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Zither Banjos?

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GUEST,Leonard 28 Nov 01 - 08:09 AM
GUEST,Paul 28 Nov 01 - 08:13 AM
GUEST,Paul 28 Nov 01 - 08:16 AM
GUEST,Leonard 28 Nov 01 - 11:07 AM
Drumshanty 20 Jun 06 - 09:35 AM
Geoff the Duck 20 Jun 06 - 05:32 PM
Leadfingers 20 Jun 06 - 06:17 PM
SussexCarole 20 Jun 06 - 06:29 PM
Bugsy 21 Jun 06 - 02:41 AM
Drumshanty 21 Jun 06 - 05:04 AM
GUEST,bryan 18 Jun 12 - 07:30 AM
GUEST,redhorse at work 18 Jun 12 - 08:40 AM
Crowhugger 18 Jun 12 - 08:53 AM
Leadfingers 18 Jun 12 - 09:04 AM
GUEST,BanjoRay 18 Jun 12 - 09:28 AM
GUEST,Black Jake 17 Jan 21 - 12:12 PM
GUEST,Nigel Spencer 17 Jan 21 - 07:29 PM
GUEST,Black Jake 18 Jan 21 - 03:26 PM
BanjoRay 18 Jan 21 - 09:11 PM
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Subject: Zither Banjos?
From: GUEST,Leonard
Date: 28 Nov 01 - 08:09 AM

What is the difference between a so-called zither banjo and the usual 5-string and tenor types?


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: GUEST,Paul
Date: 28 Nov 01 - 08:13 AM

From this page:

Another important part of classic-banjo development was the zither banjo. This instrument was invented in approximately 1888 by an American composer and performer, Alfred D. Cammeyer.

His zither banjo had a relatively small rim - usually eight to nine inches in diameter, as opposed to the eleven- or twelve-inch rims of regular banjos. This rim was set into a deep resonator and the instrument was strung with steel on the first, second and fifth strings, and gut on the third and fourth. This set-up provided a more sustained, ringing tone than the regular open-back banjo.

Both Cammeyer and the zither banjo attained tremendous popularity in England, and Cammeyer's own banjo company made the finest zither banjos. However, the instrument never really caught on in America.

Paul


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: GUEST,Paul
Date: 28 Nov 01 - 08:16 AM

From another page:

What's a zither banjo?

The zither banjo is a type of banjo often said to have been invented by Alfred Cammeyer. Whilst this claim is clouded with controversy, the broad style of banjo is beyond dispute. It is fundamentally a banjo with a smooth wooden body with the skin stretched over a framework which is suspended inside it (conventional banjos have the skin stretched over the outside of the body). It could be regarded as a wooden instrument (like a guitar or mandolin) which has a skin soundboard quite unlike the conventional banjo which is a drum with a neck on it.

A well constructed zither banjo (with a good thick rim and a perch pole) is a fine instrument. It has a very different tone from a conventional banjo and is rather quieter. It can be an excellent instrument for playing "parlour music" or for accompanying singing. They can be set up for a variety of style of playing though perhaps classical picking (the ancestor of 3 finger chromatic) suits them best.

The drawback is that zither banjos were something of a craze in the last quarter of the 19th century - which meant that a great many instruments were made. Many of these were very cheaply constructed and have not worn at all well. The existence of so many poor quality instruments has given zither banjos a rather bad name which is a bit unfair. If you'd like an instrument of this type, look for an example made by a reputable English maker (Essex, Weaver, Temlett etc) and make sure it's still in good playing order. Even the best instruments will deteriorate if left in a damp attic under full tension for 50 years!

One point worth noting - many zither banjos were constructed with the fifth string running in a tunnel under the fingerboard and tuning at the peghead (unlike the conventional 5-string which has its 5-string tuner positioned halfway down the neck). This isn't a necessary characteristic of the zither banjo (they exist with more conventional 5-string necks) and some English makers (notably Windsor and Dallas) used this method for the 5th string well after the demise of the zither banjo.

Zither banjo construction was also used for 8 string mandolin banjos (quite common), 4 string banjoleles or banjolins (less common) and 6 or more string banjos (rather rare). Don't be confused by finding a zither banjo with 6 tuners at the peghead - it's not likely to be a 6 string banjo - it was common practice for makers to use standard sets of guitar machine heads and just leave one of them unused.


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: GUEST,Leonard
Date: 28 Nov 01 - 11:07 AM

Thanks for this Paul. You're a gent.


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: Drumshanty
Date: 20 Jun 06 - 09:35 AM

Reviving this old thread to see if anyone out there can help. It seems that I am about to become the recipient of a zither banjo, and I know nothing about it. I've done a bit of research on the net and found out that they're old and it's difficult to get instruction on them.

Can they be tuned and played like a normal five-string? And if they can, does that mean I can buy a five-string tutor book/DVD and learn to play it, or are there some subtleties to the instrument that would not be immediately apparent to a rank beginner?


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: Geoff the Duck
Date: 20 Jun 06 - 05:32 PM

Tuning and stringing is exactly the same as standard 5-string banjo.
The tone of a zither banjo tends to e very different from that of one built for playing bluegrass. I play clawhammer style on zither banjo and find it suits well. They tend to be useful for accompanying singing.
Must go.
Quack!
GtD.


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 20 Jun 06 - 06:17 PM

Drumshanty - I used to run a rather nice Temlett Zither till I was made an offer I couldnt refuse and sold it . Zithers tend to be quieter volume wise than Resonator OR Open Backs but are hence a bit better for song accompaniment .


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: SussexCarole
Date: 20 Jun 06 - 06:29 PM

I have a Tremlett zither - last played by Geoff Duck whilst sitting on our loo!


