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Are most unwound strings more or less the same

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Nov 20, 2019 - 4:34:09 PM
1896 posts since 2/7/2008

I'm tinkering with string gauges and I'm wondering if most "solid" high carbon steel strings are more or less the same. I get that wound (4th) strings can vary considerably based on the core material and diameter as well as variations in the winding, but I'm wondering if that is the case with homogenous strings.

In other words is a .010 D'addario string really different than a GHS .010 string?

(Excluding stainless strings and coated strings of course)

Nov 20, 2019 - 6:36:19 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22565 posts since 6/25/2005

In a word, yes. In fact, most of the wire for them is a product of the Mapes Piano String Co. There are exceptions of course, and I’m sure others will chime in with those.

Nov 20, 2019 - 7:56:26 PM
Players Union Member

Brian T

Canada

15854 posts since 6/5/2008

Profoundly different? No.

As a set of strings, the group of sizes will change the overall tone of a banjo.
Some string sets are labelled as "light" while others are "heavy" or "medium."
Even just stretching a fat string to reach a higher tuning.

I changed string sets once a month for the first few years, picking a Deering Sierra.
There were differences which even my old ears could hear.
Then it was no more than picking what I wanted to listen to.

I liked the sound of a set of D'Addario medium so I stick with that.

Nov 20, 2019 - 8:27:07 PM

52859 posts since 12/14/2005

It might be interesting to snip off a specimen of 0.10 strings from different vendors, and compare them under an electron microscope, and look for differences on the molecular level.

BUT- if most strings are made by only one or two factories, why bother?

Nov 21, 2019 - 5:15:46 AM
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14851 posts since 2/7/2003

ABSOLUTELY completely NO they are not made the same in any way

That is a STUPID urban myth that no one with any string knowlege would promote.

Nov 21, 2019 - 5:19:27 AM

6351 posts since 8/28/2013

There are standards that wire must meet in order to even be considered useful for musical instruments. Many steels simply don't work; they can't hold the required tension, or if they can, they may be too stiff, too malleable. or not have musical qualities such as even vibrating characteristics. In other words, even wire from two different factories in two different countries will only have differences that are so subtle as to be meaningless.

In the piano business, there are two main sources for the wire (piano strings are basically just a giant version of banjo strings). One is Mapes in Tennessee, the other is a company in Roslau, Germany. About the only difference I've ever noticed is that the German wire is a tiny bit shinier, but that the extra shine doesn't last very long.

Nov 21, 2019 - 5:26:58 AM

12330 posts since 6/29/2005

I'm not sure about loop-end banjo strings, but in ball-end acoustic guitar strings even the plain steel ones seem to come in different types, and are available as single strings in the same gauges as banjo strings, at least down to .011"

I was recently trying to find the best gauges to string a couple of banjo lutes, which needed ball-end strings, went on the GHS section of Just Strings.com and found a variety of different kinds.  They even have a chart rating them from bright to mellow.  I bought some "Laurence Juber" plain steel ones in .011".014" and .016" and found them to be quite a bit different than banjo strings—they were gold-colored (which looked cool), felt stiffer, and had a different sound.

Perhaps someone who knows more about this than I do can comment, but that's been my experience, however limited.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 11/21/2019 05:27:56

Nov 21, 2019 - 5:52:30 AM

Eric A

USA

156 posts since 10/15/2019
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What do people think about "chenilled" strings? Does this matter on a banjo?

Nov 21, 2019 - 5:56:39 AM
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Alex Z

USA

3672 posts since 12/7/2006
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"In other words is a .010 D'addario string really different than a GHS .010 string? "

As others have said -- with varied degrees of vehemence and examples smiley -- this statement is true.  Now, it doesn't mean that every .010 string is different from every other .010 string, but there are differences in tone among the same gauge, and same nominal "type", of plain strings.

