I’ve been playing for a little over a year and have two banjos that I play daily. One with GHS steel strings and one with LaBella 17’s.
When I change strings, I notice that it’s usually due the wound string starting to sound a little muddy. Is it safe to assume that it’s the wound strings that “die” first? And, do the unwound strings actually need changing (barring any pitting, etc)?
Does any one buy single wound strings and just change them more often ? TIA for educating me in the sorcery of the banjo.
Wound strings will always go dead first. Crud can get between the windings and there can also be some electolytic corrosion between unlike metals (steel and bronze for example). The windings can also get flattened against the frets, making them vibrate unevenly.
It's sometimes possible to liven up the wound strings by boiling them (it can remove some of the crud), but that's very temporary and not really worth the trouble.
Replacing just the wound strings is a matter of choice. Plain steel can also corrode from acids in a person's fingers but don't seem to sound quite so horrible when they're getting long in the tooth.. The time to change any string depends on the player's preferences. There are many people who like the sound of old strings and simply leave them on until one of them breaks. Personally, I detest old strings and find I get more even tone and better intonation with new ones. I have, on occasion, replaced only the wound strings (I've also boiled old ones), but that's only been when I couldn't afford a whole set (a common problem for many musicians).
Ralph Stanley said he changed strings when they broke.
Sammy Shelor said he brings 10 or 12 sets to a recording session and changes just about every song. I asked a pro player why he would do that, and was told maybe because if any dubbing in has to be done, it is always done with a new set.
I think you have a good handle on doing it when the sound gets muddy. A new set always sounds better than the older set. I do hate to take the time to change strings.
I think this question was asked in Masters of the Banjo book (which is getting out dated now) with many different answers.
Compared to most other stringed instruments, banjo strings are cheap. The condition of strings deteriorates so gradually we sometime don't realize how bad they are until we install new strings.
I just make sure I wipe my strings off when I finish playing. How often you replace strings depends on the amount of playing time and condition of the players hands
One more thing. Youtube has useful videos on changing strings. Remember, the more often you do something, the easier it becomes and the more proficient you get. IMHO, the banjo is one of the easiest instruments to refret.
Edited by - Richard Hauser on 04/19/2021 07:02:45
Changing the wound string and keeping the rest sounds like taking a bath and then putting the same dirty clothes back on. If you break a string on stage and replace only one then it's understandable. But, if you are in between sessions, unless you are too poor, or too cheap, to buy sets of strings it would be just as well to change the set. The same goes for boiling strings, as George mentioned, or soaking them in ammonia like a former band mate of mine did. I think he changed strings on his mandolin once every two or three years.
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