Hi folks!  I was recently sent what was described as an "English 7 string piccolo banjo that had been converted to a 5 string" by Eli Kaufman to use in the ABF banjo Orchestra.

I thought I might share what I got as it might interest our British members.

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When I got it, it was in pretty bad shape.  It was pretty dirty, most of the hooks were broken, and there were the remains of rotting blue and brown nylon strings attached to it.

So I set to tearing it apart to clean and set it up.  At first impression I thought the three on a plate peghead tuners looked strange.  I did not think too much about it as it is a British banjo (with all the great banjos that were made on the other side of the pond, there were just as many weird things made too).

When I took off the German Silver plate covering the tuners I found something very interesting.

This began life as a 5 string!  It seems at some point someone wanted machine tuners so they cut down the peghead and added mandolin tuners that were cut down to three. They then covered up the mess with a finely fitted german silver plate (and I mean well fitted-- someone spent some time on this).

All the fingerboard wear and fret wear shows that this was always used as a five string (or perhaps a four string) but no more than four of the machine pegs were ever used at a time.

It is possible that someone strung it up as a "melody banjo" (mandolin banjo with only four strings) as there is was a Grimshaw brand mandolin 2nd string envelope in the case.  That would explain the machine pegs (imagine tuning wire strings that short with friction pegs!).

The story that Eli told me was the he got it from Joseph "Mac" MacNaughton (editor of the BMG) in the 1970s and he never did anything with it.  The stretcher band, hooks, nuts, and dowel end cladding were all replaced at some point.  Eli thinks that the stretcher band was milled at that time.  The plating was heavy and caused the nuts to be very tight on the threads of the hooks and they were mostly all broken or twisted off when I got it.  The ones that were not were sized and I broke them trying to take them off.

Now that it is all cleaned up (with a new case from Smakula music) it is quite a nice piccolo banjo.  The rim is 7" with a 15" scale which is the same as a Stewart "Little Wonder."  The clad rim is extremely well made and feels like it weighs as much as a Stewart 11" rim!

It is a shame that the machine pegs were put on but they do work just fine.  They are also part of the history of the banjo.

I am still playing around with bridges.  It plays nicely and sounds very clear and surprisingly not too sharp.  I have been diligently trying to lean the parts to the chosen orchestra pieces for the ABF rally in a couple of weeks.

This is such a well made banjo I would be interested in playing a J. Clamp full size 5 string banjo.  I bet they are very nice.

Joel, I had a fretless J Clamp 5 string banjo for a few years.The neck was English walnut. The head was about 13 inches if I remember right. It was well made.  It is the only Clamp banjo I have played but I have seen photos of others. I assume that by "stretcher band" you mean what is also called bezel and tension hoop. This one looks very Clifford Essex-ish. I did have a Barnes & Mullins 5-string with a similar bezel.  It's a beautiful design, my favorite actually. But it does not seem to  fit the J Clamp aesthetic so I think you are right that it was a replacement.

Yeah, that is it.  My Van Eps has the scalloping as well.

I was told it was a modification of the original before replating, not a replacement.

It is cool though and while out of place, so are the three on a plate tuners.

I would guess that a seven string banjo in the treble range would easier to manage than the full size variety. I have found that the extra bass strings cause sonic mud on the higher strings.  Are you finding it at all confusing to play? I'm able to manage only if I don't think.

Joel Hooks said:

Yeah, that is it.  My Van Eps has the scalloping as well.

I was told it was a modification of the original before replating, not a replacement.

It is cool though and while out of place, so are the three on a plate tuners.

It is not a 7 string--never was.  Someone just put mandolin tuners on it to get the geared ratio.

It is a 5 string.  All wear patterns show that it was always a 5 string.  Sorry if I did not make that clear.

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