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  • jackenwaters

Unknown zither banjo restoration

I've been working on this zither banjo on and off for about 9 month, since I picked it up on eBay as a practice project - it's now finally complete, and playing pretty nicely.

It bears no maker's mark, so I'm unsure when this was originally built - though as it's a zither banjo we can probably assume that it's around a century old, and some of the features (headstock shape, heel shape, the boss on the back of the pot) look consistent to me with it being a W. E. Temlett. But there's no way to be certain.

It does seem to have been a cheap model when it was built - no fancy inlay, a very functional-looking tensioning hoop, and the neck is even built straight all the way to the nut, rather than tapering in past the fifth string pip. Even so, it would have been a perfectly functional instrument when it was made, so my aim was to restore it to that condition.

Over the years, it had taken a bit of a beating! At some point he headstock had been broken (or maybe sawn) and then repaired with a much softer wood, and then this repair had also had a seemingly random selection of holes drilled into it! The nut (just about visible on the left there) had been worn down and then had new slots cut into it a number of times.

In place of a skin someone had installed this rubbery blue plastic over the head, at it had lost its original tailpiece and had this much more bluegrass-y one added instead. It lacked a bridge entirely.

The paint on the pot was scratched and dinged, and the finish on the neck was flaking away. The fingerboard was dry, with frets protruding over the edge, and it had lost its fifth string pip.

So I set about correcting all of these damages.

The headstock was repaired, and a new veneer was added to the front to spruce it up. The tuners were cleaned up (still bearing some damage to their backplates) and a new bone nut was also installed, with correctly-spaced string slots.

The neck finish was sanded right back and the whole thing was re-stained and given a new Tru-Oil finish. Likewise the worst of the scratched on the pot were dealt with and it was re-sprayed black.

A new tailpiece was added - sadly not the Windsor-style one I had in mind, as that was too long for the bridge to be positioned correctly, so it got a simple mandolin-style tail instead. And a new bridge was sourced. A calfskin vellum head was installed, and I strung it up with a mix of unwound steel and nylgut strings.

This one is now for sale! It's a gorgeous, soft-sounding period piece - an unusual banjo style, set up nicely for classic banjo playing or for the gentler end of old-time or folky playing. More info here.

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