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Mar 25, 2023 - 10:29:54 PM
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30 posts since 6/5/2015

I tried nylons once before but couldn’t get the 4th & 1st strings to say in the grove at the nut. I gave up because I didn’t want to mess up the nut grooves. I still don’t want to mess them up so I can go back to steel if I want.
Is there a way to open the grooves in the nut so the strings will drop down and stay put without messing up the groves for steel? Like maybe a triangular file?

And what nylon strings should I start with? I already have a set of Aq. reds but someone a while ago recommended Sands nylons.

Mar 25, 2023 - 11:29:26 PM
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304 posts since 3/24/2020

Knock out the nut and put a new nut in its place. You can switch them back and forth anytime you choose

Mar 26, 2023 - 2:09:01 AM

Bill H


2120 posts since 11/7/2010

A triangular file is too much. You can purchase nut files from Stewart McDonald that make it easy to cut or widen nut slots. What also works is to fold a piece of fine sandpaper in half and use it like a file in the slots. 180x or 220x should do. You want to be carful not to make then deeper.

Mar 26, 2023 - 2:21:37 AM



880 posts since 8/13/2015

Try Aquila nylgut Aquila AQ-1B. These are not the red ones.

Mar 26, 2023 - 3:55:54 AM
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3269 posts since 2/18/2009

I use a triangular file for all my nut slots except 5th string pips for steel strings, which get a .013" nut file. I make separate pips for nylon and steel strings for folks who want to switch, but the main nut works for both with V shaped slots.  The same triangular file works for all sizes of banjo strings, guitar strings, etc. I have not had any complaints about the nut slots from customers, so I think the triangular file is quite safe if used carefully, as any file would be used.

Edited by - Zachary Hoyt on 03/26/2023 03:57:52

Mar 26, 2023 - 4:52:06 AM
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11234 posts since 4/23/2004

I used to cut V notches for nut slots with an Xacto knife and sandpaper. Ugly, but functional.

I use Stewart files now but a triangular needle file does a good job.

Sands strings haven't been available for years. Clifford Essex is trying to make a comeback and I've always liked their nylon sets.

LaBella also has good nylon strings try their "17" set.

Mar 26, 2023 - 5:18:59 AM

7494 posts since 9/21/2007

“Do or do not, there is no try”. -Elizabeth Holmes

Mar 26, 2023 - 5:21:34 AM
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4604 posts since 10/13/2005

La Bella strings used to be so thin and floppy like wet noodles. Has that changed? Classical guitar Savarez strings used to be popular, just need two sets to get that extra for the fifth or first string, lasts indefinitely. banjered

Mar 26, 2023 - 5:45:23 AM
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15324 posts since 6/29/2005

I have made several banjos where you can switch between steel and nylon.

I use a nut with a zero fret incorporated into it, whereby the nut slots become string guides and the actual string bearing is the fret—this is exactly the way a pip works, the string actually sitting on the 5th fret.

The zero fret nut also greatly improves intonation at the 1st fret over that of conventional nuts that fret sharp there—not as big a deal with nylon strings as steel ones.

I first showed a picture of this on this forum in 2012, and a year or so later it was patented by Gold Tone as the 'Zero Glide Nut", so the good news that while I don't sell them, the Gold Tone version is readily available via Stewmac and others.  It would solve your nut problem.

You will also need a tailpiece that can accommodate steel strings and nylon ones, and a bridge that will work for both.

Mar 26, 2023 - 6:50:31 AM



6 posts since 11/9/2015

I really like the zero fret nut and have one on my resonator guitar .... a bit off topic here, but the zero fret nut is a practical idea for a few reasons as mentioned

Mar 26, 2023 - 7:42:59 AM
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15324 posts since 6/29/2005

Apropos of the subject, the reason I mentioned better intonation with a zero fret nut is that there is an intonation difference between nylon and steel strings concerning relative stiffness of the strings— a moon bridge or compensated bridge won't work the same way with nylon strings, just like classical guitars have a straight saddle as opposed to the angled one on steel string guitars.  Many nylon string banjos have 2-footed bridges, and I think it's hard to put nylon strings on a tailpiece designed for loop-end steel strings.

There will be some adjustments necessary when you switch back and forth, and the nut is a very important starting point, but not the only thing.  Spikes for steel strings are not going to work with nylon strings.

