com

An original pre-war flat head tone ring will sound different when installed on different pre-war wood rims, current made 3-ply maple wood rims;  whether Timeless Timber, Factory Floor, Cox, Cooperman, Yates, Huber, LeVan, Kennedy jellyroll style or any combination between....I certainly don't have a definitive or absolute answer as to why! 

 I formulate a pc analogy as:  "The wood rim being the "motherboard" which controls all the pherpherphical components such as the tone ring, neck, strings, head, tension hoop, bridge, tailpiece, hook & nuts, resonator, etc. to produce the volume, sustain and timbre one desires!"   Bill aka Mickey Porter

Check out my finishing page for further information concerning the wood rim.

Wood (trees) at one time was a living thing and I guess you can make the analogy to human DNA, no two are identical!  The photosynthesis process we associate with the leaves, soil nutrients, climate variations, temperature, annual growth, all contribute  to this mystery (timbre)!

  Plant cell drawing from the internet.  

Read further down this page under the paragraph titled, "My attempt to explain timbre" concerning old wood.

Jasper Wood Products in the 1970s supplied Gibson with multiple ply laminated banjo wood rims of which rendered some of the most horrible sounding out of the box Gibson Mastertone banjos ever made!  The Jasper wood rims were seemingly more glue and lacquer than wood and the tone ring I.D. hung over the edge of the wood rim which was about one lamination shy of 9.5 inches I.D.  This wood rim was prone to pull apart at the lip area that contained the tube of the two piece flange.   I had one of their stock Jasper wood rims in an early CE Ward Masterclone (one piece flange) before using the Kennedy machine produced jellyroll wood rim and would not do that again.  The banjo was made by CE Ward using post war Gibson parts and had a walnut wood rim in it that was turned from a solid piece of wood by Bill Simpson and later cracked badly.  I sold the banjo with the Jasper Wood Products wood rim in it to Paul Sasser, deceased of Pleasant Garden, NC and he said "that was the worst sounding banjo he ever purchased."

A few builders of of late have come around to this way of thinking that do not have the incurable  "Granada Holy Grail Syndrome" permanently embedded in their brain altering the process of the cerebral cortex.  Many talented banjo pickers are unable to distinguish the difference between certain pre-war flat head banjos played versus some excellent post-war banjos in a blind hearing test which manifests a whole arena of self biases, prejudices with predetermined invalid preconceptions.  However, there is a difference in hearing a banjo's tone versus hearing and feeling the banjo's tone when YOU are playing the same banjo!  That last sentence I know is paradoxical but that is the difference in my humble opinion.  If an instrument is able to deliver the tone you are looking for, regardless of the name on the peghead, you will want to play it non-stop and you will certainly become a much better musician in the long run!

Gibson prewar Northern hard maple three ply wood rim construction is by no means the only way to build a wood rim that will yield outstanding timbre with all things being equally compared.  There are excellent wood rims made today by various craftsmen using different styles, wood species and methods of wood rim construction such as horizontal finger jointed multi-sectional  wood rims using red maple.  Each of us has our own prejudices as to what we like and what we have the equipment and capability to fabricate...the sky is the limit!  Check out Ken LeVan who can think outside the box and an excellent craftsman.

GIBSON PRE-WAR FLAT HEAD BANJO TONE

I personally know that some of the pre-war flat head banjos that I had the opportunity to play has something in their complex tone that you are able to hear and most importantly vibrational feel  that the majority of post war banjos including Gibson do not possess.  It might not be a tremendous amount of difference and I do not have any conclusive scientific data as to why they do.  I don't think you can immediately duplicate 80 plus years of an instrument that has constantly gone through different phases of seasonal changing humidity, barometric pressure, internal stresses and movement of the molecular structure of individual components brought about by these changes and of course the actual playing of the instrument.  A few modern banjo companies of late copying pre-war Gibson like Huber, Yates, Sullivan and Frank Neat are very close to that sound and feel but not quite there yet.   I would not hesitate to own one of their latest banjos if I didn't have the ability to build one of my own, but they are still "copy cats" IMHO without any originality whatsoever!  I certainly would not mortgage our home to purchase a mint condition 1930s Gibson Mastertone flat head banjo just for the sake of owning one or as an investment either.  The 1950s thru the 1960s were the era to get a deal on a Gibson pre-war flat head.  Prewar Gibson flat heads were purchased by many skillful and cunning banjo traders routinely for 75 to 150 dollars from their original owners and/or children/relatives who apparently had no idea what their current value or worth was and were quickly sold for 1500 to 2000 dollars due to their high demand; a very huge and tremendous mark-up and profit at the time or today as well.  If you have the means to own one of those pre-war Stallions at their current inflated price, go for it; it's your money!  You probably want sound a bit better to the listener than picking one of the Huber, Yates or Sullivan banjos IMHO, however you will certainly sound better to yourself.  It is just the nature of the beast!   I have heard other pre-war non-Gibson banjos that possessed beautiful tone and volume as well but one cannot have the incurable "Granada Holy Grail or the RB75 Syndrome" either!  Ask yourself this question:  What generates the most complex tone from any banjo?  Hold your two hands up!  Bingo!

READ MY LIPS

Personally, the pre-war Gibson Mastertone flat head banjo style of construction (as a whole) are still the best 5-string banjos ever made for Bluegrass style picking!

Any banjo manufactured today using the above style is still a copy or clone, regardless of what name is on the peghead.  The same goes for a guitar, mandolin or any other product.

JIM SELMAN - AKRON, OHIO - BANJO BUILDER AND TRADER

Jim Selman of Akron, Ohio has been "preaching" the importance of the wood rim for many decades and had a positive influence on Bill Sullivan (deceased) of First Quality Music to produce the "Old Growth Wood Rim".  Jim Selman has purchased and/or traded more pre-war flat head and raised head banjos including the Granada than probably any person in the USA.  Both Jim and myself have seen some cheaper models of Gibson banjos pre-war and post-war banjos with a pre-war original wood rim and just a 1/4 inch brass rod/tone ring that would knock the socks off most any post-war Mastertone banjo!  I expect Jim Selman purchased about as many complete inlaid peghead and fingerboards from myself than any other individual and/or shop during my own "music hay day."   Jim Selman has also sold Earl Scruggs many original banjos over the years!  I am not talking about Jim Faulkner, that is another story.

Above pix of Jim Selman and the pix on the right is Jim Selman and Earl Scruggs 1959.

Many of Gibson's original prewar three ply wood rims that were left over at the factory after they ceased production of the Top Tension models 7, 12 & 18 Mastertone banjos and RB75's has turned up in early post war Gibson banjos like the early RB100 and RB150 and have made some outstanding flat head conversion banjos.  The aging and drying out of a wood rim after it has been steam and/or heat bent to shape and also after the gluing operation is a key missing element in today's production and short run production banjos!  Some of those wood rims were the full 3/4 inch thickness at the 1/4 inch diameter brass tone ring portion for the arch top which had the 1/4 inch diameter (rod) tone ring positioned toward the inner side of the wood rim to mimic the raised head tone ring.  Gibson kept about a year's supply of wood rim components already bent to shape and in various stages of completion in a very large heated drying room according to George Hall who worked there from 1927 thru 1933.  Their method of wood rim construction was very crude by today's technology but very effective back then when labor was cheap and plentiful.

Early recordings of Gibson Mastertone banjos (Fisher Hendley with his 1937 RB Granada flat head Flying Eagle inlay pattern, shipped June 23, 1937 FON 9526-13) without the benefit of high tech studio enhancements in the 1930's thru the 1940's proves many of their  banjos "right out of the box" had what it takes without the benefit of time as myself and others elude to instrument age as one of those missing magical components and is somewhat paradoxical!   Banjo later recorded by Buddy Rose and now owned by Gordon Reid. 

There is a excellent write up in The Old-time Herald Magazine volume 10, number 6 Aug-Sep 2006 issue with a good history of early North Carolina musical groups including Fisher Hendley and other local Anson County musicians, etc.  Back issues are available for sale.   There is a picture of Fisher Henley with a ball bearing 5 string banjo Hearts and Flowers with the Mastertone inlaid in the peghead and the picture is circa 1930 of which Fisher Henley was 100 percent Gibson all the way as evidenced by a letter in said magazine from Gibson.

I gave away and hauled to the land fill over 55 gallons of research data with a large amount of original Gibson factory data collected from George Hall, Davis Kennedy and others that worked at the Gibson factory, prewar and postwar but hindsight always seem to be 20/20 for sure......go ahead and grin on that statement.  So much for needing more valuable file cabinet space!

Check this link out!

GIBSON PRE-WAR EMPLOYEE - GEORGE E. HALL

Photo courtesy of Joe Spann,  Research Library Director and professional genealogist.

Above picture of George Hall (standing) and Frank Klinger playing the guitar that I received from Joe Spann on 11-16-11 via email and very much appreciated.  Joe stated that Frank Klinger was a Gibson Salesman and also played in a band with George Hall.

