These American made tone rings are well known to those who have heard them. These are the tone rings that Gold Tone has used for many years in their OB-250 Plus. What tipped me off first on these tone rings was I had taught several group workshops with large groups of students with top of the line expensive American made banjos and the imported OB-250 Plus with the American Made JLS tone ring had the best tone. I recently put one in a Gold Tone OB-150. Even though this is not a regular model of Gold Tones, it's just like adding one to the OB-250 and calling it the OB-250 Plus. I couldn't believe the tone of that banjo, I mean that sincerely. Since then, I've put a JLS tone ring in my hand made Bellbird banjo and its now the best sounding banjo I have.
Check out the videos of the OB-150 Plus I made. The biggest obvious difference in these tone rings was how much volume and tone I still had with a capo on and while playing up the neck. Many banjos have a good tone in open G, but what separates those and premium tone rings like these is up the neck and with a capo on.
Description by Jim Stull, inventor of the JLS Tone Ring
My rings are exact copies of the much coveted prewar tone rings. They are 20 hole flathead rings made of the highest quality sand cast bell bronze available. We use this particular bronze alloy because (1) its the correct bronze and (2) it’s composed from virgin component metals, not scrap. This ensures the same metallurgy from batch to batch, and when combined with CNC machining, enables us to maintain the highest level of consistency. The end result is a tone ring which has the same metallurgy, dimensions, weight, and tone response as its prewar predecessor. As such these are “long skirt” tone rings. That is, the skirt (the part you see on the outside of the pot when the banjo is completely set up) is about 0.020 inches longer than most conventional tone rings made today. Accordingly, my tone rings are NOT interchangeable with other tone rings without modification to the rim, except of course for a genuine prewar pot. The modification is not generally extensive and in most cases can be done by an inexperienced person with simple, readily available tools. The wooden lip that the skirt sits on must be lowered by about 0.020 inches, to allow the inside lip of the tone ring to sit tightly on top of the rim. Instructions for doing this are provided with each ring. Once your rim is modified to fit one of my tone rings, both the JLS #4 and the JLS #12 will fit interchangeably.
The sound produced by these tone rings when installed on a good quality 3 ply or block rim is deep, crisp, and loud. It is even more pronounced when installed on a rim made of 100+ year old rock maple (available from FQMS). Far and away the most distinguishing characteristic of these rings is the amount of base response they produce. As a consequence, they are very well balanced between treble and base, and hold their volume up the neck. Both rings sound similar, but to my ear, the #4 is the dryer of the two and has slightly quicker decay of the picked note. Likewise, the #12 seems just to have more volume and sustain. We have replaced hundreds of other tone rings over 16 years and have never failed to improve the sound of the subject banjo. You may be interested to know that we’ve done more tone ring conversions on Gibson RB-250’s and Earl Scruggs model banjos than any other make or model banjo made!
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