Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

185
Banjo Lovers Online


nylon strings for classic banjo playing

Want to hide these Google ads? Join the Players Union!
Sep 23, 2019 - 6:04:29 AM
1339 posts since 2/12/2009

ok, I guess this subject has been thrashed a bit but, I have searched the archives and am no wiser, I have a Clifford Essex weave,r it is as I bought it with the strings on from the last owner. my problem is I dont know what they are ! now the time is nigh when I wish to replace these strings and I just dont know which set to buy, they sound fine albeit a bit floppy after years of steel string playing, they are nylon kinda opaque with a solid nylon fourth which to my ears is the weak string tonewise and feelwise, I would like to achieve if I can the sound I hear on old 78rpm recordings of artistes like Vess Osman, Van Eps etc. any thoughts please ? I dont want to just buy the first set I find online only to have to replace them straight away. any knowledgeable folk here able to help will earn my undying gratitude.

Sep 23, 2019 - 6:20:56 AM

csacwp

USA

2372 posts since 1/15/2014

You need historically accurate gauges to get that sound. Only two manufacturers make them (Pyramid and LaBella). I use LaBella and order single strings from their "early instrument" selection. The Van Eps gauges are .017, .019, .023, .024w, .017. They are supposed to be very loose- you compensate by using proper classic style right hand technique and a good setup (1/2" or lower bridge with 4-5mm action at the 12th fret).

Strings are just part of the battle. You'll need either a board-tight high quality calfksin head or a Remo frosted top head to get that sound. You'll also need a period bridge- Joel Hooks, a member here, sells accurate bridge reproductions. The bridges Clifford Essex sells are too thick and too wide. 

Edited by - csacwp on 09/23/2019 06:25:10

Sep 23, 2019 - 6:34:40 AM

1339 posts since 2/12/2009

thanks John, any idea what my current strings might be ? they are not far off that "sound" when I attack them at the bridge which is a CE Morley two legged job, the head is a Remo not sure what, it is slightly cloudy and very tight, as I said though I am not crazy about that plain fourth.

Sep 23, 2019 - 6:38:55 AM

4673 posts since 9/21/2007
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by spoonfed

ok, I guess this subject has been thrashed a bit but, I have searched the archives and am no wiser, I have a Clifford Essex weave,r it is as I bought it with the strings on from the last owner. my problem is I dont know what they are ! now the time is nigh when I wish to replace these strings and I just dont know which set to buy, they sound fine albeit a bit floppy after years of steel string playing, they are nylon kinda opaque with a solid nylon fourth which to my ears is the weak string tonewise and feelwise, I would like to achieve if I can the sound I hear on old 78rpm recordings of artistes like Vess Osman, Van Eps etc. any thoughts please ? I dont want to just buy the first set I find online only to have to replace them straight away. any knowledgeable folk here able to help will earn my undying gratitude.


If you like those strings, get a pair of Vernier Calipers and measure them.  Then buy early lute singles from Labella in those sizes.

Toss the unwound 4th.  The 4th string was always wound.  The slightly different timbre is used to great effect in many solos.  A wound forth is necessary for playing the "bass solo" in many marches.

Van Eps played a 28.5" scale banjo with a 12" head.  He used strings in the following size.  .017" .019, .023, .024 silver plated copper over floss.  No packaged sets are currently available in those sizes-- the modern packaged sets are much too thick.

The sizes I gave approximate the common gut string sizes that were used in the late 19th and early 20th century.  For some reason nylon strings for banjo started to get thicker-- now some sets are nearly twice

I get the singles from Labella.

The polyester strings sold as Nylgut are great for "old time" where intonation past the 5th is not worried about.  I find them too thick and false (uneven in thickness).

Sep 23, 2019 - 6:40:31 AM

4673 posts since 9/21/2007
Online Now

Hi csacwp ! You beat me too it!!

Sep 23, 2019 - 6:48:17 AM

1339 posts since 2/12/2009

thanks guys, I am fairly happy with the sound,not so thrilled with the fourth tho ! they snap nicely particularly the high G and the B and high D so, I am almost there.

Sep 23, 2019 - 7:04:14 AM

12149 posts since 6/29/2005

I'm not thoroughly convinced that the Nylgut ones are better than the LaBella ones for old time, either. 

When I started getting orders for banjos with nylon strings (for old-time, not classic), I went through a learning curve with the nylgut ones, and what I "learned" was that I didn't like them as well as the LaBella early instrument strings recommended on this forum by Joel Hooks.  I had particular problems with the fat 4th and the easily breakable 5th with the nylguts.