I give a tremendous amount of credit to Mr. George E. Hall (deceased) of Kalamazoo, Michigan who worked for the Gibson Musical Instrument Company from August 5, 1927 through out 1933 and possessed a huge amount of knowledge of every aspect of the Gibson Mastertone Banjo construction and "picked his brain" many, many times via telephone and letters for manufacturing details.  I did have some of his hand drawn sketches of Gibson's Pre-War  banjo wood rim bending machine and he was the first person to detail a banjo wood rim made like a "jelly roll" ; e.g., one continuous 10 ft. plus piece of 1/4 inch x 3 inch hard maple wood steam bent and rolled onto a 9.4 inch diameter (elliptical)  shaped steel wheel,  dried  and glued at the same time consisting of four complete revolutions or more depending on the wood length,  with each end feather tapering to make a complete round part after a lathe turning operation.  George stated that Gibson were just finishing up using the ball bearing tone rings and were getting the arch top tone ring castings in when he started to work for them.  George took an original factory pre-war tone ring (arch top) while he was working there and made a modified flat head tone ring out of it.  George told me the factory allowed new employees to build an instrument of their choice when they went to work for them as part of their on the job training.  I don't know what happened to his one of a kind banjo he built but he said it would go to the grave with him if he didn't get the price he was asking for it; 50K in 1975.  That banjo had an awesome tone and volume.  Dave Kennedy observed one of the flat head tone rings that George Hall had modified and he described it as having saw cuts on the inner portion of the ring that contacts the top flat portion of the wood rim and the cuts were done with a hack saw with the spacing matching the flange tone holes.  Dave stated that he was not impressed with the modification.  I lost contact with his daughter-in-law over the years and never asked about George's banjo.  Many of the Gibson employees named by George Hall during our many hours of conversation over a (Watts telephone line)  that did specific production tasks have faded from my memory since I took only sparse notes back then.  One has to be familiar with a production environment to be able to fit the pieces of the Gibson Mastertone banjo mystique together with some degree of accuracy and clarity!  Many of Gibson's "floor sweep" banjos sold in the late 1930s thru the 1940's were actually put together from components made during The Great Depression Era and a banjo date of sale on an invoice does not provide an accurate infallible cross reference to the (FON) factory order number/bin number as to the actual date the banjo was manufactured.  Original pre-war Mastertone banjos left the factory with mismatched individual components such as resonators, necks and wood rims due to the depression and the need to complete a custom order and Gibson themselves altered some of the original factory order numbers and bin lot numbers to effect the order. 

Gibson had a tremendous distribution network (dealers) nationwide and one must conclude that a company of that size would have to stock a sizeable inventory of their catalogued instruments due to the amount of time it takes to manufacture a banjo from start to finish.  Instruments sold in the mid 1930's certainly reflect they were made much earlier and besides, "You can't sell what you don't have in inventory" and those were hard times!

According to George Hall, individuals were assigned production duties such as turning of tone rings, resonators, wood rims, cutting wood rim pieces to length, bending wood rim components, gluing the wood rims, bending resonator side walls, gluing operations of all types, neck blank operations, gluing mother of pearl onto backer boards, scribing patterns onto inlay material, cutting the mother of pearl designs,  cutting fingerboard and pegheads in prep for the inlays, inlaying the pre-cut inlays, binding resonators, slotting fingerboards, fretting fingerboards after inlays prior to gluing onto neck blanks, staining and lacquer, etc.,  and assemblers/fitters of the final components by  bin number.  One has to imagine the tremendous amount of instruments possible and warehoused from a production environment and inventory ready to be sold.  George Hall stated the FON (factory order numbers) aka serial numbers of the banjos whereas they were built (housed in roll able storage bins in lots of 40 units, however there are many bin numbers on FON's that go beyond 40, some with much less bin numbers and missing FON's and out of sequence and "the more information revealed, the more questions arise!" 

At some point in production, you will reach a point or level called, diminishing returns and 40 units could have been Gibson's normal point of diminishing returns!  Just a "guesstimate".

NOTE:  The information that George Hall related to me concerning his employment  with Gibson;  I can only relate what was told to me by George Hall himself since he worked there and he was certainly in a position of knowledge and responsibility being an Experimental Manager in 1931.  I scanned some notes I made on 11-30-75 while talking with George Hall about the Gibson tone rings and called Riverside Foundry on 12-01-75 and talked with Mr. R. G. Diephuis, Sales Manager and he said their records did not go back that far to 1927.  My interest and intent was to get Riverside to manufacture tone rings for me in 1974 if they were not locked into a current contract with Gibson of which I don't think they were.  My goal was to ascertain the tone ring composition/alloys in Gibson's pre-war tone rings and I accomplished that goal with the majority of the tone rings being the tin bronze alloy.   Most of the documents and drawings I received from George Hall have long since been thrown out and could only find the letter dated June 4, 1973, and one dated May 6, 1976, whereas he was still somewhat loyal to Gibson after all those years and would not hand address the outside of the envelope on one of them for whatever reason I can 't remember.  George still had a good relationship with Gibson after his 1933 employment and was up to date on a lot of their jobbers that supplied parts to them in the late 1960s thru the mid 1970s.  I followed up on several of those sources which were accurate at that time.   It is to my understanding that George continued to tinker with building banjos and scrounged old parts from his contacts at the factory and who knows what type of "Holy Grail" parts are in some of those banjos he put together for his students!  It is factual that Gibson swapped out original prewar parts during the post war years when repairing instruments due to their current production parts not conforming to the pre-war parts specifications; especially gold plated and engraved items and Gibson and/or their employees kept many of them.  Back then, parts were just parts!

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT GEORGE HALL

Joe Spann, Research Library Director and professional genealogist, provided additional information concerning the date of George Hall's employment with Gibson of which I updated and in 1930 his title at Gibson was simply "Musician" and in 1931 he is described as an "Experimental Manager."  In the final year of his employment at Gibson (1933) he is described as an "Inspector."  By 1936 he was in business as a locksmith and was running a small locksmith shop in Kalamazoo.  His October 9, 1978 obituary describes him simply as a "Professional Musician" at Corsiglia's restaurant in Portage, Michigan.  It also mentions his great love of horses.  George had only one son Roger Hall who died in 2000 thus ending Joe Spann's search.   Joe Spann provided this information via an email on 09-25-09 and is very much appreciated!

I had one picture of George Hall standing beside one of his horses of which I could not locate.  I was very fortunate to have known George Hall only via telephone conversations and letters and one of the few individuals today  that had actual contact with a pre-war Gibson employee that worked there at the Kalamazoo Gibson Factory from 1927 thru 1933 when Gibson manufactured some of their best Mastertone banjos.  In my humble opinion, this was Gibson's musical instrument renaissance period that has not been equaled since.   Therefore, I certainly feel the information I received from George Hall is Reliable and Credible

I have a hyperlink to a document scan from Riverside Foundry and Galvanizing Co. dated 09-26-74 for a quotation for 100 tone rings lot (high profile flat head) cast from QQ-B-701a Grade 6X tin bronze, similar to commonly called trolley brass,  however I never did order the tone rings from Riverside Foundry and Galvanizing Co.  I found out about the trolley brass or tin bronze years before I had MacMillan Research do the spectrographic analysis of the samples I sent them as evidenced by the Riverside Foundry and Galvanizing Co., quotation for the QQ-B-701a Grade 6X alloy and also had a copy of the analysis report that Gibson did on the 1929 TB3 arch top tone ring.  So much for "trade secrets"!  I guess the ole saying, "Loose lips sink Battleships" holds some merit after all!  Grin now!  I was not convinced about Gibson using one alloy for their tone rings since there was such a difference between pre-war banjos that were set up properly.  Some were run of the mill banjos and others were great and that is what sparked my interest in having several tone rings tested.  My money is still on the old 3-ply wood rims, especially those that did not need filler strips to hide the bad open glue joints!

I used the firm MacMillan Research, Ltd. located in Marietta, Georgia to do the spectrographic analysis of the samples submitted and they were signed by J.E. Mac Millan, Ph.D. Chemist and trust the accuracy of the reports. 

I certainly enjoyed doing the research about the Gibson pre-war tone rings and I am sure I only scratched the surface so to speak and definitely not an expert at anything, whereas others have continued the quest for the Holy Grail banjo sound and have made great progress to supply some outstanding tone rings as close as possible to the original alloys as can be made today along with great 3-ply wood rims and resonators.

The only element missing is the natural aging process (crystallization) of the components after the part is fabricated and the limited supply of Northern old growth hard maple wood for the 3-ply wood rims which time will tell how successful "we" have been!   How long does it take to age an instrument in....that is very subjective, but an instrument made right from the start doesn't take that long!  Instruments that I have personally made, after 10 years there has been a noticeable difference in the timbre of the instrument with the biggest element being the reduction of out of phase overtones and a deeper and more mellower tone/timbre and an increase in instrument volume.  Many banjo gurus have come to the same conclusion that it takes at least 10 years for an instrument to fully age in giving the qualities I mentioned earlier.  Again, this is still a very subjective area and regular playing of an instrument helps accelerate the age in process.  There are a few "guarded" secrets to help accelerate the age in process and some have leaked out over the years.

To paraphrase what one excellent craftsman stated to me concerning current banjo gurus of the Gibson Pre-War aka The Great Depression Era Mastertone banjos,  "Today, builders are simply uncovering the dust where many have already been and trying to re-invent the wheel again."

