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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Cello banjo? Please help


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/373650

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jun3machina - Posted - 03/17/2021:  08:58:32


I am trying to figure this one out. It has a 16" pot, slot-head 4 string headstock, the bent J-hooks and globular shoes look like cubley to me (but nothing else looks as old or from that maker), however I didn't think Cello banjos (or tango banjos or whatever they were referred to) came about until around or after 1900...is this some home made job? the rim is plyed wood (6 ply?) with a black paint that matches the resonator. Interesting rounded dowel where the strings are just tied on.... looks like it was refretted at one point with much thicker frets. I am guessing it's not necessarily high quality due to it looking like it lacks a fingerboard (dyed?). I cant tell if the dot inlays are MOP or ivoiroid. I'm stumped

jun3machina - Posted - 03/17/2021:  08:59:01


pictures below








Alvin Conder - Posted - 03/17/2021:  09:00:08


Really without pictures there is no way at all of giving any kind of educated answer.

Please post photos and we will chime in.

Alvin Conder - Posted - 03/17/2021:  09:02:19


Well I guess I answered too quickly. Did not see the photos.

No idea as to who made this. Really very interesting instrument.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 03/17/2021:  10:11:17


Strange. Although there are four tuners, I only see three string attachment "dowels" at the other end.

The scale length might tell a little more, but what this is and who put it together will probably remain something of a mystery.

Joel Hooks - Posted - 03/17/2021:  10:26:27


I tend to associate three string bass banjos with the British banjo orchestras post 1900 to WW2.

IDK about this one as the plectra era is a bit outside of my focus.

Joel Hooks - Posted - 03/17/2021:  10:29:07


Is the sheet music in the main photo just random piano music for decoration or does it go with the banjo? It looks like grand staff to me but I can't make out much detail.

jun3machina - Posted - 03/17/2021:  11:42:22


the sheet music was for decor purposes.

jun3machina - Posted - 03/17/2021:  11:44:13


the diameter of the pot is 16". the full length of the thing is approx 37". The neck is 20" from where it meets the pot, approx.

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 03/17/2021:  12:26:39


Bigger than a cello banjo. I assume it would be played upright, like a bass? A friend and I once made a cello banjo with a 16 inch head, and it was really awkward to hold. Big, deep sound, though.
You DO find some interesting banjos!

jun3machina - Posted - 03/17/2021:  12:52:39


seems SS stewart made the 16" ones. most after that were in the 12" - 14" range....

Dan Gellert - Posted - 03/17/2021:  12:54:47


I'm curious about the scale length, too...



FYI, that's TWICE (2x) the distance from the fingerboard-side edge of the nut (or the crown of the zero fret) to the crown of the 12th fret-- IOW, the theoretical length of the open string.  If your bridge is placed for correct intonation, the actual length will be a bit longer than that. How much longer depends on the length, gauge, and material of the string, and how high the action is.

Joel Hooks - Posted - 03/17/2021:  12:58:33


quote:

Originally posted by IMBanjoJim

Bigger than a cello banjo. I assume it would be played upright, like a bass? A friend and I once made a cello banjo with a 16 inch head, and it was really awkward to hold. Big, deep sound, though.

You DO find some interesting banjos!






archive.org/details/sss-catalo.../mode/2up



Yeah, SSS' were 16".



Don't confuse them with the so called "cello" banjos offered by Gold Tone which are small with short scales.  The Gold Tone banjos are loose copies of Gibson tenor cello banjos with an added a 5th string.  The scales are very short and they lack power for the orignial use.  But they would be perfect tuned one octave below a tenor banjo for playing with other tenor banjos.



 

Joel Hooks - Posted - 03/17/2021:  13:03:59


quote:

Originally posted by jun3machina

seems SS stewart made the 16" ones. most after that were in the 12" - 14" range....






If it is a 12"-13" 5 string banjo, it is just a regular banjo.  I have seen some dealers, out of ignorance, claim them as "cello banjos" (fairly recently a Farland was listed as such).  I think people get confused and apply presentism when they see 28"+ scale banjos.  That was fairly normal for professional sized regular banjos. 



