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This rare and unusual zither banjo made ca. 1885 by Benjamin Bradbury has been a fascinating project for restoration with our senior luthier, Marc Glickman. It came to us through a large estate collection purchase. The previous owner collected all types of stringed instruments for over 60 years. Though currently set up as a 5-string banjo with nylgut Aquila strings, it has 8 tuners (3 are inactive). It has a top-tension metal rim assembly inset in a wood resonator with internal tone chamber and side portals. Slotted peghead, 10" calfskin head, ebony fretboard. The back of the peghead is stamped "B. BRADBURY / PAT. AUG 15, '82."
Bradbury was an American maker, of some importance in the development of the banjo and its variations. He patented a short-neck, 10-string mandolin-banjo, one of the first of the kind, and called it a "banjolin," assumedly the first to do so. Same patent date as that stamped in the headstock of this banjo.
Most 5-string zither banjos had 6 tuners, if not 5, for convenience of using guitar tuners. One would be inactive. This one has eight tuners, with three inactive. The inactive ones are fairly "stuck" either from non-use, or intentionally jammed to keep them from making noise. We believe this was probably made originally as an 8-string instrument - either octave mandolin-banjo - or possibly a 5/6-course instrument, with the tunnel drone and four or five full-length courses, with one course having 3 strings, or two or three courses having 2 strings each. There are three grooves together in the middle of the nut. If you eliminate one or two other grooves that were added to make four equidistant strings on the nut for the 5-string, you would see something like one of these formats.
Bradbury made such instruments, like the fancier 10-string example that can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/503446
Marc Glickman completed the following repairs on this instrument:
- new calfskin head mounted
- refurbish metal rim assembly, polish tension hoop, fill/retouch screw holes
- glue headstock crack
- repair 5th-string nut area of fretboard
- fit new bone 5th nut
- new no-knot repro tailpiece
- new maple/ebony 11/16" bridge
- set up: refurbish tuners, clean/polish, re-surface fretboard, touch-up/polish frets, restring with Aquila strings
An old chipboard case is included - of negligible functionality at this point (handle is missing), but still provides some protection.
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