Can anyone tell me about the Windsor Popular N°1? When was it produced and how was it marketed? Is it considered to be a good playing instrument? Many thanks, Ian.

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Hi Ian, I've owned a Popular number one open back with a detachable resonator for about 15 years. It's my second go to banjo after my Weaver. It has a crisp bright sound with plenty of volume though I prefer to play it without the resonator. I paid £200 for it from Ebay and it came in excellent untouched condition. The only alteration I've made is to add a Weaver style floating tail piece which I made myself. I don't know anything about the history of the banjo or its age but I would highly recommend  it to anyone considering buying one. I'm playing it in my picture.....Steve.

Hi Steve, thanks for your thoughts. There is one on eBay, described as needing a lower bridge. I've asked the seller about the neck angle and he said it is sloping upwards. There are no wedges in place but there is, what looks like a piece of card through the hoop, under the pole. Other than that, it appears to be in good condition. Two bidders so far at £127, with two days left. I'm not sure whether to take a chance because of the neck.

Hi Ian, I've just had a look at it and apart from the missing wedges which can easily be replaced, it looks in pretty good condition. I do all my own restoration and I don't think there's anything wrong that I couldn't fix...Steve.

IAN SALTER said:

Hi Steve, thanks for your thoughts. There is one on eBay, described as needing a lower bridge. I've asked the seller about the neck angle and he said it is sloping upwards. There are no wedges in place but there is, what looks like a piece of card through the hoop, under the pole. Other than that, it appears to be in good condition. Two bidders so far at £127, with two days left. I'm not sure whether to take a chance because of the neck.

Most people today think they need a lower bridge, but they are just ignorant about classic era banjos.

                                                                           

That is encouraging Steve. I have done some work on banjos.

The seller doesn't know about them. I assume the angle is such that the strings are obviously too high. Maybe the steel strings have pulled the head upwards, although he says that the neck doesn't appear to be twisted or bowed. 

I would love to know in what way 'ignorant'.  The bridge height on a zither-banjo, for example, is very dependent on the way the pot has been constructed and its relationship with the sound chamber, and a number of other factors, especially the way in which the vellum has been fitted, and of course what kind of action one is looking for.

All the Best,

Jake.

Hi Jake,

When plectrum playing became popular, and subsequently wire strings, banjos started being built with back angle to the neck.  This provided a lower action (wire strings act differently and don't stretch) with a taller bridge to keep the pick from scraping the head.

At some point with the combination of folk banjo and the bluegrass method of Hawaiian guitar picks on wire strings, this wire string low action with a tall bridge became the norm.

Where we are today is that many so called "luthiers" think that this standard should be applied to classic era banjos, hence they are ignorant about the original set ups. 

If the neck is pitched at a negative degree then a short bridge might not help and a proper neck reset is in order (set to zero degree-- no back angle).

Classic era banjos should use a 1/2" bridge which will give 3/16" to as high as 1/4" action at the 12th fret.  To wire string guitar luthiers this seems very high, but it is correct for classic style. 

Some classic banjos can take a 5/8" bridge to avoid buzzing if the player uses a strong right hand, but the rule is 1/2".

Jake Glanville said:

I would love to know in what way 'ignorant'.  The bridge height on a zither-banjo, for example, is very dependent on the way the pot has been constructed and its relationship with the sound chamber, and a number of other factors, especially the way in which the vellum has been fitted, and of course what kind of action one is looking for.

All the Best,

Jake.

Hi there Joel,

Thank you for your reply on the subject of bridge height, and classic banjo 'ignorance' by some 'so called 'luthiers''. 

You gave a full and clear account of your position, and I am most grateful.  I now see where you're coming from, and for the most part I am in full agreement.  I have seen a beautiful 1890 William Temlett zither-banjo put beyond economical repair from the attentions of these modern masters of bodgerie, and two Windsor Ambassador Supremus 'ordinary banjos' (as American-style 5-string banjos were cheerfully referred to in the 19th Century) reduced to mediocrity by others of the same ilk. 

