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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Dear Joel,

Sorry, but will have to indulge in further comment on the Zither-Banjo.  Firstly, your definition is quite wrong. A ZB is certainly a closed-back banjo but that's as far as it goes. 

Gourd banjos are closed-back, or most of them are! 

ZB's have a pot (or bowl) and drum construction which is unique, and it is this modification of the sound-chamber (as Stephen John Prior calls it) which makes a ZB a ZB, and why they sound different.  This form of construction was extremely popular in England from around 1870 (I'm still sticking to my date) until 1940 when the Windsor factory was bombed to rubble during the 1940-41 Blitz by Goring's Luftwaffe, and I don't think many were made after that. 

A whole range of other banjo-like instruments also used this type of construction.  I have seen banjo-ukuleles, banjo-mandolins, tenor-banjos, 5-string banjos with the peg on the side like American banjos, 7-string, 12-string banjo-mandriolas and God-knows what else.  Zither banjos were made in the US around the 1880's by Benjamin Bradbury,Todd& Douglas (1890's) and Cammeyer.  After WW2 they were made by Marma, Musima and Weltton in East Germany until about 1960.   

If you need an accurate definition, you might like to try A P Sharpe's (about 1932).  He says nothing about tunneled 5th strings or 6 tuners.  I have seen plenty of English ZB's with just the 5 tuners (of various designs).  I'm quite happy to admit the ones with the 5th string American style are rare, but they do exist. 

Oh, and as Sharpe says 'There is no 'standard' stringing of the zither banjo...' (Sharp A P, A Complete Guide to Instruments of the Banjo Family, 1932, page no. not noted). 

Also it is much more likely that Cammeyer was inspired by Bradbury rather than Dobson, seeing that he is supposed to have taken one of Bradbury's banjos with tunneled 5th string with him when he came over to England in 1888.

Haven't the time or space to go into all my sources, but they exist!

I agree with you that the 'Comments' feature on this website is inclined to be fragmented and difficult to follow, but nonetheless keep 'em coming.  It's always interesting to hear the views of others even when we don't agree.  My thanks to you.

All the best,

Jake.

Hmm… so your logic is that any banjo with a closed back is a “zither banjo”?  Yeah, nobody is calling a Gibson Mastertone or a gourd banjo a “zither banjo”.

Additionally, Cammeyer came up with the name “zither banjo” inspired by arranging a piece from the zither for the banjo (his version with the closed back, stringing and all.

That closed back banjos predate Cammeyer is not in dispute.  The used of the term “zither banjo” and the development is.  At least, it is to a select few who don’t ever produce pre-1888 zither banjo references. 

Jake Glanville said:

Dear Joel,

Sorry, but will have to indulge in further comment on the Zither-Banjo.  Firstly, your definition is quite wrong. A ZB is certainly a closed-back banjo but that's as far as it goes. 

Gourd banjos are closed-back, or most of them are! 

ZB's have a pot (or bowl) and drum construction which is unique, and it is this modification of the sound-chamber (as Stephen John Prior calls it) which makes a ZB a ZB, and why they sound different.  This form of construction was extremely popular in England from around 1870 (I'm still sticking to my date) until 1940 when the Windsor factory was bombed to rubble during the 1940-41 Blitz by Goring's Luftwaffe, and I don't think many were made after that. 

A whole range of other banjo-like instruments also used this type of construction.  I have seen banjo-ukuleles, banjo-mandolins, tenor-banjos, 5-string banjos with the peg on the side like American banjos, 7-string, 12-string banjo-mandriolas and God-knows what else.  Zither banjos were made in the US around the 1880's by Benjamin Bradbury,Todd& Douglas (1890's) and Cammeyer.  After WW2 they were made by Marma, Musima and Weltton in East Germany until about 1960.   

If you need an accurate definition, you might like to try A P Sharpe's (about 1932).  He says nothing about tunneled 5th strings or 6 tuners.  I have seen plenty of English ZB's with just the 5 tuners (of various designs).  I'm quite happy to admit the ones with the 5th string American style are rare, but they do exist. 

Oh, and as Sharpe says 'There is no 'standard' stringing of the zither banjo...' (Sharp A P, A Complete Guide to Instruments of the Banjo Family, 1932, page no. not noted). 

Also it is much more likely that Cammeyer was inspired by Bradbury rather than Dobson, seeing that he is supposed to have taken one of Bradbury's banjos with tunneled 5th string with him when he came over to England in 1888.

Haven't the time or space to go into all my sources, but they exist!

I agree with you that the 'Comments' feature on this website is inclined to be fragmented and difficult to follow, but nonetheless keep 'em coming.  It's always interesting to hear the views of others even when we don't agree.  My thanks to you.

