Fairbanks Banjos
Construction & Tone Rings


Variations on the Electric Theme

The introduction of the Electric tone ring occured at 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/Robinson Tone Ring

Gatcomb's version of the Robinson banjo 
showing the scalloped metal tone ring 
and the typical Gatcomb neck brace.

Gatcomb/Robinson "Little Gem" Cam Adjuster

Typical Gatcomb hardware with 
the "Little Gem" neck adjuster 
available only on Gatcomb banjos.


The Robinson tone ring was somewhat similar to the Inverted 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/Robinson Pot

Fairbanks' version of the Robinson banjo showing the typical 
Fairbanks barrel nuts, neck brace and decorative dowel 
stick ferrule.  The metal plate has Robinson's name on it.


The inlay on the neck 
is very similar to a 
Fairbanks Electic No.1



When A.C. Fairbanks and William A. Cole ended their partnership 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

Cole's Eclipse steel ring and pins

View of the embedded steel ring 
and the steel rods which are in 
contact with it and extend about 1/32" above the top of the pot.

Steel wire ring

The half spun top assembly 
showing the flattened steel wire 
and the sheath which extended 
half way down the outside of the 
wooden pot.

Eclipse tone ring assembly

Assembled Eclipse tone ring with 
the steel hoop slightly raised above 
the top of the wooden pot.


Other companies later introduced tone rings which took 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.

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

Thanks to Joel Shimberg for meticulous attention to details.