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I went and done dood it: I tried LaBella number seventeens on my Stefanelli banjo.
A few weeks ago I had a 90 minute banjo session with Jerron Paxton, who is recent member of this forum and a strong and accomplished classic banjo player. He was playing nearby at a music festival. Suzy Thompson, who plays great ragtime fiddle suggested a get together to play ragtime and classic banjo music. We convened in the Thompson backyard. Sometimes we had guitar accompaniment or six-string banjo-guitar accompaniment, sometimes Suzy fiddled, sometimes it was just 2 banjos either in unison or one of us seconding the other. Jerron was playing an 1930s B& D resonator banjo strung with LaBella #17 strings. It sounded great solo and in duet with my Stefanelli. At one point we traded banjos for a few tunes. I was surprised that the strings did not feel looser than they did. The scale on his banjo is about 26.5 inches whereas my Stefanelli has a 28 inch scale. I thought maybe I'd try a set of Seventeens. So a few weeks laterI did.
Contrary to expectations I did not lose volume. The sound is brighter as if a veil has been lifted. The Savarez strings I had been using had plenty of pop and so do the LaBellas. The feel is different but not as different as I would have thought. Only the first string is giving me trouble. I'm used to using a fair amount of force on the first string. I am used to the string pushing back. This .019 nylon string does not push back much. Surprisingly the others do even though some of them may be under less tension than the first string.
So to sum up: so far so good. I like the sound a little better than the old strings (when new) and I like the feel of the old strings a little better. I'll probably get used to these. At a shorter scale on other banjos I expect I'll want to go a bit heavier.
1) Better in what way?
2) How did the current La Bella #17 gauges come to be chosen? If the old gauges weren't broke, why did La Bella "fix" them?
3) I think I'll stay with these strings I'm hallucinating until they wear out before I try the "real" set.
4a) On a 26.5" scale banjo how anyone play these Even Lighter gauges with any force and not pull the strings out of the bridge slots or knock em out of tune?
4b) On the back page of the latest issue of the 5 Stringer Joel mentions these light gauges as the gauges that Fred Van Eps used. I believe it is so but it should be remembered that Van Eps was using fishing line or leader which was likely to have more tension than the equivalent diameters of La Bella rectified nylon. This line was designed to not break when a fish bit the far end. And the leader was stiffer. So it's not the diameters I question, it's the tension.
John Cohen said:
Now you've got to try the "real" 17's (.017, .019, .023, .024w, .017)! They are even better than the current LaBella pack.