Memories of Tony Pass

This remembrance of Tony Pass is a contribution from David E. Schenkman, proprietor of Turtle Hill Banjo Co., and one of Tony’s dear friends in the banjo community.

Last Tuesday (7/26) Linda Pass called to give me the sad news that her husband, Tony, had died after a long battle with cancer at the age of 65.

Scott Zimmerman put me in touch with Tony before I met him, when he was just starting to build banjo rims, and we became good friends right away. From that time on we talked, on average, three times a week. And, we shared a booth (along with Scott and mandolin builder Eiichi Sumi) at IBMA shows for many years.

Tony, a retired mechanical engineer, had many interests in life. And, no matter what he did, he did it well. Fishing and hunting were his sports, and we often discussed his escapades. He was an avid gun enthusiast, and was a two time Arkansas state trap shooting champion.

Ironically, Tony never intended to be in the rim business. He became interested in banjos and, although he knew nothing about banjo construction, he felt that he could build a better rim for his new Stelling. He did so and, as they say, the rest is history. Geoff Stelling urged him to start building rims for his banjos, and this led to the formation of his business, Tony Pass Banjo Rims.
It would be redundant to detail all Tony’s rim innovations here. Suffice it to say that he was motivated by pride, rather than money, and he was constantly thinking of ways to potentially improve his product.

I remember well the day Tony called me to tell me about the “Thin Skirt” rim he had just built. He knew that I owned a Stelling, for which he had given me one of his original rims, and wanted to know whether I would replace it with one of the new design. Of course I agreed, and he sent me the first one he made. About a week later, he called to ask what I thought of it and I replied, “if you want it back you’ll have to drive up here and take it out of the banjo yourself.” I could almost see his face beaming with pride.

His last innovation was the “almost flathead” rim, and again I was the recipient of the first one. I was happy to see it reviewed recently in Banjo Newsletter, and even though by that time he was suffering from the ravages of his disease, the article gave him great satisfaction.

I encourage those wishing to honor his memory to do so by sending a donation to:

OCMC Hospice
PO Box 797
Camden, AR 71711

Anyone wanting additional information may contact me at dave@turtlehillbanjo.com.

  • kentuckycolonel

    So sorry to hear about Tony Pass and his battle with cancer.
    When I bought one of his thin-skirt rims about 10 years ago, he agreed to install a new McPeake ring that Curtis sent to him for me. I still use it and have never had any desire to replace it.
    Tony and I spent about an hour and half on the phone (I called from Canada) after I ordered the rim and we had a wide-ranging discussion about rims, tone rings, his research and other stuff. It became apparent to me that Tony was far more than just a builder of rims. He was a fine and genuine human being.
    The world could use more like him.
    My condolences to his family.