And certainly every .010 string from the same wire manufacturer is not the same.  A string maker such as D'Addario or GHS might have its own certain specifications for its .010 string, which specs are different from another maker.  To illustrate, the linear densities that D'Addario publishes for its plain strings is slightly different from the GHS densities.

Just as an example to illustrate a difference -- an example, not opening a debate here -- I've found the D'Addario banjo strings to be different from GHS, where the D'Addario sounds like it has more fundamental strength and the GHS more higher harmonic strengths.  ON MY BANJO, TO ME,  (the instrument is part of the preference too), the D'Addario sounds strong and distinct but a little hard and less sustain, and the GHS sounds smoother and more ringing, yet a little less distinct.  Again, just an example of small differences between strings of the same nominal type and gauge.

Edited by - Alex Z on 11/21/2019 05:58:52

Nov 21, 2019 - 5:57:19 AM

12330 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Eric A

What do people think about "chenilled" strings? Does this matter on a banjo?


I have never tried them, but they have a fan-base, and I think it's a good idea in terms of preventing overtones connected with the tailpiece, plus they look colorful.

Nov 21, 2019 - 5:58:12 AM

RB3

USA

555 posts since 4/12/2004

According to an ad that is often included on the Banjo Hangout, D'addario strings allow you to "get more drive out of your banjo". I presume that D'addario has some type of patented, proprietary process that adds the "drive" to the strings. I don't know if the other strings manufacturers have a similar process. I've always wondered if you leave the D'addario strings on the banjo for a long time, does the "drive" tend to dissipate.

Nov 21, 2019 - 6:08:43 AM
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rmcdow

USA

725 posts since 11/8/2014

I work with a German company, Optima, who has wire made for them for a wide variety of musical instruments. I've spoken with Andre, the owner, several times, and he is very specific in what he looks for in terms of the manufacturer of strings for him. He sources the raw wire from Japan, South America, Germany, and many other locations. The difficulty he runs into, and has solved in almost all cases, is finding a manufacturer who will make a batch of wire for him that meets his specifications, but is not such a large batch that makes it impractical for him to make strings and sell them at a reasonable price. I believe in the plain wire strings he sources five different alloys and hardnesses of wire. The last time I spoke with him he had just found someone who could supply gut that was not too fatty. After much searching, he found a nylon manufacturer, I believe in South America, who could make nylon that would meet his specifications. He manufactures gold plated banjo strings for me, and I have been very happy with the sound and longevity of the strings before needing to replace them. Although Mapes is a supplier of strings to many manufacturers or labels of banjo strings, there is a wide variety of strings that are made that when compared to each other, there are noticeable differences in longevity, stretch characteristics, etc. I have tried quite a few labels of banjo strings (not the cryogenic ones yet). If I measure them accurately, mount them on a banjo for a period of time (two months, playing the banjo), then remove them and measure them again, all of them have stretched. The strings Optima makes for me do not have this characteristic. I don't know what this means in terms of tone, but from a metallurgical point of view, that metal has changed in it's characteristics. The crystals have elongated, as well as separated from each other in some places.
Interestingly enough, this is not a characteristic I have found in the old carbon steel strings that were abandoned because they rust.
I hope to learn more about this as I get a better sense of how the tone and sound of a vibrating string relates to the string composition, but for now, I am leaving this up to Andre, as he is pretty much possessed with a quest to make the best strings he is able to make. My hat is off to him.

Nov 21, 2019 - 6:16:01 AM

203 posts since 11/1/2006

D'Addario actually offers two varieties of steel string - their standard ones and 'New York steel' ones. Mention is made of carbon content (higher carbon in the NY steel, I'd suppose), and there is a price difference. I first tried some of these maybe two years ago, and noted a distinct positive difference in sound and more 'pop' with them. I mostly play a Whyte Laydie with a skin head, clawhammer style.

