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Video of John Hartford "D" string set, before and after

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Dec 7, 2019 - 10:55:49 PM
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87 posts since 12/15/2013

Just sharing as I had been looking for options for a "low" D or E tuning while still using a regular banjo with minimal to no alterations. I found lots of info here on the hangout and across the interwebs. I just thought I'd share my own experience after buying a set of John Hartford D strings.  More info in the YouTube description also.

John Hartford D string set - What do "D" strings sound like on a regular banjo?
https://youtu.be/R3MhOaAHZSs
 
The string set is called John Hartford D Tuning Low Strung Set. Deering carries a similar gauge set called the Julia Belle (their John Hartford inspired banjo). The gauges are:
12, 14, 20W, 24W, 12. 
 
I did not have to modify the nut or bridge and the 12 fit fine under my 5th string railroad spikes. It tunes to D as advertised and also up to E which adds a bit more volume too (I did not videotape the banjo tuned to E, but it sounds very good). 
 
I think a heavier head or perhaps a renaissance head may be a better fit to bring out more depth/warmth of the tone. I will definitely keep this "spare" banjo in this tuning and bring it along for solo performances...but not likely to jams as it may not cut well enough to hold up in a really loud setting. 
 
If it helps someone out there, cool. If not, feel free to move on without comment :-) 
Thanks,
Larry

Edited by - lfbenitez on 12/07/2019 23:13:13

Dec 7, 2019 - 11:58:02 PM
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3362 posts since 1/2/2004

No comment other than to say your playing is real squared away. Nice job. Great touch.

And, well, anything having to do with John Hartford is, in my book, worth listening to - even just a new set of strings.

Play hard,

Lew

Dec 8, 2019 - 5:41:14 AM

Dragonslayer

Mozambique

223 posts since 10/9/2019

The strings sound good, how much did they cost? You had the same look on your face as I do when I play in E tuning, I could tell you really were enjoying it. And nice picking too!

Dec 8, 2019 - 10:36:58 AM

963 posts since 8/7/2017

Thanks Larry, very informative. And very nice playing, I had a smile on my face listening to you. You make it sound so free and easy, and I know it takes a lot of work to get to that stage, Well Done.

Dec 8, 2019 - 12:14:36 PM
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3767 posts since 5/1/2003

I've had a couple banjos I've done this with in the past.Ive got an old Slingerland in the shop right now getting a 5 string neck installed for just this very thing.
Consider this:You can play in the keys of G and A in E tuning by simply using a C pattern or a D pattern. It's good practice to learn to play that way. After awhile It'll be just as easy as playing with a G pattern.

Dec 8, 2019 - 12:44:33 PM

14 posts since 2/10/2017

I've used the Hartford D's before and liked them. Liked them a lot. Been thinking of using them again to play all low and stuff again.

Dec 8, 2019 - 9:56:07 PM

10553 posts since 10/27/2006

They are almost as heavy as the recently discontinued Gibson Medium (.025w fourth) and the long discontinued Vega Medium (.015 second, .026w fourth).

There is no problem tuning these to standard pitch if you want to get that ‘30s – ‘60s tone with a little less sustain. I use the Vega gauges but only tuned E to e on my long necks.

Dec 9, 2019 - 1:33:40 AM

87 posts since 12/15/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Brooklynbanjoboy

No comment other than to say your playing is real squared away. Nice job. Great touch.

And, well, anything having to do with John Hartford is, in my book, worth listening to - even just a new set of strings.

Play hard,

Lew


Thanks for the playing compliment...I am trying get better every day :-)

Dec 9, 2019 - 1:39:01 AM
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87 posts since 12/15/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Dragonslayer

The strings sound good, how much did they cost? You had the same look on your face as I do when I play in E tuning, I could tell you really were enjoying it. And nice picking too!


The John Hartford's by Pearson strings from Elderly Instruments cost about $6 + shipping, Deering has the Julia Belle's for about $8...but for the next few hours, they have a two for 1 sale...which I did...just add 1 to your cart and they'll add another one for free.

I do like the sound of them...makes me rethink about which songs I could sing in different keys.

Thanks for the compliment on the picking...I'm trying :-) 

Dec 9, 2019 - 1:41:46 AM

87 posts since 12/15/2013

quote:
Originally posted by BrooksMT

Thanks Larry, very informative. And very nice playing, I had a smile on my face listening to you. You make it sound so free and easy, and I know it takes a lot of work to get to that stage, Well Done.


Thanks for the nice comment...one of the reason's I love playing for the daytime dementia care and senior living folks is the smiles...music can be very uplifting.

