Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

326
Banjo Lovers Online


Thinnest Nylguts (or similar) for thin-slotted SS Stewart nut

Want to hide these Google ads? Join the Players Union!
Oct 19, 2019 - 7:11:26 PM
13 posts since 10/9/2019

Hi everybody,

I'm bringing an 1892 SS Stewart Universal Favorite back from the grave (just in time for Halloween) and I'd like to keep it as historically accurate as possible (within reason). One issue I'm running into is that, according to the forums, a lot of the modern nylon or nylgut sets are too thick a gauge for the nut slots on this banjo. What's my best move here for keeping it thin so that 1. the strings fit the slots (without retrofitting the nut with a file) and 2. having a banjo with strings as thin as 1890s gut used to be? I should say I looked into actual gut strings for about 30 seconds, but the cost was prohibitive for me. If there's a less expensive gut string out there, I'd love to know about it. Oh and also, I'd like to go all solid strings, that is to say no wound 4th string as you see in a lot of nylon or nylgut sets. Oh, and another thing I've heard recommended is to buy single lute strings, but I guess I wouldn't feel comfortable without a cheat sheet for the correct gauges to buy.

Thanks everybody!

Edited by - GuitaR2D2 on 10/19/2019 20:28:11

Oct 19, 2019 - 8:12:44 PM

399 posts since 8/14/2018
Online Now

La Bella nylon strings can be ordered as singles in fairly thin gauges. Also Pyramid Lute strings. Check stringsbymail.com. I’ve got the Pyramid strings on my Stewart now, they sound pretty good.

Oct 19, 2019 - 8:23:14 PM

13 posts since 10/9/2019

Thank you! Do you happen to know what gauge pyramids you're using?

Oct 19, 2019 - 8:29:43 PM

4781 posts since 9/21/2007
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by GuitaR2D2

Hi everybody,

I'm bringing an 1892 Stewart back from the grave just in time for Halloween and I'd like to keep it as historically accurate as possible (within reason). One issue I'm running into is that, according to the forums, a lot of the modern nylon nor nylgut sets are too thick a gauge for the nut slots. What's my best move here for keeping it thin so that 1. the strings fit the slots (without retrofitting the nut with a file) and 2. having a banjo with strings as thin as 1890s gut used to be? I should say I looked into actual gut strings for about 30 seconds, but the cost was prohibitive for me. If there's a less expensive gut string out there, I'd love to know about it. Oh and also, I'd like to go all solid strings, that is to say no wound 4th string as you see in a lot of nylon or nylgut sets. Oh, and another thing I've heard recommended is to buy single lute strings, but I guess I wouldn't feel comfortable without a cheat sheet for the correct gauges to buy.

Thanks everybody!


Hi!  1892 SSS?  That is a very specific year.  I'm guessing you got that year from Mike Holmes' old website "Mugwumps."  Post photos of it and we could give a more reasonable date range-- the info on that website is obsolete and outdated.  Don't rely on it.  All of those years based on serial numbers were pure speculation. 

The two red statements above contradict each other.  The forth was always wound.  It was wound in Briggs' Banjo Instructor of 1855.  It can be seen as wound in photos that predate 1855.  It was always stated as being wound in all later instruction books.  Fourths were always listed in catalogs.  All professional and amateur players used a wound fourth until fairly recently.  The unwound fourth seems to be either a "folky" thing or a cost saving measure from the manufacturer of the polyester strings sold as "nylgut."

And there was a good reason it was wound.  Tone, volume, and balance.  The slight difference in timbre was used to great advantage in many banjo solos especially in marches for the trio.

Buy direct from Labella.  Forget all the other resellers.  Labella's website is easy to use and they are very fast to ship.  Put in the notes that they are for banjo.  They cut them longer (or at least they have been for me).

Sizes supported by documentation and extant examples:

.017", .019", .023", .024" (silver plated copper wound over floss), .017".

We have measured original gut and silk strings (firsts) that were as small as .016" 

We'd love to see photos of your banjo.  I am particularly fond of SSS banjos.

Oct 19, 2019 - 9:27:36 PM

13 posts since 10/9/2019

Very helpful, thank you!

1892*ish*. :) The seller had 1892 listed and I looked at the Mugwumps site and saw that it was possible based on the serial number and, as in football replays, there wasn't enough evidence to overturn his date, so the play is neither confirmed nor overturned but stands as called. :)

Oct 19, 2019 - 9:40:11 PM

13 posts since 10/9/2019

Oops, sorry to pester, I'm not finding a labella set with a .017. looks to be .019 only. Am I looking in the right place?

