Alright, let's put this one to bed shall we?

First, we should define a "zither banjo".  My definition is a closed back banjo, with a tunneled 5th string, machine tuners, and strung with wire 1st, 2nd, 5th, a gut third, and a wound over floss 4th.

My challenge to Jake or anyone else, post examples, in print, of Temlett using the term "zither banjo" prior to Cammyer arriving.  Should be pretty easy considering the databases of newspapers.

Next, post documentation of the wire gut string combination prior to Cammeyer in the context of the zither banjo. 

Final challenge, post, in period print, anything by Temlett that could be twisted into what Cammeyer developed into the zither banjo prior to Cammeyer.

Yes, Henry Dobson did develop a closed back banjo that likely inspired Cammeyer.  Yes Temlett filed a patent for his very own knockoff of the Dobson closed back patent (it is no shock given the volume of knockoffs and plagerism by the British of American's designs and publications). 

But a Dobson closed back is not a "zither banjo", it lacks fundamental defining components.  Also, Cammeyer tells the story of how he came up with the name and no contemporaries argued with him or contested it.

I'm calling BS on this Temlett zither banjo thing.  I don't know where it came from.

I'll start with what is missing from documentation:  Just after SSS published "The Banjo a Dissertation", Temlett published a knockoff English version of the book with English content. This book "The Banjo" by William Temlett may be found in the "Journals and Albums" section.  Something is strangely absent from this book from 1888...  seems to be a pretty major oversight for the "pioneer" of said instrument.

I don't like the "comments" feature on this website as it is fragmented and impossible to follow.

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Joel, many thanks! I was starting to think I'd imagined seeing it.

Jake, on my Wilmshurst zb I've got a very thin gut 3rd string, roughly equivalent to a violin 1st string and the silver wound silk 4th string has much the same diameter. Have you come across similar strings on any of your zither banjos?

Yah, guidance in engineering definitions is that consumable/variable components should never be part of the basic description. Of course, that's just me having had years of beatings from engineering managers...

My Windsor #1 is currently strung with Nylgut. I tried the ZB sets but could never get anything but "wiriness" out of them. I have always been ham-handed anyway. Marches should never be attempted on a compound-strung ZB, as above MF, it will sound like a Kazoo band. ;-)

We need that Temlett patent! All the guessing and memory can be put to bed with a copy of it.

Hmmm...

George Teed patented a closed back banjo back in 1862, five years before Dobson patented his closed back, top-tension banjo (1867). Teed's patent shows a pot suspended on the inside of the rim (ZB!) and exclusively claims the closed back. I wonder if this "1869 Temlett patent" has been mis-remembered versions of Teed's patent? Teed updated his patent in 1885, same suspensory pot design. If you added a tunnel 5th to a Teed, I would unhesitatingly label it as a ZB.

Joel Hooks said:

Never mind, he does explain that the third is wire with "many players" preferring a gut fourth. 

Attachments:

Does the side view of the 1862 drawings indicate an enclosed back?

I recall reading that Temlett's 1869 patent application was not granted. Once again, I can't provide the specific article, but will continue searching for it.

Hello again.  The statement about Temlett Snr.'s patent not being granted may be found in Vintage Banjo Makers under Dobson.  No way of knowing (yet) if this is correct.

BJ aka Black Jake aka Jake. 

IAN SALTER said:

Does the side view of the 1862 drawings indicate an enclosed back?

I recall reading that Temlett's 1869 patent application was not granted. Once again, I can't provide the specific article, but will continue searching for it.

You are so right, Trapdoor2.  We need that 1869 Temlett patent for his 'suspended sound board' banjo!  I've been trying for years!  Glad you mentioned George Teed to whom Cammeyer was very loath to give any credit in the development of the zither banjo, nor was he inclined to give any credit to the black former slave, inventor and engineering genius (and of course banjo-maker and innovator) Benjamin Bradbury.  Both of these people were known to Cammeyer.  Come to think of it Cammeyer doesn't mention (as far as I know) his workshop foreman in England, Sidney Young, the man behind all of AD's most famous banjos like the Vibrante etc. etc.

Thanks for the contribution and the drawings.  It's an interesting thought that Temlett's patent could be a mis-remembered version of Teed's.  I doubt it, but it's not impossible!

All the Best,

Jake.



Trapdoor2 said:

Yah, guidance in engineering definitions is that consumable/variable components should never be part of the basic description. Of course, that's just me having had years of beatings from engineering managers...

My Windsor #1 is currently strung with Nylgut. I tried the ZB sets but could never get anything but "wiriness" out of them. I have always been ham-handed anyway. Marches should never be attempted on a compound-strung ZB, as above MF, it will sound like a Kazoo band. ;-)

We need that Temlett patent! All the guessing and memory can be put to bed with a copy of it.

Hmmm...

George Teed patented a closed back banjo back in 1862, five years before Dobson patented his closed back, top-tension banjo (1867). Teed's patent shows a pot suspended on the inside of the rim (ZB!) and exclusively claims the closed back. I wonder if this "1869 Temlett patent" has been mis-remembered versions of Teed's patent? Teed updated his patent in 1885, same suspensory pot design. If you added a tunnel 5th to a Teed, I would unhesitatingly label it as a ZB.

Joel Hooks said:

Never mind, he does explain that the third is wire with "many players" preferring a gut fourth. 