To repeat what I stated earlier, "Personally, the pre-war Gibson Mastertone flat head banjo style of construction (as a whole) are still the best 5-string banjos ever made for Bluegrass style picking."  Bill aka Mickey Porter.

However, Bacon and Day during the 1920s built some of the most elaborate banjos of the time mostly in tenor and plectrum and their Ne Plus Ultra Silver Bell # 9 sold for $900.00 while a Mastertone # 3 sold for $100.00.  The tone and volume along with the craftsmanship was unequaled at the time and today as well for a production instrument.  Pix below of the # 9's pot assembly:

 

HAROLD CHRISCOE, SEAGROVE, NC - BANJO BUILDER AND REPAIRMAN

Harold Chriscoe of Seagrove, NC; Telephone:  336-879-3961 is a long time friend dating back to the late 1960s.  I visited with him today on 07-31-10 and we swapped ole stories,  banjo building info while looking over several pre-war banjos of which I had never had my hands on a ball bearing Granada dating that far back; FON 8118-7.  This Granada has a very unusual piece of inlay in the headstock and everything was all original.  See this inserted pix of the head stock; look close and find the abnormality which is not too obvious.  Also inserted pixs of Harold's work shop:

NOTE:  I talked with Harold on 08-28-11 and the above Granada was traded for a TB4 RH and some "boot".

Harold and myself did a lot of musical instruments and parts trading back in the 1970s and he is an excellent top of the line repairman and instrument builder.  Harold had the ability to come up with innovative ways of doing things back before specialty tools were available and could and still does replicate the old Gibson stain and finish patterns as well.  Harold's shop is packed with untold quantities of instruments, parts, etc. and doubt if he knows exactly what he has...grin if you must.  We dry fitted a couple original tube and plate flange necks on my "Flaming Claw" pot assembly and made a few measurements of the neck drop at the nut before I drill the hanger bolt holes in my Flaming Claw PREWARTONE neck.  It was a most enjoyable visit and both our hair has gotten much whiter with all the norms associated with "maturity",  but we still have a "sparkle" in our eyes for THE GREAT DEPRESSION ERA musical instruments! 

Harold purchased a mint condition Gibson Hummingbird guitar from me before Christmas in 1978, the year before I sold my business and his purchase allowed our "kids" to have a wonderful Christmas that year when things were really tight money wise.  My bride has not forgotten that sale to this day and simply states, "Harold was God sent with her prayers being answered" and I do concur that as well!

Harold Chriscoe was a permanent "fixture" at most of the Bluegrass Festivals back in the 1970s and always on the look out for that "Holy Grail" flat head Mastertone too, whereas he has had his hands on many of them over the years!

RB GRANADA DEWITT WHELESS HOLY GRAIL FLAT HEAD HISTORY FON 9584-5

Back in the early 1930's a barber named Jim Graves who owned Graves Barbershop in Wadesboro, NC  had a Gibson dealership as a part-time venture and several Gibson Mastertone 5-string flat head banjos were sold to individuals within a 10 mile radius of which I tracked down.   "Buck"  Wheless's dad "DeWitt" Wheless of Ansonville, NC ordered an RB3 flat head around 1934 and had Jim Graves send it back to the factory to exchange it for a gold plated flat head and don't remember him mentioning anything about an engraving pattern on it and it took only a few weeks to process and Buck Wheless could not remember if it was mahogany or curly maple wood on the neck and resonator.    A banjo trader here in NC found out about the DeWitt Mastertone Gibson banjo around 1960 and visited DeWitt Wheless and "Buck" Wheless was present when the banjo trader persuaded his dad DeWitt to sell him the banjo if he ever decided to sell the banjo "since he was wanting another good Mastertone banjer to play because he had gotten sick and had to sell his banjer" which  was very deceptive to say the least.  Shortly after DeWitt Wheless died on February 16, 1961 the banjo trader showed up and purchased the banjo from "Buck" Wheless sometime within the next month for $150 dollars and "Buck" felt like he was obligated to sell the banjo to him who "Buck"  did not realize that he was a professional banjo trader or that the banjo was easily worth 2K dollars.  

I visited the the banjo trader at his home in late 1969 or the early 1970s to ascertain the whereabouts of the Wheless banjo and he stated to me that he had sold that banjo to a professional musician in Nashville for 2000 dollars which ended my search for the banjo thinking that it was the truth.  The professional banjo player was the truth but his location was inaccurate.  

"Buck"  Wheless told me on 09-14-09 that Jim Mills had visited his home about three years ago doing research on the DeWitt Wheless banjo and knew where the banjo was located and had his hands on the banjo and thought it was a consecutive serial number to one of Fisher Hendley's Mastertone banjos.    Buck later told me that Fisher Hendley's banjo and his Dad's banjo were ordered the same day and both banjos ordered received a few weeks later via train shipped to Jim Graves (Graves Barbershop) In Wadesboro, NC.  Fisher's Hendley's banjo was FON 9584-3 belonging to Mr. Earl Scruggs after going through a couple different professional musician's hands; i.e., Snuffy Jenkins and Don Reno.

NOTE:  I followed a couple leads on the above banjo on 09-18-09 and 09-19-09 and talked to it's current owner who wishes to remain anonymous on the web at this time and he purchased the banjo from the same banjo trader mentioned earlier in the Spring of 1965.  He stated that he gave 1025 dollars for the banjo, whereas the banjo trader was asking 1500 for it and would come down a hundred dollars in price and finally agreed to sell it for the above price.  The Hearts & Flowers fingerboard had been replaced at the factory with their standard bowtie inlays sometime around 1962 and some refinish work was done on the banjo right after Carl Hunt purchased the banjo from the same mentioned banjo trader in 1961 and Carl Hunt later sold/traded it back to the banjo trader for another flat head banjo, (The Jessie Brown banjo 9473-3) of Polkton, NC that was also purchased by Jim Graves, Gibson dealer in Wadesboro, NC.  It makes one wonder why Carl Hunt traded the Wheless Granada back to the same banjo trader for a lesser grade banjo after he received the Granada banjo back from Gibson with the new fingerboard installed, however each one of us has our own unique preference toward sound.  The current owner had the bow tie inlaid fingerboard later replaced by CE Ward.

A local banjo player Brutus Gale (deceased) who owned a shoe repair shop in Wadesboro, NC and also a Gibson Mastertone flat head banjo FON 9528-1 and played with the Anson County Ramblers on radio station WADE in the 1940s,  related to me that he played both banjos that Buck's dad had purchased and he said the one Graves sent back to the factory sounded better than the gold plated flat head. 

The current owner of the Wheless Granada banjo visited my shop in the middle 1970's, however we didn't discuss his Granada banjo of which I was unaware that he was the owner of the Wheless Granada banjo.  Man, that was about 35 years ago!   The Granada now has an original style Hearts & Flowers fingerboard done in Brazilian Rosewood by Harold Chriscoe of Seagrove, NC and I believe is the 4th fingerboard on the original neck.

The Wheless banjo FON is 9584-5 and is one of the Granada Holy Grail banjos from the same production lot as Earl Scruggs FON 9584-3 originally belonging to Fisher Hendley and Sonny Osborne's FON 9584-2 and 9584-1 was sold to Hubert Lowe.   There are unanswered questions about the 9584-4.  I could be wrong,  but believe all from this FON 9584 had a cut Mastertone label on the wood rim and probably started out as raised heads and the flat head tone ring was later added while at the factory before being sold to their original owners back around 1934 although their production was apparently in 1930. 

Below is one of two existing pixs of DeWitt Wheless with his Gibson RB Granada Mastertone Hearts and Flowers flat head banjo with a double cut peghead.  I enlarged the pixels and noticed the standard Granada engraving pattern on the armrest.  Whether or not Gibson retrofitted his existing banjo with gold plated parts in 1934, or replaced the entire banjo, I don't know.  The banjo is a 1934 purchase RB Granada flat head after consulting with the current owner.  The Granada has the old style resonator featuring two wood purfling rings in the resonator.

Picture taken in 1940 with Joe Hildreth standing with guitar, Dewitt Wheless banjo, Jim Hildreth mandolin, Blake Hildreth guitar sitting and David Lear fiddle.   Group named "Skillet Lickers".  Banjo fingerboard does not have an inlay at the 15th fret which was normal!

Enlarged pixels of the armrest which has the standard Granada engraving pattern on it...I could not make out anything on the clamshell tailpiece or the tension hoop at that camera angle or the type of wood.  Talk about being excited after viewing the armrest engraving, I knew it had to be a Granada:

The other pix of DeWitt Wheless and his band, a few years earlier around 1936 in Charlotte, NC.  I think Crazy Water Crystals was one of their sponsors:

I have a sound file of the Granada played by the current owner that was recorded about five years ago.  Click on Dear Old Dixie to open a .mp3 sound file which is a little over 2 megs. in size.  A good solid Scruggs sound for sure!  Those that have heard the banjo recently, state that it has a much better sound than on the track above!

It was great to bring closure to the DeWitt Wheless banjo since I had looked for it as early as 1969 when I started my Musical Instrument Repair business and didn't have the time or resources to invest in such a great banjo that is now part of the Granada Holy Grail Legacy!

