I usually have a banjo set with light nylon strings for classic banjo, and a second banjo w medium steel strings for clawhammer. I’m about to go on a long trip w one banjo and am looking for strings that would work well for classic or clawhammer playing.
Any suggestions?

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well, I guess it is time for experimentation again, I have tried Labella's for almost a year and still find them wanting ! my banjo is 261/2" perhaps therein lies my problem , time to look around for heavier gauges methinks.

Jody Stecher said:

As others are pointing out, the La Bella light gauges don't "fight back" when picking down. They are excellent for up-picking. Remember that in the stroke era the length from nut to bridge was considerably longer than the usual 25 to 27 inch scale on most new banjos these days. So light gauge gut or silk or twisted vines (or violin strings) worked just fine for down picking. Hammering, rapping, trailing, these are all names for walloping the strings.  The gauges I suggested are available as single strings (made by D'Addario) from Stringsbymail.com in the USA. They are suitable for classic banjo style although some will find the bass sound too massive, but they work. On  many banjos they sound *better* for clawhammer than any gauge of steel. So if it has to be only one banjo this is a good compromise. I would like it better than playing classic banjo music on steel.

While it is true that S. S. Stewart recommended larger banjos (and lower bridges) for stroke style playing...

https://archive.org/details/completeamerican01stew/page/n67/mode/1up

https://archive.org/details/sss-catalog/page/15/mode/1up

He also continued to recommend smooth arm banjos longer than he should have.  He also screwed us with A notation. 

We know that many "early banjos" were quite large.  We also know that many professionals preferred large banjos all the way until the end (even for guitar style).

By the mid 1880s Buckbee was churning out a huge volume of banjos (sold under various names) that were 11" by 24.5" to 26.5."

Most makers were offering, as a standard size, 11" rims with 25" to 27" scales.

These "smaller sized" banjos turn up more often than larger sizes and the evidence suggests that they served the vast majority of people just fine. 

I have zero doubt that people were using those banjos for stroke style. Documentation pretty much removes any doubt about it.

I use my Faribanks and Cole model with a 26" scale (the shortest scale regular banjo I have) for playing stroke style regularly, it is the one I grab to keep "Far South Reel Medley" under my fingers.  I use my standard set of strings and have no problems.

Likewise, I do the same with my Metal Hoop Special at 26.5"

Historically informed performance is one thing, but just playing is another.

When I give historical equivalent sizes of strings it is for two reasons.

1) To try and spare antique instruments from the tension of heavy nylon modern guitar strings which would exceed wire (thus negating the point of using nylon in the first place). 

2) To provide accurate information (as best as we currently know) when "expert" manufacturers are providing inaccurate presentism motivated information in the form of much heaver "synthetic gut" (polyester) string sets (complete with unwound 4ths).

The information also clears up the narrative that people like to spin about notch sizes on old banjos that are "too thin for nylon so they must have used wire".

When I started playing early and classic banjo, the information available to me sucked.  I hope we have changed that.

What people do with that information is their own business. 

Somehow the myth has perpetuated that around the late 1870s stroke style vanished from popular banjo playing.  This is false.  There was a great article about 1900 published in a Stewart Journal praising Converse's method of stroke style playing and how great it was.  Many tutors contained stroke style instruction, including Farland's book (he sold thimbles too).  It was a standard part of the various Dobson's curriculum.

Nick,  the great thing about life is that you can do what you want.  Why torture yourself with period sized strings-- just use wire or guitar strings if that is what you want to do?  I have the impression that you are not presenting a historically Informed program. 

My point is that it is not the equipment that is causing problems.  People used thin strings, short scales and low bridges for stroke style playing with no problems. The tools are not at fault.

But this is 2021, so we can do what we want with all of the collective wire string-isolated-folk style knowledge we want to apply. 