Nov 21, 2019 - 6:16:20 AM

rmcdow

USA

725 posts since 11/8/2014

quote:
Originally posted by Eric A

What do people think about "chenilled" strings? Does this matter on a banjo?


This is a nice visual touch on strings, and on some tailpieces I can see that it might help to keep the end of the string from vibrating directly on the metal of the tailpiece.  I don't really know though, but I first saw them on OME strings and like the look.  

Nov 21, 2019 - 7:01:18 AM

Emiel

Austria

9269 posts since 1/22/2003

quote:
Originally posted by Eric A

What do people think about "chenilled" strings? Does this matter on a banjo?


The mainly have a function when you use a tailpiece that produces unwanted overtones like the No Knot tailpiece, for instance. You can also stick a feather or a pipe cleaner between the strings (between the tailpiece and the bridge). Tailpieces like the Presto, Kershner, Waverly dont't seem to need them.

Nov 21, 2019 - 8:03:17 AM

12355 posts since 10/30/2008
Online Now

In the "old days" (for me the 1950s and 60s) I seem to remember all VEGA banjo strings were chenilled, while Gibsons were not (I hope I got that right).

I felt mostly that the chenilled strings were easier on your shirt sleeves and cuffs by covering up the winding and the string end on the winding, so it wouldn't catch on your sleeve. Of course, this was for tailpieces with no cover. I suppose for a covered tailpiece they would also damp any potential vibration of the cover?

Nov 21, 2019 - 9:39:32 AM

12330 posts since 6/29/2005

What I am hearing from this thread is that what with batches, carbon content, different wire suppliers, etc etc, there is probably not only some difference between one manufacturer and another at any given point in time, but within the various strings of the same manufacturer at any given point in time.  I think "more drive" is just BS marketing copy.

Nov 21, 2019 - 9:59:18 AM
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Alex Z

USA

3672 posts since 12/7/2006
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Based on many previous discussions, banjo players might be seen as chumps regarding marketing adjectives.   I mean, if a 1935 Gibson banjo with rim, tone ring, neck, tailpiece, head, and bridge changed out can still produce the "pre-war" sound, a claim of "more drive" is modest by comparison.

Get rid of controversial and unprovable adjectives, and the BHO would get cobwebs on it.  smiley

Nov 21, 2019 - 11:25:34 AM

3724 posts since 10/13/2005

Hey, we are not measuring strings...we are just measuring ears! Chump banjered

Nov 21, 2019 - 11:38:19 AM

Alex Z

USA

3672 posts since 12/7/2006
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"Hey, we are not measuring strings...we are just measuring ears!"

There's a lot of truth in that statement, brother.  You should see what they debate over on the Martin guitar forum.  smiley

Nov 21, 2019 - 1:08:13 PM

6351 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

What I am hearing from this thread is that what with batches, carbon content, different wire suppliers, etc etc, there is probably not only some difference between one manufacturer and another at any given point in time, but within the various strings of the same manufacturer at any given point in time.  I think "more drive" is just BS marketing copy.

 


I have to agree. Otherwise, manufacturer's wouldn't have "=/-" in their specs, and Quality Control would have no use for Bell curve in order to keep things at leasr=t within a certain tolerance. But machinery does go out of adjustment, and one or two workers could have particulary acidic hands, or the humidity might be higher in the morning than in the afternoon. 

However, in my experience, the difference in quality is so slight as to be imperceptible. There's only so much that can be done to alter the content of the steel and still have it work as a musical string, and the same goes for the processes used in making them.

Some might think a particular string has "more drive," or "better low frequency response" but I'd bet that if a player liked a particular brand, but someone changed his strings to something else when his back was turned, that player wouldn't notice any real difference. (Of course, he might notice a change should the new strings be newer than the ones removed, or if one set was chenilled and the other wasn't.)