TIM MYATT OF SNOW HILL, NC OWNER OF THE DEWITT WHELESS GRANADA 

I talked with the owner of the DeWitt Wheless banjo last night, 02-01-14 and he agreed to let me publish his name on my website and he is Tim Myatt at Snow Hill, NC and their local band is Highway 58 Bluegrass.  Tim had his Granada authenticated last year at the IBMA 2013 by Steve Huber and Joe Spann.  Tim related to me that he attended the Banjothon 2014 and many pickers were very impressed with his Granada FON 9584-5 and his pickin too.  As soon as one of our friends health improves, Tim and I plan to meet at our friends home and I will take some photographs of him and his Granada.  I told Tim that most of the banjo pickers and traders in this part of the country have known for many decades he owned the Granada 9584-5 which is part of the Granada Holy Grail Legacy!

It was great to talk with Tim Myatt who has an excellent knowledge of banjos and some of the old-time banjo traders and we swapped a few stories from the past for an hour or more over the telephone.  Tim might be doing an article for Bluegrass Unlimited and give a recap of the history of his banjo which is well documented on this page.  Below far left, Tim Myatt performing at RA Fountain:

Below pix of Buck Wheless 09-17-09:

Buck Wheless, son of DeWitt Wheless came by the house with two pixs of his Dad and I scanned them and presented Buck with one of my Porter Dual Hens Field Grade Box calls made out of Butternut wood base from Kentucky and Cedar wood lid from Anson County, NC.  Buck still turkey hunts and hope he will harvest another one this coming Spring season with this call.

RB3 WREATH BILL THOMPSON FLATHEAD HISTORY FON 9528-1

Mr. Brutus Gale (mentioned above) also owned a Gibson 1934 purchase RB3 flat head FON 9528-1 that had a wreath inlay pattern on the peghead and fingerboard that he purchased from Bill Thompson in Wadesboro, NC in 1945 for 75 dollars that was purchased from the Gibson factory by Jim Graves.  I personally talked to Bill Thompson (not the Bill Thompson that owned a local grocery store) in the late 1960s and he steered me to Brutus Gale who stated that the same earlier mentioned banjo trader came by and looked at the banjo several times in the early to mid 1960's trying to purchase it and when he became sick needing money, he swapped the banjo for an RB250 and I believe was given 150 dollars "boot".  The same banjo trader later came back and swapped him a cheap Kalamazoo banjo for the RB250 banjo with additional "boot", whereas  he sold the RB3 wreath flat head banjo to Junior Lowery of Goldhill, NC of whom John Bowles of Advance, NC purchased the banjo around 1974 directly from Junior Lowery after seeing an ad in Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine.  Junior Lowery offered the banjo to me for 1500 dollars in the early 1970's but I knew he was not serious and I couldn't afford the banjo at that time anyway due to a growing family (three kids).  I guess all this was said to show how fast Gibson could deliver a banjo in the 1930's of which they apparently had a good inventory of instruments on hand.  The above banjo is shown on Greg Earnest website with pixs.  You could order basically any inlay pattern of your choice according to Brutus Gale and George Hall in addition to Gibson using up what materials they had on hand when discontinuing standard models as evidenced by the mismatched patterns on existing pre-war Mastertone banjos. 

  CARL HUNT AND THE JESSIE BROWN RB3 FLATHEAD BANJO FON 9473-3

The Gibson RB3 flat head banjo FON 9473-3 (not the Wheless Granada banjo) that Carl Hunt (deceased) who played with The Arthur Smith Show in Charlotte, NC on WBTV Channel 3 back in the 1960's was sold to (Jessie Brown) deceased of Polkton, NC by Jim Graves in the early to mid 1930s of which again the same earlier mentioned banjo trader purchased it in the early 1960s and sold it to Carl Hunt.   Carl Hunt left the banjo case behind his car and ran over the banjo and broke the neck of the banjo and CE Ward of Charlotte, NC built a replacement neck but the banjo didn't sound as good with the original neck.  There is much to be said about banjo necks also!  Below pix of Carl Hunt at Union Grove Fiddlers Fest in 1967 taken by Ken Landreth with the Jessie Brown all original flat head banjo with the exception of a C.E. Ward  reproduction neck.  I have been unable to ascertain if the original 5-string neck had the standard Leaves and Bows inlay pattern on it as did other banjos in the FON 9473 lot.  Photo courtesy  of Gene Knight, Marshville, NC:

Gene Knight stated that the neck and banjo pot assembly were later separated and Al Osteen had the neck and the pot assembly was stolen FON 9473-3.  CE Ward stated that Carl Hunt loved to play that flat head Gibson and would stay up all hours of the night playing when the rest of them had long sacked out!  If memory is correct, the wood rim has some special scallops cut/drilled into the inner top portion of the wood rim that supports the "foot" of the tone ring that makes contact with the load bearing surface of the wood rim.  The flat head tone ring was one without holes and no doubt the theory was to "open up the sound chamber", although I doubt any difference in tone or volume was observable.  This was either done by CE Ward or Carl himself.  This banjo was from FON 9473 which were inlaid with the leaves and bows inlay pattern but have not been able to ascertain if that was the inlay pattern on this neck.  This pot assembly has been stolen twice and currently still missing but I could be wrong about the info since it has been a very long time ago. 

In the early 1970's I talked with Jim Graves daughter about her Dad to ascertain if any records existed of his Gibson Music Dealership and there were none.  Graves Barbershop was located in the basement of the old Lyon Building on the square in Wadesboro, NC which later burned down in 1983 and a vacant lot now.  See this BHO link for additional information:  http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/257048/2

1934 ECONOMIC INFORMATION

To get a perspective of the price the Gibson Mastertone banjos sold for in 1934 as it would relate today, the average cost of a new home was $5970, average wage was $1600 per year and the cost of a gallon of gasoline was .10 cents.  There were many, many folks that made far less than $1600 per year especially in poverty stricken areas where the unemployment rate was well above the National average of 22 percent.  Considering all of those factors, a similar Masterclone banjo manufactured today is still a bargain.  However, the original pre-war Gibson flat head Mastertone banjos have inflated over a thousand (1000) times their original sale price in less than eighty (80) years!  It is also hard to believe that some model Gibson Mastertone pre-war flat heads 5-string banjos that sold for 1500 dollars in 1965 are now worth between 125K to 250K depending on how deep the buyers pockets are.

It all boils down to, Supply and Demand and the quest for the elusive pre-war sound? and the opportunity to have  what is considered the bench mark or best, whether real or imagined.  Lets face it, there were only so many made and the demand far exceeds the supply and there are those today that have the resources to purchase and/or invest in something that most cannot rationally attain!

There is nothing wrong with buying the best if you can afford it!

Most of the people I interviewed or their children in the late 1960s that purchased pre-war Gibson Mastertone banjos during the depression era,  were in some well paying job or self employed; definitely living "high on the hog" as ole timers would tell it! 

COST OF LIVING IN 1965 

Average new house cost $ 13,600; average income per year $ 6,450.00 and cost of a gallon of gasoline .31 cents.  The minimum wage was $ 1.25 per hour or $ 2,600 per year for a 40 hour work week.

ONE PIECE OR TWO PIECE FLANGE?

The die-cast one piece flange (OPF) was outsourced by Gibson to Doehler Die Casting Co. and later the company became Doehler Jarvis.  Gibson used the one piece die cast flange to reduce the raw materials and labor cost and not as any sound enhancement contrary to what many believe.  I have seen at least three (3) different banjo neck heel sizes for the OPF including an early Granada and there might be as many as five (5) different sizes since they made the one piece flange (OPF)  larger and thicker with each mold revision for strength purposes due to the weakness of the Zamak (pot metal) used.  The earlier die-cast flange (OPF) yielded a slightly thicker wall wood rim of which many refer to as a "Fat Boy Wood Rim."  Whether the one piece flange and rim is superior in tone production is and has been open for debate for decades.  Current die cast one piece flanges are manufactured from a much stronger alloy than Zamak (pot metal) that was used back in the 1930s.

Many are not convinced that the one piece flange is superior to the two piece flange, but the Granada Holy Grail Syndrome players are using the one piece flange banjos and who does not want to follow the leaders that are or were the best in the field!  Grin if you must!  The overall thickness of the two piece flange wood rim was about 1.25  inch versus 3/4 inch for the one piece flange.  On the pre-war 3-ply wood rims for the tube and plate flange, a separate lamination was added to the outer ply and glued into a very tight fitting mortise joint that was shaped to fit about 1/2 the radius portion of the tube and did not have a lap joint but there was a gap between the two ends of the wood and hide glue was used as a filler but not flush filled and very obvious and hidden by the neck heel.  I have never witnessed that outer lamination separate from the outer ply of the 3-ply wood rim.  A very solid method of construction but very labor intensive to say the least and was replaced  with the introduction of the one piece flange/wood rim.

It is to my understanding that  CE Ward of Ward's Musical Instrument Repair in Charlotte, NC had a pre-war tube and plate flange wood rim turned down to the thickness of the lower portion of the wood rim to match the one piece flange wood rim specifications and there was no noticeable difference in tone or volume.