No torture here Joel, I am just trying to get the best sound and feel that I can be comfortable with, I took onboard your good information re; string gauges and, it was good information which I appreciated very much, they do feel a bit floppy and soft to me as a long time guitar and banjo player always using steel strings, I often check out other players on this site, Ian TRNM,  the Titanic string Band and others  all of whom use heavier strings and I think they sound great ! I spent twenty years working with touring bands all over Europe and I guess it took me twenty years to find my perfect strings for the guitar, no hurry then, lots of time to get to the bottom of this business, who knows ? I may end up back where I started on this quest. Regarding historically informed performance, I just play what sounds right hopefully and, thus far it does, I shall however continue to try to better what I do by experimentation. complacency is not in my musical vocabulary !

Joel Hooks said:

While it is true that S. S. Stewart recommended larger banjos (and lower bridges) for stroke style playing...

https://archive.org/details/completeamerican01stew/page/n67/mode/1up

https://archive.org/details/sss-catalog/page/15/mode/1up

He also continued to recommend smooth arm banjos longer than he should have.  He also screwed us with A notation. 

We know that many "early banjos" were quite large.  We also know that many professionals preferred large banjos all the way until the end (even for guitar style).

By the mid 1880s Buckbee was churning out a huge volume of banjos (sold under various names) that were 11" by 24.5" to 26.5."

Most makers were offering, as a standard size, 11" rims with 25" to 27" scales.

These "smaller sized" banjos turn up more often than larger sizes and the evidence suggests that they served the vast majority of people just fine. 

I have zero doubt that people were using those banjos for stroke style. Documentation pretty much removes any doubt about it.

I use my Faribanks and Cole model with a 26" scale (the shortest scale regular banjo I have) for playing stroke style regularly, it is the one I grab to keep "Far South Reel Medley" under my fingers.  I use my standard set of strings and have no problems.

Likewise, I do the same with my Metal Hoop Special at 26.5"

Historically informed performance is one thing, but just playing is another.

When I give historical equivalent sizes of strings it is for two reasons.

1) To try and spare antique instruments from the tension of heavy nylon modern guitar strings which would exceed wire (thus negating the point of using nylon in the first place). 

2) To provide accurate information (as best as we currently know) when "expert" manufacturers are providing inaccurate presentism motivated information in the form of much heaver "synthetic gut" (polyester) string sets (complete with unwound 4ths).

The information also clears up the narrative that people like to spin about notch sizes on old banjos that are "too thin for nylon so they must have used wire".

When I started playing early and classic banjo, the information available to me sucked.  I hope we have changed that.

What people do with that information is their own business. 

Somehow the myth has perpetuated that around the late 1870s stroke style vanished from popular banjo playing.  This is false.  There was a great article about 1900 published in a Stewart Journal praising Converse's method of stroke style playing and how great it was.  Many tutors contained stroke style instruction, including Farland's book (he sold thimbles too).  It was a standard part of the various Dobson's curriculum.

Nick,  the great thing about life is that you can do what you want.  Why torture yourself with period sized strings-- just use wire or guitar strings if that is what you want to do?  I have the impression that you are not presenting a historically Informed program. 

My point is that it is not the equipment that is causing problems.  People used thin strings, short scales and low bridges for stroke style playing with no problems. The tools are not at fault.

But this is 2021, so we can do what we want with all of the collective wire string-isolated-folk style knowledge we want to apply. 

Perhaps all the problems would be solved by using a banjo thimble ;-)

I have a few of your banjo thimbles, Joel. 
And I love using them on steel strings. 
:)

Use of your excellent thimbles *does* change the feel as well as the tone, usually for the better. Let me do an experiment and right now try playing clawhammer on a banjo strung with LaBella 17s with and without thimble. I have never used this banjo for anything but classic playing.

10 minutes later:  Playing knockdown old-time banjo tunes was unsatisfying on these strings with no thimble. The third string is especially loose and floppy and the sound is too thin. With an aluminum thimble the third string feel and sound improved but the first string sounded thinner than before. Then I tried a brass thimble. This improved the third string response even more but the first string got more twangy.  The feel improved when contacting the string close to the bridge but the sound did not improve, applying the range of aesthetics of old-time clawhammer banjo over the past 120 years. For stroke style and repertoire nearer the bridge was an improvement. 

All of the above was done on one banjo by one player with one set of strings. Not a wide enough sampling from which to make generalized assertions.  :-)

Joel Hooks said:

Perhaps all the problems would be solved by using a banjo thimble ;-)

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