Zither Banjo


Here’s a free zither-banjo mini album of compositions by the king of the zither banjo, Alfred D. Cammeyer (1862 – 1949)



The zither banjo is similar to a regular 5-string classic banjo, but with a few significant changes:

1. The 1st, 2nd and 5th strings are plain steel; the 3rd is gut; the 4th is silk or nylon wound in silver

2. The back is entirely enclosed

3. The skin surface is quite small, 7 to 9 inches

4. There are six tuning machines. One is a dummy.

5. Note the absence of a 5th-string tuner. Instead, the string enters a tunnel at the fifth fret, emerging at the nut. Although this feature appears on some regular banjos, it is a common feature of zither banjos.

The instrument responds best to a softer right-hand technique than used on regular classic banjos. It is recommended by Cammeyer and others to use a ‘composite stroke’ of right-hand fingernail and flesh, however I use only flesh, as that is the way I play all my instruments.

The first port of call for info regarding the zither banjo is THIS SITE.

The foremost composer for the instrument is Alfred D. Cammeyer, who claimed to have invented the instrument. His music can be very romantic, expressive, and sounds nothing like any other banjo music.

Almost a decade ago I had a zither banjo by Jack Abbott Snr., but soon sold – although a beautiful instrument, I couldn’t connect with it at all. You can see photos of it, and videos I did with it, below.

More recently I got another zither banjo, this time by the self-styled “Pioneer of the Zither Banjo”, W. Temlett Snr. This is a fine instrument, which I enjoy playing. I am currently exploring the music of Cammeyer, and will include videos here:





The zb illustrated below is the beautiful Jack Abbott Snr., Amboyna No.1 Zither Banjo

And some videos I did in the brief time I owned the instrument:

7 thoughts on “Zither Banjo”

  1. Rather like the mandoline-banjo, with the skin being tautened by a pair of separate smaller metal hoops within the outer body-come-resonator.

  2. Craig Wood said:

    Hello..Im sorting some banjo books(old) and came across
    The Alfred D. Crammeyer Banjoist..containing his most popular solos.Would this interest you..?
    Craig Wood

  3. Jake Glanville said:

    Having been a fan of yours, Rob, for many a long year, I’m delighted to have found this website, and of course extremely grateful to you for creating it.

    I’ve been in love with the zither-banjo ever since obtaining my first one. a Barnes & Mullins Perfect No.2, from a cinema queue busker in Notting Hill for the princely sum of £2 10 shillings. I still have it (or rather my daughter has) and I’ve been through quite a few since, but there are still one or two things I don’t know, so I hope you don’t mind the odd question now and then.

    My family and the zb go back a long way. Alfred Glanville Vance aka The Great Vance, the most famous Music Hall entertainer of his day (the 1850’s) is a distant relative and according to family legend played a zither-banjo. The story of Cammeyer inventing the instrument is totally rejected by the way among our lot, and it is claimed that the term was in common use around the time William Temlett took out his patent in 1869.

    All the best. Thanks for reading this,

    Black Jake.

    • Hi Jake. Good to hear from you. I love the title of “Perfect No.2” as if Perfect No.1 wasn’t perfect enough 🙂 Wow, you do have an important link with the past! That must keep you going. As for Temlett and the ZB, you are of course right. Cammeyer claimed he invented it. He might have tweaked it, and the Vibrante was a cut above the others, but he certainly can lay claim to helping to popularise it, though how many people could play his compositions is open to question. To bring order to this chaos, I recorded my Cammeyer EP on a Temlett ZB 🙂

  4. Wow! What a delight to find your music this evening! I have been playing banjo for thirty years (American), and I have never before come across the zither banjo! Just wonderful! It’s an entirely different and lovely thing!

    I always gravitate to the sweet sounding spot near the neck, to unusual chords and I prefer to play without picks. I let the notes sing slowly and prefer not to cut them off. I like nylon strings too! Tonight I am thinking that perhaps I am a zither banjo player at heart and didn’t know it until now!

    Thanks for sharing!!

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