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Apr 18, 2024 - 1:30:17 AM
65 posts since 12/4/2014

A local picker brought his friend's family zither banjo to our weekly open jam. The case and banjo are in excellent condition (with a photo of the friend's grandfather playing it in 1920!). Neither had heard the term 'zither banjo' and know noting about it. I told them what I knew but am looking for more info, any info, I can tell them next week. I offered to open it up for clues, etc. but he said he had to ask the friend (not present) first.

Anyway, anyone have any insights here? Of course, a Barnes and Mullins banjo, I'm assuming post 1900 because of the 'London' marking, although I know it could be other makers. No model number visible on the outside and I am struggling, after hours of browsing BHO and Google, to find any specimen that looks similar, inlay, tailpiece, binding - wise. I didn't get the best photos, but any other hints? I can try to get a better/closer look next week if someone directs me where.




 

Apr 18, 2024 - 2:11:58 AM

1958 posts since 4/25/2007

Barnes and Mullins were retailers of banjos made for them by others. Windsor of Birmingham made some very nice banjos for them but I would guess your friends maybe by someone like J Abbott. I think the tailpiece design may date it to early 20th century. B & M tended to order upgraded quality banjos from their suppliers.

Apr 18, 2024 - 5:47:06 AM

8254 posts since 9/21/2007
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If you are just curious about the zither banjo in general, it was a specific configuration of banjo developed by Alfred Cammeyer. Cammeyer was American but did not get far with his instrument in the US.

He traveled to England in 1888 and immediately broke big in popularity. The zither banjo was being produced shortly after he arrived and by one or two years later there were other makers and the fad took off.

What makes it unique is the stringing. The first, second, and fifth strings are wire. The third is gut. The 4th is silver plated copper wound over silk floss. Today the gut and silk are replaced with nylon.

The reason for this stringing are the different timbre or voices of the materials. Cammeyer composed music around this placing the melody on the first and second strings with the harmony on the third and 4th. Of course you could play any banjo music on them but their charm is in compositions specific to them.

Cammeyer wrote a book but it does not give much info on his instrument.

But he did write an article on how he came up with the name, which is a pretty funny story.

Here is his book:

Apr 18, 2024 - 10:21:26 AM

65 posts since 12/4/2014

Thanks! I appreciate the help!

I have been redoing about zither banjos as much as I can, but, of course, info is a bit scant and some of the info websites are now defunct.

Was B&M still ordering in banjos from other makers after having moved to their own workshop in London?

Also, do you think it would be worth it to try opening it up (ie, can I expect serial numbers, maker marks) or is it generally futile? I would like to open it up but since I'm inexperienced with this kind of banjo and it's not mine, I'm hesitant.

Apr 21, 2024 - 7:52:59 AM

1958 posts since 4/25/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Capybara

Thanks! I appreciate the help!

I have been redoing about zither banjos as much as I can, but, of course, info is a bit scant and some of the info websites are now defunct.

Was B&M still ordering in banjos from other makers after having moved to their own workshop in London?

Also, do you think it would be worth it to try opening it up (ie, can I expect serial numbers, maker marks) or is it generally futile? I would like to open it up but since I'm inexperienced with this kind of banjo and it's not mine, I'm hesitant.


Hard to say if their workshop was producing many banjos. Most Barnes and Mullins stamped banjos from the early 19th century appear to have been made by other makers even their Lyratone appears to be constructed from Abbott parts. Your friends maybe be the zither design they patented. I doubt taking it apart would reveal much other than dust and dead spiders smiley

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