Hi all please can you offer guidance.
I have recently bought my first banjo and reading various articles it varies between swapping your strings every few weeks to every few months?
Secondly do the make of strings make a difference? As a complete novice should I be looking at light strings on my banjo but to be honest I don't know what make or type are on there now and not sure how I would find out.
Kind regards Steve
Those articles you've been reading offer an interesting example of how the world works. If the articles were published in a commercial journal or on a monetized site, they were likely sponsored by a company who wants to sell you banjo strings. Caveat emptor.
Practically speaking, strings can last a good long while depending on a few factors. Steel strings will corrode in a damp environment, or as a reaction to an individual's body chemistry, and they will cease to produce a pure pitch. They also deform (develop flat spots) over time where the string meets the fret, causing an irregular vibration. Synthetic strings (nylon, etc.) last longer but still deform and produce a blurred pitch. Nylgut tends to stretch significantly when new, and continues to stretch over time, resulting in an irregular string diameter. When Nylgut strings get old, they just thud instead of producing a pitch. Some people like that sort of sound.
If you perform professionally, you'll probably change strings frequently, perhaps even daily. If you play for enjoyment frequently, and if your body chemistry causes sweaty fingers, you might want to change strings every four- to eight weeks. If you can abide nothing less than the pure sound of new strings, every one - to two weeks is in order.
I used to perform frequently and kept the same set of strings on a fretless banjo for ten years before I sold it (with the same strings) to some film industry guy who loved the way it sounded. I play (fretted) banjo less frequently now than I used to, and change strings about every ten months or so.
That's excellent thank you very much for responding I appreciate your comments.
Might be a long time before I would be playing to a decent level but we all have to dream
I've been playing a long time. Currently I play 20-60 minutes a day at home. I change my strings about every 6 months. I use a bunch of brands of strings. What I did was to pick a brand. Buy a set of "Medium" gauge strings (or two, you need a backup set for breakages) and try them. To me liking or disliking, good vs. junk is all relative. What sounds good to me might not to the next guy. What string I break putting it on might work fine for the next guy.
I'd go for medium strings to start. Trouble with light strings is that a beginner 'deathgrip' will send strings sharp when fretting. As well as sending played notes sharp it will affect you setting up the bridge if you do it by fretting at the 12th.
Changing strings is dependent on your humidity conditions and whether you play outside. I tend to play indoors in benign conditions and my strings only ever get replaced when I break a string. If you play outdoors and your strings rust ever so slightly you'll feel slight friction when you do slides, and for me that is an indicator to change strings. (that was from playing in a naval ship hangar open to salt air).
As a beginner I would suggest changing your strings around 4 weeks apart and at six weeks at the top end of time length. Put a small book in your case and note when you change your strings. After you get more experience you will start to recognize that your strings need changing based on how they stay in tune and their tone. I would go with something like GHS JD Crowe strings as a pretty normal size and brand. Again, as you get more experienced, you will gravitate toward the strings that suit your preference as to sound and playability.
Change strings when they sound bad, get visibly tarnished or deformed, won't stay in tune, or break. As a beginner who isn't performing, you should have no reason to change strings every few weeks.
I agree that light gauge makes sense. But "light" is a relative term, not a standard. Different brands sell sets ranging from .009 through .020 to .010 to .022 as "light" with many different variations for the 2nd and 3rd strings (5th string will be the same gauge as the 1st string).
In general, I think sets in the ranges I just mentioned with a third string no thicker than .013 will be sufficiently light.
I like GHS strings in stainless. They sound god and are priced right. Here are their JD Crowe signature sets.
I used to use Martin lights.
"I don't know what make or type are on there now and not sure how I would find out."
Question: Are they steel strings or nylon strings now?
Question: Is this an old Barnes & Mulling, or a recently-made version?
Edited by - Alex Z on 02/22/2021 07:56:22
I used mediums for awhile, because the first banjo I bought had mediums. I had the beginner "death grip" on the strings (that AndyW referred to), so that was probably a good idea. A few years in I made the decision to consciously work on lightening my finger pressure, and when I got that worked out I switched to lights. I've used a few different brands and haven't noticed a difference. Price (with shipping) is usually the deciding factor.
