Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Can you use mall metal strings on my Bell banjo
The nylon really hurt. It seems you have to press
Very hard for the proper tone
The metal fourth string feels ok
I am a beginner and just start to learn
Thanks

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You could contact Terry Bell on this site and ask him.

We would need to know more:

--What kind of Bell is it- a gourd? ..a Boucher?...  We assume it is fretless?

--What kind/brand of nylon strings are on it now?  (I have found guitar hi-tension nylon strings to be hard on the fingers, but not Nylgut strings)  Are they the original strings that Terry put on, do you know?

--What tuning are you tuning it to?  -if tuned too high the tension and action might be uncomfortable.

--Is it the original Bell bridge?  -a higher bridge might make the action too high, causing your problems.

--what kind of banjo are you used to playing, and how long have you been trying to play on your Bell or on nylon strings in general?

Metal strings will torture your fingers. The Nylgut strings shouldn't be bothering you unless maybe you are tuned too high and the strings are too tight and stiff, or you have a kit and possibly the bridge is too high. Minstrel Nylguts are the easiest strings to play, far easier than even nylon classical guitar. Check your tuning.

You may be pushing too hard.  Even on my banjos that have very high action, I don't have to press that hard to play.  Nylon/Nylgut strings are way easier on your fingers than steel strings- trust me, this is coming from a heavy metal/shred guitarist :)

When I teach people to play the guitar, I always tell them to play straight through the pain- that way the callouses form faster and you don't lose practice time.  You've just got to be tough about it.  I do think you are pushing too hard though on your banjo, though.  Nylon strings are very gentle on the fingers.  Also, for early banjo music, you shouldn't use metal strings anyway.  They have a different sound that isn't correct for the early banjo, and they are for higher tunings that were adopted after the early banjo period.

Good advice here. Do be sure what the strings on your banjo are. If it came direct from Terry, they should be Nylgut MInstrels. Give them a try, and build up the callouses. If it just doesn't work, you might try Nylgut Classic Banjo. These are a lighter gauge. The Minstrel strings are really preferable though.

I find that actual gut strings are easier on the fingers than the nylgut strings.  Of course, you have to pay a lot more for them.  I find that pain goes up as the height of the string off the neck gets higher.

one more thought, the fourth string is nylgut wound with metal. The only reason that one doesn't bother you is the much lower tension of the lowest pitched string. I would suggest practicing in shorter periods, gradually increasing the time as you build up your callouses.

Truer words have never been written Dan'l.

Dan'l said:

    ... I don't think metal strings will help anything.

 

     Dan'l

 

Terry the banjo looks great. My problem is I know very little about banjos. When tuned it sounds very good
I feel I have to press way to hard to get the proper tone. The distance of the strings from the neck at the start of the drum is 5/16". Again I have no knowledge about this, but could this be my problem?

Bell Banjos said:

Metal strings will torture your fingers. The Nylgut strings shouldn't be bothering you unless maybe you are tuned too high and the strings are too tight and stiff, or you have a kit and possibly the bridge is too high. Minstrel Nylguts are the easiest strings to play, far easier than even nylon classical guitar. Check your tuning.

I feel I have to press way to hard to get the proper tone. The distance of the strings from the neck at the start of the drum is 5/16". Again I have no knowledge about this, but could this be my problem?

That sounds about correct to me, same as my banjos and my Bell.  But generally you are not fretting the strings there near the pot, you fret them more near the nut, and the string height is waaay less there. 

Robert, is this your first experience playing a banjo?- if so, that might account for the finger pain.  It does take a few weeks of practicing before you build up a tougher fingertip surface, a callous, and stronger hand muscles as well.  New players almost always press down too hard when fretting as well, and they also often grip the neck with their left hand in a 'death grip', which only makes things worse.  Lighten up your grip and your finger pressure, use the very tips of your fingers to fret with (not the fatty pads of your fingers), and practice twice a day for a shorter duration...these things will help.  Don't worry so much about your tone for now, and don't try to improve your tone by pressing down harder- once your hand gets stronger and your fingtertip skin get harder, the tone will improve automatically.

Robert, what tone are you expecting to get?  Are you comparing this to other minstrel banjo recordings, or are you expecting this to sound like a modern clawhammer or bluegrass banjo?  

The measurement to take is the height of the string from the fingerboard right at the nut. What's going to hurt the fingers most is stopping the first and second strings very close to the nut. The further up the fingerboard you get, the easier it gets to stop the strings.

Sand 1/8" off the bottom of the bridge. That should feel a lot better on your playing fingers. If there's no string buzz, sand a little more, like 1/16". If you go too far I'll send you a free bridge.

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