Fairbanks Banjos
Construction & Tone Rings


A.C. Fairbanks & Co. (1890-1895)

A.C. Fairbanks Stamp

In 1890 Fairbanks and Cole parted ways, each forming his own company.
It was in 1890 that Fairbanks introduced his revolutionary new "Electric" model.
The Electric differed from the banjos of Fairbanks' main competitor, S.S. Stewart, by the addition
of a novel new tone ring (patent issued on Dec. 30, 1890).  The Electric tone ring
added a pronounced brilliance and sustain to the tone of the banjo which is favored to this day.

Electric Stamp

Fairbanks "Electric" Dowel Stick Stamp

Early Electric Tone Ring

Early Fairbanks Electric tone ring

The renowned Electric tone ring consists of a scalloped metal truss which rests on the top of the wooden pot
and supports a round metal ring.  In this early version the entire metal assembly is contained in a
thin metal sheath which is then spun over the outside of the pot as shown.

Unusual Electric Peghead

An interesting Fairbanks 
peghead.  They usually 
have an additional point 
on top.

Full Spun Pot

Typical early Fairbanks hardware on a full spun pot. 
Note the groved tension hoop.

The Fairbanks company continued to produce a "Fairbanks & Cole" model until around 1897.
It was similar in appearance to the early Electrics, but it had only a simple full-spun pot.
It was identified by the Fairbanks & Cole model stamp as well as the Fairbanks stamp.

Fairbanks' Fairbanks & Cole Model Stamp

The Fairbanks & Cole Model Stamp

Fairbanks' Fairbanks & Cole Pot

Fairbanks' Fairbanks & Cole Pot

The Fairbanks & Cole model shown here is typical of all early Fairbanks pots other than the various
Electric models.  It is a simple wooden hoop with the full spun metal sheath on the outside.  The
top and bottom of the metal sheath contain thin metal rings to add strength and to provide
a surface over which the metal sheath is formed.

The higher grades of banjos had hex bolts and washers securing the external brackets to
the pot.  Lesser grades had slotted screws and washers as shown below.

An interesting variant of the Electric model was the Curtis Electric, named after Fairbanks'
son Curtis who was a child prodigy on the banjo.

Curtis Electric Stamp

The Curtis Electric Dowel Stick Stamp

Curtis Electric Tone Ring

Curtis Electric Tone Ring

The Curtis Electric tone ring consists of a square brass ring, barely visible above, sitting on top
of the wooden hoop.  Numerous brass rods extend from the brass ring to the spun over round metal hoop
as in the standard Electric.  The concepts are similar, but the significantly greater mass of the
standard Electric construction absorbs less of the vibrations of the skin and results in a much
more brilliant and projecting tone.  The Curtis Electric is, unfortunately, a rather poor playing banjo.

The Imperial and the "Fairbanks & Cole" models were continued during this period.
The F&C stamp was frequently accompanied by a "Trade Mark" stamp which consisted
of a star surrounded by the words TRADE MARK.  This was possibly used to counter
Cole's arguments against the continued use of his name on the Fairbanks banjos.


The Fairbanks models introduced during this early period were:

Electric - 1890
Curtis Electric - late 1890
Imperial Electric - 1891
Columbian - 1891
Senator - 1892
Special - 1894
Regent - 1895

The non-Electric models were quite similar, differing only in their degree of ornamentation.


1985 Fairbanks Senator
This is an 1895 Fairbanks Senator. 

The full spun pot with its double rounded brackets and typical early style hooks and nuts is shown above. 

Strung with light gauge steel strings, it is a fine old-time player.  It was used for the song "I'm On My Way To Zion" on my "Notes Along The Way" CD.



On to A.C. Fairbanks Co. (1895-1900)

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Please contact me with any additions, corrections or comments in general.