Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I just put a set of real gut strings on the new banjo. They sound good -  darker than the nylons. The strings came with lots of dire warnings about moisture and sweaty fingers. How seriously should I take all this?  I never thought of myself as the kind of musician who had to pack talcum powder - but I guess I could learn! Any advice gratefully received.

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Gut strings hold up pretty well. I don't think the users here spend too much money on hand drying products. Just treat them reasonably well and they should last several months of regular playing.

They might get a little frayed at the AEBG, though!

ps I wind as much extra on the tuner as possible and spool it down when it gets frayed by the bridge.
The warning is just the manufacturer covering his derriere. A lot of people who play steel strings purchase a set of gut in order to sound Old Timey (whatever that is), and treat them as if they were just regular steel strings. Consequently the strings last a few hours only.

I've played gut strings for around 20 years and have never had to use talcum powder. The only real danger to gut strings comes from rough spots in the nut, tuning peg hole, bridge, tailpiece and the nails of the player. I play without any nail contact. My gut strings have been on my Mercier Fairbanks model (my main axe) for about a year. I replaced the first string last week.

Clifford Essex make 'moisture resistant' gut strings (they have my name on them) which can be great on some banjos, while on others they produce a squeak through contact with the right hand. These strings should last a good length of time. Unfortunately they are only available at gCGBD pitch.

Looking at my banjos, I see a mixture of CE gut, Aquila gut and nylgut. With my technique, the nylgut sounds very different to the real gut, and I will be removing the nylgut strings in due course.
I never had much of a problem with gut, unless it was of those super damp, almost raining on the banjo type days. Skinny ones wear out at the point of striking, but oh well.
Thanks for the sage advice gents

I know it's an old topic, but I thought I'd mention gut strings...just put a set on my Boucher...oh man, it's like a pleasant homecoming. Nylgut is fine, but I like the tensioning of the gut (seems less than the nylgut). Slightly smaller diameters, and not so "slick" that your fingers glide right right across-it's easier to control "glide" passages with a slightly tackier feel, and less tension.  Gives a tubbier, deeper, and rounded tone. I find many difficult passages are easier to play with gut. I had the nylgut on for over a year.

I've never really had a humidity problem with gut strings, unless it was an outright downpour. Guess I'll keep 'em for a while.    



I'll just echo what everybody else is saying.  I haven't used anything but gut strings since I took up the lower pitched minstrel music and technique, played on appropriate instruments, sometime around 1994.  I keep them out of water, and they don't last forever, but gut strings are very durable and I find the feel and tone are clearly superior to nylon. 


Rob Morrison 



One thing that I do is to use varnished gut strings.  I can't really tell a difference in the sound, and humidity is a non issue, until the strings get old.  George recommended this at the first early banjo conference, and I have found this to be an outstanding suggestion.
Pardon a novice for asking what may be an often answered question, but where does one buy gut strings, and where does one buy varnished gut strings? My fretless open back had steel strings on it when I bought it. I replaced them with nylgut, which I've really enjoyed. But I'm willing to get even more authentic, if I can afford it!

Vince, check

Sierra View -http://www.gourdbanjo.com/

or Bob Flesher -http://www.drhorsehair.com/accy.html

Thank you, Ian! I appreciate the help.



I get my gut strings from Bob Flesher.  They're a bit pricey, but I like the gauges he provides.  I made the mistake of getting gut strings from LaBella, thinking it would be a bargain.  Well, you get what you pay for.  The LaBella strings were way too flimsy for minstrel playing,  or even playing tuned up to modern pitch.  I also bought a set from George Wunderlich at a festival once, and they were good,  though I don't know if George still sells strings.  Good luck.

Rob Morrison


Thanks, Rob! I appreciate the help.



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