 



Scales keep getting shorter and shorter and I think people try to apply this new standard to classic era banjos.



 

jun3machina - Posted - 03/17/2021:  13:17:19


quote:

Originally posted by Dan Gellert

I'm curious about the scale length, too...



FYI, that's TWICE (2x) the distance from the fingerboard-side edge of the nut (or the crown of the zero fret) to the crown of the 12th fret-- IOW, the theoretical length of the open string.  If your bridge is placed for correct intonation, the actual length will be a bit longer than that. How much longer depends on the length, gauge, and material of the string, and how high the action is.






appears to be 12.5" from nut to 12th fret, so 25" scale? i dont have it in hand to get a more specific measurement

jun3machina - Posted - 03/17/2021:  13:20:09


image of neck with a ruler




Dan Gellert - Posted - 03/17/2021:  15:42:52


Thanks. That's very close to the scale of the Gold Tone 4-string cello banjo. If I had that 3-stringer, I'd probably try (the low 3/4 of) a set of Gold Tone strings on it.

Andy FitzGibbon - Posted - 03/18/2021:  02:42:35


quote:

Originally posted by jun3machina

seems SS stewart made the 16" ones. most after that were in the 12" - 14" range....






As I recall, the few that Fairbanks made were also 16".

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 03/18/2021:  08:24:42


Three strings? Maybe this is a rare banjo-balalaika, or "banjolaika," rumored to have been invented by an African slave owned by a Russian settler in the Antebellum South. Its scale length indicate the tenor balalaika tuning; A2, A2 ,D3.

The banjolaika enjoyed only a brief heyday, having been dismissed as a communistic propoganda instrument after the !917 Bolshevik Revolution.

jun3machina - Posted - 03/18/2021:  08:55:12


quote:

Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

Three strings? Maybe this is a rare banjo-balalaika, or "banjolaika," rumored to have been invented by an African slave owned by a Russian settler in the Antebellum South. Its scale length indicate the tenor balalaika tuning; A2, A2 ,D3.



The banjolaika enjoyed only a brief heyday, having been dismissed as a communistic propoganda instrument after the !917 Bolshevik Revolution.






This actually might be the closest to a valid explanation in all seriousness. The location of said banjo is close to the motherland

Joel Hooks - Posted - 03/18/2021:  10:34:42


G Edward Porgie , I am not claiming to know for a fact, or that this is even the case, but three string bass/cello banjos were a standard item in England with the English BMG clubs and orchestras. I'm not sure when they came out but I think it was about 1910 or 1911.

Clifford Essex offered the regular bass banjo (one octave lower than standard) and a contra bass (one octave below the bass banjo), both with three strings and were played with a pick.

They made these with "banjo rims" (stretcher hoop, brackets, and head) and also with wooden tops.

This one does not look like it was made by CE and I don't have any further info to add.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 03/18/2021:  11:14:34


Joel, I was hoping that my comment would be perceived as a joke, but perhaps its ridiculous "claims" (Russian-owned slave, dismissed after the Bolshevik revolution as a communist propaganda instrument) were not silly enough.

I do appreciate the information about the English bass banjos. Whether or not you know "for a fact" seems irrelevant to me. You at least have some facts backing your idea, and that's more than anyone else has offered.

I presented the "Banjolaika" nonsense as a tongue-in-cheek response to what seemed mostly groundless speculation, but perhaps it had the effect of garnering some more informed ideas about what this unusual instrument might be. I have an idea that, although not a Clifford Essex build, it is, indeed, a 3 string bass banjo. (I also have an idea that it probably sounds like crap, but that's beside the point.)

jun3machina - Posted - 03/18/2021:  11:23:02


Opinion is valid. I have been watching it for over a year now. And while i would love to tinker on it, i know the neck angle is not ideal from a few pictures, and not sure what's under the resonator, as my request for pictures of that were not answered. I've almost let my curiosity get the better of me a few times, and then ive held off from buying it as im not sure its worth the asking price.for the parts that are there. And then i keep coming bCk to it. And here we are. The banjo is in Latvia

Joel Hooks - Posted - 03/18/2021:  14:15:11


The only reason I commented is that Balalaika would be a real possibility. The Balalaika clubs were a fairly big fad in England at the turn of the century. CE even sold a line of them.