I personally don't believe the additional width at the bottom portion of the wood rim changes the resonant frequency of the air chamber inside the resonator enough to impede the volume and tone, however the extra weight of the wood rim added is certainly open for debate and discussion as to volume and timbre enhancement or reduction.  There is a  difference in the distance between the head and the bottom of the resonator between the one piece flange and the two piece flange design of which the one piece flange sits lower into the resonator lowering the resonant frequency and probably helps account for that hollow, tubby, dry, more gusty, growling sound that so many think is the pre-war sound but that sound I more or less equate to the Foggy Mountain Banjo album sound by Mr.  Earl Scruggs and the studio recording of that particular album.  Therefore, the tube and plate pot assembly has a higher resonant frequency rendering a brighter sound with all things being equal without changing the set-up to manipulate or reduce the higher resonant frequency inside the pot assembly.  This conclusion seems paradoxical, however with the pot assembly lower into the resonator with  the bottom of the wood rim closer to the resonator reduces the size of the opening (aperture) that exists between the bottom of the wood rim and the resonator which you can view as a type of sound hole and this attributes to the lower resonant frequency.   I say it sounds paradoxical because larger sound chambers tend to produce a lower resonant frequency with all things being equally compared but the aperture or opening between the bottom of the wood rim and the resonator is the controlling factor in this case.  It is like changing the shape/size of the F holes in a violin or mandolin.  Many are convinced that the tube also acts the part of an additional tone ring and creates a much brighter sound but again, this is open for debate.  The tube and plate flange was produced in house by Gibson employees of which I can personally vouch for the labor part.  My system of taking a 10 ft. piece of .375 inch diameter heavy wall brass tubing and wrapping it around a mandrel and cutting down through them to produce three (3) complete units was exactly the method Gibson used and George Hall and Dave Kennedy provided nearly all the info to produce that part.  It took some experimentation (trial and error) to ascertain the amount of spring back in the tube before a final helical spiral bending fixture was manufactured.  The coiled tube was then placed in a dedicated cut off saw/fixture which produced the desired ID for the tube taking into account the thickness of the saw blade used.  John Bowles of Advance, NC has all the tooling; dies, etc.,  I had manufactured and made to produce the tube and plate flange.  One single production run of the tube and plate flange paid for the entire tooling and equipment investment which I believe was less than 6K and ahead of the introduction of the Japanese imitation banjo parts.   Can you say "Corporate Greed Of America" as to the culprit for the Japanese imitation banjo parts that flooded the market!

I personally favor the tube and plate assembly because it is better engineered without the usual flange bending upward due to more pressure than the Zamak aka pot metal can with stand over the years.  It is a more costly method of construction requiring a larger OD wood rim which was it's demise during The Great Depression Era.   Gibson post war and clone one piece flanges are far superior to the pre-war ones due to a stronger metal being die-cast.

The one piece flange does have the edge for rending more of that hollow, dry, throaty, tubby, growling and gutsy sound so many are in love with and this has been a controversial subject for decades!

Click on this hyperlink of an audio file in .mp3 format featuring both a two piece flange banjo and a one piece flange banjo.  See if you can pick out which is which.  Audio file courtesy of Julio Boysenberry, Santa Maria, CA.

CLERMON "CE" WARD, WARD'S MUSICAL REPAIRS IN CHARLOTTE, NC

Clermon "CE"  Ward (deceased) who operated Ward's Musical Repairs in Charlotte, NC. back in the early 1960's was one of the earliest to do Gibson Mastertone banjo conversion necks in NC and has cut up more tenor and plectrum original banjo necks than any person in this part of the country, maybe the US.  CE is an outstanding banjo and mandolin picker and won the Banjo Picking Contest in Union Grove, NC way back when.  CE had a contract to do Band Instrument Repairs for the Charlotte School System and also later worked as a auto body repairman.  I "gleaned" from his experience and he was a foundation stone in getting myself started doing custom inlay work.  I later supplied him with the majority of his Gibson banjo inlay patterns.  CE made outstanding  reproduction F-5 mandolins long before Gibson reintroduced them again and many of his F-5's are in the hands of professional musicians today.  CE is retired and lives in Concord, NC and below pix of him and Bill Simpson around 1979.   CE Ward (left) in the pix and Bill Simpson (right in pix) was a tool and die maker who did a pile of my early fixtures for metal components.  In the early 1970's,  I purchased CE's show cases when he closed his Music Repair Shop in Charlotte, NC and still have two of them today for my archery and reloading supplies and equipment.  CE continued to do music repairs and build instruments while he worked full time with a Ford dealership in their auto body repair facility after closing his Charlotte, NC repair shop and relocated to Concord, NC.

CE, didn't have a lot of positive comments for pre-war Gibson flat head banjos and would quickly tell and show you his personal Fender Artist model banjo would pick rings around most any pre-war Gibson flat head banjo.......grin if you must!  He certainly had first hand experience with many, many pre-war flat heads decades before they started getting scarce.  The ironic and flip side of the coin, Gibson pre-war reproduction instruments did help to fill his cash register drawer on a regular basis!  

I find myself using some of CE's favorite sayings such as, looked like a rat t--d in a flour sack when he described some bad looking instrument work and "Rube Goldberg" and Cloverine Salve.  CE was a very colorful person and didn't mind speaking what was on his mind and would give you his opinion if you asked for it and most of the time without asking...grin now!  I certainly do miss CE Ward!

Note:  I received the following information from Clarence Hall of Stuart, VA on 05-11-09 concerning the death of CE Ward on May 7, 2009 as follows:   "Well known mandolin/banjo luthier Clermon Eugene Ward (CE Ward) died Thursday at his home in Concord, NC at age 70.  CE started out building five-string necks for Gibson tenors in the sixties and later built complete banjos with his own name on them.  He built Sonny Osborne's six-string (with an extra bass string) in the late sixties, at Sonny's request.  He was also a fine mandolin builder (I've owned three of them over the years); Jack Lawrence has one, and Doyle Lawson used a Ward A50 conversion when he played with the Country Gents.  I've known him for over forty years, and he will be greatly missed by Joe Cline, Center Valley, PA".

RB18 INFORMATION FON 744-1

CE had a Fender banjo that he put together from a half dozen other Fender banjos and he turned down an offer in the 1970s to purchase an original RB18 from the banjo's second owner,  the same mentioned earlier banjo trader for 700 bucks because his Fender would cut rings around the RB18.  If memory is correct, I believe the banjo trader brought the RB18 to CE Ward to have him replace the original calf skin head on the banjo and offered to sell him the banjo at that time.  Grin or cry on that one!  That same banjo was offered to another individual for 1000 dollars, (current owner of 9854-5) and every time the perspective buyer went back with the money, he would up the price 100 dollars each time until he finally agreed on the price tag of 1500 dollars and when the buyer returned with the money, the trader had already sold the RB18 to it's current owner two weeks earlier. The third owner of the RB18 purchased it for 1500 bucks and it is an excellent all original banjo not for sale.   I had the opportunity to put my large calibers/micrometers on the RB18 FON 744-1 flat head tone ring on 05-07-76  when the owner had it completed disassembled but the owner was afraid to allow any filings to be removed from the tone ring for analysis.  His RB18 wood rim has the filler strips installed both on the top and bottom of the 3 ply wood rim which makes one think it is a 5 ply wood rim of which it is not.   The tone ring weight was 3 lbs. 2 oz. (50 oz.) weighed on a  U.S. Post Office certified scale and was .004 out of round at the top I.D. of the edge of the wood rim and .012 inches out of round at the outside diameter (10.997 and 10.985 inches)  - no doubt conforming to the shape of the wood rim over the years or vice versa.  The wood rim outside diameter at the extreme edge of the flange was between 11.007 to 11.018 inches (.011 inches out of round) and matches the tone ring out of round within .001 which was pretty close for a non-machinist using the calipers!

One or two noticeable features of the above tone ring was a ping test conducted did not reveal much vibration or tone generated at all and didn't register on my testing equipment.  The owner was very alarmed over the ping test results and when he set the banjo back up, the banjo sounded great!  Also, the radius on the outer portion of the leading edge where the head makes contact with the tone ring has a very small radius (nearly square).   This tone ring did not have the bull nose radius cut on the inside (tone chamber). 

Small subtle things when compounded, creates a major difference in the long run! 

Jim Mills recent book, Gibson Mastertone: flat head 5-String Banjos of the 1930's and 1940's has pictures of the RB18 serial number 744-1 banjo mentioned above.   The RB18 owner is an excellent Craftsman too!

DAVIS KENNEDY, ATHENS, WEST VIRGINIA - THE PRE-WAR GIBSON BANJO GURU!