Oct 20, 2019 - 3:55:14 AM

36 posts since 4/8/2019

Your project to restore the original stringing on your banjo is admirable, but it's true that gut or silk is really the only option if you really want the original material, proper tensions and the resulting sound.

But if you are going with synthetic strings, there are more options. LaBella strings are perfectly adequate, but you are right that they don't seem to produce strings thinner than 0.17 inches. Someone responded that you might look for lute strings: As a lutenist, I agree that if you start down that path, you will find all sorts of information about string diameters, different string materials and their sometimes very different tensions.

For better quality nylon strings, try Pyramid. They are more expensive than LaBella but produced to a higher standard. You can peruse a selection from this more affordable source:

stringsbymail.com/lute-strings...lon-1566/

You heard some very specific statements by others expressed with great confidence, but wound fourth strings are a choice and I simply don't believe they were in universal use by all 19th-century banjo players. Unwound strings of larger diameters can produce a very strong tone. Aquila strings (nylgut) are actually quite good in this respect because the guy who produced them is a lutenist, and he knew what sort of sound he was looking for when he was experimenting with different materials. And whether you like them or not, you can revel in the fact that the same banjo strings packaged and sold in an envelope marked "lute string" costs three times as much.

Oct 20, 2019 - 5:02:13 AM

12265 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by GuitaR2D2

Oops, sorry to pester, I'm not finding a labella set with a .017. looks to be .019 only. Am I looking in the right place?


You can buy the LaBella "early instrument" strings as singles  directly from the LaBella website in whatever gauge you want starting at .016.

Oct 20, 2019 - 5:04:46 AM

1374 posts since 2/12/2009
Online Now

this is of interest to me as I am currently having a blast playing an 1890s Essex Weaver which, when I acquired it had solid strings including the fourth (nylgut I think ) BHO wisdom suggested I try a wound fourth and ditch the plain one well, guess what ? that was possibly the best bit of advice ever given to me regarding banjo lore ! the difference is astonishing literally, thanks John and Joel for that nugget ! historically accurate or not, I dont know or care but changing one string has made this banjo jump into life. Your little caveat "within reason" is I think very wise as at the end of the day you still want an instrument that plays and sounds its very best and, in my very limited experience a wound fourth is indispensable !

Oct 20, 2019 - 5:38:29 AM

4781 posts since 9/21/2007
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by GuitaR2D2

Oops, sorry to pester, I'm not finding a labella set with a .017. looks to be .019 only. Am I looking in the right place?


http://www.labella.com/strings/category/rectified-nylon-singles-singles-early-instruments/

Oct 20, 2019 - 6:28:22 AM

4781 posts since 9/21/2007
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by EulalieBlue


You heard some very specific statements by others expressed with great confidence, but wound fourth strings are a choice and I simply don't believe they were in universal use by all 19th-century banjo players. Unwound strings of larger diameters can produce a very strong tone. Aquila strings (nylgut) are actually quite good in this respect because the guy who produced them is a lutenist, and he knew what sort of sound he was looking for when he was experimenting with different materials. And whether you like them or not, you can revel in the fact that the same banjo strings packaged and sold in an envelope marked "lute string" costs three times as much.


Okay... prove it.  I am always open to reviewing new documentation.

There is a HUGE amount of documentation available for your reference.

Start with all of these instruction books...

https://classic-banjo.ning.com/page/tutor-books

Follow up with these...

https://archive.org/details/@joel_hooks

https://archive.org/details/dobsonbrothersmo00dobs/page/6

https://archive.org/details/georgecdobsonsne00dobs/page/20

https://archive.org/details/excelsiormethodf00lans/page/10

And don't forget to review the very first real banjo instruction book...

https://archive.org/details/briggsbanjoinstr00brig/page/8

Here are many of the early books assembled in one place for download...

https://timtwiss.com/original-banjo-tutors.html

Keep in mind that many "early" instruction books (pre 1880) will recommend to use guitar or double length violin strings.  In both cases the 4th would still be wound.  The banjo was pitched lower and used heavier strings.  By the mid 1880s the trends in music had the banjo up to "concert C" (gCGBD) pretty much across the board with rare exception in recommendations to stay in A.  Despite this pitch rise, notation continued to be published in the US as if the banjo was pitched in A up until there was no market for new music by the 1930s.  Reviewing all the magazines I link to you will find more than you ever wanted to read on the A notation/ C notation arguments.

