I have a fretless Dobson Pisgah banjo. I have been trying different nylgut strings. I like the aquila classics, but I would like to try aquila minstrel strings to see how I like the deep tones on the banjo. Is it necessary to widen the nut slots or get a different bridge? I would like to avoid making these modifications, since this might just be an experiment, but if they have been necessary in the experience of others, then I would like to know going into it. Thanks!
A new bridge is a relatively painless mod, since it's not very expensive and easily reversed. With nylon strings you are usually better off with a thinner bridge without an ebony top. The ebony protects the softer wood from wire, and tends to act as a bit of a mute for nylon.
The Minstrels are pretty thick. You can probably get by temporarily without widening the slots at the nut just to see if you like the sound, but if you decide to leave them on permanently you would eventually have to widen the nut slots.
At the bridge, you'll probably want to widen the slots from the get-go or you'll definitely have problems with the strings easily popping out and moving around from the sideways picking force. You can start with an old bridge you don't care about modifying, but again if you decide to leave them on permanently you'll want to get a lighter bridge without an ebony top. I like to use a softer wood like walnut or mahogany. Some folks that use minstrels even use pine, spruce, or fir.
Edited by - championofnorthhuron on 08/30/2021 07:12:41
I have always demo'd new string sizes without altering the nut or bridge first. Experiment first. If you like them enough, recut the nut and bridge.
Even a narrow-cut steel string nut/bridge can be used for temporary testing with nylon/nylgut. The strings will be held in place good enough to figure out if you like them. No, they won't be perfect and they may be difficult to tune and have a tall action. Doesn't matter, just play with an eye towards not causing them to pop out of position. If you like the sound/feel...that's the time to go altering things.
As said above, bridges are the easy part. Especially if you are going to go with some of the lower Minstrel era tunings (like Briggs), I've found very light pine to be a great bridge material. Douglas fir is good too. Light and stiff. I have beat my pine bridge hard (Converse's "Drum Chords" mean whacking the bridge with the edge of your hand to get drum sounds) and it is still going string since 2008...
Thanks for the responses. I'm going to give it a go with an uncapped bridge and see how it goes.
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