Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Seems most minstrel banjos are using Aquila Nylgut strings. These have a harder, brighter sound. I have these on my Hartel Boucher. I have nylon strings on my Sholder gourd banjo. Don't know the make. These have a softer, more mellow tone.
I was wondering if nylon strings on my Hartel would give a softer tone. Has anyone experimented with different strings? Just curious. Not intending to change anything right now.

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Keep in mind that Aquila Nylguts come in several different sets.   Their "Classic" set is thinner and can be tuned higher.  Their "Minstrel" set is slightly heavier gauge and more suitable for the low minstrel tunings.  They also have some new nylgut sets with red strings...not sure how those are intended but I think again are meant for typical clawhammer tunings, not as low as the minstrel set.

Gourd banjos (in my opinion) have a somewhat mellower tone than hoop banjos to begin with, so that might mess up your comparison.

I wonder when heavy metal-wound bass gut strings actually came about for banjos.  Certainly heavy unwound gut strings were available long ago, and even now one 'can' buy solid gut unwound bass strings for banjo.  They may be preferable on fretted banjos, since the frets tend to dent/eat through those metal windings rather quickly I always found.  I used to play on only gut for several years, but it became pretty expensive and frustrating...they used to fray and break so often for me, even on fretless.  That was before I used real low tunings though..but I did use gauges appropriate for the tunings i was in at the time.  Then I switched to high tension classical guitar nylons, which lasted longer but Man they were tough on the fingers.  Had my biggest calluses EVER with those strings.
Once I tried Nylgut I never looked back!   ;D

Yes, agreed.  But gut violin strings would not have been nearly long enough.  Perhaps cello strings?  Cello strings in solid (unwound) gut did/do come plenty thick enough for banjo bass strings.

Do we know what kind or source of strings were used on early gourd banjos?

Violin strings were sold "double length."  That was long enough.

Regardless of historical precedence, an unwound fourth-- gut or nylon/plastic, to me sounds flabby and lacks punch.  They also tend to be loose and clack against the fingerboard when really pounding them.

When playing later guitar style pieces (not relevant to this group) and esp. in some marches, a "bass solo" was a very popular movement.  The fourth string is really pounded with the thumb.  Unwound strings are not satisfactory in that situation.

For strumming chords or light touch playing it should be fine, but a little unbalanced in volume.  That would be something a microphone and mixing board could fix.

A unwound fourth is also "folksy" and appeals to the "different than modern" attractiveness much like Boucher style banjos.  Modern banjos= wire strings.  "Period" banjos are way different with all gut strings... or plastic.

Strumelia said:

Yes, agreed.  But gut violin strings would not have been nearly long enough.  Perhaps cello strings?  Cello strings in solid (unwound) gut did/do come plenty thick enough for banjo bass strings.

Do we know what kind or source of strings were used on early gourd banjos?

I use guitar strings and buy singles to build sets.  Two firsts, a second, third and fourth for a set.  There are many different brands and mixes of nylon and they can all sound different.

I like rectified as I also play guitar style and they have some "bite" to my fingertips.  It is not expensive to try some different brands and compositions.  Take notes to keep track of what you like.

AFA I have found, fourths are mostly the same sound wise (differing in size).  I like the silver plated copper over nylon floss and change them when I wear all the plating off.

With frets, the windings wear through.  I usually change the entire set for every two fourths I tear up.

Quite frankly I prefer real gut to the nylgut.  It is a pricey habit, but I can tell the difference both in sound and in playing. 

How do rectified nylon compare to varnished gut?

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