Then continue with magazines...

https://urresearch.rochester.edu/institutionalPublicationPublicView.action?institutionalItemVersionId=32603

https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/collections/the-cadenza#/?tab=navigation

SSS' own magazine...

https://urresearch.rochester.edu/institutionalPublicationPublicView.action?institutionalItemId=2330

British magazine...

https://classic-banjo.ning.com/page/bmg-magazines

If you want catalogs... I can provide.

https://archive.org/details/illustratedcatal00cbru/page/210

https://archive.org/details/illustratedcatal00fhne/page/42

https://archive.org/details/illustratedcat00john/page/26

https://digital.cincinnatilibrary.org/digital/collection/p16998coll22/search/searchterm/Rudolph%20Wurlitzer%20Company/field/creato/mode/exact/conn/and

Also make sure to look at larger department story catalogs like Sears and Montgomery Wards (many are found on the Internet Archive).

 

Early singles from Labella are $1.50 each.  Wound strings are $3.  A set of their "No. 17" (which are actually .019 firsts) are $5 from Elderly.  So not quite three times.  And, you get the correct sizes in singles.

Can you easily get polyester (nylgut) strings in the documentable sizes for 5 string banjo?  I find that since they are extruded they are often false.  They also stretch unevenly and become false if not already.  In my experience they also develop flat spots at the frets faster than nylon.  With my fingertips they squeak as well.

As far as unwound fourths, it is possible that perhaps one or a few people used them as people will try all sorts of things.  But any exception will prove the rule.

Having used gut and nylon (and even mixing gut and nylon on the same banjo) I see no reason to use gut anymore.  The people who were playing banjo during the banjo fad of the 1890s adopted nylon as soon as fishing line became available after WW2.  Labella used to provide a set of gut in the proper sizes but as far as I can tell the gut strings available today are all much too thick.  I won't use gut again unless I was to start reenacting or for some reason they became widely available and cheap.

Nylon is the way to go.

Oct 20, 2019 - 9:20:23 AM

399 posts since 8/14/2018
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by GuitaR2D2

Thank you! Do you happen to know what gauge pyramids you're using?


I'd have to check tomorrow to be sure, the packets are in the pocket of the case in my office. But they're PVF carbon strings slightly thinner than the equivalent La Bella banjo set, and a wound fourth. I think the thinnest they sell is .012. I've set them up on one of Joel's 'Frank Converse' bridges, which can easily accommodate them. This setup gets me closer to the sound I want out of this banjo than the La Bellas (I should note here that I don't care that much about historical accuracy, only what sounds good to me).

Oct 21, 2019 - 6:31:14 AM

36 posts since 4/8/2019

Thanks for the compendium of source materials on banjo stringing. You have obviously done your research, but I must say I remain unconvinced. Having spent far too much of my life researching historical performance practice and (more importantly) historical context, I believe modern revivalists have this bizarre tendency to collate bits of surviving historical information and create truisms that they believe surely must have been universal in the past, and therefore one must either cleave to them today or else receive the curled lip.

Wound strings, available since the mid- to late-17th century, have particular qualities and may have even been preferred by 19th-century banjo players, but they were not accepted by all. Proving a negative is impossible but there are well-known problems with establishing historical fact by only examining iconography. The thickest string on a banjo with a typical string length is not thick at all, and various types of twisted gut or silk can and did produce a very good sound.

Your bias against Nylgut strings is evident, and you justifiably point out some issues with the strings that affect their ability to hold tune over a long period of time. Yes, they do stretch a great deal, and sometimes unevenly. And yes, their long-term life span in terms of holding tune is not the same as good quality rectified nylon strings. But after they stretch they sound better with more tone color and a richness in the upper partials. You may not be able to hear these qualities on a banjo, but it is more evident on a lute. The downside is that Nylgut strings sound great until they don't, while nylon strings can last a good deal longer. And Mimmo charges more for the same banjo string when he calls it a lute string, and I find that irritating.

The problematic facet of your position on nylon strings generally is that you defend their use with fervor because you believe they would have been in use had they been available in the 19th century. Perhaps your premise is true, or perhaps it is not, but it is completely indefensible when establishing fact. Nylon strings were not available in the 19th century, therefore use of nylon strings is an impediment to realizing the true feel and sound of the 19th-century banjo. Yes, they're more convenient. No, they do not produce an authentic sound.

There are several aspects of using more authentic stringing that, while not immediately apparent, affected the choices 19-century banjo players made on the concert stage or in the parlor. Using gut or silk strings meant that playing in changing environmental conditions was highly problematic, causing the player to devote more time and attention to choice of repertory, to moving the bridge, and to adjusting the head and the tuning. Non-synthetic strings respond differently under the fingers, and both right- and left-hand touch is moderated with a much higher degree of care. This higher level of involvement may simply seem like a giant needless pain in the behind today, and good riddance, but it results in greater attention to musical details all round.

