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: