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PostPosted: Sun Feb 28, 2016 6:28 pm 
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Posts: 1308
Due to surgery on my left hand, I can't properly review strings. Once again, MaineGeezer has stepped up to the plate to provide the forum with an interesting string review. This month, we're departing from guitar strings and taking a look at banjo strings. I thank him from the bottom of my heart for this great review!

A comparison of Aquila Nylgut Banjo Strings (Minstrel and Light Tension)

By MaineGeezer

[url]Aquila Minstrel Banjo Strings (https://www.stringsbymail.com/aquila-mi ... -4458.html)[/url]
[url]Aquila Classical Lt. Tension banjo Strings (https://www.stringsbymail.com/aquilacla ... -6144.html)[/url]

When I first started playing the banjo, I had an old 19th century banjo made for gut strings and no money. Even if I had had money, I had no idea where to get suitable non-steel strings. In the early1960s, only a few old codgers, the bluegrass crowd, and Pete Seeger played the banjo, and only a few of the few old codgers used non-steel strings.

The first expedient was monofilament fishing line, with several strands twisted together to make the heavier strings. The result left quite a lot to be desired.

The next expedient was Nylon guitar strings. While these were a considerable improvement over the fishing line, they still weren't banjo strings.

Recently I learned that Aquila of Italy makes several styles of "Nylgut" banjo strings. Nylgut is a proprietary formulation of Nylon specifically engineered for use as instrument strings. Their main market appears to be synthetic orchestral strings for violins, etc., but they also sell strings for banjos. Strings By Mail carries the Aquila Nylgut banjo strings. I decided to try some and see what they were like.

Strings By Mail (http://www.StringsByMail.com) sells four varieties: Minstrel (the heaviest) with a wound 4th, Light Tension with a "red series" 4th, Medium Tension with a red series 4th, and Medium Tension all Nylgut. If you check the listings for these strings on the Strings By Mail website, you may see that the light and medium sets are listed with a wound 4th string. That is incorrect. Those sets contain a red series 4th string.

The red series strings are made by filling the string material with a metallic copper powder, increasing the string mass and giving the string surface a slightly rough texture. I found the sound of this string in the Light set to be excellent. Because there is no winding to get filled with dirt, I'd expect the red series 4th to maintain its tone for a longer time than an equivalent wound string. Time will tell whether that theory is correct.

For this review, I tried the Minstrel and the Light Tension sets to see what they are like, starting with the Minstrel strings:

1st .0265
2nd .0305
3rd .0385
4th .027 (wound)
5th .0275

The first thing I noticed was the lack of any terminators on the strings. The have no ball or loop on the end. You have to tie them to the tailpiece. A timber hitch is a convenient knot to use, or if the holes in the tailpiece are small enough, you can tie some kind of stopper knot in lieu of a ball end to keep them from pulling through.

The next thing I noticed was that these strings stretch -- a LOT! They settled down after about a week. I have read elsewhere that one shouldn't rush the stretching process, so I tuned them a tone or two low and let the banjo sit overnight before trying to get them to maintain correct pitch.

I also tried a lightweight set of strings to get some comparison for this review. The lightweight set are:

1 = .0205
2 = .024
3 = .027
4 = .035 (red series)
5 = .020

As you can see, they are considerably lighter than the Minstrel set. I expected a difference in tone, playability, volume, or all three. There was less difference than I expected, although the lightweight strings delivered a slightly less punchy sound, responded more favorably to a lighter touch (and less favorably to heavy frailing), and produced slightly less volume.

I liked both sets, though the Minstrels seemed a bit heavy and at least initially the Lightweights a bit light for my playing. If you're in a group striving to be heard, or doing loud, boisterous music, the Minstrels might suit your style. On the other hand, if you do intricate "classical banjo" melodic picking, the lightweights might be the ones to choose. I also found that as time passed, I grew to like the light strings more and more as I got used to them. I am quite curious how I will like the Mediums. I'll certainly try those next, and if you're going to order just one type, the Mediums would probably be a good choice to start with.

I was quite impressed by how much these strings improved the sound of my banjo. It rings and doesn't sound dead and plunky the way it did with the Nylon guitar strings (or, saints preserve us, the twisted-up monofilament fishing line.)

If you're looking for non-steel banjo strings, I think one of the offerings from Aquila ought to meet your needs.


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 28, 2016 9:35 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jul 28, 2014 7:50 am
Posts: 424
Location: Chadds Ford, PA
Wow, nice review! For anyone interested in gut strings for banjo, they can be had by using gut lute strings. A bit pricey, about $50 for 5 strings, but they are what nylgut is designed to be like.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 6:31 am 
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Joined: Wed Aug 13, 2014 12:14 pm
Posts: 940
The Aquila banjo strings are nowhere near that expensive -- more like $7 or $8 a set. It would be interesting to try real gut strings sometime though.

_________________
Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects. -- Will Rogers
There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory. - Josh Billings
Anything is possible if you don't know what you are talking about.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 7:19 am 
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Joined: Mon Jul 28, 2014 7:50 am
Posts: 424
Location: Chadds Ford, PA
MaineGeezer wrote:
The Aquila banjo strings are nowhere near that expensive -- more like $7 or $8 a set. It would be interesting to try real gut strings sometime though.


That's the nice thing about nylgut; real gut is now really expensive. I used to pay $0.50/string in bulk from the factory in Chicago. Now a full baroque 13 course set can be as much as several hundred dollars.

A fret-less old-time banjo is what I expect would be a good companion to gut strings. Without frets there is a potential for the strings to last longer. Bar frets I think would be hard on gut and standard frets would cause wear that is faster than typical of nylon strings. The sound achieved from gut can be really sweet and bell-clear and also 'muddy' to a steel string-trained ear. Once you get past the paradigm shift, gut strings are wonderful to play on and are really easy on the fingertips. My old parlor guitar is half strung in gut and half in wrapped silk. The set has endured very light playing for 30 years (yes, the over-wounds are way overdue).


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