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Top string keeps jumping out of saddle and driving me nuts

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May 26, 2020 - 10:51:19 AM
2 posts since 5/26/2020

Hello, I’m new here so forgive me if I am in thus wrong place to ask this question. I picked a banjo up at the end of December in a little thrift shop and have been playing the hell out of it. It’s just a little cheap, banjo with no markings besides an eagle with flags on the resonator. I work nights so I am usually awake at night and I realized my neighbor could hear me practice so I did a few things to quiet the banjo down. I took the resonator off and I got some nylgut strings (man they are super weird!) The problem I am having since restring is my high G wants to go and sit with my D string, it’s driving me nuts and I’m not really sure what to do. I cut a little out of the saddle but it didn’t seem to help and I don’t want to cut too much. I’d take it and have it set up but due to the pandemic I’ve really been watching my dollars... by trade, I am a bass player and have been most of my life but suffered an Injury at work and my hands don’t have the strength they use to. I am learning clawhammer and might be a tad heavy handed due to my bass days, but that was never a problem with the regular strings... well if anyone had any advice for me I sure would appreciate it. Thanks in advance y’all.

May 26, 2020 - 11:20 AM

Alex Z


3851 posts since 12/7/2006

"I got some nylgut strings

"that was never a problem with the regular strings

"I am learning clawhammer and might be a tad heavy handed due to my bass days

Welcome to the BHO!

From the information you've given, I don't think you need a luthier.  You're halfway there now.

Information:  Steel string is OK.  Nylgut is not.  That means the steel string was sitting down nicely in the groove of the "saddle" (banjo picker call that "the fifth string nut" or "5th string pip').  But likely the nyglut is sitting up too high.  The steel string has a small diameter, while the nylgut is much thicker, maybe twice as thick.  You've already cut some of the nut, but no help.

Two possibilities at this point:

  1.  The groove in the nut is deep enough, but it is not wide enough for the string to sit at the bottom.

  2.  The groove is wide enough, but not deep enough.

So, how to check he slot?  For a nylgut string, on the 5th string, with a heavy hand, I'd recommend having the slot deep and wide enough so that the top of the string is level with the top of the nut.  (Some like it shallower, but they are not having trouble with the string popping out when playing.)

When cutting the slot, keep the sides fairly straight up, not so sloped that the string can be moved sideways easily.

Hope this helps.

May 26, 2020 - 11:33:40 AM



2856 posts since 2/20/2016

Yes, it sounds like the notch in either the bridge or the 5th string nut is not large enough to accommodate the string.
If you have a half-round file with a very thin edge, you might be able to take care of it yourself by using the edge of the file to make the cut. A half-round needle file [needle file sets are available at the hardware store] would be better.

If not, you can go back to the steel strings, and, for your neighbor's sake, mute the banjo by stuffing a rolled up sock between the head and the dowel or metal rod inside the rim, or clip a clothespin to the bridge.

May 26, 2020 - 11:58:36 AM

7253 posts since 8/28/2013

I also believe the larger diameter of the Nylgut is causing the string not to fit as the steel does, and that widening/deepening the string slot in either the 5th string nuts or the bridge, and mostly likely both.

I, too find Nylguts to be "super weird" and don't use them.

Personally. I'd do as Bob suggests: go back to steel strings and clip a clothespin to the bridge.

May 26, 2020 - 12:24:08 PM
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Eric A


648 posts since 10/15/2019
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I think he's talking about the nylgut 5th string popping out of it's bridge slot.

Go back to steel strings. There are better ways to mute a banjo. Various products that attach to the bridge, among others.

May 26, 2020 - 12:26:42 PM

bill t


214 posts since 12/14/2012

Stuff a folded up towel in the back of the banjo.

May 26, 2020 - 2:05:47 PM

7676 posts since 1/7/2005

Since he referred to the "saddle", I assumed he means the top of the bridge, not the nut. We should probably clarify that.

Since he noted that it's an inexpensive banjo, there is also the chance that the bridge is a short one, and the break angle of the string at the bridge is not providing enough down pressure on the bridge. This can be responsible for strings jumping the track, and will probably cause several problems if it's the case. adjusting the neck angle and going to a taller bridge might be the best overall solution. Plus... it would likely improve the tone.


May 26, 2020 - 3:57:08 PM

Alex Z


3851 posts since 12/7/2006

Right.  Guitar player => "saddle" => top of bridge.  smiley

Same solutions as for the nut.

May 27, 2020 - 5:08:50 AM

2 posts since 5/26/2020

Sorry, I guess I need to get my banjo anatomy down before I start asking questions! The string seems to be fine at the nut, it was at the bridge I was having the issue. I had forgot to mention I already put a towel in the back when I took the resonator off, it did help but I feel like this banjo is extra bright and loud. I went ahead and cut a little more out of my bridge, the string is about even with the bridge now and all is right in the world again. I do dig the tone of the nylgut honestly, they have a sort of primal tone to them. I will probably give it another week to see if I can’t get a little more use to them as they are much quieter. Thanks for the advice everyone and being easy on a newcomer that doesn’t fully know what he’s talking about.

May 27, 2020 - 8:36:21 AM

Alex Z


3851 posts since 12/7/2006

"I went ahead and cut a little more out of my bridge, the string is about even with the bridge now and all is right in the world again."

Glad it worked out.

As a banjo picker, you'll end up doing a lot of these kinds of little adjustments.  

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