Mar 26, 2023 - 7:57:59 AM
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Alex Z


5306 posts since 12/7/2006

Originally posted by Joel Hooks

“Do or do not, there is no try”. -Elizabeth Holmes

What?  Take Yoda's advice from a jailbird?  smiley

Mar 26, 2023 - 9:42:27 AM

4604 posts since 10/13/2005

I have a Stone banjo, 12" wood rim, strung with Minstrel Nylguts that I keep in D lowered down from G tuning. I use that banjo for singing/busking so I have a spike (with 2d fret capo) at the seventh fret to raise the key to E to fit my pitch for different songs. So far after many months of use the fifth string is still working. I smoothed the spike as best I could. banjered

Mar 26, 2023 - 10:02:15 AM



2573 posts since 9/16/2007

"Spikes for steel strings are not going to work with nylon strings."

If carefully dressed and installed, spikes work fine with nylon strings: I have been using them for decades without issues. One caveat is that the frets must be tall enough that the spikes, which will need to have more room beneath, will not rise above them.

Mar 26, 2023 - 11:34:04 AM

Alex Z


5306 posts since 12/7/2006

Elizabeth Holmes?  Come ONNNNN   smiley

Another fraud perpetrated by Convict Holmes -- Star Wars film was in 1977, creating the Yoda character and the clever saying.   Holmes, E was born in 1984.

Mar 26, 2023 - 1:56:13 PM

15324 posts since 6/29/2005

Originally posted by mbanza

"Spikes for steel strings are not going to work with nylon strings."

If carefully dressed and installed, spikes work fine with nylon strings: I have been using them for decades without issues. One caveat is that the frets must be tall enough that the spikes, which will need to have more room beneath, will not rise above them.

That's essentially what I'm talking about—spikes with .038" crown frets, are problem even with a steel string .043" ones can still be a problem with a spike high enough for a nylon string depending on the action height.

Your "carefully dressed" admonition is also important—nylon strings break if abraded, Nylgut ones break if you look at them too hard.

Mar 27, 2023 - 9:33:51 AM

2697 posts since 6/19/2008

Quit shooting daggers out of your eyes at those strings, Ken. devil

I had a customer bring the minstrel banjo I sold him back for a 5th string spike.  This was a fretless banjo.  I told him just tune the string up a step or whatever.  He took my advice.

Edited by - Jonnycake White on 03/27/2023 09:37:07

Mar 27, 2023 - 10:21:35 AM

7494 posts since 9/21/2007

Question, do people that play guitar want to change back and forth between nylon and wire strings on the same guitar?

Follow up question, if so, why would they want to do this?

Follow up to that, why would you want to change back and forth on the same banjo?

I believe that the nylon (formally gut) strung banjo is a specific instrument on it's own and deserves dedication and study.

Just as the Spanish guitar is a specific instrument that has entire university departments dedicated to it.

Edited by - Joel Hooks on 03/27/2023 10:26:56

Mar 27, 2023 - 10:25:56 AM
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7494 posts since 9/21/2007

Originally posted by banjered

La Bella strings used to be so thin and floppy like wet noodles. Has that changed? Classical guitar Savarez strings used to be popular, just need two sets to get that extra for the fifth or first string, lasts indefinitely. banjered

Labella #17 used to approximate period correct string sizes from the gut era.  Due to pressure from people who do not want to dedicate any effort to learning proper technique and would rather simulate wire tension, Labella has increased the diameters. 


To that end, if people want nylon to be as stiff as wire, just use wire.

Mar 28, 2023 - 6:07:56 AM

15324 posts since 6/29/2005

Banjo stringing is mysterious and I think a lot of it has to do with the kind of banjo and the music being played. 

Ervin Somogyi lists 26 points of difference between Spanish/classical guitars and steel strung ones but a good guitarist could play pretty much the same music on either one—the sound would be different.

I wonder what the points of difference would be between nylon strung banjos used to play classic banjo vs ones used to play clawhammer.  Is it a matter of setup or should the design and construction be different?  Likewise, steel strung banjos used to play bluegrass vs clawhammer.

If you made a venn diagram, where would they overlap?  I think it 's easily possible to make a banjo that can be used to play bluegrass and clawhammer interchangeably—I do it all the time.  Also that could be made to be strung with nylon to play clawhammer, but I think classic banjo requires a specific kind of instrument and strings.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 03/28/2023 06:09:12

Mar 28, 2023 - 8:47:44 AM
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7494 posts since 9/21/2007

Ken LeVan , presuming that "clawhammer" (or the more period term "stroke style"/"banjo style") as we currently know it predates the folk revival and WW2, the same set up or configuration for "classic banjo" was used for "clawhammer" or various other "old time" styles".

The wire string set up as we know it today-- including fret size and neck back angle was established for pick or plectrum playing. The less elastic wire strings did not vibrate as much as the thin gut or silk so less clearance was needed-- lower action without buzzing. Adding the back angle lowers the action while increasing the bridge height, this was done to give more clearance to keep the plectrum from scraping the head.