As a personal choice I have no dog in the race. After trying out various types of natural and synthetic banjo strings, and repertory, I'll probably return to light-gauge steel strings and also go back to playing hillbilly music where we don't have to worry about such things.

Oct 21, 2019 - 6:51:08 AM

36 posts since 4/8/2019

quote:

Originally posted by Joel Hooks
Can you easily get polyester (nylgut) strings in the documentable sizes for 5 string banjo?  I find that since they are extruded they are often false.  They also stretch unevenly and become false if not already.  In my experience they also develop flat spots at the frets faster than nylon.  With my fingertips they squeak as well.
================================
 
Yes, you can get documented sizes of pretty much any single nylgut string, and other types of materials as well, either directly from manufacturers or from a few distributors like Curtis Daly in Portland.  There are some decent string calculators out there that let you enter the scale and pitch and it will offer choices of different string tensions.
There are several out there but this one seems to be decent:
https://www.niskanenlutes.com/index.php?p=stringcalc#V1_NRenaissance+Lute_T0_A440_L-0-Fingerboard-60_S0Y0NguT3.8_S1Y0NduT3.2M3.2Pdu_S2Y0NaT3M3Pa_S3Y0NfT2.9M2.9Pf_S4Y0NcT2.9M2.9Pc_S5Y0NGT2.8M2.5Pg_S6Y0NFT2.8M2.5Pf_S7Y0NET2.8M2.5Pe_S8Y0NDT2.8M2.5Pd_S9Y0NCT2.8M2.5Pc_E
Another real problem with Nylgut is that the manufacturer attempts to second-guess what the diameter will be after stretching, therefore both the true diameter and tension differ from a string made of an alternative material.  This makes me uneasy.  If I am going to bother the calculate string diameter and tension, I want the information to be accurate. 
Savarez brand (carbon) strings are another choice.  They are available in much thinner diameters but their density is greater as well, meaning a thinner "carbon" string has the same tension as a thicker nylon string.  All this rigamarole is too much for someone who just wants to play the banjo.
 
Oct 21, 2019 - 7:51:09 AM

1374 posts since 2/12/2009
Online Now

"all this rigmarole" is exactly what I wish to learn about in order to get the best from my instrument, it is one of the most compelling reasons to be on the hangout for me !

Oct 22, 2019 - 7:03:03 AM

4781 posts since 9/21/2007
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by EulalieBlue





Your bias against Nylgut strings is evident, and you justifiably point out some issues with the strings that affect their ability to hold tune over a long period of time. Yes, they do stretch a great deal, and sometimes unevenly. And yes, their long-term life span in terms of holding tune is not the same as good quality rectified nylon strings. But after they stretch they sound better with more tone color and a richness in the upper partials. You may not be able to hear these qualities on a banjo, but it is more evident on a lute. The downside is that Nylgut strings sound great until they don't, while nylon strings can last a good deal longer. And Mimmo charges more for the same banjo string when he calls it a lute string, and I find that irritating.

The problematic facet of your position on nylon strings generally is that you defend their use with fervor because you believe they would have been in use had they been available in the 19th century. Perhaps your premise is true, or perhaps it is not, but it is completely indefensible when establishing fact. Nylon strings were not available in the 19th century, therefore use of nylon strings is an impediment to realizing the true feel and sound of the 19th-century banjo. Yes, they're more convenient. No, they do not produce an authentic sound.

There are several aspects of using more authentic stringing that, while not immediately apparent, affected the choices 19-century banjo players made on the concert stage or in the parlor. Using gut or silk strings meant that playing in changing environmental conditions was highly problematic, causing the player to devote more time and attention to choice of repertory, to moving the bridge, and to adjusting the head and the tuning. Non-synthetic strings respond differently under the fingers, and both right- and left-hand touch is moderated with a much higher degree of care. This higher level of involvement may simply seem like a giant needless pain in the behind today, and good riddance, but it results in greater attention to musical details all round.

As a personal choice I have no dog in the race. After trying out various types of natural and synthetic banjo strings, and repertory, I'll probably return to light-gauge steel strings and also go back to playing hillbilly music where we don't have to worry about such things.


Sounds pretty authentic to me (all recordings below were made with nylon/wound 4th).