And it is very possible that something like this could have been used with those groups. My theory is based on the many photos of British groups that tend not to mix instruments types all that much. So I would expect a Balalaika bass to be wood and triangle shaped in keeping with the theme.

But then again, I could be wrong.

jun3machina - Posted - 03/18/2021:  14:58:35


Gonna have to loook into this further. Do you think it originally would have been strung up with 4 strings though? The tuners say yes, but the method of string attachments say no. I'm on the fence in adding it to my collection.

jun3machina - Posted - 03/18/2021:  19:15:01


to add to this thread, for science: bernunzio.com/p/c-fairbanks-wh...jo-18317/

jun3machina - Posted - 03/18/2021:  19:16:57


another, old advertisement circa 1911
storage.ning.com/topology/rest...=original

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 03/19/2021:  06:54:01


quote:

Originally posted by jun3machina

Gonna have to loook into this further. Do you think it originally would have been strung up with 4 strings though? The tuners say yes, but the method of string attachments say no. I'm on the fence in adding it to my collection.






My guess would be three strings, for two reasons. 



The fact that it has four tuners doesn't mean a lot, given that zither banjos generally had six tuners for five strings.  



Also, the size of the strings, and their low pitch would indicate a rather wide arc when set in motion, and therefore more room would be needed to keep them from bumping each other. Four big, fat, wound strings on such a skinny neck might cause collisions. It would be like forcing two or more hippos through a revolving door, simultaneously.

Dan Gellert - Posted - 03/19/2021:  07:21:46


quote:

Originally posted by jun3machina

Gonna have to loook into this further. Do you think it originally would have been strung up with 4 strings though? The tuners say yes, but the method of string attachments say no. I'm on the fence in adding it to my collection.






 



3 strings, for sure.  Those Brits made a whole lot of banjos with a superfluous tuner on the peghead. Anybody know why?

IMBanjoJim - Posted - 03/19/2021:  09:16:20


quote:

Originally posted by Dan Gellert

quote:

Originally posted by jun3machina

Gonna have to loook into this further. Do you think it originally would have been strung up with 4 strings though? The tuners say yes, but the method of string attachments say no. I'm on the fence in adding it to my collection.






 



3 strings, for sure.  Those Brits made a whole lot of banjos with a superfluous tuner on the peghead. Anybody know why?






6 sstring guitar tuners 'off the shelf' from suppliers. 

Ira Gitlin - Posted - 03/19/2021:  09:16:30


quote:

Originally posted by Dan Gellert

 


 



3 strings, for sure.  Those Brits made a whole lot of banjos with a superfluous tuner on the peghead. Anybody know why?






I recall hearing that they liked the symmetry.

Dan Gellert - Posted - 03/19/2021:  09:51:08


I'd though of both those possibilities, but wondered if anyone had any documentation?

Joel Hooks - Posted - 03/19/2021:  10:04:21


quote:

Originally posted by Dan Gellert

I'd though of both those possibilities, but wondered if anyone had any documentation?






You will likely find what you are looking for here...



classic-banjo.ning.com/page/bmg-magazines



Good luck!

banjopaolo - Posted - 03/19/2021:  10:13:39


I play cello and banjo... I'll have to get a Cello Banjo before or then!


jun3machina - Posted - 03/19/2021:  11:38:33


quote:

Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

quote:

Originally posted by jun3machina

Gonna have to loook into this further. Do you think it originally would have been strung up with 4 strings though? The tuners say yes, but the method of string attachments say no. I'm on the fence in adding it to my collection.






My guess would be three strings, for two reasons. 



The fact that it has four tuners doesn't mean a lot, given that zither banjos generally had six tuners for five strings.  