So, yes.  Classic banjos follow a different set of rules, and a 1/2 inch bridge is all you need, generally speaking, for the most part.

BUT -when it comes to English banjos during the Classic era (say, from 1870 to 1940), and let us never forget the banjo was at least as popular in England (including the rest of the British Isles  and the Empire) as it was in the US of A, it is impossible to draw up hard and fast rules regarding bridge height.

Most of the banjos made in England at this time were zither-banjos.  Individual manufacturers had their preferences and idiosyncrasies and the banjos they made reflected this.  There was also a great deal of experimentation.  All the Windsor Artiste (as opposed to 'Artist') banjos I've played seem to have an action slightly higher than I would like, and so I tend to use a 3/8 inch or 7/16 inch bridge.  (No! The necks are quite straight.)  The necks on these banjos and many others were never intended to be taken apart, and so one is obliged to fit the bridge that works for you and the banjo. 

That's the only real rule. 

My Windsor Ambassador Supremus detachable-resonator 'ordinary banjo' -not a ZB, despite the tunneled 5th, works well with an 11/16 inch bridge.  The neck angle cannot be altered.  Bridge height is determined by the height of the vellum, and it's simply not worth taking the thing to pieces and fitting a new vellum when a higher bridge does the trick! 

So you see, when it comes to bridge height, it can be a little complicated.  And always make sure your luthier knows his stuff when it comes to Classic banjos, whether English or American!

All the Best,

Jake. 

As a French luthier specializing in the manufacture of so-called 'classic' banjos for old fingerstyle, I think that 1/2 inch high bridges are good, I realized during my career that it was not necessary too much pressure from the strings passing through the bridge, on the vellum, this harms the harmonics, a higher bridge will be well supported, but if the action is higher, the skin will be more stressed in crushing and this restricts the vibration, it will have to compensate by stretching the skin more, which will change the sound. I think that all this is just a question of adjustments, a very fine equation between the ratios of tension of the head/height of the bridge and vibrating length, (also thickness of the rim, clad or not, resonator etc...

Jake Glanville said:

Hi there Joel,

Thank you for your reply on the subject of bridge height, and classic banjo 'ignorance' by some 'so called 'luthiers''. 

You gave a full and clear account of your position, and I am most grateful.  I now see where you're coming from, and for the most part I am in full agreement.  I have seen a beautiful 1890 William Temlett zither-banjo put beyond economical repair from the attentions of these modern masters of bodgerie, and two Windsor Ambassador Supremus 'ordinary banjos' (as American-style 5-string banjos were cheerfully referred to in the 19th Century) reduced to mediocrity by others of the same ilk. 

So, yes.  Classic banjos follow a different set of rules, and a 1/2 inch bridge is all you need, generally speaking, for the most part.

BUT -when it comes to English banjos during the Classic era (say, from 1870 to 1940), and let us never forget the banjo was at least as popular in England (including the rest of the British Isles  and the Empire) as it was in the US of A, it is impossible to draw up hard and fast rules regarding bridge height.

Most of the banjos made in England at this time were zither-banjos.  Individual manufacturers had their preferences and idiosyncrasies and the banjos they made reflected this.  There was also a great deal of experimentation.  All the Windsor Artiste (as opposed to 'Artist') banjos I've played seem to have an action slightly higher than I would like, and so I tend to use a 3/8 inch or 7/16 inch bridge.  (No! The necks are quite straight.)  The necks on these banjos and many others were never intended to be taken apart, and so one is obliged to fit the bridge that works for you and the banjo. 

That's the only real rule. 

My Windsor Ambassador Supremus detachable-resonator 'ordinary banjo' -not a ZB, despite the tunneled 5th, works well with an 11/16 inch bridge.  The neck angle cannot be altered.  Bridge height is determined by the height of the vellum, and it's simply not worth taking the thing to pieces and fitting a new vellum when a higher bridge does the trick! 

So you see, when it comes to bridge height, it can be a little complicated.  And always make sure your luthier knows his stuff when it comes to Classic banjos, whether English or American!

All the Best,

Jake. 

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