New Rim Project

(June 2008)

Framus Extreme Make Over

You might know I'm quite a Framus fan. I've played one forever and despite the fact that some of my other banjos are dream boats for sure, the Framus is still the one I reach for most often. I've been meaning to treat it on a new rim for the longest time and not too long ago I got the ultimate excuse and/or kick-in-the-butt to get it over and done with.

I bought it around 1977~78 and after putting on a new neck to replace the too-skinny-for-me original one and a lot of tweaking this is a real nice sounding banjo. The volume though, predictably, is not quite in the league of a Stelling, Nechville, Ode or the likes. I do have a lathe, I do have piles of wood and I do have a better half who'd love to see the latter, well, go away.

I thought I knew a lot about this Framus. Figured wrong as along the way I learned/discovered things I never knew. Click the pics to enlarge.

Here it is, the modest Nashville model, replacement neck and all. I'd been playing it for well over twenty five years with the Fyberskin head as shown. Never quite cared for the sound of that head but it was the only thing I could find at the time to replace the busted original on short notice.

Features: top tension, arch top, cool tail piece.

One fine day in early 2008 the ultimate excuse happened and waddaya know, time to shop around for a new head once again. Or..? Hmmm, this could be a good opportunity to start checking out that wood pile...
Pop the hood and start measuring. A cheesy 1 cm (3/8") thick and 55 mm (2 3/16") high plywood rim sort of supporting the 17 mm wide arch top tone ring, not quite a snug fit. Take a look at the boxy gizmo inside the rim on the right, it's where you adjust the neck angle by turning the adjuster bolt.
Off with the head and lookie loo, a nice square stock aluminum (or aluminium if you insist) dowel stick. Some of the earlier model used round stock dowels. The other stuff is of course, totally optional, especially the roll of tape.
I forgot to take pictures while I was making the hexagon rings. Or, knowing myself all too well, was that because I was scared the camera would get slimed with all the glue. Anyhoo, here's two layers of the hexagons. The wood is the same awesome 'enigma' tonewood I use for bridges.

Mistake ONE: I pre-rounded the hexagons to make life easier when it would go on the lathe. Yeah, so I forgot that now all reference points for lining up them rings were toast. Who knew...

After a lot of measuring and a whole heap of guessing I got them glue-stacked nice and neat despite the pre-rounding. Hold your breath because at some spots there was only about 3 mm to spare to make it come out as an 11 inch outer diameter (OD) rim, 17 mm (about 11/16") thick.

Mistake TWO: On this cheapo lathe you do your stuff to completion on the same day. If you wait till the next day the platter shifts by just enough to make the whole job go out of [previously] round. Who knew...

Here's the rim after final sanding. I took it down to 1,500 grit, talk about smooth, no finish on it even. I'm not into coating beautiful wood with stain and layers and layers of plastic. In my twisted way of thinking: if you coat an instrument with plastic you got yerself a plastic instrument. Gorgeous stuff like this deserves to be shown even if it's covered up by the resonator most the time-I did finish it with four coats of oil. Man, oh man, you should have seen the grain jump out when the oil hit the bare wood. This step of the process is always one of the most exiting things for me as it lets you appreciate the slendour Mother Nature keeps treating us on. Provided of course, you keep looking for miracles like that.
Fitting the tonering was simply enough, just shave a smidgen off the top and that's all it took. This particular stash of wood had been drying in my basement for several years longer than my wife cares for so I turned it to exact dimensions right away.

About the tone ring, I had always figured it was made out of aluminum. Figured wrong, it's chrome plated brass and now that I've heard it in it's full glory I finally realize just how good a tone it really is.

By the way, if you happen to have taken the tone ring off, or when changing the head make it a point of doing so, flip it over and take a look at the bottom side of it. You'll notice some gruesome casting burrs on the flat part that sits on the rim - make sure you grind these nice and smooth so they are flush the the rim. I used a little grinding stone on a Dremel tool and took care of it on short order. You can use files, sanding paper, whatever to even them out. Now the tone ring will make proper contact with the rim and will dramatically improve your sound.

 

On the left you can see where the aluminum dowel has an L bracket screwed into it and the rim to keep it from sliding in and out. Not much too it but quite effective. The hooks over the edge of the rim aren't overly fancy but they do do a great job of holding the top tension bolts in place. Cosmetics are irrelevant because the resonator covers them all anyway.
A closer look at the way the aluminum dowel is attached. Because of the notch in the rim it took a bit of filling the gap with nuts to make up for the seven millimeter difference in width between the old and the new rim.

Some might consider this setup a drawback because the heel of the neck doesn't make proper contact with the rim. Maybe so but the volume level readouts, see below, sure make that a moot point.

A close up of the Framus magical neck angle adjuster box. I had to notch the rim to make it fit, again, because of the new rim being seven millimeters thicker than the original rim.

I've talked about the benefits of this set up on the "tuning tilt necks" page elsewhere on this website. If you've never seen it, or heard the tone change as you're adjusting it to dial in the proper neck angle and string length then your ears have been missing out for sure.

The whole thing bolted back together, time to string it up and tune it. I grabbed the nearest bridge I had kicking around. Played a few notes and, darn, it sounded terrible. Huh? Didn't take long to figure out why, it was a prototype bridge I had made to try and dumb down my Stelling. A quick swap out to an Archie sure made it sound like what I'd been hoping for and then some.

So what's it sound like? Loud, hugely loud. A quick check with the volume level meter @ one meter distance showed an average of 85, and peaks of 98 dBA. Volume of course, isn't the end-all but I don't mind admitting, when I saw those numbers flash I cracked a smile that put global warming out of business for a couple of hours as they are the same readings as my Stelling. The tone is incredibly clear, it has the growl of a flat top and the bite of an arch top depending on how, and how hard, you lean on the strings. The neck is what my fingers have come to be accustomed to over the many years I've played it. Talk about being a happy camper, I can see a few of my other banjos being for sale real soon. . .

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Copyright Bart Veerman 2008