Also, the size of the strings, and their low pitch would indicate a rather wide arc when set in motion, and therefore more room would be needed to keep them from bumping each other. Four big, fat, wound strings on such a skinny neck might cause collisions. It would be like forcing two or more hippos through a revolving door, simultaneously.






excellent analogy! hahah. 



So I purchased this after much debate inside my head. it's been on my watch list for over a year. I figured the worst situation would be it's the sum of it's parts and might provide a nice 16" pot for a future project. I would prefer to restore it. That being said, can I ask if you think actual cello strings would be correct? or Gold tone cello banjo strings? this is out of my field of any expertise or skillset, and I am only learning as I do some searches of past threads on the forum...

jun3machina - Posted - 03/19/2021:  11:40:32


quote:

Originally posted by Joel Hooks

quote:

Originally posted by Dan Gellert

I'd though of both those possibilities, but wondered if anyone had any documentation?






You will likely find what you are looking for here...



classic-banjo.ning.com/page/bmg-magazines



Good luck!






wowee! what a collection! thanks for sharing!

Dan Gellert - Posted - 03/19/2021:  11:47:59


quote:

Originally posted by Joel Hooks

quote:

Originally posted by Dan Gellert

I'd though of both those possibilities, but wondered if anyone had any documentation?






You will likely find what you are looking for here...



classic-banjo.ning.com/page/bmg-magazines



Good luck!






I'll need some luck finding my way out of that rabbit hole!



Thanks anyway !

jun3machina - Posted - 03/19/2021:  11:53:11


i found this example of a 3 string CE contra bass banjo...
wish there were more pictures
sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecata....702.html

Joel Hooks - Posted - 03/19/2021:  11:57:25


We are trying to fill the holes, esp. 1920 to 1925. So if you know anyone that has those missing issues, I’ll be happy to scan them.

banjopaolo - Posted - 03/19/2021:  14:50:59


quote:

Originally posted by jun3machina

quote:

Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

quote:

Originally posted by jun3machina

Gonna have to loook into this further. Do you think it originally would have been strung up with 4 strings though? The tuners say yes, but the method of string attachments say no. I'm on the fence in adding it to my collection.






My guess would be three strings, for two reasons. 



The fact that it has four tuners doesn't mean a lot, given that zither banjos generally had six tuners for five strings.  



Also, the size of the strings, and their low pitch would indicate a rather wide arc when set in motion, and therefore more room would be needed to keep them from bumping each other. Four big, fat, wound strings on such a skinny neck might cause collisions. It would be like forcing two or more hippos through a revolving door, simultaneously.






excellent analogy! hahah. 



So I purchased this after much debate inside my head. it's been on my watch list for over a year. I figured the worst situation would be it's the sum of it's parts and might provide a nice 16" pot for a future project. I would prefer to restore it. That being said, can I ask if you think actual cello strings would be correct? or Gold tone cello banjo strings? this is out of my field of any expertise or skillset, and I am only learning as I do some searches of past threads on the forum...






I don’t think cello strings would sound good on your instrument, I’d give a try to gold tone cello banjo strings first... 


Edited by - banjopaolo on 03/19/2021 14:53:03

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 03/19/2021:  14:55:03


I can't aqnswer the string gauge question, because it depends a lot on the chosen tuning, the actual scale length, and how robust the banjo's construction.

An rough idea might be gained by measuring the strings that are on it now. You'll need a micrometer for that. You will also need to determine the material used to make these sttrings (Steel, gut, stranded silk). You should also bear in mind that a previous owner may have used different strings and tuned differently than the maker intended.

You may need to so much research to know whether this is an actual bass banjo or a higher tuned cello banjo (It doesn't strike me as being large enough to be a contra-bass). Then you would need to know the traditional tuning for what it is. (it may be tuned in fourths, fifths, or something else (a conventional cello is tuned in fifths, a bass in fourths, but niether may apply to a three stringed banjo-whatever).

Once you have a better idea of the maker's intent, you can check one of the online string tension calculators to figure out the overall tension that won't tear this instrument apart.

