I am in the process of repairing one of these. It is a fairly ornate instrument not one of the later 60's made ones. The neck looks and feels fairly robust and I suspect it has previously been strung with steel strings (none on it when I got it). Can anyone advise if it should have steel on it or gut?
Unless it is a zither banjo-- it was made for gut.
It is safe to assume that any high quality regular banjos built before WW2 were intended for gut.
Consider that what we now call "classic banjo" was still prevalent long after the plectrum switch happened in the US (around the mid to late 1920s). If you went to a music store in London in the 1930s and asked for a regular banjo, it would be assumed you wanted to play "classic" fingerstyle banjo.
Exceptions. Plectrum banjos (this includes plectrum banjos built as regular banjos in the 1920s such as most Gibson regular banjos). Tenor banjos. Zither banjos.
Emile Grimshaw pushed wire first strings. This was recommended in his instruction book as well as various articles. One could presume that Clifford Essex and Grimshaw banjos were sold with a wire first (unless requested otherwise-- they did sell gut and tropical 1sts). How often this advice was followed, I can't say. I do know that at that time, regular fingerstyle banjos were also used for pick playing.
We do know that many/most (all?) the English pros (except Grimshaw) that played fingersyle used gut/silk/tropical firsts and did not follow Grimshaw's advice. I believe his advice was motivated by the humidity and climate of London.
CE also started offering nylon after the war when it became availalbe.
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