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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Nylon string banjo


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Slick Salmon - Posted - 08/13/2010:  08:21:35


I'm in the market for a nylon string banjo for some slower finger-style playing, not clawhammer. I don't know where to start. Any suggestions?

banjers51 - Posted - 08/13/2010:  08:49:55


You can put nylon strings on just about anything, with typically no more fuss than widening the slots at the nut and bridge just enough to accommodate the larger diameter of most nylon strings. That said, you're also the perfect candidate for any number of nice old parlor instruments which were originally made with low-tension (gut) strings in mind. These tend to have fairly shallow neck angles and correspondingly low bridges, often making them a bit difficult for hard-core clawhammer playing, but ideal for fingerstyle. Seems to me these show up fairly regularly here on BHO in the classified section. And then, of course, there are the folks among us who are building excellent lightweight banjos, based on the "grain measure" style, but with frets--Jason Mogi, for instance. Any/all of these would suit your needs very well, I suspect.

Cheers,
Banjers51

goldtopia - Posted - 08/13/2010:  08:55:17


f you are not playing clawhammer, nylon strings are not suitable, though not all clawhammer or fraliers use nylon strings. The way to get the plunky sound is for a slacker head but that also is not suitable for three finger picking. It is likely that a woodie banjo would be more suitable than a tone ringed banjo. I would not use nylon strings for three finger picking. Slow tunes that we play, like "Cheatin Heart" and Take these Chains" are played with ordinary medium guage steel strings in a slow syncopated rhythm with the fiddle adlibing on the melody. If you use nylon strings you would not be heard. Playing on your own may make you feel this way but when you are playing with others you will need steel strings.

Bill.O

bluegrassminstrels.co.uk


Edited by - goldtopia on 08/13/2010 09:00:27

raybob - Posted - 08/13/2010:  08:56:47


New or used? Price range? I think about getting a banjo to use with nylon strings too sometimes, and I think an Enoch Tradesman would suit me and my style of playing. Maybe one of the 11" ones. Some of the older tone ring banjos would probably sound good with nylons as well. You'll have to decide what suits you.

trapdoor2 - Posted - 08/13/2010:  11:14:20


If you have the talent/ability, anything can be adapted to nylon. As has been said, vintage banjos are a great source, as before around the 20's, they were all designed for gut (low tension). However, you need the knowledge to assess the structural integrity and useability of these old things.

If you want a more modern (inexpensive) banjo, the Deering "Goodtime" series are excellent choices. I have played several which have been converted and they sound very good.

Then, of course, there are the wide variety of custom makers out there...sky's the limit!

I disagree with Bill O. Nylon strung banjos are perfect for three-finger picking...you just don't need the metal fingerpicks. Go listen to Rob MacKillop's videos posted here on BHO...heck, Rob doesn't even use his fingernails!

Fact is, nearly every 5-string banjo built from 1890 to the 1920's were designed around fingerpicking on gut (now nylon). No, Bill, they're not Bluegrass cannons. However, I can have the sound guy crank my mic up to 11 and hold my own with anyone.

No, they don't have the tone of a steel string banjo. I assume the OP understands that...and is wanting to avoid the steel-strung tonalities. I'm right there with him, I can get some wonderfully warm stuff out of mine that would never come out of my BG banjos.

deuceswilde - Posted - 08/13/2010:  18:49:43


quote:
Originally posted by goldtopia

f you are not playing clawhammer, nylon strings are not suitable, though not all clawhammer or fraliers use nylon strings. The way to get the plunky sound is for a slacker head but that also is not suitable for three finger picking. It is likely that a woodie banjo would be more suitable than a tone ringed banjo. I would not use nylon strings for three finger picking. Slow tunes that we play, like "Cheatin Heart" and Take these Chains" are played with ordinary medium guage steel strings in a slow syncopated rhythm with the fiddle adlibing on the melody. If you use nylon strings you would not be heard. Playing on your own may make you feel this way but when you are playing with others you will need steel strings.

Bill.O

bluegrassminstrels.co.uk





Ah yes, and calfskin heads are impossibly difficult to mount, friction pegs are way too much trouble, and people only played difficult classical pieces on the banjo in the late 19th century (that was on the rare occasion that the could get a head on their banjos and put them in tune).