And you are right...I do sing-alongs and it has taken me time to get used to leading them as a solo banjo player in front of a group...but I still get flustered when I play at an open mic to "perform"...still working on that. :-)

Dec 9, 2019 - 1:43:56 AM

87 posts since 12/15/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Ks_5-picker

I've had a couple banjos I've done this with in the past.Ive got an old Slingerland in the shop right now getting a 5 string neck installed for just this very thing.
Consider this:You can play in the keys of G and A in E tuning by simply using a C pattern or a D pattern. It's good practice to learn to play that way. After awhile It'll be just as easy as playing with a G pattern.


Thanks for the comment, and the reminder.  On my standard banjos, that's how I play many D fiddle tunes...capoed at A and playing out of C position...nice brain flip to think about doing that to play G out of C position. Cool!

Dec 9, 2019 - 1:46:14 AM

87 posts since 12/15/2013

quote:
Originally posted by fentonjames

I've used the Hartford D's before and liked them. Liked them a lot. Been thinking of using them again to play all low and stuff again.


Absolutely..."all low and stuff"....LOL love that. I'll definitely be keeping at least one banjo like this all the time (maybe two...I have enough to have a set of "G" banjos and "D" banjos...LOL).

Dec 9, 2019 - 1:54:40 AM

87 posts since 12/15/2013

quote:
Originally posted by mikehalloran

They are almost as heavy as the recently discontinued Gibson Medium (.025w fourth) and the long discontinued Vega Medium (.015 second, .026w fourth).

There is no problem tuning these to standard pitch if you want to get that ‘30s – ‘60s tone with a little less sustain. I use the Vega gauges but only tuned E to e on my long necks.


Thanks for the additional string info. I was originally looking at the ML-1, because it is tuned to low C...I'd still like to try it out some day. I did tune "up" these strings to E to see how it sounded and it definitely brightend the sound with less "overtone" and sustain, it was pretty nice too. I understand that John often tuned to Eb...perhaps a middle compromise for low tone and less sustain. 

I'll keep my banjo at D for a while, but I may do the "oldtime" trick and stick a sock or something in the back to kill some of the overtone and sustain...I'll just have to experiment a bit on what "may" work. In one of my open backs I've used some pipe insulation just curved along the bottom inside of the pot, just under the head to help with tone...may give that a whirl.

Dec 9, 2019 - 6:24:18 AM

18 posts since 8/20/2015

quote:
Originally posted by lfbenitez
quote:
Originally posted by mikehalloran

They are almost as heavy as the recently discontinued Gibson Medium (.025w fourth) and the long discontinued Vega Medium (.015 second, .026w fourth).

There is no problem tuning these to standard pitch if you want to get that ‘30s – ‘60s tone with a little less sustain. I use the Vega gauges but only tuned E to e on my long necks.


Thanks for the additional string info. I was originally looking at the ML-1, because it is tuned to low C...I'd still like to try it out some day. I did tune "up" these strings to E to see how it sounded and it definitely brightend the sound with less "overtone" and sustain, it was pretty nice too. I understand that John often tuned to Eb...perhaps a middle compromise for low tone and less sustain. 

I'll keep my banjo at D for a while, but I may do the "oldtime" trick and stick a sock or something in the back to kill some of the overtone and sustain...I'll just have to experiment a bit on what "may" work. In one of my open backs I've used some pipe insulation just curved along the bottom inside of the pot, just under the head to help with tone...may give that a whirl.


John would use D-E fairly often with a string set similar to that, those gauges are the exact same he states as his set for Eb in his video lessons, though around that time he would often play in Eb and D, seemingly depending on circumstance. He seemed to settle on D-Eb around the time he got his Deering 24 fret. 
It's interesting to note for open E tuning around the time he would have started playing his Deering (Before he used this set for low D and Eb on his 24 fretters) his gauges would have, at least for an unknown by me period of time, been 13-14-20P, 24w, 13.  I find this is a very different sound and feel and worthwhile looking into if you like playing in open E. 

Dec 9, 2019 - 7:58:50 AM

conic

UK

615 posts since 2/15/2014

thanks for the demo Larry and string gauges., you are very good and I appreciate your effort, i have just ordered a set to try on a recording king RK 35.

i normally sing in C, would it tune that low or will it be too twangy

Dec 9, 2019 - 7:56:41 PM

87 posts since 12/15/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Evan Swin

John would use D-E fairly often with a string set similar to that, those gauges are the exact same he states as his set for Eb in his video lessons, though around that time he would often play in Eb and D, seemingly depending on circumstance. He seemed to settle on D-Eb around the time he got his Deering 24 fret. 
It's interesting to note for open E tuning around the time he would have started playing his Deering (Before he used this set for low D and Eb on his 24 fretters) his gauges would have, at least for an unknown by me period of time, been 13-14-20P, 24w, 13.  I find this is a very different sound and feel and worthwhile looking into if you like playing in open E. 