As to zither banjo stringing, Cammeyer definitely sold unwound wire banjo 3rd strings, I've got a couple, still in their original packets in my collection of banjo junk. These may have been intended for use on what was known a the time as the 'ordinary' banjo rather than the zither banjo, but we will never know. Cammeyer wire strings are unplated as he said that the plating affected the tone adversely. On another note, util recently I would have agreed with Dave Wade when he said that 'Zither banjos have always dispensed with the side fifth string peg'; a curious zither banjo has just been advertised for sale in the USA, which has the normal zither banjo hoop type, but has what would be regarded as a normal five string banjo neck except that the peghead has five pegs for the strings.

Attachments:

Who or what is "AD"?

Jake Glanville said:

Come to think of it Cammeyer doesn't mention (as far as I know) his workshop foreman in England, Sidney Young, the man behind all of AD's most famous banjos like the Vibrante etc. etc.

Alfred Davies Cammeyer

Jody Stecher said:

Who or what is "AD"?

Jake Glanville said:

Come to think of it Cammeyer doesn't mention (as far as I know) his workshop foreman in England, Sidney Young, the man behind all of AD's most famous banjos like the Vibrante etc. etc.

Teed's 1862 patent drawing indeed does not show an enclosed back. He is often quoted as introducing the closed back...

However, if you carefully read the text of his patent (which I just did), the text refers to a "sound board", which I now believe has been misconstrued to indicate a closed back. It does not. Teed's "sound board" is actually a ring on top of the rim which is used to connect the pot to the rim via suspensory clamps.

So, I now think Teed patented the ZBs suspensory system and the enclosed back falls to Dobson's 1867 patent.

IAN SALTER said:

Does the side view of the 1862 drawings indicate an enclosed back?

I recall reading that Temlett's 1869 patent application was not granted. Once again, I can't provide the specific article, but will continue searching for it.

LOL. I think that the lesson to be learned is "never" and "always" are pretty strong words. The banjo is an assemblage of parts which may be easily exchanged and/or manufactured. Even so, I still would include the tunnel 5th as a component of the ZB's description. The banjo in your picture I would term "hybrid", esp. with the 5 tuners in the peghead. Perhaps it was once a 6-string...

No matter. It is a lovely thing!

Richard William Ineson said:

As to zither banjo stringing, Cammeyer definitely sold unwound wire banjo 3rd strings, I've got a couple, still in their original packets in my collection of banjo junk. These may have been intended for use on what was known a the time as the 'ordinary' banjo rather than the zither banjo, but we will never know. Cammeyer wire strings are unplated as he said that the plating affected the tone adversely. On another note, util recently I would have agreed with Dave Wade when he said that 'Zither banjos have always dispensed with the side fifth string peg'; a curious zither banjo has just been advertised for sale in the USA, which has the normal zither banjo hoop type, but has what would be regarded as a normal five string banjo neck except that the peghead has five pegs for the strings.

I would say that banjo is a hybrid; it is neither a regular banjo or a zither-banjo. It may even be that the neck was once attached to an open back pot and the zither-banjo pot once had a standard zb neck. The tailpiece seems to be intended for soft strings only. Wire strings would ruin it.

Although a tunneled 5th string is a common feature or even  a ubiquitous feature on zither-banjos it is not a defining feature. I once had a lovely open back five-string banjo with a tunneled fifth string. The neck and pot were definitely originally joined by the maker (Dave Wade guessed it was Wilmshurst but I have my doubts). Nothing about how that banjo played was zither-banjo-like.    And if a zither-banjo had a fifth string peg like an open back banjo usually the tone and response and feel in the right hand would be identical to how it would be with a tunneled fifth-string.  

But is the type of strings a defining feature of a zither-banjo? It seems to me that  it is.  Anyone is free to use any kind of string on any instrument but the result may not be optimal or enjoyable to most. Every musician who recorded in the "Zither-banjo Era" played on a mixed set of strings. If they played on gut or nylon trebles we would hear it.  From time to time people have brought me zither-banjos strung with all metal and asked me why it sounds so bad and what they can do to improve it. I provide them with the mixed set and their banjos are transformed into melodious instruments. Others have tried all soft strings. The tone tends to be muffled and vague.

Richard William Ineson said:

 On another note, util recently I would have agreed with Dave Wade when he said that 'Zither banjos have always dispensed with the side fifth string peg'; a curious zither banjo has just been advertised for sale in the USA, which has the normal zither banjo hoop type, but has what would be regarded as a normal five string banjo neck except that the peghead has five pegs for the strings.

People get hung up on exceptions. First, that banjo, while claimed to be from Cammeyer, is no marked and the date+ association is the fabrication of the seller.   Second, exceptions prove the rule.  There is extant examples of every combination of features of banjos.

There were closed back banjos before, there are close back banjos now.  Cammeyer developed the "zither banjo" to have a unique voice.  His vision included the specific stringing to give the instrument that voice. He called it a "zither banjo" based on his failed performance of a zither solo arranged for banjo. 

I get that a very unique "English" form of the banjo being developed by an American immigrant might be upsetting. But reading the "Banjo World" and "BMG" they people of the time were okay with that. 

Regarding Sharpe.  His series of Banjo Makers articles are filled with inaccuracies.  While they were likely his best effort, I don't rely on much of what he wrote.

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