Hi everyone!

I just thought I would let everyone know that Stringsdirect.UK have ordered some LaBella 17s for me. £5.99 a pack, which is cheaper than other online retailers I've found. I've suggested that they should get a few in stock. So if that's your fancy then check them out.

STRINGS DIRECT La Bella nylon strings

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And yet there is an Early Music contingent that rejects nylon because the sound is not Period Authentic. Aquila and others make gut strings for them. There is even a small group in China and Hong Kong that will not use anything but silk strings on instruments that play ancient music.   

This isn't me. I"m just the reporter. I use nylon and pvf and whatever else that sounds good and lasts longer.

Oh! and there is also a type of nylon string made from the 5% of the world's nylon that is not DuPont.

Re broken first strings:  is that way Joe Morley used a steel first string?  That has puzzled me. I don't think it would sound better. But it was for convenience......*that* would make sense to me.  

Keep up the historical research, Joel. We all benefit from your discoveries.



Joel Hooks said:

Nylon was better than gut or silk-- anything was better.  Imagine that for the first time you could play an entire concert without replacing your first (that would brake in the middle of a piece).  That was nylon.  A big game changer.  No longer did you have to worry about strings.  The banjo was ready to play every time you picked it up.  You could practice on hot and damp days.  You could play with sweaty hands.  Nylon would not break.

Keep in mind that the gut strings they were using are the thin .016~.017, breakage was a problem.

While fishing line has its problems, it is MUCH better and more true than gut ever was.

In issue 54 of the "5 Stringer" (1957) it was recommended to use Ashaway Line and Twine Co. "extruded filament leaders in 10yd coils.-- .017, .019. .021. 

Here is what the coils looked like for historical accuracy... (though wrong size).

https://www.ebay.com/itm/323754338088

My personal experience with fishing line was not that great.  I found some to be oval in shape.  Some had a seam (if this was deliberate or from a chipped or scratched die I don't know). All were uneven in thickness.

But, that was just my experience. Your results may vary.

I can see that, and I would play on gut too if they were A) reasonably priced and B) readily available in the sizes I use.

FVE was not trying to be historically accurate.  In fact, he made those late recordings with nylon strings on a banjo he did not develop until the mid 1930s (the flush fret). 

His early recordings were made with a Morrison, SSS Thoroughbred, an early FVE (similar to a SSS) or a hole in the head Recording Banjo.

RE Steel first, I think it was Grimshaw that pushed that.  I don't think Morley fell for it.  Yes, totally a compromise for breaking 1st strings.



Joel Hooks said:

Nylon was better than gut or silk-- anything was better.  Imagine that for the first time you could play an entire concert without replacing your first (that would brake in the middle of a piece).  That was nylon.  A big game changer.  No longer did you have to worry about strings.  The banjo was ready to play every time you picked it up.  You could practice on hot and damp days.  You could play with sweaty hands.  Nylon would not break.

Keep in mind that the gut strings they were using are the thin .016~.017, breakage was a problem.

While fishing line has its problems, it is MUCH better and more true than gut ever was.

In issue 54 of the "5 Stringer" (1957) it was recommended to use Ashaway Line and Twine Co. "extruded filament leaders in 10yd coils.-- .017, .019. .021. 

Here is what the coils looked like for historical accuracy... (though wrong size).

https://www.ebay.com/itm/323754338088

My personal experience with fishing line was not that great.  I found some to be oval in shape.  Some had a seam (if this was deliberate or from a chipped or scratched die I don't know). All were uneven in thickness.

But, that was just my experience. Your results may vary.

I have tried a set of commercial nylon banjo strings and found them too light and fragile for me and the first string broke in a short time.

Figured I  wanted solid feel of steel strings and tried out fishing in gauges that gave me good tone and approximate firmness when plucking for all five strings. Already had a selection of material in my tackle-box and added more when on sale at Walmart. All monofilament lines, no tests of fluorocarbon was made.

I initially strung a standard banjo with 20,30,40 and 50 lb test and these worked well in D tuning but later changed to 25,30,40,80 lb test, especially tuning base to C. These work beautifully and give good tone and volume. Also changed the bridge to the classic design in maple. Noted that using a wound steel base string was not as satisfactory to me as the 80 mono.

See attached table of measurements made with a micrometer in imperial units and converted to metric for those who prefer. Note, I took three dia meas over a 5 ft length and found the readings to be consistent within acceptable limits. This seems to rule out "out of roundness" or varying thickness within a length of  5 ft, which is acceptable. Stretching after mounting was minimal especially on the heavier gauges although this may be misleading. All monofilament strings stretch at least 2 halftones before settling in.

I have made a table showing my results for those who may wish to experiment.

Table 1: Measurement of some monofilament only fishing lines for use as banjo strings

Dia “A” = diameter measurements over 5 ft length, Average of 3 readings.

Dia “B” = diameter of string as stretched and tuned on my Morgan Munroe Banjo

* = Strings currently on my Morgan Munroe Banjo

** = Base string on a banjo in A tuning

Brand

#Lb.