Mr. Davis aka "Dave" Kennedy of Athens, West Virginia worked for Gibson from 1965 to 1968 in their repair and custom section.  Dave is a genius at designing things and holds a US Patent 4852446 for a banjo two-in-one tone ring and has given away countless other inventions including a rimless banjo he applied for a patent in 1963 and sold to Gibson and an early hot water heater on demand design (tank less).  Dave is a very intellectual man who taught law, general math, bookkeeping, etc in a several schools in a couple states.  Dave did contracts/beautification projects for strip coal mining companies and majored in accounting with a minor in math if I am not mistaken.   He was instrumental in providing technical data and we "horse traded" many of my banjo inlaid fingerboards and pegheads for all sorts of things.  Dave was the first to build a wood bending machine to make the "jellyroll" wood rim described above and I used his "prototype" machine for a few years and some excellent wood rims were produced from his machine rendering outstanding sounding banjos!  Dave has a 250 acre park called "Highwall Park" in Bramwell, WVA and host bluegrass festivals and is open the 2nd Saturday of each month May through October.  Dave Kennedy uncovered a lot of original prewar stuff  "stashed" at the ole Gibson factory and had an original prewar flat head engraved #6 tone ring  that he received from Julius Bellsom of Gibson who had the tone ring in his desk drawer for many, many years that was sold/traded to Paul Hopkins of which Curtis McPeake had it at one time or that is what was related to me anyway.  I traded Dave Kennedy out of a 100 lb. sack of un-plated original pre-war factory flat head tone rings back in the middle 1970's and traded and/or sold them to Paul Sasser (deceased) of Pleasant Garden, NC who was one serious banjo trader.  Jim Yarboro of Gun Barrel City, Texas ended up with seventeen (17) of the above tone rings.  Dave had a large wooden shipping crate that contained approximately 300 lbs.  + - of un-plated original pre-war flat head tone rings when I visited him and made the trade.  No one back then had any idea that type of stuff would be so valuable today since original Gibson pre-war flat head 5-string banjos could still be purchased for less than 2K in the early 1970s if you could locate them and 3K was top dollar indeed!

There have been many questions raised about those un-plated flat head tone rings over the years as to their actual manufacture date but only time can put decades of patina on unprotected brass and bronze and everything else fit the pre-war period, plus they came from a reliable source.  It certainly is possible those rings were early post war production that had been laying around the ole factory for 25 years or more until "uncovered" and can't remember the skirt length, thickness, etc. and as normal there were no unusual markings on the rings.  With the many different sized Gibson pre-war tone rings in usage during the pre-war era, it would be extremely difficult to authenticate a ring based solely on the physical size and shape, radius, skirt length, skirt thickness, tone hole diameter, number of tone holes of an un-plated tone ring.   I did not have a spectrographic analysis taken due to the expense and those rings were traded/sold as is which wasn't much more than a custom ring at the time anyway; not like the high dollar clone rings of today!  Also, with the many different bronze alloys in those Gibson pre-war tone rings, there is a wide margin for human error on this one!  Before I would shell out big bucks for anything that was in question, there would have to be some serious provenance documented.

NOTE:  The trained observer will notice on many of the pre-war flat head tone rings, the lathe tool marks (similar to the tool marks on a brake drum after turning or the grooves in an old 78 RPM vinyl record)  is present on the slope of the tone ring due to not removed prior to the plating process which renders a different color, brightness and texture than the outside surface of the tone ring.  Also on many of the early and later year pre-war flat head tone rings there is a flat portion in the "gutter" of the tone ring that has a radius on each side that terminates into the angle from the slope and the skirt that many refer to as a "bull nose."   I don't have the reason why Gibson used the bull nose cut unless it had something to do with having to cut more or less material from the tone ring casting to remove the sand cast mold imperfections, etc.  It should be noted that NOT all the pre-war flat head tone rings possess the flat "bull nose" cut so you can't say this is the gospel for every Gibson prewar flat head tone ring.  I have seen them with a much smaller radius and also a .375 inch radius cut.  The "bull nose" cut appears more on the flat head tone rings that weigh around 48 ounces or less.    Two pixs below of what the bull nose cut looks like.  Frank Schoepf made a "dental casting" of the inside of a flat head tone ring and Steve Huber authenticated that the ring was pre-war.  Click on thumbnails for a larger screen view:

Photos courtesy of Frank Schoepf, Hampstead, Maryland.

Below is a pix of a "bull nose" cut on a flat head tone ring FON 9528-3 courtesy of Greg Earnest:

Below pixs courtesy of Frank Schoepf, Hampstead, Maryland of the casting plate used by pre-war Gibson's (foundry vendor) for their flat head tone ring casting.  The casting plate is owned by Eric Sullivan, First Quality Music and photographed at the Banjothon 2012 convention:

Frank has a good grin going above...........grin if you must!

See additional information about those unplated flat head tone rings (Gibson pre-war flat head fixture tone rings) about five (5) paragraphs below!

I received an email from Bill Hayes of Shapleigh, ME on 01-14-10 concerning the unplated "Pre-War" flat head tone rings I received from Dave Kennedy back in the mid-1970s as follows:

"Hi Bill,
I've been on your site a number of times.  Great information and good picture of old Doug Hutchens and Clarence Hall. I met Doug a couple of years ago and had dinner with him in Stewart VA.  Also saw him again and met Clarence last year at Banjothon.  I was particularly interested in the section that you had about the un-plated prewar flat head rings. Seems like I have one and it is a corker.  This is what little provenance that I have on the ring from the guy I got it from:  This is the information I received from the family on the tone ring. Harrison Freeman lived in N.C. and passed away some years ago.  He had a uncle, Herman Bueck that worked at the factory in the prewar years. They did not know what year he started but do know he was there in the late 30's. I received the ring you have along with many other prewar parts and banjo's from the family of Mr. Freeman.  The ring you have I personally took to Curtis McPeake in which he fully authenticated the ring to be prewar.  Have you ever heard of any of those folks Bill? I would have never bought it except that I hold Curtis in pretty high esteem on the old prewar stuff.  Whatever you know would be appreciated."
 

Below pix (upper left) taken on July 14, 1976 of Dave Kennedy, his bride Carol and their son Dwayne at our old home place on White Store Road in Wadesboro, NC.  The other pixs of one of their daughters Cheryl, holding a couple of his banjos were taken somewhere around that period in Athens, West Virginia at the Kennedy home.  The Kennedy Stainless Steel banjo in the upper right was awesome looking and sounding back then. 

Note:  Dave got the banjo on the upper and lower right pixs back a couple months ago and is accepting offers for this one of a kind banjo.  The flange is made from 24 individual pieces shaped like an eagle and uses the standard tube set-up with one of his 3 ply wood rims that does not have any voids in it.  Pixs below:

This instrument is profusely inlaid and Dave started on this banjo in 1969 working on it when he had the chance finishing it in 1976.  The un-plated flat head tone ring is from the same batch of un-plated tone rings that came from the old Gibson factory that I have referred to above and other places on this website.  However, I failed to mention about most of those tone rings according to Dave still had remnants of calf skin on them since they were apparently used on special fixtures used in the manufacturing process to produce calf skin banjo heads for Gibson flat head tone rings.   Dave refreshed my memory about the tone rings on 06-08-10 and he had forgotten that I ended up with most of those tone rings until his daughter Cheryl had printed the info I have on this website and sent it to him.

Davis aka Dave Kennedy is the real deal; the rest of us have learned much from him either directly or indirectly and that includes the current self-proclaimed banjo gurus.

Davis aka Dave Kennedy can be reached at 304-384-7484 and cell number 304-961-6185.  Dave's mailing address is:  Davis E. Kennedy, P. O. Box 1219, Athens, WV   24712.  Rob McCoury of White House, Tennessee currently is playing this banjo.   I nicknamed this banjo the "Devil's Head" due to the inlay on the back of the resonator.    

Pix below of Dave Kennedy,  his "bride" Carol and I believe that is their son Dwayne (or his hands/arms anyway) with his "jellyroll" prototype wood rim bending machine.  Dave later built another full production model that was strong enough to be used as a mini-crane.  Dave stated that Paul Hopkins purchased/traded for the full production machine and the prototype was purchased by Doug Hutchens and Frank Neat recently obtained the prototype machine.

    

The pix to the far right is Bill Porter & HC Morris in Morocco, Africa 1966 (winter) while in the U.S. Navy stationed about 20 miles inland from Kenitra at a Receiving Station near Sidi Slimane .   HC is from Cheraw, SC and retired from the US Postal Service.   We had many adventures in Casablanca, Tangier, Rabat, Fez and Marrakech!  I had the opportunity to work with the Manned Spacecraft Recovery Force TF-140 out of the Naval Air Station at Norfolk, Virginia specializing in crypto and participated in the Apollo 6 launch on April 4, 1968 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., now called Cape Kennedy staying a couple weeks at Cocoa Beach, Florida TAD status.

OTHER TECHNICAL INFORMATION SUPPLIERS

There were many others that supplied technical information; inlay patterns, drawings, pictures, specifications, etc., during my banjo research and development including: Mike Longworth, Paul Tester, Tom Morgan, Tut Taylor, Randy Wood, Frank Neat, Jim Selman, Harold Chriscoe, Paul Sasser, Harry West, Bill Gibson, Chuck Erikson, David Musselwhite, John Monteleone, etc., and Intel was either free or "horse traded".

I shared much pre-war banjo information with Bill Sullivan (deceased) of First Quality Musical Supply when he was first getting started operating his business out of his home garage and/or basement and he certainly did develop an outstanding business. 

  Don't trust all decals & labels!  Made in 1972.

The above reproduction decal cost around .35 cents to have manufactured and sold them for $ 5.00 each and/or $24.00 per dozen and strictly a business deal and many banjo builders purchased them.  I certainly wasn't the first one to have them made nor the last one either.  Being more mature, I would not offer such a decal for sale today since I am sure most ended up on Gibson Masterclone banjos and some outright fakes.