Speaking of FVE, he would break firsts often when using silk or gut.  He would keep pre-streched strings on the floor in front of him during concerts.  When he broke a string, the piano player would vamp while he replaced it (he had a very cool set up with large barrel tuners with a split post and a no-knot style tailpiece).  Once up to pitch he would signal the pianist and they would pick up where he left off.  It was a good stage gag.

Good riddance indeed.

While I don't mind calf skin heads I do like being able to play in near fog with no trouble on plastic.

Again, If I could get gut strings in the proper sizes, and they were readily available and cheap (perhaps only twice as much as nylon or less), I'd use them.


Oct 22, 2019 - 7:18:21 AM

399 posts since 8/14/2018
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks
Sounds pretty authentic to me (all recordings below were made with nylon/wound 4th).

 


Too bad most of FVE's recordings were made in the play-into-a-tin-can era, so it's only a crude approximation of what his playing actually sounded like.

Oct 22, 2019 - 7:29:56 AM

4781 posts since 9/21/2007
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by MacCruiskeen
quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks
Sounds pretty authentic to me (all recordings below were made with nylon/wound 4th).

 


Too bad most of FVE's recordings were made in the play-into-a-tin-can era, so it's only a crude approximation of what his playing actually sounded like.


True!

A lot of his 1920s era recordings are very clear.  There is also some home recordings from tape that were made during ABF rallies in the 1950s.  On the Ning classic banjo site you can find recordings that were done at one of his birthday parties from a tape recorder.  These were informal playing.

Many of his 78s can be found (with multiple takeoffs using different needles) on the Internet Archive.

Oct 28, 2019 - 9:36:45 PM

10440 posts since 10/27/2006

>The two red statements above contradict each other. The forth was always wound.  ...<

And the rest were normally twisted, often lacquered as well.

I avoid authentic wound over silk as it's too fragile and the tone is too weak. Stranded nylon has been around since the 1920s. Real silk cores were gone by the late '30s (couldn't use nylon in parachutes) but the string packages were still saying silk into the 1980s.

There are gut string makers if that's what you want. Large diameter gut is readily available, too (being a bassist, I know this well). 

Red gut was soaked in cinnabar, an oxide of mercury. This made strings dense and flexible, the properties of wound strings. Ok, mercury is poisonous so no one makes those anymore.

If your concern is vintage nut slots, measure the slots and go from there. A number of the modern synthetics used by classical guitarists such as fluorocarbon are thinner than nylon or Nylgut at the same tensions.

Oct 29, 2019 - 7:33:59 AM

4781 posts since 9/21/2007
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by mikehalloran

>The two red statements above contradict each other. The forth was always wound.  ...<

And the rest were normally twisted, often lacquered as well.

I avoid authentic wound over silk as it's too fragile and the tone is too weak. Stranded nylon has been around since the 1920s. Real silk cores were gone by the late '30s (couldn't use nylon in parachutes) but the string packages were still saying silk into the 1980s.

There are gut string makers if that's what you want. Large diameter gut is readily available, too (being a bassist, I know this well). 

Red gut was soaked in cinnabar, an oxide of mercury. This made strings dense and flexible, the properties of wound strings. Ok, mercury is poisonous so no one makes those anymore.

If your concern is vintage nut slots, measure the slots and go from there. A number of the modern synthetics used by classical guitarists such as fluorocarbon are thinner than nylon or Nylgut at the same tensions.

 


Um... nylon was not invented or first produced until 1935.

Oct 29, 2019 - 7:44:27 AM
likes this

6252 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks
quote:
Originally posted by MacCruiskeen
quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks
Sounds pretty authentic to me (all recordings below were made with nylon/wound 4th).

 


Too bad most of FVE's recordings were made in the play-into-a-tin-can era, so it's only a crude approximation of what his playing actually sounded like.


True!

A lot of his 1920s era recordings are very clear.  There is also some home recordings from tape that were made during ABF rallies in the 1950s.  On the Ning classic banjo site you can find recordings that were done at one of his birthday parties from a tape recorder.  These were informal playing.

Many of his 78s can be found (with multiple takeoffs using different needles) on the Internet Archive.


A lot of the 20's recordings were clear because most of the recording companies were using electrical equipment (microphones and amplifiers) by the mid 20's.

Also, having collected several early acoustic recordings I can readily state that many of them are amazingly clear. A lot depends on the condition of the shellac, how much the record was played, and on what kind of playback device. Old records were sometimes played with worn-out needles or even thorns when folks couldn't afford better. These old records were also prone to molds and mildew.

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories

0.2851563