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New String Gauge- a Failed Experiment???

Posted by banjopogo on Thursday, October 28, 2010

It's been more than four years since I bought my Hohner Travel Banjo.  I've tweaked many things on it, but it occurred to me that in all that time I hadn't changed the strings yet.  Granted, I keep busy with the fiddle and guitar, so I hadn't put as much wear on them as some would have, but still...  So I bought a couple of sets of John Pearse Mediums (thinking that maybe the current strings were really too light for a short scaled travel banjo... and procrastinated.  Finally, I put them on last week, expecting a great improvement, especially in tuning stability.

Well, so far, I'm disappointed.  I think part of it's because I had just transitioned to using a fingerpick on the middle finger since the nail is hopeless. (It chips if you look at it sideways).  But the heavier strings hit the fingerpick harder, and work it loose quicker.  And the tone is so different... not sure I like it- it's brighter, not as throbby, and I like throbby sounding banjos.

I tried it at a gig with the new strings, and the results were so disappointing that I did the next two gigs without the banjo!

I probably need to try the next lighter gauge.

2 comments on “New String Gauge- a Failed Experiment???”

stanger Says:
Thursday, October 28, 2010 @6:41:05 AM

You went way too long before changing strings, and got used to the tone of them after they were crapped out. The new strings you have now will eventually sound much like your old ones, but I think that you are having as much trouble getting used to the feel of them as the tone. All new strings are going to sound brighter, and I don't know what you mean with 'throbby'. The strings aren't hitting your fingerpick any harder, but they aren't as limber as a light gauge set. You might be overplaying, trying to achieve the same tone as the old strings, but only age will give you that tone.

I suggest playing the set you have now for about 9 weeks, then change to a different gauge. Changing the strings more often will accustom your ear to the tone of new strings, but it takes time.

One of the indicators that the strings are shot is their ability to stay in tune and sound good with each other when tuned to pitch. Even though the strings haven't been played very much, the dirt and gunk that accumulates on the underside of the strings can cause this. Even if the strings are kept clean, they all develop distorted humps and flat spots on the underside from contact with the frets. The wound string develops flat spots in the winding which makes it sound particularly 'out', even if it looks good on the top side.

Both can cause the strings' inability to stay in tune.

banjopogo Says:
Thursday, October 28, 2010 @12:02:06 PM

You're right about most of that of course... I am aware of the out-of-tune tendencies
of old strings due to wear from the frets, etc., since I've played guitar for years.
The stiffness is an issue that won't change though.
I should try them at least a little more- perhaps I can modify my technique so
that the fingerpick doesn't get wiggled as much.

Hard to explain about the throbby sound... you can sometimes get it by playing over the neck (part of the reason for scoops), and Stratocaster (electric guitar) neck pickups sometimes have it too. On this banjo with the original strings, I used to get it right over the joint between neck and rim.
It seems to be a quality of bass or low midrange, and if the strings don't have that, perhaps they can cause it to disappear.

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