Prior to the popularity of plectrum playing, there seems to be no difference between banjos used for stroke style (clawhammer) and finger style (classic banjo), the exception being "early banjos" with extremely high action.

Some basic construction guidelines as I have discovered through hands on research.

Frets tend to be small and low.

There was little to no back angle on the neck. This provides plenty of room for the strings not to buzz with a low (1/2") bridge. The results of this is considered a "high action" when compared to the plectrum set up. 3/16" to 1/4" at the 12th fret.

I like 1 to 1 pegs but geared are tolerable if not heavy. Violin pegs work fine and give great service. Second are the various patent friction pegs but those do require a little fussing with the screw from time to time. For geared pegs I like the 2 to 1 Grover pegs (I think these are called "pancake" for some reason). Well fitted violin pegs would be my first choice on a new banjo.

Most tailpieces will work with nylon. The original patent for the Grover Presto describes how to attach gut (A. D. Grover was a concert level classic banjoist). But some are better. The problem most people have is they don't string historical tailpieces correctly. Of modern offerings, posts work fine. A simple figure 8 knot with the lower loop over the post is all that is needed.

I like to match the tailpiece to a banjo if it is from the classic era (being historically correct). But if I were to pursue building a modern banjo I think I would like one with about 1" extension for a little pressure on the bridge. I would have the strings come off of the tailpiece in line with the notches of the bridge. This was how later Clifford Essex banjos were made and it is a very good system. Alfred Weaver's wooden tailpieces, more or less, put the strings in line with the bridge notches.

In my opinion and experience 26" is about the shortest useable scale for the regular banjo with 26.5 to 27.5 being the optimal range. I have banjos that are shorter and longer than those, but I find that the most comfortable size range.

I like the 5th string nut set inline with the fret.

I have examined 100s of original classic era bridges and pretty much all of the notches were cut angled in towards the third string, the third string notch being 90 degrees. Some were deeper than others but all the notches were deep enough that the strings were at or below the surface of the top of the bridge. This includes unused stock still packed in boxes. (see the wood cut below, but I can provide more if needed) This is needed when playing with a confident right hand or one can pull the strings out of the notches.

Zero fret-- sure, why not. I can see the advantage in this and don't have a problem with this. I know some Spanish guitar builders are doing this now.

With all these points, I will put forward that the "classic" setup is still ideal for clawhammer and various old time styles with the exception that nylon (or gut or polyester) do not lend themselves to constantly changing tunings as they take time to settle in after being raised or lowered. I understand that this is a big departure from the Roundpeak festival style imitation that is popular today-- and that is fine. There are plenty of new banjos being built for that style of playing.

I will invite csacwp for input on this subject.

Mar 28, 2023 - 9:13:02 AM
Players Union Member



10307 posts since 1/22/2003

Originally posted by Ken LeVan

Likewise, steel strung banjos used to play bluegrass vs clawhammer.

I don't feel there is any difference. Steel-strung banjos played clawhammer, like so many of the legends of oldtime music in the 1960s and '70s did, play fine with low action (like many bluegrassers prefer).

On the other hand, I read somewhere that Earl Scruggs preferred a high action; don't know if this is correct though…

Mar 31, 2023 - 9:59:22 AM



22 posts since 8/11/2014

Re "Nylgut [strings] break if you look at them too hard."

I use Nylgut strings both on my Pollmann and my 1882 Martin #2. I think that they sound better, are easier to play than traditional nylon, less smooth is a plus and to date I haven't any complaints about their longevity. To be fair I keep the guitar tuned to D rather than E in deference to its age (I also release the string tension when not in use).

Mar 31, 2023 - 10:28:46 AM
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76 posts since 7/18/2020

The Aquila Reds are definitely your best bet for minimal nut or pip modification. They have a smaller gauge than nylgut or nylon strings.

I've haven't used them for a while, but I recall them being squeaky.

Mar 31, 2023 - 11:30:42 AM

2697 posts since 6/19/2008

FWIW, I just put a brand new set of LaBella 17's on an old (possibly Buckbee) banjo I was repairing. The 5th string ended up breaking on me and it was quite difficult to find a replacement. I measured the string diameters and found that the 1st and 5th strings were .017" (as the name would suggest) or .018, but the label had them as 0.19. I ended up substituting a piece of Zebco 20 lb. test fishing line for the 5th string. It's diameter is listed on the label as .0185, but it measures .016. I can't tell the difference between the LaBella's sound and the fishing line.

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