Edited by - G Edward Porgie on 11/21/2019 13:25:43

Nov 21, 2019 - 1:35:17 PM
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12330 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Alex Z

Based on many previous discussions, banjo players might be seen as chumps regarding marketing adjectives.   I mean, if a 1935 Gibson banjo with rim, tone ring, neck, tailpiece, head, and bridge changed out can still produce the "pre-war" sound, a claim of "more drive" is modest by comparison.

Get rid of controversial and unprovable adjectives, and the BHO would get cobwebs on it.  smiley


I certainly have been pushing on that for quite a while, sometimes as a self-styled "mythbuster", but old ideas and what we call "conventional wisdom" are so firmly entrenched, and so many people have great investment, financial and otherwise, in the conventional wisdom being correct, that they are nearly impossible to dislodge.  Rims are probably #1 in that respect.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 11/21/2019 13:37:06

Nov 21, 2019 - 1:35:21 PM
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1896 posts since 2/7/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Emiel
quote:
Originally posted by Eric A

What do people think about "chenilled" strings? Does this matter on a banjo?


The mainly have a function when you use a tailpiece that produces unwanted overtones like the No Knot tailpiece, for instance. You can also stick a feather or a pipe cleaner between the strings (between the tailpiece and the bridge). Tailpieces like the Presto, Kershner, Waverly dont't seem to need them.


One of the reasons I'm experimenting with strings is because of an unwanted overtones. I just ordered two sets of the chenilled OME strings. While ordering I noticed that the package says "None Finer" so, I've got that going for me too! 

Nov 21, 2019 - 2:20:04 PM

12330 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Quickstep192
quote:
Originally posted by Emiel
quote:
Originally posted by Eric A

What do people think about "chenilled" strings? Does this matter on a banjo?


The mainly have a function when you use a tailpiece that produces unwanted overtones like the No Knot tailpiece, for instance. You can also stick a feather or a pipe cleaner between the strings (between the tailpiece and the bridge). Tailpieces like the Presto, Kershner, Waverly dont't seem to need them.


One of the reasons I'm experimenting with strings is because of an unwanted overtones. I just ordered two sets of the chenilled OME strings. While ordering I noticed that the package says "None Finer" so, I've got that going for me too! 


Reminds me of an old joke in Mad Magazine where there were 5 pizzarias on the blockthe first one had a sign that said "Best Pizza in the city", the next one said "Best pizza in the State", the third one said "Best pizza in the country, the 4th one said "Best pizza in the world" and the last one said "Best pizza on the block".

Nov 21, 2019 - 4:22:43 PM
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rudy

USA

14651 posts since 3/27/2004
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quote:
Originally posted by Quickstep192
quote:
Originally posted by Emiel
quote:
Originally posted by Eric A

What do people think about "chenilled" strings? Does this matter on a banjo?


The mainly have a function when you use a tailpiece that produces unwanted overtones like the No Knot tailpiece, for instance. You can also stick a feather or a pipe cleaner between the strings (between the tailpiece and the bridge). Tailpieces like the Presto, Kershner, Waverly dont't seem to need them.


One of the reasons I'm experimenting with strings is because of an unwanted overtones. I just ordered two sets of the chenilled OME strings. While ordering I noticed that the package says "None Finer" so, I've got that going for me too! 


"Unwanted overtones" is the main thing that chenilled strings will address.  You can accomplish the same thing by adding damping material woven between the string after length between the bridge and the tailpiece.  A piece of rawhide shoelace works great, but I often use a large flat rubber band cut open and woven between the strings.

There's a simple test to find whether you need damping material or not; simply strum the after length (between bridge and tailpiece...) with a pick.  If you can hear the strings produce a high-pitched zing you need damping material.

Nov 21, 2019 - 7:23:28 PM
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6351 posts since 8/28/2013

I wonder if anyone has ever made a tailpiece that rather than dampening those unwanted overtones, instead tunes them to a length of a partial of each string in order to produce or reinforce more harmonious overtones. The best pianos have been doing this for nearly 150 years. It's called a Duplex scale.

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