Bill Gibson of Reinholds, Pa back in the early 1970's supplied a black and white camera ready copy of the above decal.  This decal was done long before the invention of the personal computer and the gold sparkle matched the original  banjo wood rim decal which was photographed.  Those that trimmed the edge of the decal to the black border had a very convincing decal but a knowledgeable  "banjar" trader would not be duped by the usage of this type of reproduction decal.  The font Gibson used on the decal was artist drawn and not type set or at least that is what was concluded.  There are several ways to distinguish a "fake" decal versus the original and many internet threads posted to help anyone interested .  One knowledgeable vintage instrument dealer in Nashville, TN. (mid 1970's) purchased a Gibson banjo from a private collection in Danville, VA and the banjo was made from post-war parts and was convincing enough for the buyer to think he had "stumbled" onto an original RB4 pre-war flat head.  The original peghead inlaid veneer was cut from the original plectrum and/or tenor neck very close to the veneer and the original inlays from the fingerboard with the poplar backing was inlaid Gibson style into a 1/8 inch thick Brazilian rosewood fingerboard with small mandolin style fret wire onto the new reproduction 5-string neck.  I supplied Bill Gibson with a bunch of these decals and Paul Tester (deceased) of Landover, Md. purchased the balance of the decals when I went out of business.  I purchased a Gibson Mastertone RB4 banjo in the late1960's that was a fake with post war Gibson parts and home made wood rim, Gibson identical resonator construction and tracked down the craftsman that built it.  The same craftsman built the above referenced Danville, VA RB-4 banjo.  Excellent work and sounding banjo but not the real deal....only 300 bucks back then...grin if you must!

Many craftsman have gone to great lengths building "fake" pre-war Gibson banjos and some are much harder to distinguish when using original pre-war pot assemblies but a knowledgeable buyer taking his/her time will spot the fake.  Even the smell and cracked finish of the resonator can be replicated with ease but many forget about the chisel tool marks on the neck heel to wood rim fit and a dozen or more other tell tell give away signs!  Very few craftsmen today install a truss rod identical to the pre-war ones, lower neck lag bolt and it takes the usage of technology to identify the truss rod configuration buried underneath the fingerboard and maple filler strip.  Also, cut Gibson Mastertone decals on original pre-war banjos are very difficult to determine if the Gibson factory did the conversion or post war unless there is documentation on some of Gibson's pre-war shipping ledgers.  This paragraph is "food for thought."

Back in the 1970s and earlier, it was common to swap banjo components around on original pre-war instruments before the invention of the internet with all the banjo cops around.  Many banjo traders and craftsmen routinely replaced tailpieces, armrests, tension hoops, tuning pegs, flanges, necks, etc. and have replaced tone rings as well and not many back then was uptight about keeping something totally original as long as they got the sound, looks and playability from the banjo.  Pre-war Gibson Mastertone banjos are probably the most duplicated and counterfeited musical instrument other than Stradivarius! 

Dobro guitars back in the 1960s were also prone to have outright fakes make from cheap Harmony and other "off brand" guitars of which fake decals were placed on the headstock!  As long as there is money to be made, there will be someone who will take the easy route; observed plenty of those character type individuals during my 33 years working with the NC Department of Correction.

NOTE:  I no longer repair stringed musical instruments or have any musical parts for sale.

FRANZ DOTZAUER AND GERALD DOTZAUER - GUITAR, BANJO, VIOLIN SUPPLIES 1970S

I did a good amount of business with Franz Dotzauer in Erlangen, West Germany in the early 1970s until I sold my business in 1979.  I never met Franz Dotzauer or his son Gerhard who did all the correspondence in English for their company.  They were able to supply first quality mother of pearl and abalone raw material blanks along with any other musical woods that I needed and reproduction pre-war celluloid binding materials.  They also had contacts to have custom wood purflings made for me and other brass metal parts such as the Kershner banjo tailpiece.

Below pixs of Franz, Gerhard, Thomas and the Grand Daughter Helen Dotzauer of which I received the pixs from Gerhard on October 15, 2007:

This picture of Franz Dotzauer, Master Craftsman taken in 1972 in his Mandolin work shop and he died in 1981.  Gerhard related to me that Franz and his Mother established the business Franz Dotzauer Co. in 1946 after their deportation from Czechoslovakia and she was the "boss" until her death.  Mrs. Dotzauer lived to a very wonderful age of 97 years and two months and was never sick and never in a hospital prior to an upper thigh injury and died from complications during a second surgery.  God certainly does richly bless us!

The above pix of Gerhard and his Grand Daughter Helen.

Picture of Thomas Dotzauer, Master Craftsman - Gerhard Dotzauer's son in the Work Shop.

Gerhard Dotzauer was a great person to do business with and I spent many thousands of dollars with their company over the years and never disappointed with the products they were able to supply.  They do not sell in small quantities due to the shipping expense and all the current red tape associated with International purchases/sales.

NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION EMPLOYMENT - JANUARY 16, 1979 TO MARCH 1, 2012 *RETIRED*

After the recession in 1977 things were very tight money wise and decided to sell the mail order business doing so in 1979 and went to work with the N.C. Department of Correction and still employed with them today as a Correctional Armory/Officer,  certified armorer for Smith & Wesson, Ruger,  Remington Firearms and Facility Key and Lock Control Officer with 33 years of service as of January 2012 and looking forward to “retiring” on March 1, 2012 from the NCDOC, the Lord willing of course!   I have an Advanced Corrections Certificate since 1992, have been a Firearms Instructor, Unarmed Self-Defense Instructor and General Instructor off an on for 15 years leaving the instructing now to the younger folks. 

Visit Porter's Retirement Party page for additional information and a few good laughs as well.

The music business took up most of my time and hunting was at a premium until the early 1980’s and started turkey and deer hunting again harvesting a long beard in 1982 using an old Lynch box call.  I made a custom wing bone call that year but can’t remember who I gave it to.

HOBBY TO BUSINESS 1986 TO 2000

It didn’t take long before I realized there was a need for a good bow hunting tree stand and started designing a telescopic foot climber type tree stand and sold tree stands to the public and a few dealers as early as 1986.  I was granted two US Patents 4953662 and 5167298 and sold the business W.M. Porter, Co., Inc. in 2000 to an outfit that manufactured aluminum dog boxes.  Attached pix of tree stands:

This pix was taken of the last tree stands that I made before selling all the tooling and rights to the “Hunter’s Dream” tree stand.    It is to my understanding the company that procured the tooling, etc. was unable to get adequate product liability and they decided to cease and desist production of the tree stands.  All my production fixtures and jigs were made by myself and had to contract out a few custom parts for their assembly that required a larger metal lathe.

     

Bowhunting is my main hobby since 1979.....a few pixs of my "archery hole" in one end our basement aka my Man Cave.  Some of the pixs below were taken around 2001 and I have since gotten rid of all my recurve and traditional archery equipment.  My man cave lacks the pool table and big screen TV but I certainly do enjoy it!

   

Pix to the left of my early custom made telescopic bow press.  I had special tooling made to swedge aluminum arrow shafts to a six (6) degree taper for the old type insert-less "Snuffer" and Black Diamond  broadheads.   One of my best inventions I "gave" away was an offset roller cable guard long before the single track wheel and true cam bow was on the market.  I used my invention to separate the cables on an  older wide track round wheel compound bow  providing increased fletch clearance and a much quieter bow by isolating the cables.  I used two small one inch diameter rollers from an ole Whitetail Hunter model Bear compound bow with an aircraft aluminum supporting main frame with the majority of the support bar/frame milled away to reduce the overall weight.  It didn't take too long before my invention was on the market with a few modifications such as adjustability to fit different brace height bows during the early 1980's.  I believe it was about the same time that Kidd Archery procured Jennings bows to go along with the Bear bow acquisition.  I learned from that mistake for sure!  Don't show or tell about your invention unless you have pertinent documentation such as a patent pending since you only have a year to file for a patent once you publicly  display your invention.   Check out the below pix of my deer horn stew pot....it is maxed out with the main ingredient:

  Harvested with arrow, muzzle loader, pistol and rifle.  A pile of consumed venison!

RESOPHONIC GUITAR CURLY MAPLE "FLAMING CLAW" 2000

With some free time on my hands again, I decided to make another musical instrument and called my good friend Jim Yarboro in Gun Barrel City, Texas that still had the molds for building a resophonic aka Dobro guitar that he got from me in 1979 and he shipped them to me UPS and the fun started.  I had sold most of my wood working equipment and had only a few power hand tools left and this guitar was made by good friends letting me use critical pieces of equipment such as the band saw, table saw and jointer, etc. all of which I do have today…another grin is in order.  A few pix of that guitar under construction and Jim Yarboro and his banjo picking "bride" Carol in 1979.

  

Pix of the guitar back with the bracing just hand planed to shape.  Most resophonic guitars (square neck) do not have any bracing but I added it since this was going to be my personal guitar and might have been just a little overkill but that is ok too.

 

Pix of semi-finished body of guitar with the holes for the sound screens not cut yet or any bindings added and bending mold and working jigs used to build the guitar. 

Note:  Ervin Sloane's mold design.

Inlaid ebony fingerboard with the Flaming Claw mother of pearl inlays being glued to the curly maple neck blank with a pile of C clamps.  Might be another overkill on the clamps too!

