Hi everyone. Both a new member of the forum, and I've arrived armed with a "new" banjo too.

I'm a complete newcomer to the banjo, and recently got myself this late 19th century (or sometime between 1880 and 1905 from what I can discern) 7-string zither banjo by Howard's in Manchester.

I'm not necessarily looking to restrict myself to specific banjo music on it, as I want to be freer than that, which is why this forum appealed. I don't want to be just rattling out rolls at breakneck speed, that's not the forte of these instruments anyway from what I can glean. As I really ought to have some "structure" to my learning, I considered stringing this in gDADGAD tuning, and have ordered a mixture of strings from Clifford Essex (a 7 string banjo set, and a classic guitar set) and Eagle Music (steel loop end 1st, 2nd, and 7th) to play around with. I think the slower pace (typically) of DADGAD fingerstyle guitar should work well on this, and I have a couple of books on the way to work from.As I get a better appreciation of the instrument, I may well change tack in terms of tuning and what I want to play on it.

I've also bought a replacement vellum, but to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure it needs it. But what do I know? I've currently got the pot stripped down to clean it out, and clean up the metalwork a little. I'm not intending polishing, or removing all of its acquired character, just doing a little "housekeeping" before I fit the new strings. I'm planning on putting the original velum back on, and keeping the new one as a spare, just in case I do the head a mischief in my initial experimentation.

I look forward to learning from you all, and if there's anything in what I've said so far that soiunds abysmally wrong, please don't be shy in letting me know.

Cheers

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Welcome to the forum!

That's a nice looking zb. I'm curious how a 7 string zb would sound, and how people would have played them back in the days. I suspect that a 7 string banjo would be difficult to get to sound good, since according to my experience, the fewer strings, the better an instrument sounds (not always true, of course).

It also sounds as though you are not planning to play standard classic banjo repertoire on it, which is fine of course. But I would be interested in hearing someone play classic banjo music on a seven string. Has anyone been researching that and put it in to practise? I've only really heard Michael Nix play a seven string and then only modern music (which I like very much, by the way)?

Also, it might be difficult to get the tuning you want from that Clifford Essex seven string set. And if you want a zb sound you should definately go for a few steel strings.

All the best and keep us updated.

/Pär

Thank you, Pär. I think you have to be disciplined in muting to not let it get cacophonous, but aside from that, I don't expect the string count to be too much of a hurdle. Getting a good tone from the lower bass notes may be a little challenging though.

As mentioned, I have a mix of strings. I have four steel strings to juggle around on the first, second, and seventh, to give the zither banjo sound. I also have a set of classical guitar strings to poach for the lower basses, and of course I can default back to the Essex set if the experimenting doesn't work out. I do hope I can make it work though.

As to repertoire, I want to keep my options wide open. gDADGAD tuning would let me play the music commonly associated with the instruments, and a lot more besides. One of the books I have coming is classical music (score and tab) for DADGAD guitar, plus as you say, there's more modern music that I can try out on it too.

Aside from this, my primary concern is the bridge. It's just plain wood, which I expect would be fine for nylon strings, but would expect the steel strings to cut into. I wouldn't know where to start looking for a 7 string bone topped bridge though

The normal zb have just wooden bridges, and it doesn't seem to be a problem with the strings cutting in to the wood. Unless you want to have a much higher tension on the strings, which I wouldn't recomend, for several reasons. There's other people on this forum who is more informed about that than me though.

If you reall want a bone topped bridge, a mandoline/mandola or an arch top guitar bridge might do the trick. Would need some tweeking of course.

A few comments: Steel strings and plain wood bridges have been a happy combo for over a hundred years. No problem.

My "understanding" is that 6 and 7 string banjos were used mainly for song accompaniment. But I think Joe Morley used more than 4 long strings at first, if I remember right. 

I would expect that the usual tunings for 7 string banjo (discussed in the past on this forum and easily found) would be a better starting place to get the most music from this banjo.  DADGAD on the long strings should sound fine. But won't tuning the short string create difficulties?   Maybe not. 

Aimless Wanderer said:

Thank you, Pär. I think you have to be disciplined in muting to not let it get cacophonous, but aside from that, I don't expect the string count to be too much of a hurdle. Getting a good tone from the lower bass notes may be a little challenging though.

As mentioned, I have a mix of strings. I have four steel strings to juggle around on the first, second, and seventh, to give the zither banjo sound. I also have a set of classical guitar strings to poach for the lower basses, and of course I can default back to the Essex set if the experimenting doesn't work out. I do hope I can make it work though.

As to repertoire, I want to keep my options wide open. gDADGAD tuning would let me play the music commonly associated with the instruments, and a lot more besides. One of the books I have coming is classical music (score and tab) for DADGAD guitar, plus as you say, there's more modern music that I can try out on it too.

Aside from this, my primary concern is the bridge. It's just plain wood, which I expect would be fine for nylon strings, but would expect the steel strings to cut into. I wouldn't know where to start looking for a 7 string bone topped bridge though

Wonderful. Thanks again, Par.

