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Curious as to what strings people prefer?
I have some La Bella 17 Classics on the way. Are there other strings that I should tried?
“that I should try?”
I buy singles from Labella's website and build my own sets.
.017, .019, .021, .024 wound, .017. This was the set used by Fred Van Eps. Measuring original strings from the late 19th to early 20th century is consistent with these sizes.
The second set I use was provided by S. S. Stewart in "Observations on the Banjo and Banjo Playing" in English Standard Wire Gauges. Converted to inches the sizes are .018, .022, .028, .024 wound, .018.
On some banjos I have increased the third string to .025.
I have also used a .025 wound 4th on some banjos.
Basically, those two sets are a good starting point for finding what one will like.
As far as material, Labella gets their nylon from Dupont. It is rectified and has a good bite and feel. They are consistently true and the singles are cut long. I am perfectly happy with them and see no reason to look further.
Avoid the temptation to use fishing line. That is good for catching fish. Musical strings are manufactured using a different process called "spinning" which aligns the nylon molecules in rows with a consistent diameter and density.
Fishing line is extruded, often false (or becomes false over time), and is too elastic.
The polyester strings sold as "Nylgut" suffer from the same problems as they are extruded (something that the maker has admitted to in a interview-- false strings). Since that was not enough of a problem, they decided to constantly change the string sizes, material compound, and stop including wound 4ths. Instead of a proper 4th they provide a HUGELY THICK and flabby sounding extruded string. This is obviously in response to complaints about 4ths wearing out. The correct response would have been to offer packs of 4ths as a stock item.
The constant stretching and breaking issues don't help.
The sizes offered by Nylgut are also very thick, in some sets nearly twice as thick as what was used historically. This is unfortunate as most consumers will presume Aquila to be an authority. The outcome has been confusion and historical revision.
Somewhere, I think Aquila just lost their way. I really liked Nylgut when they had the wound 4ths (and you could special order extras or just buy 4ths from Clifford Essex). I never experienced false, fragile or other issues that Joel talks about. The new versions...they're just not right, esp. the 4ths.
I have played fishing line. I never felt they were superior to Nylgut or other sets of nylon banjo strings. Still, they work fine if you're willing to put in the time to figure out what you like. Again, I've never experienced "false" strings. I obviously don't have the audio discrimination others have.
I "grew up" on the thicker strings and don't like the thin set that Joel likes. Hey, we're different people!
These are my favorites: http://www.cliffordessex.net/index.php?_a=viewProd&productId=11 I usually order a the three set deal and another 3 sets of individual 4ths. £5.00 shipping anywhere...not bad at all.
They have gut strings...but at £30, they're just too expensive. I bought several sets when they were £17...they're nice but I don't feel the cost is justified.
And then, there is no reason you can't play on standard steel strings...with picks and everything, if you want to. Again, the music doesn't care and there are excellent CDs of this stuff being played exactly that way (on bluegrass-style banjos). Check out Jean-Marc Andres offerings.
That said, if you want the full 19th C. experience, you'll avoid all that.
When you're new to all this, I feel it is best to just get something common and get started. Get the music going, worry about the details later.
Right-- the No 17 are a great starting point in the US. Buy a set from Labella and add a few extra .025 silverplated copper wound strings and dig in.
Thanks for the great input. I generally like strings on thicker side, but I’ll try out a lighter set ala Van Eps at some point. In the past I found that some guitars that I owned sounded better with lighter strings.