I did like these strings in open E. I'll play around with them some more. Going to a 13  sounds interesting (pun not intended), I imagine it will feel stiffer to play, but I'm willing to give it a try. Is the 20P you refer to a 20 wound phosphorus string?

Dec 9, 2019 - 8:00:35 PM

87 posts since 12/15/2013

quote:
Originally posted by conic

thanks for the demo Larry and string gauges., you are very good and I appreciate your effort, i have just ordered a set to try on a recording king RK 35.

i normally sing in C, would it tune that low or will it be too twangy


There are a couple songs that I sing in C and I'm curious about this too. I'll try it out and see, I predict the strings may be a little loose with the possible loss of some volume and response. The ML-1 is in open C and I think those strings are much heavier and are all wound, this according to the GoldTone website .018w .022w .030w .040w .018w.

Dec 9, 2019 - 8:44:33 PM

18 posts since 8/20/2015

quote:
Originally posted by lfbenitez
quote:
Originally posted by Evan Swin

John would use D-E fairly often with a string set similar to that, those gauges are the exact same he states as his set for Eb in his video lessons, though around that time he would often play in Eb and D, seemingly depending on circumstance. He seemed to settle on D-Eb around the time he got his Deering 24 fret. 
It's interesting to note for open E tuning around the time he would have started playing his Deering (Before he used this set for low D and Eb on his 24 fretters) his gauges would have, at least for an unknown by me period of time, been 13-14-20P, 24w, 13.  I find this is a very different sound and feel and worthwhile looking into if you like playing in open E. 


I did like these strings in open E. I'll play around with them some more. Going to a 13  sounds interesting (pun not intended), I imagine it will feel stiffer to play, but I'm willing to give it a try. Is the 20P you refer to a 20 wound phosphorus string?

 


It's actually a plain 20. The 13s and the plain 20 are fairly heavy, but I don't find either the 13 or the plain 20 to be terribly taught. The plain 20 is however a much different feel. I personally much prefer 13's and the plain 20 for E tuning as it has a certain tone which I find very different from the standard set. I'd say if you like that darker sound, the standard Hartford/Julia Belle are good for it, but what I would call the 'Late 80s Hartford' set (13-14-20p-24w-13) seems to get a brighter, even more standard tuning sound to it. 

Edited by - Evan Swin on 12/09/2019 20:50:44

Dec 9, 2019 - 8:49:17 PM

18 posts since 8/20/2015

quote:
Originally posted by lfbenitez
quote:
Originally posted by conic

thanks for the demo Larry and string gauges., you are very good and I appreciate your effort, i have just ordered a set to try on a recording king RK 35.

i normally sing in C, would it tune that low or will it be too twangy


There are a couple songs that I sing in C and I'm curious about this too. I'll try it out and see, I predict the strings may be a little loose with the possible loss of some volume and response. The ML-1 is in open C and I think those strings are much heavier and are all wound, this according to the GoldTone website .018w .022w .030w .040w .018w.


I have tried them in C and found it manageable in a just fooling around sense, but really much too loose. I don't think you have to go down that low to get a good fit for low C, if I had to guess the ML-1 uses those to get a really really low sound by having all wound strings in heavy guages. I really like the standard Hartford set of 10-12-14-22-10, and the low D sets are nice where they are for that Eb area, so maybe 14-16-22-26-14 or something to that effect could be a good compromise for C?

Dec 9, 2019 - 9:32:22 PM

87 posts since 12/15/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Evan Swin

 


It's actually a plain 20. The 13s and the plain 20 are fairly heavy, but I don't find either the 13 or the plain 20 to be terribly taught. The plain 20 is however a much different feel. I personally much prefer 13's and the plain 20 for E tuning as it has a certain tone which I find very different from the standard set. I'd say if you like that darker sound, the standard Hartford/Julia Belle are good for it, but what I would call the 'Late 80s Hartford' set (13-14-20p-24w-13) seems to get a brighter, even more standard tuning sound to it. 