All the best,

Jake.

They story of the zither banjo as told by Cammeyer, and undisputed in his time.  The images came out blurry but may be found in the December 1949 BMG.

Hey Joel..images fixed :-)

Ian

Thanks Ian!

So far I have been chastised for not following academic protocol for posting on message boards on the BHO but no useful info. 

I was really hoping to get this sorted out.  I posted this on the historic banjos group on Facebook as well.  I mean, every time I mention Cammeyer and the zither banjo someone is quick to say "Nuh-uh! Temlett" then go silent when questioned.  At the most they reference the closed back patent, clearly taken from the Henry Dobson patent. 

But calling all banjos with any kind of closed back a "zither banjo" was a first for me.  I guess all bugs are bugs, all wood is wood and all minerals are rocks too. 

Yes. And part of Camm's definition of a zither-banjo is the string material. Three wire, one gut, one wound string.  This is by design in order to produce 3 distinct voices on one instrument.  He's vague about the 4th string.  I've never seen or heard of a string covered with silk. But I *have* seen early 20th century zither-banjo 4th strings. The core is very thin wire around which silk filaments have been wound. The whole is then wound with burnished copper wire or ribbon.  The same idea is found in wound lute strings, classical guitar strings and silk-and-steel sets of guitar strings.

Many of Cammeyer's compositions include solo parts for the bass string accompanied by chords on the three other long strings. The music typical of another instrument is also like that: the zither.

This is from 'Dallas' Modern School For The Five-String Banjo' compiled by Ellis, edited and revised by Nassau-Kennedy, copyright 1908. I'm not posting it for any other reason than the reference to the Zither-Banjo being 'originally American '. It's not clear whether this was in the original work or added in the revision. I do find it intriguing that it points out the necessity for the 'English improved form' to have steel 1st, 2nd and 5th strings, suggesting that the 'originally American' form, didn't.

I recall reading in another tutor, that zither banjos have a wire 3rd string. Unfortunately, I can't locate the book and don't remember if that combination is the only one to be used or as an alternative to a gut 3rd. I think it was another tutor by Ellis. If anyone knows, please refresh my memory.

Cammeyer's description of the 4th string, although mentioned twice, must surely be an error. I believe it should read 'silk covered with wire'.

THE BANJO. 5

The Banjo, or more precisely the American Banjo, has four gut strings graduated according to pitch, and one of silk which is wire spun i.-e., covered with fine copper wire. For climatic reasons spe¬ cially drawn steel wire strings, and strings of composite material, are sometimes substituted for gut. Its sister instrument,also originally American, called the Zither-Banjo, resembles the Banjo so far as the general principles of manipulation, and number and tuning of strings are concerned. In its English improved form it has necessarily steel strings, (1st 2nd and 5th.) The touch, or manner of plucking the strings differs somewhat from that of the Banjo. Its best exponents are found amongst those who pick with suitably trimmed nails instead of the finger tips.

I miss David Wade. You can still access his ZB website thru the Wayback Machine.

Anybody have access to the Temlett patent? I've never seen it.

The suspensory nature of the ZB's pot within the neck/back "frying pan" is the primary defining physical constraint, IMNSHO. See Sharpe's description below:

Yes, the compound string mix is usually part of the ZB's description but strings may be applied to any sort of banjo...open back, closed back, lute, etc. I would therefore eliminate them as a part of the ZB requirement.

From David Wade's "Zither-Banjo" website, per A.P. Sharp, in the 20s (probably in an issue of BMG).

"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 inches and 9 inches and it rests on a circular metal casting suspended in a wooden hoop with convex back, approximately 9 inches to 11 inches 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 peg; the octave string passing through a tube inserted under the fingerboard and emerging at the peghead. It has been usual to fit guitar machine-heads to the zither banjo so that the peghead 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.

In the beginning the zither banjo was always played by vibrating the strings with the nails of the right hand (these were developed and carefully tended by the true artist for this purpose) and the instrument was particularly suited for the slower type of solo where sostenuto could be employed. When forced, the zither banjo is inclined to produce overtones and true staccato playing is difficult (if not impossible) to perform on it. The instrument has a distinctive tone all its own; with an inclination to ""wiriness."

There is no "standard" stringing for the zither banjo but the following sets of banjo strings are used :-

(1) Plain wire plated 1st, 2nd and 5th. Nylon-filament 3rd. Nylon-covered 4th.

(2) As above but with a silk-covered 4th.

(3) Plain wire plated 1st, 2nd and 5th. Wire-covered 3rd and 4th.

(4) As (3) but with nylon-covered or silk-covered 4th."

