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'Zither' banjo

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17 Jun 99 - 04:15 PM
Songbob 17 Jun 99 - 04:28 PM
GUEST,Daniel Musick 18 May 11 - 04:24 PM
Leadfingers 18 May 11 - 04:51 PM
GUEST,Buffy marxon - spencer 19 May 11 - 03:31 AM
Zen 19 May 11 - 05:21 AM
Liberty Boy 19 May 11 - 07:48 AM
framus 19 May 11 - 10:55 AM
GUEST,Black Jake 13 Sep 21 - 05:01 PM
Bill D 13 Sep 21 - 07:02 PM
GUEST,Black Jake 08 Oct 21 - 05:18 PM
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Subject: 'Zither' banjo
Date: 17 Jun 99 - 04:15 PM

I have this curious old banjo that I bought in damaged condition in a book store in Winnipeg. It has no trademark or maker's name on it. I believe it is of European manufacture, English or German. It's the kind that has all five pegs on the head instead of having one sticking out the side for the fifth string. Instead, there is a brass tube under the fingerboard that starts at the fifth fret and goes up to the nut. You run the fifth string through there to keep it out of the way. Someone told me these are called zither banjos, but I don't know if that's true, and if it is, why it is.

Theoretically, if the nut is correctly grooved, you could string this instrument with five strings tuned in fifths, like a tenor banjo with an extra bass, I guess. Kinda like Tiny Moore's five string mandolin, but lower pitched.

Does anyone know anything about these beasts? I spent a couple of hundred dollars on it, new skin head (I should have gone WeatherHead), new bridge, new nut, strings, and it is now a funky sounding playable device, though the neck's a bit unreliable as you go up. Good for clawhammer style.

Photo is available, that is, I can scan it and send it if anyone is interested.

Stoo Ball VAncouver, Canada

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Subject: RE: 'Zither' banjo
From: Songbob
Date: 17 Jun 99 - 04:28 PM

Zither banjos are usually English and uniformly awful. The neck problem and the poor tone (yours does have the small head sort of suspended in the center of the shell, kind of cradled in a resonator of sorts, right?). The light construction and the smaller head size, plus the non-reinforced neck, make for a hard-to-tune, plunky-is-the-best-tone-you-can-hope-for banjo.

I turned down a free one once, and would do so again if asked. They are curiosities, at best.

Now, that rant aside, it is possible to get the "best" out of them, and to make actual music on 'em. For curiosities, they are at least musical, unlike some of the Marx Co. instruments you occasionally see (Marxophone, Ukelin, Hawaiian tremeloa, etc.). Those were REAL junk, not just an average idea which caught on, like the zither banjo.

Bob Clayton

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Subject: RE: 'Zither' banjo
From: GUEST,Daniel Musick
Date: 18 May 11 - 04:24 PM

I knew a tenor banjo player in 1966, Red Watson, in Colorado. There's a little Web info on him, not much. He was an excellent pereformer and singer of jazz tunes, popular and folk tunes, internatiobnal pieces (his twice-daily solo in Cripple Creek CO was a medley of two Russian balalaika tunes), and his sound was incredible. He played a banjo with a zitherbanjo-type body, the head set in level with the top of the rim, integral back, but with four strings and four planetary tuners. I understand there may have been a lot of dud zbs, but they show up regularly on ebay/uk and many are described as in excellent condition with fine tone.

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Subject: RE: 'Zither' banjo
From: Leadfingers
Date: 18 May 11 - 04:51 PM

They arent ALL Crap - Back in the Good Old Days I had a rather nice Temlett Zither that played well and sounded fine , except that (Because of the small Head) was a Tad quiet for Band work , but was fine for Solo Song Accopaniment

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Subject: RE: 'Zither' banjo
From: GUEST,Buffy marxon - spencer
Date: 19 May 11 - 03:31 AM

Did not The Pecker Dunne and Margret Barry play zither banjos?

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Subject: RE: 'Zither' banjo
From: Zen
Date: 19 May 11 - 05:21 AM

Zither banjos are usually English and uniformly awful.

Like Terry Leadfingers I once also had a Temlett zither banjo that was actually quite good.

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Subject: RE: 'Zither' banjo
From: Liberty Boy
Date: 19 May 11 - 07:48 AM

Correct, The Pecker, Margaret Barry and also Tommy Barton, a "cinema queue" banjo player who frequented O'Donoghues in the mid to late 60's all played zither banjos with a thimble plectrum.

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Subject: RE: 'Zither' banjo
From: framus
Date: 19 May 11 - 10:55 AM

I had a zither banjo, John Grey, but mine was 8 string, mandoline sized. Absolute bugger to keep in tune(maybe due to the skin head) and the action meant it was like playing an egg slicer.
Left it in a damp outhouse, and it fell to bits when the glue disssolved.
Cute though!

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Subject: RE: 'Zither' banjo
From: GUEST,Black Jake
Date: 13 Sep 21 - 05:01 PM

I find it very tiresome when people who apparently know the square root of nowt when it comes to zither banjos waste space on this site.
I've played zither banjos for around 60 years and love them for their quiet and subtle tone. Not for you if you want to emulate Earl Scruggs or play loudly in something like The Big Ben Banjo Band, but there's plenty of us who have other preferences and can play zither-banjos very well indeed.

I've owned Windsors, Temletts (Snr. and Jnr.) Barnes & Mullins (most makes in fact at some time or another)andI've never had a bum one yet. It's all a matter of taste and I always recall Frank Proffitt's remark when he first heard Scruggs, "I'd sure like to be able to do that. And not do that." (Proffitt didn't play a zither Banjo but his sentiments are mine entirely. I admire people like Margaret Barry, and of course my distant relative Thw Great Vance(circa 1850) but if you want to hear something lovely on a zither-banjo try Rob McKillop, and then SHUT UP!

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Subject: RE: 'Zither' banjo
From: Bill D
Date: 13 Sep 21 - 07:02 PM

Well, Jake... Bob Clayton, who posted 22 years ago, would probably agree that there are always exceptions to his experience with them. He played many types of banjo for over 50 years before passing away a couple of years ago.

Yes, this Youtube by Rob McKillop is very nice, but the way you introduce him is not.

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Subject: RE: 'Zither' banjo
From: GUEST,Black Jake
Date: 08 Oct 21 - 05:18 PM

I am sorry that I let my ire get the better of me,and of course sorry that Bob Clayton has passed away. I will probably soon be following him. Just a grumpy old man that's me, and I apologise for any offence caused.
What got to me is that in all this time since the original post, hardly anyone has stood up for the zither banjo. I have a beautiful long-neck open back traditional banjo, and I know the difference, but however much some people seem to dislike the zither banjo (and it's all a matter of taste, really it is) they shouldn't spout a load of cobbler's about the instrument.
Many Americans don't seem to realise how popular the banjo, particular the zither banjo, was in England, especially in the last two decades of the 19th Century. The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) played one, so did the explorer Ernest Shackleton. Actresses like Nancy Price had herself photographed playing one. and so did many other notables of that era. Zither banjos sold in their scores of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands. One zb I've seen is numbered 27,000 plus, and that is just one model from just one maker. You can't really tell me that so may people would be playing an instrument that was 'uniformly awful'.
So let's hear it for the zither banjo. It's very popular, even today, and there are some very good players over here -all styles.

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