Excellent, thanks for additional detail on the 'Late 80's Harford' set. Perhaps I'll have one banjo with the "standard" low strung set and one with the 'Late 80's' set. :-) 

Dec 9, 2019 - 9:35:10 PM

87 posts since 12/15/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Evan Swin

I have tried them in C and found it manageable in a just fooling around sense, but really much too loose. I don't think you have to go down that low to get a good fit for low C, if I had to guess the ML-1 uses those to get a really really low sound by having all wound strings in heavy guages. I really like the standard Hartford set of 10-12-14-22-10, and the low D sets are nice where they are for that Eb area, so maybe 14-16-22-26-14 or something to that effect could be a good compromise for C?


Oooo...that could be interesting...would that be a 22W & 26W? or 22P(lain) & 26W?

Dec 9, 2019 - 10:12:33 PM

18 posts since 8/20/2015

quote:
Originally posted by lfbenitez
quote:
Originally posted by Evan Swin

I have tried them in C and found it manageable in a just fooling around sense, but really much too loose. I don't think you have to go down that low to get a good fit for low C, if I had to guess the ML-1 uses those to get a really really low sound by having all wound strings in heavy guages. I really like the standard Hartford set of 10-12-14-22-10, and the low D sets are nice where they are for that Eb area, so maybe 14-16-22-26-14 or something to that effect could be a good compromise for C?


Oooo...that could be interesting...would that be a 22W & 26W? or 22P(lain) & 26W?


I'd say wound would be the way to go, though I haven't experimented too much with going that low. I don't think a plain string past 20 would be good for that application (and by the way if a plain 20 is just too heavy under your finger for E tuning I find a plain 18 also works well). C is a different sound for sure, I believe Morning Bugle is mostly done on a banjo tuned to C if I remember correctly. I would personally think at that point getting a good thumpy sound would be the way to go, and a plain string over 20 would probably both be possibly tricky to find but also a bit off sounding. The feel might also be a bit too much, as you really do notice the tension and thickness of a plain string at that gauge. I like the feel of the plain third it in E, but I don't think I would go thicker than that. 

Dec 9, 2019 - 10:58:13 PM

87 posts since 12/15/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Evan Swin
quote:
Originally posted by lfbenitez
quote:
Originally posted by Evan Swin

I have tried them in C and found it manageable in a just fooling around sense, but really much too loose. I don't think you have to go down that low to get a good fit for low C, if I had to guess the ML-1 uses those to get a really really low sound by having all wound strings in heavy guages. I really like the standard Hartford set of 10-12-14-22-10, and the low D sets are nice where they are for that Eb area, so maybe 14-16-22-26-14 or something to that effect could be a good compromise for C?


Oooo...that could be interesting...would that be a 22W & 26W? or 22P(lain) & 26W?


I'd say wound would be the way to go, though I haven't experimented too much with going that low. I don't think a plain string past 20 would be good for that application (and by the way if a plain 20 is just too heavy under your finger for E tuning I find a plain 18 also works well). C is a different sound for sure, I believe Morning Bugle is mostly done on a banjo tuned to C if I remember correctly. I would personally think at that point getting a good thumpy sound would be the way to go, and a plain string over 20 would probably both be possibly tricky to find but also a bit off sounding. The feel might also be a bit too much, as you really do notice the tension and thickness of a plain string at that gauge. I like the feel of the plain third it in E, but I don't think I would go thicker than that. 


I very much appreciate the input on the 3rd string. Sound reasoning too :-) Thanks for taking the time to reply.

Dec 9, 2019 - 10:58:24 PM

10553 posts since 10/27/2006

Plain strings that are too thick go “thunk” because they are too stiff. This is why wound strings exist.

Dec 10, 2019 - 10:47:08 PM
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87 posts since 12/15/2013

quote:
Originally posted by mikehalloran

Plain strings that are too thick go “thunk” because they are too stiff. This is why wound strings exist.


Makes sense! :-)

Dec 19, 2019 - 12:08:20 PM
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87 posts since 12/15/2013

Just adding a final summary to all the string gauges discussed :-) Thanks all who contributed...would love to try as many of these "low" string combinations as I can some day. 

John Hartford low strung D set / Deering Juila Belle
12, 14, 20W, 24W, 12

Standard John Hartford (G)
10, 12, 14, 22W, 10

Other "low" String variations discussed: 

Gibson Medium (.025w fourth) 
12, 14, 20W, 25W, 12

the long discontinued Vega Medium (.015 second, .026w fourth).
12, 15, 20W, 26W, 12

Early John Hartford pre-Deering open E tuning string set; 'Late 80s Hartford' set
13, 14, 20P, 24W, 13 ("P" meaning plain)

so maybe...could be a good compromise for C (not tested)
14, 16, 22W, 26W, 14

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