Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I thought it was a good idea but it is a pita. Impossible to tune since it's so fat even the slightest twist of the peg send it's sharp or flat and the notes are almost half a step behind all the other strings. Was curious if any of your musically savvy folks had any advice aside from replacing with a wound string. It is really fat so maybe I just need to keep pulling on it and stretching it out.

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Replace it with a Nylgut unwound 4th string instead of a wound?  I know there are a few out there, though not easy to get.  Call Aquila maybe?

Interesting, did not know there was such a thing. I was thinking maybe it was meant for an instrument with a slightly longer scale or something. The other four jive well.

It used to be available in the Aquila Nylgut "Minstrel" set, which means it would work on most banjos in the low minstrel tunings.  You wouldn't need a 30" scale or anything like that... just your usual minstrel low tunings.  Any bass string that is intended for minstrel tunings would be floppy on an A/short-scale banjo though, if tuned down to Briggs/Rice tunings.

Oh, yeah I wasn't too clear I meant maybe the fat gut string was meant for an instrument with slightly longer scale.

But yeah I realized the classical sets come with the red or cream colored unwound strings. So I have *seen* one before hehe. I will ring them up when I get sec.

I am just hoping since it's as fat as all the other string combined it my take much longer for it to break in. It was a stiff piece of pasta haha

Speaking of pasta...

I remember about 15 yrs ago I had real gut strings on all my banjos, including for oldtime playing.  I was camping at an oldtime festival in the Spring, and it was raining and very, very warm and humid.  I woke up in the morning to find my gut banjo strings had absorbed so much humidity from the air that they were opaque white, slightly rubbery and swollen up... like spaghetti.  Unplayable of course.  It hit home that they were actually made from dried GUT- and if soaked would behave as expected.    :)

I use varnished strings, they are much more weather resistant.  If they are not varnished, dip your fingers in some shellac and run them down the string.  You can try using a string that is not quite so fat. You won't get the volume out of it, but it should be tunable.  Something like a 1.2 mm string might work for you.  If they were using wound strings 150 years ago I don't see a problem with using them. If you really are desperate you could consider twisting two strings of smaller diameter together.  To do this you need to twist each string in a clockwise direction and then twist the pair in a counter clockwise direction.  This is time consuming to do, but it could work.  I think you would be better with a single string.

Plain strings, regardless of gut or nylon, will work just fine on the 4th at low pitch if the vibrating string length is longer (scale) at least 27" and longer is even better. Wound strings were invented (in the18th century) for shorter scales. Before that (16th and 17th C.) there were a variety of methods to add elasticity and weight to gut strings. D'Addario makes wound singles in any gauge you'd ever need. The cores are stranded nylon (like silk) and the windings are copper plated with nickel silver. These are what I use for my wound singles.
I stretched and pulled on it for about an hour last night and it's deff holding up a lil better. Still tends to go a tad sharp but I am hoping if I hit it with another hour of pulling tonight I will have broken it in.

I need some digital calipers to check diameter. So I can hunt down an equivalent size. I'd love to test both a wound and unwound nylguts. Since I've only ever had a wound bass string.
Does the shellac change tone or anything like that? I've used nail polish on frayed parts but never ventured to shellac the whole thing.



John Masciale said:

I use varnished strings, they are much more weather resistant.  If they are not varnished, dip your fingers in some shellac and run them down the string.  You can try using a string that is not quite so fat. You won't get the volume out of it, but it should be tunable.  Something like a 1.2 mm string might work for you.  If they were using wound strings 150 years ago I don't see a problem with using them. If you really are desperate you could consider twisting two strings of smaller diameter together.  To do this you need to twist each string in a clockwise direction and then twist the pair in a counter clockwise direction.  This is time consuming to do, but it could work.  I think you would be better with a single string.

Chris, what is the scale of the banjo and the exact pitch you are tuning the 4th string to? I will suggest a music-nylon or carbon fiber single for you to try. (the gage)You can order online.
Or call up Chris Henriksen of Boston Catlines. He will fix you up with the best type of gut string. You might well love a gut catline (they are like braided gut). Chris makes the best catlines.
Man, I pulled and pulled on it some more last night and it's finally holding a tune. I have to tune it a touch flat so it's on key when struck but boy is it a loud bass string makes my whole stomach vibrate and rumble

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