The New Paul Hopkins Full Flathead Tone Ring
A Very Special New Tone Ring With an Incredible Sound
I know what you are thinking. About once a year, almost like clockwork, a
new tone ring that is “bigger, better, more like the prewar ideal” appears
on the banjo market. And each time this happens, I start getting e-mails
asking about how the new tone ring compares to the one that was the previous
“champion.” This year will be no exception. But this year, the new
contender is one that I saw before all the rumors and announcements started.
And what a tone ring it is!!!
Those of you who have followed my banjo wizard pages have seen me evaluate lots of tone
rings. I do my best to be totally unbiased about them. Sometimes I am swept up
in the enthusiasm about a new tone ring. This time, I had a chance to try the
prototypes of a new tone ring that really delivers the goods. Not only that, I
got to take them to the IBMA and let other people try them out.
The full flathead tone ring is a normal, high profile tone ring, such as those
found in Gibson Mastertone® banjos and other banjos that are built on their
model. Paul uses the term “full flathead tone ring” to distinguish these
tone rings from his archtop
to flathead conversion rings, which are reviewed elsewhere in these pages.
During the 2002 IBMA Trade Show and Fan Fest, I had two banjos with Paul
Hopkins full flathead tone rings in the booth with the Tony
Pass Lost Forest rims. These tone rings were a chrome plated Paul Hopkins
full flathead ring on a Tony Pass Lost Forest maple rim and a nickel plated
Paul Hopkins full flathead tone ring on a Tony Pass Lost Forest birch rim.
Paul also brought along a banjo with a gold plated Paul Hopkins full flathead
tone ring which was mounted on a Tony Pass Lost Forest maple rim. While the
tests were not done with “laboratory” conditions, here are the informal
During the trade show and fan fest, dozens of players sat in the booth and
played these banjos. These included people who own or have owned prewar
instruments. In fact, Paul Hopkins, himself, owns several prewar flathead
Gibson banjos. These include a flathead Granada, a flathead RB-75 and a flathead
RB-4, which we have reported on in these pages. His goal with these tone
rings has been to capture the authentic prewar sound of his personal banjos.
The combination of his full flathead tone ring and the Tony Pass Lost Forest
rims has done a remarkably good job of this. The players who tried out these
banjos all agreed that these banjos had captured a sound that was extremely
close to this ideal, if not dead on.
One very telling moment occurred during the last day of the Fan Fest. One
player sat down and tried Paul's banjo with the gold plated tone ring. He
said, “There is no reason that every banjo in the (famous maker's name
deleted to prevent embarrassment) booth can't sound like this.”
I pointed to the rims and the tone rings and said, "This is the reason
they can't. They won't go through the trouble and expense to do what Paul and
Tony have done." The player thought it was the setup, but once I showed
him what was going on, he realized it was more than that.
So, what is going on with these tone rings? Well, here are the facts. Paul has
been searching for the answers even longer than I have. He has analyzed the
metallurgical formulas of more tone rings than anyone else that I know. I
can't even begin to go into detail about what he has learned. A couple of
months ago, he found a combination that looks, feels and sounds like the
answer. I was really thrilled that he asked me to be involved in the trials of
these new tone rings. Used in conjunction with the Tony Pass Lost Forest banjo
rims, they have a sound that, to my ear, is very close to that ideal that I
have been looking for. For more information, go to http://www.nashvilleplatingservice.com.
Paul Hopkins is also the fellow who developed the Hopkins-McPeake archtop to
flathead conversion tone ring. If you have an archtop banjo you want to
convert to a flathead instrument, it is hard to beat. On a Tony Pass Lost
Forest rim, it gives an amazing sound. I have reported on it at archtop
to flathead conversion tone rings.