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: Bugsy
Date: 21 Jun 06 - 02:41 AM

I was reading in an book about the Dubliners, that Barney McKenna said that he'd like to play Bluegrass music "Like Earl Scruggs and Lester Pigggot"

Cheers


Bugsy


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: Drumshanty
Date: 21 Jun 06 - 05:04 AM

Thanks all for the information. I'll be getting it next week, hopefully. And I might be back with more newbie questions...!


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: GUEST,bryan
Date: 18 Jun 12 - 07:30 AM

I`m restoring an old Windsor Zither Banjo.It has 6 tuning pegs
but only 4 string posts on the tailpiece.The lowest string is slotted
under the fingerboard at the 5th. fret.Is this configuration usual
or have I got a mish-mash of previous owners attempt of something
different.
Your help would be appreciated.


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: GUEST,redhorse at work
Date: 18 Jun 12 - 08:40 AM

The fifth string that disappears up a tube to a peg in the head seems to be a standard feature of zither banjos


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: Crowhugger
Date: 18 Jun 12 - 08:53 AM

Further to redhorse's info, it's mentioned in an earlier post (above) that it was common practice to install a full set of guitar tuning pegs and leave one of them unused.


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 18 Jun 12 - 09:04 AM

Guest Bryan - Good Luck with the restoration - There are a few of us in here who could help - be easier if you join , then messaging is more straightforward


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: GUEST,BanjoRay
Date: 18 Jun 12 - 09:28 AM

4 string tailpieces are a common disease on all sorts of old five string banjos. You'll either have to replace the tailpiece or put two strings on one hook. If you do that, put the thickest string on first, as it's less likely to break.
Ray


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: GUEST,Black Jake
Date: 17 Jan 21 - 12:12 PM

Kindly permit me a final word on zither banjos. I come from a long line of zither banjo players going right back to Alfred Glanville Vance aka 'The Great Vance' (1839-1888) one of the greatest Music Hall performers of his day. I have owned all kinds of zither banjos, Temletts (Senior and Junior), Windsors, and John Alvey Turners, and loved them all my life for the past 80 years or so.

Firstly I must disagree with GUEST Banjo Ray and his claim that '4 string tailpieces are a common disease of all sorts of old five string banjos'. 5-string banjos, do not have 4 strings, obviously, and they were never made that way. If they have a 4-string tail piece it's because they've been modified probably during the Trad Jazz era (although why anyone should do this instead of buying a tenor banjo with 4 strings I can't imagine. 5-string tailpieces for zither banjos are, surprisingly enough, quite easy to get hold of, but you may need a new nut and bridge.

Secondly, it's time to nail once and for all, the myth about Cammeyer inventing the zither banjo. The term was in use long before he came on the scene, and Temlett Snr. patented his 7-string zither banjo in 1869 using the term 'zither' for that type of banjo, and even he never claimed to have invented the term. My guess, and it's a reasonably informed one, is that around that time zithers rivaled banjos in popularity, and because of its softer tone this new type of banjo came to be called the 'zither' banjo.   

Incidentally, the way you can easily distinguish a zither banjo from any other banjo including closed-back banjos such as the Dobson, is that in the standard 5-string banjo, the neck is directly fitted to the head. In the zither banjo the neck is affixed to the wooden 'bowl' upon which the head 'floats' via a number of brackets attached to the head. Simples, yeah?

Why the 6 tuning pegs? This is a common feature of most zither banjos. Let me say most emphatically, this was NOT, repeat Not, so that they could be strung like a guitar. To do this you would have to replace tailpiece, nut and bridge, and totally defeat the object of playing something called a banjo. The 5-string banjo derives from an African instrument in which an odd string acts as a drone and that's why there are 5 or 7 strings. 6, never! The 6 tuners on most zither banjos is simply due to the fact that why make special 5-string tuners when there are plenty of guitar tuners going spare? You will however, see zither banjos with 5 pegs. These were made in nickel-silver, and naturally added to the cost.

Cammeyer was a bit of a romanticist and claimed to have made his first zither banjo using an old chair back. That's as may be. I certainly owned one like that. I it had the 5 nickei-silver tuners, but I don't think it was Cammeyer's!

Another possible reason for the zither banjos popularity may have been that the smog-laden atmosphere of Victorian London played havoc with the vellum on American open-backed banjos, and so it was thought not very scientifically. that a closed wooden back would mean less vellum exposed to the air and reduce the tendency of the banjo to go out of tune as you were playing.

Enough! I've probaly driven you all to distraction with boredom.


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: GUEST,Nigel Spencer
Date: 17 Jan 21 - 07:29 PM

"Enough! I've probaly driven you all to distraction with boredom"

Not at all. That was really interesting and informative. I was almost disappointed when I got to the end. Thank you!


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: GUEST,Black Jake
Date: 18 Jan 21 - 03:26 PM

Thank you so much, Nigel, for your kind words. A real gentleman if you don't mind me saying so. An unbelievable amount of utter zilch has been written about the zither banjo by the ignorant led by the unknowing (see the other mudcat thread on the zither banjo), and it's high time an end was put to that kind of nonsense.

During the late Victorian and early Edwardian era these instruments were incredibly popular. Tens of thousands were produced, and those by reputable makers were fine instruments. A couple of mine go back about 130 years, and rubbish instruments are unlikely to still be playable after that length of time.

King Edward VII had a zither banjo and so did the explorer Earnest Shackleton. Can't see either of them splashing out on anything second rate. You can still get the kind of zither banjo played by Shackleton. It will set you back about £3,000!

All the best,
Jake.


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Subject: RE: Zither Banjos?
From: BanjoRay
Date: 18 Jan 21 - 09:11 PM

The Shackleton banjo was played by Leonard Hussey, and is now kept at the Greenwich Maritime Museum.


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