It seems that Cammeyer would argue that the strings do make the zither banjo,

Oh, wait, he did...  well, it "requires"

https://archive.org/details/essexcammeyerbanjoandzitherbanjotutor/p...

It might be this one, which seems to be an omission rather than proclamation.  In all the rest of his tutors he make clear that stringing is a defining feature of the zither banjo.

https://archive.org/details/champion-tutor-for-the-five-string-banj...

IAN SALTER said:

This is from 'Dallas' Modern School For The Five-String Banjo' compiled by Ellis, edited and revised by Nassau-Kennedy, copyright 1908. I'm not posting it for any other reason than the reference to the Zither-Banjo being 'originally American '. It's not clear whether this was in the original work or added in the revision. I do find it intriguing that it points out the necessity for the 'English improved form' to have steel 1st, 2nd and 5th strings, suggesting that the 'originally American' form, didn't.

I recall reading in another tutor, that zither banjos have a wire 3rd string. Unfortunately, I can't locate the book and don't remember if that combination is the only one to be used or as an alternative to a gut 3rd. I think it was another tutor by Ellis. If anyone knows, please refresh my memory.

Cammeyer's description of the 4th string, although mentioned twice, must surely be an error. I believe it should read 'silk covered with wire'.

THE BANJO. 5

The Banjo, or more precisely the American Banjo, has four gut strings graduated according to pitch, and one of silk which is wire spun i.-e., covered with fine copper wire. For climatic reasons spe¬ cially drawn steel wire strings, and strings of composite material, are sometimes substituted for gut. Its sister instrument,also originally American, called the Zither-Banjo, resembles the Banjo so far as the general principles of manipulation, and number and tuning of strings are concerned. In its English improved form it has necessarily steel strings, (1st 2nd and 5th.) The touch, or manner of plucking the strings differs somewhat from that of the Banjo. Its best exponents are found amongst those who pick with suitably trimmed nails instead of the finger tips.

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

Hi there Trapdoor2.  10,000 cheers for you, esp. for putting in this piece.  I miss David Wade too, even where I disagreed with him.  Must try Wayback Machine because David Wade's old ZB site seems to have gone AWOL.

I too have never seen the original Temlett patent.  Which is a great pity as I'm pretty certain Temlett's method of top-tensioning was quite different from Dobson's and believe it showed two metal tensioning rings into which metal bolts or set-screws were placed instead of the wood screws going into a wooden ring.

I've had a number of very old zither-banjos, some by the look of it, had the original strings, their owners having perished in WW1.  One had been undisturbed in the attic of a house from that time, and was only discovered when the house was about to be demolished in 2022.  None of these instruments had the kind of stringing that Cammeyer, and Essex, both recommended.  Surprising?  In my view A P Sharpe was right regarding there being no standard stringing. A couple of my ZB's have old tailpieces to which it would be impossible to fit a nylon string or thick gut string, the fashion having moved on, and wire strings, as they were called, had become the vogue.

Black Jake of Norwich, England.

 

Trapdoor2 said:

I miss David Wade. You can still access his ZB website thru the Wayback Machine.

Anybody have access to the Temlett patent? I've never seen it.

The suspensory nature of the ZB's pot within the neck/back "frying pan" is the primary defining physical constraint, IMNSHO. See Sharpe's description below:

Yes, the compound string mix is usually part of the ZB's description but strings may be applied to any sort of banjo...open back, closed back, lute, etc. I would therefore eliminate them as a part of the ZB requirement.

From David Wade's "Zither-Banjo" website, per A.P. Sharp, in the 20s (probably in an issue of BMG).

"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 inches and 9 inches and it rests on a circular metal casting suspended in a wooden hoop with convex back, approximately 9 inches to 11 inches 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 peg; the octave string passing through a tube inserted under the fingerboard and emerging at the peghead. It has been usual to fit guitar machine-heads to the zither banjo so that the peghead 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.

In the beginning the zither banjo was always played by vibrating the strings with the nails of the right hand (these were developed and carefully tended by the true artist for this purpose) and the instrument was particularly suited for the slower type of solo where sostenuto could be employed. When forced, the zither banjo is inclined to produce overtones and true staccato playing is difficult (if not impossible) to perform on it. The instrument has a distinctive tone all its own; with an inclination to ""wiriness."

There is no "standard" stringing for the zither banjo but the following sets of banjo strings are used :-

(1) Plain wire plated 1st, 2nd and 5th. Nylon-filament 3rd. Nylon-covered 4th.

(2) As above but with a silk-covered 4th.

(3) Plain wire plated 1st, 2nd and 5th. Wire-covered 3rd and 4th.

(4) As (3) but with nylon-covered or silk-covered 4th."

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