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Sep 19, 2021 - 8:54:05 AM
3 posts since 9/19/2021

New member here. I'm actually a mandolin player but have in hand a Gibson trap door MB-4 which I am tuning as a mandolin (GDAE). I know nothing about banjos. I've gotten string advice on Mandolin Cafe and from my luthier. The Cafe advice was to use light tenor banjo strings: 009-012-022-028. My luthier wonders if these, especially the G, would be too light, and suggest something slightly heavier but still light, GHS Ultra light mando strings: 009, 013, 020, 032.

So, what say the Banjo Hangout aficionados?

Worried that I am being inappropriately obsessive about this, I appreciate any advice you can provide.

Sep 19, 2021 - 9:14:18 AM

2582 posts since 5/2/2012

I have a Gold Tone 17 fret tenor tuned GDAE and in my opinion the 4th string gauge is the key for this banjo. I put on a set with a .036 4th. If I played it more (or played with others) I would consider moving to .040 or thicker. The .036 just does not provide the crisp tone the other strings do. Your MB-4 may react differently. Strings are fairly cheap to experiment with.

Sep 19, 2021 - 11:22:58 AM
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9001 posts since 8/28/2013

Light gauge mandolin strings should work fine.

If you decide on tenor banjo strings, you'll need to buy two sets to string an MB. A tenor banjo only has four strings, an MB has eight.

Sep 19, 2021 - 12:26:13 PM
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11763 posts since 10/27/2006

It’ a mandolin. What’s wrong with mandolin strings?

Sep 19, 2021 - 6:39:25 PM

Fathand

Canada

11797 posts since 2/7/2008

Yup, it's a mandolin. Use mandolin strings. They are designed to be tuned GDAE. They have loop ends which most banjo tailpieces take.

Sep 21, 2021 - 8:09:54 AM

Tom Napper

Scotland

13 posts since 11/18/2011

The point is to string a mandolin banjo with light strings as most modern mandolin strings will put too much pressure on the head, resulting in poor tone. The light gauge tenor banjo string set (x2) are lighter than the GHS Ultra light mandolin strings. But ultimately it doesn't matter how you label them, banjo or mandolin, a string is a string. It's the gauge that matters.

Sep 21, 2021 - 8:35:13 AM
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11763 posts since 10/27/2006

Sep 21, 2021 - 5:45:22 PM
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1621 posts since 2/9/2007

The right string tension for a banjo is way lower than what you'd want for a wood-topped instrument of similar scale and pitch. IMO those GHS ultra-lights are about as heavy as you'd want to put on a MB. Elderly sells custom "mando-banjo" sets that are .008-.010-.018-.026 ...

I've strung MB's with those gauges (.018 PLAIN steel D's!), and they work pretty well.

Sep 21, 2021 - 7:27:45 PM
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9001 posts since 8/28/2013

Although Dan Gellert is correct that tension on a mando banjo should be less than that of a true mandolin, I will say that these old trapdoor Gibsons are pretty darned sturdy and can probably handle the .009-.032 set, in case the .008-.010-.018-.026 don't give you enough oomph.

You might need to mix and match to get a "feel" that's more what you are used to with a regular mandolin. You may or may not like a plain 3rd pair and wish to use wound strings for those D's.

Sep 22, 2021 - 12:01:25 PM

1621 posts since 2/9/2007

quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

Although Dan Gellert is correct that tension on a mando banjo should be less than that of a true mandolin, I will say that these old trapdoor Gibsons are pretty darned sturdy and can probably handle the .009-.032 set, in case the .008-.010-.018-.026 don't give you enough oomph.

You might need to mix and match to get a "feel" that's more what you are used to with a regular mandolin. You may or may not like a plain 3rd pair and wish to use wound strings for those D's.


I agree.  GHS ultra-lights would not be too heavy for a Gibson, or similarly sturdily-built MB.  It (unlike most lighter- weight MB's) probably could take a medium-gauge set of mando strings without suffering any damage from the tension.  I just meant that I consider that "ultra-light" set to be on the heavier end of what would sound good on a banjo.

And you can get .018 wound strings.  I think the bronze version of that GHS custom MB set has them, but in the stainless set only the G's are wound.  I made mine up out of Just Strings bulk dozens.

Edited by - Dan Gellert on 09/22/2021 12:14:58

Sep 22, 2021 - 1:23:01 PM

48 posts since 9/17/2017

The ultra light strings work well on a mandolin banjo, not because of stress issues on the banjo, but because they sound better. The thin top of a banjo is easier to move, and the heavier mandolin strings seem to bring out the clangy sounds that give mandolin banjos a bad rap. I have the .008 set on a nice Bruno, and it actually sounds like a musical instrument. Not so, with some of the other setups I've tried.

Sep 22, 2021 - 6:34:04 PM
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9001 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Latestone

The ultra light strings work well on a mandolin banjo, not because of stress issues on the banjo, but because they sound better. The thin top of a banjo is easier to move, and the heavier mandolin strings seem to bring out the clangy sounds that give mandolin banjos a bad rap. I have the .008 set on a nice Bruno, and it actually sounds like a musical instrument. Not so, with some of the other setups I've tried.


Part of this is that heavier strings tend to be stiffer, producing more odd numbered upper partials (overtones), which give a harsh, or clangy, tone. 

I doubt that a very tight banjo head is more easy to move. However, I do believe it moves differently, and may therefore emphasize the harsher sounds produced by stiffer strings.

The O.P. may find that lighter strings do, in fact, sound better, but there is no guarantee of that, Banjos respond differently depending on the maker, and tone is largely a matter of personal preference. 

Oct 2, 2021 - 11:02:23 AM

3 posts since 9/19/2021

Thanks, everyone, for the education. You've given me the info I need to start trying different string sets ... which I will do when this comes back from my luthier. And you've given me some incentive to get the tenor banjo out of the attic (ignored for decades) and put on a new bridge and nut and get strings for it. Thanks for the adventure!

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