The J.D. Crowe Tone Ring Test

For some time now, I have been trying to get hold of one of the special J.D. Crowe tone rings that come on the Gibson J.D. Crowe RB-75 banjo. This is difficult, because the manufacturer is under strict contractual obligations not to sell these rings separately. However, once in a while somebody decides he wants to try something else, and a J.D. Crowe tone ring comes on the market.

When I heard this one was available, I pounced on it like a cat on a canary, because I have wanted to try one of these out for a long time.

I tried an early release of the J.D. Crowe banjo at SPBGMA in 1997. I was not impressed with it, but I am sure it was because of the setup. Evidently the banjo had been rushed from the Gibson factory to the show without the benefit of proper setup. It sounded okay, but not outstanding.

After the banjo had been on the market a while, I began to hear good things about it, so I contacted my various tone ring suppliers, and eventually acquired this one. Now I can give you a preliminary report.

Preliminarly report on the J.D. Crowe tone ring

This is a particularly good tone ring. It has a good, solid sound with plenty of volume. You can hold a note on it if you want to, yet it is not one of those tone rings that has an annoying "after-ring." There is a wide range of tonal color available from it.

One of the things I look for in a tone ring is plenty of contrast between the sounds at the "X" position near the bridge and the "Y" position near the end of the fingerboard. This tone ring has the kind of tonal colors I like.

The response over the entire fingerboard is crisp, strong and even. I really can't find anything wrong with it at all.

I fitted it to the rim with the standard "slip fit on a humid day" that I use on all my tone rings. It required no tweaking or twiddling to make it work.

So, how do I rate it?

It's a really good tone ring--possibly the best one Gibson is currently using.

Does it have "the pre-war sound?"

Let me say this--it has a pre-war sound, and a very good one at that.

It is different from other tone rings. I would recommend that you try a J.D. Crowe model to see if you like the way it sounds.

Now for the tough question--would I recommend a J.D. Crowe model banjo over a Scruggs model?

I can't answer that. They are both good banjos. Banjos are individual instruments. You might hear a particular Scruggs model you like better than a particular J.D. Crowe model. I would recommend that you listen to many instruments before you shell out about 3 kilobucks for any banjo.

But I will say this, chances are you will like the J.D. Crowe model, if you like the way J.D. Crowe sounds when he plays the banjo.

Continuing testing

I'm not through testing this tone ring. I haven't had a chance to put it in a tone bell™ rim, and I probably won't get around to it for a couple of months. As I write this, I am in the second week of the 26th Annual Texas Renaissance Festival, and I will be tied up with shows and other stuff until the first of the year. However, I'm going to play with this tone ring for a while and see how well it works for me. Then I will let you know the rest of the story

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