Marc was being nice, fact is you are way off on this one, but that could be understandable. If one was to base their conclusion of nylon strings only on a banjo that used a three-footed tree trunk for a bridge, atop of a tone squashing thick plastic head. Then if the banjoist tried to use the same method of attack that he has been using to pound on telegraph wire- I totally understand the dissatisfaction with nylon string.


But... if one were to approach a suitably strung banjo scientifically, not attempting to reinvent the wheel but applying tried and true setup techniques. Of those a tight thin head, small two footed bridge of maple or pine are most important. Then taking the time to learn the best way to manipulate the strings (a very different approach from wire) one will be very satisfied with such banjo.

I don't remember Slick saying he wanted to play bluegrass style music... Oh, I forgot that "finger-style" really means "Hawaiian Guitar claw-style"

O.K. I know I'm a bit "in your face" on this, but I'm tired of all this nylon string bashing. Wire string banjos are perfectly fine for the tone that many people want (or constantly try to alter with "stuffing," etc.). They also allow for blazing fast machine-gun notes characteristic of bluegrass/country. But that is not all there is.

Slick, yes, keep an eye out for a pre 1900 banjo in good condition. These can be had for less than a goodtime, though goodtimes seem like the perfect candidate for nylon strings, the lack of steel trusses in the neck would increase resonance. I prefer the clad-rim banjos, but many are making fine "tubs" (now called "minstrel banjos") that are capable of rattling the glass in the windows.

Join us over on the classicbanjo.ning website. Don't let the "classic" title fool you, this was a title carefully chosen by the founders of the American Banjo Fraternity to distance themselves from the growing popularity of "folk" banjo in the late 1940s.

We play popular music of the 19th-early 20th centuries.


Man, I'm opinionated tonight.


-Joel Hooks

Slick Salmon - Posted - 08/14/2010:  05:36:04


quote:
Originally posted by banjers51

You can put nylon strings on just about anything, with typically no more fuss than widening the slots at the nut and bridge just enough to accommodate the larger diameter of most nylon strings. That said, you're also the perfect candidate for any number of nice old parlor instruments which were originally made with low-tension (gut) strings in mind. These tend to have fairly shallow neck angles and correspondingly low bridges, often making them a bit difficult for hard-core clawhammer playing, but ideal for fingerstyle. Seems to me these show up fairly regularly here on BHO in the classified section. And then, of course, there are the folks among us who are building excellent lightweight banjos, based on the "grain measure" style, but with frets--Jason Mogi, for instance. Any/all of these would suit your needs very well, I suspect.

Cheers,
Banjers51



Good thought, but I'm having trouble using "nice old parlor instruments" as a search string.

banjers51 - Posted - 08/14/2010:  11:38:57


Have to agree with Joel/Deuceswild on this. I've always kept at least one banjo set up with nylon strings, going back nearly 40 years, and have played everything from "Cupid's Arrow" and "Swing 42" to "Sally Ann" with just a bit of nail. Even had a full resonator banjo that I cobbled together using a spectacular rim I got from Greg Deering that was one of the prototypes for what became the Hartford model (grenadillo cap/tone ring). I played that for nearly a year in a swing band, using picks on nylon strings; tricky because I had to change the angle of attack to avoid a scraping sound, but worth it for the sound it produced--amazing snap from individual strings, and a chop quite similar to an archtop guitar when playing chords. Currently have about half my banjos set up with nylon or gut, and I find them perfect for any style I play, period.

I'll also reiterate Joel's advice: keep your eyes open for parlor banjos, rather than a Goodtime or something similar, and don't be the least put off by friction pegs and/or a skin head. Those pegs work beautifully with nylon/gut, and a skin head really doesn't require much maintenance other than being aware of changes in humidity. I have both a small humidifier and a small dehumidifier that I keep in my study/music room. Neither one draws much electricity and they keep us all happy and functional year round.

Good hunting and keep us posted how you make out.

