Zither Banjo Strings

The zither-banjo is really a constructional variation of the banjo and as such has five strings tuned to the same pitch and notes. This type of instrument started with W. Temlett’s patent closed-back banjo of 1869. Temlett always called himself the ‘pioneer’ of the zither-banjo. The American C. E. Dobson patented an improved closed-back banjo in 1878 but it was Alfred D. Cammeyer (an American who had settled in England) who perfected the zither-banjo and introduced it to this country in 1888.

The vellum diameter of the zither-banjo varies between 7″ and 9″, it rests on a circular metal casting suspended in a wooden hoop usually with a convex back, approximately 9″ – 11″ in diameter, by metal ‘S’ shaped brackets (varying in number) affixed to the upper edge of the wooden hoop. The top band or bezel is usually of cast metal with a number of lugs round its diameter through which pass screwed bolts which engage in the tapped holes in corresponding lugs on the inside casting. By tightening these screws, pressure is applied to the top band which then increases tension on the vellum.

Zither-banjos have always dispensed with the side fifth tuning peg; the octave string passing through a tube inserted under the fingerboard and emerging at the peg head. It was usual to fit guitar machine heads to the zither-banjo so that the peg head presents a ‘three-a-side’ appearance, although only five of the tuning mechanisms are used. Some manufacturers have in the past produced machine heads specially for the zither-banjo, with two pegs on the bass side and three on the treble side, but the balanced machine heads present a better appearance. The machine heads are usually fitted vertically in a cut out recessed head.

Like other closed-back banjos the zither-banjo, when forced is inclined to produce overtones and true staccato playing is difficult to produce on it. The instrument has a distinctive tone of its own and the strings listed below are the recommended strings. Never use the incorrect strings on your instrument. Do not be put off by the salesman telling you (for instance) that a guitar 1st will do for the first string on your banjo. Traditionally the zither-banjo is strung with a mixture of nylon/gut and steel strings. If you decide to use all steel strings on your zither-banjo we recommend an ultra light set. Some early zither-banjos had simple slots instead of a standard tailpiece, this was designed so that you simply tied a knot at one end of a gut string and inserted it in the slot. If your banjo has this type of fitting then a ball-end string would be a better choice. Strings of the wrong material and/or gauge can do irreparable damage to a banjo.

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