As a beginner, you're much better off spending your time PICKING than fussing with strings.
If your strings feel sticky or have rusty spots or flat spots in them, then you ought to change them. "Time" is the least of your worries. I've been playing a lot, for 55 years, and my strings last months to years (bluegrass Mastertones).
If your strings sound bad to you, change them. If they sound OK to you, keep picking.
I recommend light gauge strings for beginners.
I've used nearly every brand of strings in the past 56 years. I've settled on AMB brand cryogenic strings. They stay in tune better and last longer than most anything else I've used. I was using GHS Sonny Osbornes until I started with AMB. The AMB strings are affordable, they are available in custom sets and their service is outstanding.
Wow thank you so much everyone that’s fantastic advice.
I will digest all the information and let you know how I get on.
Hope everyone is staying safe in these times.
Many thanks once again
More things to think about.
1. What type banjo and what style of playing.
In general I like med lights for my resonator banjos for Scruggs and finger picks, I use medium gauge for my openback clawhammer style. I have found that the responsive touch of each banjo likes a different gauge string.
2. If your banjo is new and a beginner banjo the string are probably of a lesser quality and would suggest you change them so you know what you have on them. I like the idea of a small note book to track you string selection, age and impressions when you 1st change them and after they have been on the banjo 2-3 weeks 6 weeks etc.
You can also log any set up changes ( bridge changes, head tension changes and anything you do that affects your playing or the sound.)
once they get that they are harder to tune i get rid of them an put new on
Just read Dr. Ralph Stanleys book and he said he would change them maybe once a year and he was a professional. I notice I get a whole lot nicer sound if i change them every six weeks or so but i play an hour every day on average. I havent tried them all but gibsons get me a few more weeks than most that cost a little less.
BTW i wouldnt recommend waiting a year. Just thought it was interesting.
I know I'm at one end the extreme but I never change strings unless I break a string. I learned from Don Stover and that was his attitude. And I don't like the sound of new strings.
If I break a string at the bridge, I will try to loosen the string and tie a knot in it (behind the bridge). If I can't tie a knot I'll replace that string. When I get home I'll replace the entire set. Currently, on my main banjo ('27 archie), I have had the set of strings on it for over ten years with only one knot (a sheets bend) on the second string. Actually, I have had to replace the frets on this banjo before I replaced the strings. (Go figure.)
I have no problem keeping the banjo in tune and other banjo pickers have commented on how bright all my banjos sound, flatheads included.
I use medium gauge strings, and as long as I wipe them down after I play, I can get about 3-4 months out of them. And that's with about 1-3 hours a day of practicing. I had a set that I didn't wipe down (I was curious) and they lasted about two weeks.
But like everybody as already said, we all have our preferences. I play at home and don't like the way strings sound right out of the package, so I keep mine on for longer. You might be the opposite and want to do a weekly string change. Luckily, strings are cheap!
Years ago when I was a full time professional musician (banjo player in a band) I use to have a back up banjo that I would put new strings on, keep it tuned up to stretch the strings out, so when I had to put new strings on one of my main players, the adjustment time was not as long as with fresh strings.
Oh, the things I did in my youth. Now because I have four banjos I play regularly, when I have to put new strings on one of the banjos, I usually put it aside for about a month to let the strings age (like a fine wine) before I'll play it. It is nice to have multiple pre-war Mastertones.
Thank you'll for reminding me of that. It was a loooooong time ago.
Use what works for you and change them when you don't like the way they are beginning to sound and feel. (Yes, feel is something that you may be sesitive to. I know I am!)
String choice won't make much difference for a beginner, so don't worry about it until you know more about the rest of your instrument and how it responds.
Hi. I am new to this site and looking for help. I wanted to add on to the post about strings. I am also a beginner and have been playing 1-2 hours per day. I changed strings in Nov and these are Martin Vega I think light. I have no idea what type was on it before. These sound different and also are tearing up my fingers, even with callouses. Is there one type of strings that are better? Should I stop playing as much for a while? This is an inexpensive JB-070 banjo and a bit hard to play anyway. Am getting a new Pisgah in May, but in the meantime it is getting difficult to practice. Thanks very much in advance for all feedback.
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