Old style "neck tongue" construction.

Pix of finished resophonic Dobro guitar with all curly maple neck, back, sides and top with inlaid ebony fingerboard and peghead.  It was finished on Father’s Day in 2000 and has aged now and sounds great!  The little pc microphone doesn't accurately replicate the bass range of the guitar and the guitar sounds much mellower "in person". 

 

I'll Be All Smiles Tonight with Porter & Curtis.  Click on links to hear mp3 sound file. Fireball

Don't grin too big;  I hadn't picked on the Reso in about 25 years and started messing with it a little after I made the above guitar!

HOBBY TO BUSINESS AGAIN

Since I have taken you on a journey, I will finish up soon.  It was some of my turkey hunting buddies that nudged me into making box calls and they wanted something that would work and also something different to add to their ever growing custom turkey box call collection

Having failed to mention that I worked in electronics installing and repairing two way radios, base stations and mobile telephones for the NC Telephone Company from 1968 until 1972 and switched over to inside equipment working on Microwave, ITT, Stromberg Carlson, Viacom,  Motorola, RCA, GE and special circuits requiring modems and switching equipment until 1975 at the same time I was running my musical instrument repair mail order business and attended the local Community College until 1978 studying business.  While working with the NC Telephone Company I maintained an Amateur Radio Advanced Class "Ham" license call sign WB4GAN and kept a 300 ft. long wire antenna and Collins KWM2A transceiver at our radio repair and installation facility to chat and Morse code with folks all over the world.  I was also a member of the Navy MARS program call sign N0KOU.   I still have a current FCC Commercial Radio Telephone License which collects dust and guess too much of a good thing (electronics) can burn one out. 

With a background in ELECTRONICS from the US Navy,  the Telephone Company, and CIE graduate,  I decided to apply some techniques used from my music days for testing sound chambers and experimented for a couple years with different call body shapes and configurations to come up with my current box call which is called “Dual Hens” which features a unique and novel sound chamber with a “Torpedo Nose” inside taper.  With the aid of computer audio editing and imaging programs,  I am able to hear and see what the frequency analysis of the sounds being emitted by my calls and other maker’s calls as well to achieve my goal of producing an excellent sounding call.  Even with technology, it is about impossible to get two calls to give the same frequency response and timbre or color due to the individual characteristics of wood from the same billet or fletch.  This is what makes call making so much fun and exciting and yet stress the brain a little when something doesn’t work just right when it should!    Calls will however exhibit certain sound characteristics attributed to the call maker either by design or accidental discovery of design commonly called (trial and error).

MY ATTEMPT TO EXPLAIN TIMBRE

The difference between the sounds from a good box call and a great box call can be attributed to the timbre or color of the sounds emitted which can be described as mellow, harsh, piercing, raspy, mild, clear, warm, strident, sharp, breathy, flat, throaty, gutsy, hollow, growling, dry, tubby, light and heavy of which is very subjective and to some degree changed by weather conditions such as humidity and barometric pressure.  A box call will sound much different when played 25 yards or more away from the listener and the acoustic surroundings such as dense undergrowth, hillside, valley or an open field will change the perceived timbre of the call and could sound nasal, hollow or throaty as well.  The in phase harmonic overtones produced by a box call greatly influence the timbre or color of the sound transmitted by the call and is difficult to give a word description but sound recordings and graphs depict what is taking place.  However, such recordings or graphs do not tell you how to arrive at such a point but merely show the end result!  A call's resonant frequency or pitch can have a beautiful tone, color or timbre yet be lacking in volume or the ability to project the sound a great distance.   There are a host of variables affecting the acoustic qualities of a box call but most agree timbre is that component of sound that is most pleasing to the ear in addition to the calls ability to reproduce the sounds of the wild turkey.  Timbre is what separates Stradivarius, Amati, Guarneri and Stainer violins from other violins within the same 18th century period of construction as does any musical instrument including box calls.  There are many myths such as water logged century old wood reclaimed which produces that magic sought after sound element timbre but that theory and myth is as water logged as the logs themselves!  Other myths was the usage of centuries old wood from cathedral timber but carbon dating of Stradivarius violins disproved the old wood theory along with a "secret" varnish used was also disproved by chemical analysisOld growth dense wood is only one element in the equation for great timbre whether it is a musical instrument or turkey box call.  Musical instrument components along with box call components are adjusted to compensate for the density of the wood used depending on what type of sound you are opting for.  Mass production call and musical instrument manufacturers are not usually set up to account for wood density and ever so often a super sounding call and instrument will come to light more or less by chance.  Those are the calls that are entered into some of the call makers contests, however when a call manufacturer has a 1000 calls to choose from, it is hard to compete using only one single call but it can be done but the odds are high. 

View the links below for additional information about wood density.  Thanks to Ken LeVan for the links.

Science Daily

Fungi Infested Violins

Some call makers are advertising one piece hand hewn call bodies but if using a drill press or any power tool to remove call body (cavity)  material, that call in reality is not hand hewn.  I would welcome a CNC router or laser of which I do not have to aid in the quick removal of “waste” material on a call body but instead use conventional tools such as router, drill press, table saw, router table, cut off saw, planer, jointer, carving station, sanding stations, palm sanders and yes hand tools such as chisels, rasps, files, gouges, carving tools, etc.  The inference is that a hand hewn call is superior in construction and produces a better sound than a call that is machine carved or routed but is subject to much debate and opinion but microscopic analysis of test wood cells and fibers along with audio frequency analysis cannot support  such views.   Machine carvers and routers do impart certain characteristics to the wood cells that hand tools such as a chisels and knives cannot accomplish.  There is a valid case for musical instruments including box calls that have the soundboards  "stress relieved" in the construction process with "special tuning"  and component configuration allowing the wood to vibrate or flex in a controlled predictable manner.  This is not a new technique but centuries old of which the wheel has been merely re-invented with the aid of modern technology mainly the personal computer. 

NOTE:  Call base is integral part of the call body and not glued in place. 

Pix of my field grade “Dual Hens” model call with inlaid # 4 wood purfling and Eagle medallion.

     Click on turkey icon to hear sound file.

Call available in Butternut, Black Walnut, Sassafras, Mahogany and Poplar with cedar lid.

Pix of one of my North Carolina “Limited Edition” Custom Deluxe calls:

     Click on turkey icon to hear sound file.

Eastern Red Cedar lid inlaid with Mother of Pearl Dogwood blossom with Green Abalone Pearl center and the North Carolina State outline is done in Red Abalone Pearl with strutting turkey in Green Abalone Pearl with etching/engraving for feather detail.

Check out the Products section and look under Shop Pixs for custom inlays designs on the drawing board. 

My one piece carved box call bodies are roughed out and allowed to acclimate or age for about a year before any final tuning.  I keep a good supply of various woods on hand in this pre-tuned condition.  I personally believe it makes a difference in the final sound of the call and most calls do get better with age!   The delivery time of my field grade call is around two to four months and there is a current back log of one to two years for a custom deluxe call depending on how much inlay you desire.  Calls are first sealed with sanding sealer and a coat of satin lacquer applied.  I have found the less finish applied, the call has more response, sensitivity, volume, tone and timbre with all things being equally compared to a non-finished call.  The inside of the torpedo nose tapered sound chamber has very little finish only a light coat of sealer which for the most part is scraped or sanded away at critical areas affecting the call's resonance.

         

Pix of calls allowed to acclimate or age before any final tuning, etc. and end view of my one piece carved call body calls.  This procedure  is very time consuming and costly up front but the end result is worth it.  Most of the time, "You get what you pay for".   The far right pix of a few well known custom call makers calls used in my Research and Development although I do not make a long box or fence post type call. 

My standard Field Grade “Dual Hens” call is $ 300.00 plus  $ 10.00 shipping and $ 20.25 NC Sales Tax for a total cost of $ 330.25.  Money back guarantee (less shipping charges) if not satisfied provided call is returned prepaid and in undamaged condition.

I do not ship orders outside of the USA.

The North Carolina “Limited Edition” Custom Deluxe call pictured above start at $500.00 which requires a $50.00 non-refundable deposit.  Prices and delivery time subject to change without notice.

CONTACT: contact@portercalls.com

    

Recent pix of Bill Porter drilling a hole into a box call lid for the installation of standard Eagle medallion and laying out a custom mother of pearl inlay pattern.  It has been many years since doing any serious custom inlay work but it is like riding a bicycle, it is coming back quickly.

     

Pix of my bride and myself taken on May 2, 2008 in San Diego, California attending our son's retirement ceremony from the US Navy.  The date on the camera is a couple years behind....grin if you must and pix of our 37th wedding anniversary taken in 2005 and one taken on January 22, 1978 and a few other pixs.  Time waits on no one!

My bride Joyce aka “Tweet” has put up with a lot of my mess (hobbies & businesses) from our home the past 46 years which seems like only yesterday we were married.  She is the love of my life, my best friend and been by my side supporting me in all my endeavors and an excellent crafts person and artist! 

Praise be to God for his many blessings through out our lives through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  AMEN!

Two of the greatest ships that ever sailed:  Friendship and Fellowship!

Bill aka Mickey and Joyce Porter 06-13-09.  Web page updated on 02-07-14 by Bill aka Mickey Porter.

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