Joel Hooks - Posted - 03/19/2021:  15:14:55


Also, unless you are playing in a group that requires divided accompaniment, bass/cello banjos are not that fun.

jun3machina - Posted - 03/19/2021:  16:48:07


quote:

Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

I can't aqnswer the string gauge question, because it depends a lot on the chosen tuning, the actual scale length, and how robust the banjo's construction.



An rough idea might be gained by measuring the strings that are on it now. You'll need a micrometer for that. You will also need to determine the material used to make these sttrings (Steel, gut, stranded silk). You should also bear in mind that a previous owner may have used different strings and tuned differently than the maker intended.



You may need to so much research to know whether this is an actual bass banjo or a higher tuned cello banjo (It doesn't strike me as being large enough to be a contra-bass). Then you would need to know the traditional tuning for what it is. (it may be tuned in fourths, fifths, or something else (a conventional cello is tuned in fifths, a bass in fourths, but niether may apply to a three stringed banjo-whatever).



Once you have a better idea of the maker's intent, you can check one of the online string tension calculators to figure out the overall tension that won't tear this instrument apart.






this is a great help. I ordered a set with a new hide head from elderly this morning. They only had goat in this size. I found a seller on etsy that has larger calf skins. I want to proceed with caution and probably use lighter guage strings if possible

jun3machina - Posted - 03/19/2021:  16:50:21


quote:

Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Also, unless you are playing in a group that requires divided accompaniment, bass/cello banjos are not that fun.






i dunno, i think bach could be played on this maybe... was watching some cell banjo videos on youtube... keeping my fingers crossed it's  fun enough for me to play around on

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 03/19/2021:  18:39:05


I would have to agree with Joel on the fun aspect.

Also, my opinion after hearing Bach on a cello banjo is that it sounds awful, as though it was being performed by those same hippos being squeezed through that revolving door.

banjopaolo - Posted - 03/20/2021:  02:24:43


I think a good musician can do great music on whatever kind of instrument...

Is the musician that makes the music not the instrument!

Pastorius made some masterpiece with solo electric bass, nobody would have expected the beauty of that sound....

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 03/20/2021:  07:07:14


quote:

Originally posted by banjopaolo

I think a good musician can do great music on whatever kind of instrument...



Is the musician that makes the music not the instrument!



Pastorius made some masterpiece with solo electric bass, nobody would have expected the beauty of that sound....






While I tend to agree that a good musician can do justice to great music on whatever kind of instrument, what one might consider "great" is open to opinion. The Bach I've heard on cello banjo was, in fact, played by an excellent musician, but to me, still sounded a bit dull and muddy. He played some Bach on tenor banjo, and the difference was, to me, astounding. The tenor banjo Bach had a precision and delicacy entirely lacking at the lower pitch of the CB. That, of course, is just my own opinion, and others may have found teh CB versions quite satisfying.



I have heard many pieces transcribed to unexpected instruments, many with unexpectedly fabulous  results. Bach on cello banjo, at least for me, have not been any of those pieces.



 



 

Ira Gitlin - Posted - 03/20/2021:  07:44:00


quote:

Originally posted by Joel Hooks

So I would expect a Balalaika bass to be wood and triangle shaped in keeping with the theme.



But then again, I could be wrong.






Wrong? Au contraire, sir! (See photo below.)



So far no one seems to have mentioned that three-string basses were not uncommon in byegone days. (See other photo below.)



 



Photos of contrabass balalaika player Leonid Bruk from Brooklyn, New York Acoustic Basses $4,000 and Up | Peter Zaret and Sons Violins

jun3machina - Posted - 04/24/2021:  18:03:46


So this thing arrived today. Took over a month to get to california from latvia. The resonator is built on, so onky way to see if theres anything inside the pot is to remove the head. I need to do that anyway as there's a tear. Bridge us handmade, tuners look very old. A bit of separation on the fingerboard near where it meets the pot, which would have been from being detuned/string tension.. hooks are interesting. I think maybe it was a drum head originally? Theres small nail holes on the side closest to the resonator...

jun3machina - Posted - 04/24/2021:  18:06:10


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