Test

Dia “A”

Avg. of 3 readings within 5 ft. L

Variance within 5ft. L

Dia “B”

stretched

Berkley

20

0.01703”

0.432mm

+ or - 1.75%

Stren

25

0.01924”

0.489mm

+ or - 1.53%

0.0185”

chanterelle

Ande

*

25

0.0201”

0.51mm

+ or – 0.0%

0.019”

Eagle Claw

*

30

0.0214”

0.54mm

+ or – 0.5%

0.020”

Eagle Claw

*

40

0.0240”

0.61mm

+ or – 0.4%

0.023”

Eagle Claw

50

0.0256”

0.65mm

+ or – 0.4%

Shakespeare

50

0.02935”

0.745mm

+ or – 0.5%

Eagle Claw

*

80

0.03425”

0.87mm

+ or – 0.3%

0.034”

TrikFish

100lb leader

**

100

0.044”

1.12mm

+ or – 0.5%

0.44”



Joel Hooks said:

Nylon was better than gut or silk-- anything was better.  Imagine that for the first time you could play an entire concert without replacing your first (that would brake in the middle of a piece).  That was nylon.  A big game changer.  No longer did you have to worry about strings.  The banjo was ready to play every time you picked it up.  You could practice on hot and damp days.  You could play with sweaty hands.  Nylon would not break.

Keep in mind that the gut strings they were using are the thin .016~.017, breakage was a problem.

While fishing line has its problems, it is MUCH better and more true than gut ever was.

In issue 54 of the "5 Stringer" (1957) it was recommended to use Ashaway Line and Twine Co. "extruded filament leaders in 10yd coils.-- .017, .019. .021. 

Here is what the coils looked like for historical accuracy... (though wrong size).

https://www.ebay.com/itm/323754338088

My personal experience with fishing line was not that great.  I found some to be oval in shape.  Some had a seam (if this was deliberate or from a chipped or scratched die I don't know). All were uneven in thickness.

But, that was just my experience. Your results may vary.

My tuppence worth: I would never say one material is intrinsically "better" than another. This is music we are concerned with. Better longevity does not equate with a more musical string, and that is a subjective area.

My preference is gut, but I've had great success in the past with Chris Sands' hard tension strings - they seem not to be available now. What would be the nearest equivalent?

The Paraguayan guitarist-composer, Augustin Barrios, is reported to have played with a steel first string, which he fed through a bean at the bridge to take the zing off. Clearly he had problems either with breaking gut, or access to good-quality gut, or cost was a factor.

Pepe Romero, one of the world's best classical guitar players, said that modern nylon is quite different from what appeared in the 1940s. He thinks the earlier nylon was much better quality than what you can get today. Something to ponder. 

Joe Morley does seem to have used a steel first string, A. P. Sharpe confirmed this in an article in the B.M.G. as he remembered selling them to JM in the 1930s. FVE had a couple of articles in the B.M.G. where he writes about banjo strings and how to deal with 'false' gut strings etc.

Joel Hooks said:

I can see that, and I would play on gut too if they were A) reasonably priced and B) readily available in the sizes I use.

FVE was not trying to be historically accurate.  In fact, he made those late recordings with nylon strings on a banjo he did not develop until the mid 1930s (the flush fret). 

His early recordings were made with a Morrison, SSS Thoroughbred, an early FVE (similar to a SSS) or a hole in the head Recording Banjo.

RE Steel first, I think it was Grimshaw that pushed that.  I don't think Morley fell for it.  Yes, totally a compromise for breaking 1st strings.

I have today begun a dialogue  with a London based importer/retailer of nylon instrument strings, I am assured that banjo strings are available to buy in many different gauges, I am curious to know what gauges players here like to use, this information I will then pass on with a view to purchasing some to try.

Richard William Ineson said:



Richard William Ineson said:

Just wondering what the concensus was with the Cliffird Essex nylon sets? 

I like them for clawhammer but im pretty new to the classic scene so not too sure what the preference is. I contacted the manufacturer the other day planning to get a few sets for my minstrel and mountain banjos for folks that don't like Nylguts.

The consensus is that Clifford Essex Music Company no longer is in business. Did you discover who manufactured their nylon strings?

John Deller said:

Just wondering what the concensus was with the Cliffird Essex nylon sets? 

I like them for clawhammer but im pretty new to the classic scene so not too sure what the preference is. I contacted the manufacturer the other day planning to get a few sets for my minstrel and mountain banjos for folks that don't like Nylguts.

Yes i know. I spoke to his daughter who said her brother might be taking over in the summer... but i cant wait that long. Yes i spoke to the manufacturer.

I see. Well, I have tried only the gut strings packaged by Clifford Essex so I can't comment meaningfully on their nylon strings. But I have used various nylon gauges from Savarez, D'Addario,  La Bella, and Aquila (nylon) and have been happy with all of them once I discover which gauge and brand sounds best on a particular banjo, creating my own sets and occasionally mixing brands on a single banjo.  This has worked better for me than buying pre-packaged sets which tend to be gauged for "the average banjo" .  PVF strings and Savarez KF carbon strings are an option I haven't explored on banjo but I have used such trebles on oud with success, once I get the gauge right (much more narrow than nylon as these produce more tension).

John Deller said:

Yes i know. I spoke to his daughter who said her brother might be taking over in the summer... but i cant wait that long. Yes i spoke to the manufacturer.

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