Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Just curious,.. do gut strings eventually loose their Punch? Mine sound good with little fraying on the 1st string, but have had these on since I got may banjo two years ago. SO maybe I am not noticing a slow decrease in available frequency due to age. Should Gut strings be changed out every..1, 2, 3, years?

Views: 278

Comment by Wes Merchant on June 2, 2013 at 2:42pm

I'm not really sure about when to change, but I was reminded of this video on how they are made:


Comment by Daniel Pownall on June 2, 2013 at 5:42pm

I've had my banjo for about 2 1/2 years and they seem to be ok.  It's a good question that I would like to know the answer to as well.  

Comment by Rob Morrison on June 2, 2013 at 6:39pm

Nicholas--I usually just play mine until they break.  If one is unraveling, you may want to anticipate the inevitable and replace it. I haven't ever noticed a degradation in sound, per se, like steel strings exhibit.  The one exception is the bass string for which a classic guitar D string makes a good replacement.  These wire round strings do corrode and degrade over time and are relatively easy and inexpensive to procure. Gut strings can last a long time if you don't get them wet or overtighten them to compensate for a sagging head--Rob.

Comment by Silas Tackitt on June 2, 2013 at 7:13pm

My reenactment banjo goes through first, fifth and second strings on a regular basis.  That's because it goes with me on campaign.  No case.  Carried over my shoulder on a strap.  Thrown into my blanket when I sleep.  Many are the times I hear that distinct "PING" in the middle of the night telling me a string has broken.  Generally, I remove the bridge and sometimes will loosen some of the strings during the really damp overnights.  Re-stretching/retuning seems to take longer if they've been allowed to go loose.  For that reason, I gamble frequently and hope that removal of the bridge alone is sufficient.  If a string is going to break, it's going to break.  They can only be reinforced by nail clippers and nail polish for so long.

As for my good banjo, I've still got original strings on it.  I think they're going on three years, and some are just beginning to fray.

Comment by Dave Culgan on June 3, 2013 at 6:52am

My experience is similar to what Silas reported. I don't do campaign events and I'm able to wrap my banjos up in cloth when not playing them but I also go through a lot of strings. Its odd how they break mostly when not being played. His nails clippers and nail polish comment is right on. As long as I have enough of the broken string left to span from nut to bridge I'll tie a piece on one end, or both if needed, to get more life out of them, and I save any decent length remnants for this when putting on new. I also reverse my strings, and / or unwind them toward the bridge to move a worn place to get more life. That's one advantage of the bowline knots I tie at the bridge, I can usually untie them to save precious gut.

I can't even imagine changing them if not broken. They will probably go a bit false over time but I don't think it would be enough to notice unless they are fraying and at that point they will probably break soon with playing or changes in relative humidity. Signed, the frugal cheap skate banjo player.

Comment by Dave Vinci on June 3, 2013 at 8:11am

I have had gut strings on my firs minstrel banjo since 2001 and it has gone everywhere with me.  I just change the strings when they break, mostly the 1st, 5th and 2nd strings are the ones that go.  My poor 4th string is the original (almost 12 years old now) and it's all oxidized and crusty but it still sounds just fine so why change it? 

Dave Vinci

Comment by Nicholas A Bechtel on June 3, 2013 at 11:03am

Thanks gentleman for the feedback. It would seen the general consensus is that GUT strings hold up, for a long time, barring breakage. I really had not noticed any tone difference, then I was thinking that maybe I have just not noticed it as much because it was a gradual process. Back to trusting my ears! Although, probably would not be a bad idea to have a back up set just in case.
Thanks again for the feedback.

Comment by Nicholas A Bechtel on June 3, 2013 at 12:38pm

And Thank you Wes, for sharing that video clip. Outstanding!

Comment by Strumelia on June 3, 2013 at 12:57pm

additional tidbit....gut strings wear out and break much faster on fretted banjos than on fretless.

Comment by Wes Merchant on June 3, 2013 at 3:01pm

One of my favorite gut string references is from an article in the June 23,1869 Herald and Torch Light from Hagerstown Md. It talks of an eccentric man who leaves his fortune for the care of cats. it concludes saying," I do hereby devise and bequeath the intestines of my body to be made up into fiddle strings, the proceeds to be devoted to the purchase of an accordeon, which shall be played in the auditorium of the Cat Infirmary by one of the regular nurses to be kept up forever and ever, without cessation day and night, in that the cats may have the privilege of enjoying that instrument which is the nearest approach to their natural voice."


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