Pär Engstrand said:

The normal zb have just wooden bridges, and it doesn't seem to be a problem with the strings cutting in to the wood. Unless you want to have a much higher tension on the strings, which I wouldn't recomend, for several reasons. There's other people on this forum who is more informed about that than me though.

If you reall want a bone topped bridge, a mandoline/mandola or an arch top guitar bridge might do the trick. Would need some tweeking of course.

Thanks for the reassurance, Jody.

As to the tuning, the high g that I'm proposing for the 7th string is remaining as standard anyway I believe, so if I can get the DADGAD to sound good (and modern 6 string banjos/banjitars get tuned circa EADGBE, rather than the old 7-string gGCDGBD), I think I should be onto a winner. Hopefully.

The main thing I'm wary of is over-tensioning. I understand a lot of these old instruments have distorted pots from the string tension, but this one is decent, and I don't want to spoil that.

Jody Stecher said:

A few comments: Steel strings and plain wood bridges have been a happy combo for over a hundred years. No problem.

My "understanding" is that 6 and 7 string banjos were used mainly for song accompaniment. But I think Joe Morley used more than 4 long strings at first, if I remember right. 

I would expect that the usual tunings for 7 string banjo (discussed in the past on this forum and easily found) would be a better starting place to get the most music from this banjo.  DADGAD on the long strings should sound fine. But won't tuning the short string create difficulties?   Maybe not. 

On that note (pot distortion), I don't know if this is typical, but this one has an (original) internal bracing (perch pole?), rather than just relying on the resonator for rigidity.

The pots of lightly built open back banjos that were intended to be played with light gauge gut strings tuned low will go out of round after years of medium or heavy gauge steel strings. And these all have perch poles. And some necks may warp.  But zither-banjos were intended to have steel strings for the trebles by design. And these steel gauges are very light. So I wouldn't worry.  

Six string banjos that are or were designed to be tuned like a guitar are/were of course.... tuned like a guitar.  The six and seven string banjos that have a high drone string were not intended to be banjo-shaped guitars.  So I don't see the relevance of how modern six string banjos (without a high drone) are tuned.  That doesn't mean your gDADGAD plan won't work. I just don't see the connection.  

Ahhh ...OK. I was sure I had heard/read accounts of the earlier Windsor zithers (with resonators) going out of round. I may well be getting my wires crossed. I have much learning to do.

Apologies for confusion on the six string correlation, Jody. I meant that at least strings can be used for banjos at those tunings, even if the seven string banjos were originally intended for different strings and tunings i.e. suitability of strings, rather than suitability of the instrument. A lack of clarity on my part. However, I reckon worst case scenario is probably that I have to file one or two nut slots slightly wider, as although the bass strings stepping down to low D may be slightly thicker gauge, I don't think that the way I intend to use them will add additional stress to the neck.

The steel strings I got for the job, are indeed lights. I have 2 x 0.008", 1 x 0.010" and 1 x 0.012". One of the 8s will be used for the high g drone, and then I can use either 8 and 10, or 10 and 12 for the first and second string. I'll try the lightest first for each, and if they seem a bit slack, I have something already here to bump them up to.

Ah, Now I see what you meant.  About gauges: 008 for 1st and the high drone and .010 for second string are good for longer scale z-banjos. For shorter ones 9 and 11 is ok but no thicker.  But the third string should not be steel.  This was a gut string and nowadays can be that or nylon of pvf or nylgut or some other soft synthetic string. A steel third (and your proposed tuning has it at G just as standard zb tuning) will CLANG on a zither banjo. The rest of the strings should be wound strings of the type used for lute. Some made for guitar can be ok. It depends. I like copper wound Aquila lute strings.  But it depends on the banjo and the player. 

Not just Windsors and not just early zither-banjos. I have 2 high quality 20th century zither-banjos, an Abbott and a Dallas and neither has a perch pole. But there is no danger that I can see because these banjos have not been mis-strung. The tension is very light. Compared to what a guitar undergoes, it is practically nothing.  But if one were to put guitar gauge strings on these banjos they might well implode.

Aimless Wanderer said:

Ahhh ...OK. I was sure I had heard/read accounts of the earlier Windsor zithers (with resonators) going out of round. I may well be getting my wires crossed. I have much learning to do.

Excellent! I'm on the right track then. The third (nylon) and fourth (wound) will be out of the Essex set. I'll only need to rob the sixth, and possibly the fifth from the classical guitar set. I will split the basses between the two sets, as I want to understand how the tonal aspects differ between the two packs. I didn't want to spend more than necessary until I get a feel for it, and I prove the gDADGAD concept is viable, but as I start to understand the instrument better,  I'll gradually zone in on the right singles, and get a few in stock. I'm also aware that any changes I make to the head or bridge will move the goalposts too, so there's a few variables to resolve before I'm settled.

Overall, I'm quite happy so far. I think the gamble is paying off. There's some cosmetic damage that needs looking at, but structurally it seems to be in good order. Looks like it may have had one repair done, to one side of the neck joint, but it's unclear at the moment whether it was just veneer or something deeper. So long as it's solid (which it certainly seems to be) and it plays well, I'm not concerned. How it looks is far less important to me than how it sounds.

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