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Recently, I changed out the strings on the banjo I use for classic style, and wanted to purchase a few more sets. What I have been using are the Aquila Nylgut 1B for classic banjo, with a wound C string. I purchased these back in 2014. When researching the string sites, I find that the only sets with a wound C string are for minstrel banjo, which is tuned lower and will not accommodate the C tuning. The 1B set now contains an unwound C string. Has anyone here tried the 1B strings with the unwound C string? If so, how did it sound?
I haven't seen 1B. Do you mean 11 B? Anyway if you like the other 4 strings from your new set just use something else for the C. I might have an extra Aquila wound C from 20 years ago I can send you.
Thanks for your reply. I’m not desperate to get more strings just yet, as I just changed them out recently. Thanks, again.
My thoughts on the subject. There is a reason the wound string was used. The earliest photos we have of banjos as we know them had wound 4ths. Briggs' of 1855 recommends a would 4th.
"Nylgut" are extruded polyester. The maker was getting complaints that the wound 4th wore out at the frets. The proper reply to this would have been "strings wear out, buy extras". Instead, he went to that terribly dead and flabby unwound cable (unrelated is that it cost much less to make).
This next bit is for information only, people have their own personal preferences and I am not one to get into that.
All generally available packaged sets of nylon or polyester strings (from the normal sources) are much thicker than what was used during the classic era. Some sets of polyester (nylgut) are nearly twice as thick.
Why? It turns out that the makers of these strings did not have any historical data, so they reached out to old time banjoists (you know, because they play old banjos) for info. The sizes provided, based in presentism, were chosen in attempt to simulate the tension of wire for clawhammer style.
I currently know of two sets of string sizes that can be supported with historical data.
S. S. Stewart published "Observations on the Banjo and Banjo Playing" in 1892. In that essay he provides a set of strings in English standard wire gauge that is the same as this in inches: .018, .022, .028, .024 silver plated copper over floss, .018.. That is set one.
Set two was provided by Fred Van Eps and was what he used for nylon when that came on the market after WW2. I have been able to get my hands on more than a few original late 19th/early 20th century gut and silk strings and they were all, more or less, these sizes. In inches, .017, .019, .023, .024 silver plated copper over floss, .017.
This set was what Labella No.17 use to be, but they have made them heavier (two thousandths larger) to try and match the clawhammer trend in heavier strings. The current version (really "19") are okay and people like them.
My recommendation with strings is do not follow stretching advice on YouTube unless you hate intonation and love "false strings".
Since I have been selling strings I have had two complaints of the strings not intonating. Both times the user had done the "stretching" trick. What gets me is that Aquila (makers of Nylgut polyester) will recommend this stretching and their polyester strings are most susceptible to becoming false from this.
*a "false string" is one that is uneven in thickness or density which will cause intonation and tuning problems.
This is very interesting info and I appreciate your sharing it. This answers a lot of questions. I have ordered some of the La Bella number 17 strings, which I believe will be an improvement over the Aquila strings. Thanks for your info!
I've always used C.Essex heavy gauge. CE are now back in business following the sad death of Clem Vickery and they can be obtained from Ebay...steve.
String update: I ended up putting a set of Le Bella no: 17 nylon strings on my banjo and it has made a nice improvement in the overall playability and intonation. I had used the Aquila nylguts for several years and it made the sound somewhat dull and tired sounding. It was like playing on stretched out rubber bands. I appreciate everyone’s kind response to my original question. My banjo seems to be happy now. 🪕