I found the classic gauges a bit light for old time and a 26 1/4" scale, but all I had to do was up the gauges a bit to make them work for that kind of banjo and playing—the silver plated copper wound 4th string was particularly good.   I made a banjo with a slightly wider neck and appointments that made it easy to switch from steel to nylon for a person who was a classical guitar player and wanted to play bare fingered .  I strung it with the LaBellas and the report I got recently was that she played it with the nylon, switched briefly to the steel, then went back to the nylon, which is no doubt where she will stay.

Of course, if I was going to build a banjo for classic, I would use a longer scale, skin head, go with the gauges John and Joel have recommended, and be as true to period as possible.

Sep 23, 2019 - 7:25:40 AM

10702 posts since 4/23/2004

If you've been playing on steel strings, the classic sets that John and Joel are recommended will feel like you've strung it up with angel-hair spaghetti. It will take some time and technique to get used to.

I have been playing Aquila nylgut for ages (it seems) and their standard "classic banjo" set got me going when nothing else would. I have since moved to the gut sets from Clifford Essex...in medium gauge. Always buy a few extra 4ths (.028) as the wound strings wear faster than the rest.

Strings are very personal choices. As much as I would like to play "period correct" sizes, I tried them and don't like them.

I do heartily recommend a period correct bridge from Joel. Get some thimbles and a tailpiece while your at it. Even if you don't use them, they make great case candy. laugh

Sep 23, 2019 - 7:51:40 AM

1339 posts since 2/12/2009

the real conundrum for me is I am happy with four out of the five strings but, have no idea what they are so, I will probably replace the plain D string with a wound one and if that suits then I shall set about making my own sets up using those gauges.

Sep 23, 2019 - 8:05:13 AM

29 posts since 4/8/2019

I'll contribute just a word or two about Nylgut strings. They were developed as synthetic lute strings that approximate the sound of gut, and Mimmo Peruffo, the string maker, saw the possibilities for their use on other instruments, including classic banjo.

Nylgut strings actually work quite well on the lute, my main instrument, but they require proper stretching before tuning them up to pitch and playing on them. An odd characteristic of the string material is that it will stretch unevenly if you just slap them on your instrument and expect them to play right away. And they won't play right away because they take a good long while to stabilize. But the sound is quite nice on the lute, until it isn't. The strings have a life span and produce a dull sound that seems to avoid the actual intended pitch when they are old.

I've tried Nylgut strings on a banjo and they're OK if you know how to play "into" the string. The red basses (4th string) Aquila now provides are very nice and seem to last a good long while. As for LaBella or Pyramid strings, they are very dependable but produce a little less of the crispness of gut that Nylgut approximates to better effect.

The reason I mention the lute is because you can actually hear the subtleties of tone a bit better than you can on the banjo; more bloom and less plunk. As far as synthetic strings on the banjo, I'm gravitating back toward steel strings, personally.

RA

Sep 23, 2019 - 9:16:42 AM

csacwp

USA

2372 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by EulalieBlue

I'll contribute just a word or two about Nylgut strings. They were developed as synthetic lute strings that approximate the sound of gut, and Mimmo Peruffo, the string maker, saw the possibilities for their use on other instruments, including classic banjo.

Nylgut strings actually work quite well on the lute, my main instrument, but they require proper stretching before tuning them up to pitch and playing on them. An odd characteristic of the string material is that it will stretch unevenly if you just slap them on your instrument and expect them to play right away. And they won't play right away because they take a good long while to stabilize. But the sound is quite nice on the lute, until it isn't. The strings have a life span and produce a dull sound that seems to avoid the actual intended pitch when they are old.

I've tried Nylgut strings on a banjo and they're OK if you know how to play "into" the string. The red basses (4th string) Aquila now provides are very nice and seem to last a good long while. As for LaBella or Pyramid strings, they are very dependable but produce a little less of the crispness of gut that Nylgut approximates to better effect.

The reason I mention the lute is because you can actually hear the subtleties of tone a bit better than you can on the banjo; more bloom and less plunk. As far as synthetic strings on the banjo, I'm gravitating back toward steel strings, personally.

RA


The lute doesn't have nearly as many frets as a banjo and therefore the intonation issues with nylguts don't usually manifest. On a 22 fret banjo the untrueness of the strings becomes really apparent. Even if they were true, they are way too thick in my opinion for classic banjo playing. 

Sep 23, 2019 - 9:18:20 AM

csacwp

USA

2372 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by spoonfed

thanks John, any idea what my current strings might be ? they are not far off that "sound" when I attack them at the bridge which is a CE Morley two legged job, the head is a Remo not sure what, it is slightly cloudy and very tight, as I said though I am not crazy about that plain fourth.


I would need to see some photos to take a guess. That unwound 4th needs to go... an unfortunate trend started by modern "old time" players. Historically the banjo has always had a wound 4th...

The CE Morley bridges are OK but are still too wide and too thick. Buy some bridges from Joel if you want something authentic.

Edited by - csacwp on 09/23/2019 09:19:10

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories

0.21875