Cheers,
Banjers51

mikehalloran - Posted - 08/15/2010:  08:02:21


Before the late '30s, gut was the preferred string except for Gibson and the full resonator Mastertones were designed to sound good with gut as well as steel. True fact. Gut is capable of being quite loud and powerful with a heavy tone ring and resonator.

Nylon, compared to gut, is weak and... well... gutless. :) NylGut isn't really the same but it comes closer to gut than anything else - certainly much, much better than nylon on a banjo.

Thin calfskin is the ideal head for nylon or gut. The Elite isn't bad.

john bange - Posted - 08/15/2010:  08:30:56


as has been said, any openback banjo performs well with nylon strings. finding the sound you are looking for might take some searching.
on a 26" (or so) scale neck, I think the nylgut strings are the best. The nut slots will need attention to prevent pinching.
I use fishing line...using various weights to get the tension feel I want...not because i'm a cheapscate, I really do like the sound I get from them and because I play a long neck, the nylguts are too short. I have a t-b-phone pot and it is LOUD with the nylon.

Rob MacKillop - Posted - 08/15/2010:  08:46:46


Mike is right - nylgut is not gut. Gut is best, but good-quality gut, not any old gut.

mikehalloran - Posted - 08/15/2010:  10:00:46


I hadn't considered that NylGut isn't available for long necked banjos. Hmmm... I wonder if it can be ordered extra long? Now you have me thinking: Steel on my Pete Seeger; NylGut on my ODE/MUSE (already louder than my Tu-Ba-Phones).

Too bad I can't play anymore. If so, I'd buy this one back in a heartbeat, throw a calfskin head back on and put NylGut on it. I sold it to The Gryphon about 7 years ago and now it's back. No way will my wife let me spend $4300 on something I can only look at. Damn!
gryphonstrings.com/instpix/18384/18384.php



Yes, we like great sounding instruments. Those are my long neck banjos in my avatar but that is her Bosendorfer piano they are leaning against.


Edited by - mikehalloran on 08/15/2010 10:04:31

deuceswilde - Posted - 08/15/2010:  11:57:07


quote:
Originally posted by Rob MacKillop

Mike is right - nylgut is not gut. Gut is best, but good-quality gut, not any old gut.



This has been coming up more and more lately.

The weekend before last I was playing a banjo that was strung half gut half nylon, that is, two strings were gut, two strings were nylon and the fourth wound.

As I played I closed my eyes. I could notice no difference in sound and volume between the two, they even kind of felt the same.

I agree, there is a romance that comes from animal intestines. I'd hazard that it would take a very special ear indeed to notice the difference between nylon and gut.

Rob MacKillop - Posted - 08/15/2010:  13:28:46


It's not romance, Joel. There is a difference. If you can't hear it, then use nylgut. It's certainly cheaper.

john bange - Posted - 08/16/2010:  07:40:09


"I hadn't considered that NylGut isn't available for long necked banjos. Hmmm... "
Mike,I'd buy nylgut in a heartbeat if I could get longer sets. john

mikehalloran - Posted - 08/16/2010:  10:13:08


>I'd hazard that it would take a very special ear indeed to notice the difference between nylon and gut.<

Oh gosh no. The quality of gut varies widely, however.

TonyS - Posted - 08/20/2010:  14:45:56


John - a few posts up on the Long Neck thread, someone was kind enough to give dimensions for nylon homemade - if you can't find nylagut...

BobTheGambler - Posted - 08/20/2010:  17:54:12


I actually really like finger picking on nylgut, and I do a lot of Uncle Dave Macon style 2 and 3 finger picking on my nylgut-strung banjo. It just takes a different attack and feel to get a nice sound. I don't have much trouble switching between the two, just takes a minute or two to adjust.

dbrooks - Posted - 08/20/2010:  18:31:24


I'm sitting here playing my little 1890's Bay State A-scale with Nylgut strings and it sounds great -- to me anyway. There have been several older banjos in the BHO classifieds you might consider.

This little Stewart - $700
banjohangout.org/classified/15768

A couple of Mike Ramsey banjos - $900-1000

Several Deering Goodtime for $350-400

From Ebay, Elderly or other sources: A Reiter or Enoch would do well. Also Gold Tone OT or CC-50.



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