Construction & Tone Rings
Variations on the Electric Theme
The introduction of the Electric tone ring occured
a time that was ripe for banjo invention.
On March 24, 1891 a Boston banjo teacher, performer and inventor, Gad Robinson was awarded
a patent for a banjo pot that had a scalloped tone ring floating on the upper rim of a metal pot.
Robinson had other makers build banjos for him using his unique pot design. It is interesting
that the Robinson banjos made by Gatcomb (roughly 1891 - 1896) and the Robinson banjos
made by Fairbanks (roughly 1896 - 1902) had necks that were characteristic of these well known
makers, but identical pots possibly provided by Robinson himself.
The Gatcomb/Robinson Banjo
Gatcomb's version of the Robinson banjo
Typical Gatcomb hardware with
The Robinson tone ring was somewhat similar to the
Electric tone ring in its feature
of a metal structure supported on points resting on a metal surface. It differed significantly
in it's lack of an external metal sheath which tied the tone ring to the pot.
The tonal qualities of the Robinson pot are similar to the Electric in brilliance and
separation of notes. It was an excellent classical banjo.
The Fairbanks/Robinson Banjo
Fairbanks' version of the Robinson banjo showing the
The inlay on the neck
When A.C. Fairbanks and William A. Cole ended their
in 1890 they each continued in the
banjo business with a significant new design. Fairbanks introduced his Electric tone ring,
while Cole introduced the Cole's Eclipse tone ring which was invented by his brother Frank E. Cole
and eventually awarded a patent on January 30, 1894. One wonders whether the breakup of F&C
occurred because each of the partners felt more attached to their own concept. The workmanship and
artistry of the higher grade Cole banjos is extraordinary, rivaling or possibly surpassing that of Fairbanks.
The similarity of the Cole's Eclipse to the Curtis Electric tone ring is apparent when closely examined.
The Cole's Eclipse Tone Ring
View of the embedded steel ring
The half spun top assembly
Assembled Eclipse tone ring with
Other companies later introduced tone rings which
advantage of the successful concept of a
metal hoop supported on points. Examples of the Orpheum and Washburn tone rings are
shown on Tanabe Hayao's "Banjoland" tone ring page. Another example is the Gibson
"ball bearing" tonering with the metal hoop supported on spring loaded ball bearings.
- Return to main Fairbanks Banjos page -
Please contact me with any additions, corrections or comments in general.
Thanks to Joel Shimberg for meticulous attention to details.