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Thread: Barnes & Mullins Banjo Mandolin - Trying to find out more about i

  1. #1
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    Default Barnes & Mullins Banjo Mandolin - Trying to find out more about i

    Hi everyone

    I'm wondering if someone can help. We've had a Banjo Mandolin in the family for years. At least that's what the research I've done suggests it is - mandolin head, banjo body, 4x double strings. Marked as Barnes & Mullins London on the head. It's full of character and fairly old.

    I've struggled to find out too much about it so I was hoping someone could shed some light on how old it might be and where I can find out more. It's much appreciated if anyone has any info.

    Also I'm wondering whether to leave it be or string it up (possibly with a new skin) and start playing it. Any advice is very appreciated. I'd love to get it going again but not if it risks damaging it. I've attached some pictures.

    Thanks

    Pete
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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Barnes & Mullins Banjo Mandolin - Trying to find out more abo

    Can't tell you anything about your banjomandolin, but I like light strings on these. I use two sets of tenor banjo strings. 5 string banjos don't have heavy strings and this is after all a banjo. It will still be loud as these usually are, but a much better sound and less tension on the instrument than regular mandolin strings.

    Looks like someone put some support on the back to keep the neck from pulling, another reason for light strings.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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    Default Re: Barnes & Mullins Banjo Mandolin - Trying to find out more abo

    Hi Pete, welcom to the forum.

    Yes, it's a "zither" mandolin banjo or a banjo mandolin - whichever suits you. [The "zither" bit comes from the heat and tensioning ring sitting inside a wooden body which is attached to the neck. Non-zither banjos have the neck itself attached to the tension ring and the wooden back - or "resonator" bolted on separately].

    I'm no great expert but I'd expect that it dates from around the 1920s. They're not usually worth a great deal and you could easily spend more than it's worth getting it in a playable condition. As a rule of thumb, the more tensioning bolts/screws they have, the better the quality and yours has more than most.

    If you are intending to get it playable, I'd start by checking whether the neck is straight and that the tuners can be made to work (lubricate as necessary) but don't expect to be able to simply go into a shop and buy a new head for it! If the neck isn't or the tuners won't the job could get expensive.

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    Default Re: Barnes & Mullins Banjo Mandolin - Trying to find out more abo

    Just to add to what Pops said; if you take the tension ring and head off, you'll find that the neck is held on by a screw or screws. Necks often pull forwards and it could be that these could have come loose and, if you're lucky, someone has added the plate Pops refers to 'cos they couldn't be bothered dismantling the banjo to tighten them.

    Not sure why he's recommending two sets of tenor strings? A single set of light gauge mandolin strings should be fine.

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    Default Re: Barnes & Mullins Banjo Mandolin - Trying to find out more abo

    I like the tenor strings as the G is a 28 and mandolin lights are much heavier. They are also banjo strings and sound much better on these, as I have come to find out over the years.

    The dowel stick, if it has one and I would think it would, can come loose and simply tightening the screws on the rim will not keep the neck stable. Sometimes it is hard to tell as they don't feel loose, but creep when strung up. If you take it apart see if it will pull out and reglue it.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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    Default Re: Barnes & Mullins Banjo Mandolin - Trying to find out more abo

    Hey that's great. Thank you for all of the info and advice and it's great to be part of the forum. So it's a Zither. Good idea on the light strings, my main worry was breaking the skin or the neck when tuning up after all those years.

    I play guitar and piano normally so I think I'll get a cheap mandolin to get my skills up and get jamming. I'll take my time with the Zither and strip it down as suggested to see how everything looks underneath. I have plenty of folk groups local so I'm sure someone there will know someone who can lend a hand if needed. I have a feeling it's going to be loud if I get it going again .

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    Default Re: Barnes & Mullins Banjo Mandolin - Trying to find out more abo

    NB - a "Zither Mandolin Banjo" - most of the cheaper ones were - a "Zither" is an entirely different instrument. Don't ask me why that particular type has the zither prefix!

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  11. #8
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    Default Re: Barnes & Mullins Banjo Mandolin - Trying to find out more abo

    Page in the British Banjo Makers series covering Barnes & Mullins. Article states that B & M "ceased making banjos soon after the outbreak of World War II"; the firm started in 1894, but I'd guess this mandolin-banjo to be early 20th century, say 1920-35, when that type of instrument enjoyed some popularity.

    Not an expensive instrument originally, and it's seen a lot of use, as the replaced tuner strip and fretboard wear indicate. I'm a bit surprised that the proper bridge location -- if the bridge is where it should be -- is so centered on the head (or "vellum," as the British term it), but that varied from one design to another.

    Light strings are a good recommendation.
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    Default Re: Barnes & Mullins Banjo Mandolin - Trying to find out more abo

    The "Vintage Banjo"website has Barnes and Mullins described. I have one that I can date to 1907-1921 because the head has the version of the Canadian flag (Known as the Royal Ensign) that was current in those years painted on the head. Cheers!

  13. #10

    Default Re: Barnes & Mullins Banjo Mandolin - Trying to find out more abo

    As noted above, one set of 4 tuning machines has been replaced. The tailpiece also is not original, and looks like a home made replacement.

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