I've been playing my Van Eps recording banjo for a couple of months now.  I really like the large dimensions (12'' rim, 28 1/4'' scale length), and I don't think I'll be returning to the smaller banjos.  It has a normal skin head on it (no sound hole) and since the resonator dish was about to fall off and needed to be resoldered to the tone ring, and completely removed it to try the banjo with the tone ring on its own without the resonator dish, the way Van Eps originally made his banjos and continued to make banjos after the 1920s Lyon and Healy models.  Today, I removed the tone ring out of curiosity, turning the banjo into what essentially is an oversized SS Stewart Special Thoroughbred.  Without the tone ring, the banjo has a deeper sound, likely because the vibrating diameter of the head was increased from 10'' to the full 12''.  It is also much more responsive.  The volume is about the same, and it has more overtones and sustain, although neither is overpowering.  Overall I think I prefer it this way, since the banjo with the tone ring sounds comparatively muted and is only a little bit brighter.  This has got me thinking what the advantage of the Van Eps-style tone ring actually is.  Were his early and late tone rings hollow?  The Lyon and Healy tone rings are rectangular and solid, so I can't see how they add anything to the banjo other than muting it. 

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This seems a bit anachronistic. There were 12 inch rims and larger long before Van Eps started designing banjos. At the time that he did start 11 inches might not have been standard yet.  And there are easier ways of increasing the clarity of a banjo with a large pot. Thin vellum and thin bridge are two of them. Also the muddiness that sometimes comes from a large pot is more pronounced with a steel strung banjo. When strung with gut/nylon etc it's usually not a problem at all.  especially not with the thin strings Van Eps used.

John Joyce said:

Quote from Larry Sandberg book - 'Van Eps solution was to use a 12 inch rim a good inch larger than a standard rim. This feature alone would increase bass response, but at the expense of clarity. Therefore, he added an arched tone ring, cast on struts which mounted inside the rim.' - A compromise.

Hope this is helpful.

The fog is clearing a little, my memory tells me that, I think it was Ruby Brooks who related that he used to put a piece of stiff cardboard between his body and his banjo to reflect the sound coming out of the back of the instrument, forwards, and away from his clothing. Sounds like a good idea, and a lot cheaper and less work than all this metalwork, and cutting holes in the vellum.

The resonator dish I have doesn't perform its function without a hole in the vellum- it's the tone ring that's making a difference.  The ring does add clarity at the expense of losing some bass.  It also kills the sustain.  My Van Eps sustains like a guitar without the tone ring installed!  The volume is the same with and without the tone ring.  The response is slightly (but noticeably) better without the tone ring. 

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