View Full Version : Vintage Mandolin Banjos

Ken Berner
Mar-07-2006, 11:35am
I am curious as to your choice of strings, if you have been experimenting. The only reason I am using J74s is because that is all I had when I acquired my mandolin banjo. As there is volume and resonance to spare, would a lighter string serve us just as well? We are not dealing with an acousticly engineered chamber here, as in our carved, tap-tuned top beauties. Also, would a type of string preferred by banjo pickers be more appropriate for these instruments?

Bob DeVellis
Mar-07-2006, 9:45pm
Banjo family instruments have a lot of factors that influence the tone, most notably head material and head tension. A given type of string can sound very different on a relatively slack calfskin had vs on a really tight mylar head. Having said that, I think that you could get by just fine with somewhat lighter strings. I'd go with what feels right to you and then I'd adjust head tension to dial in the tone. With mandolin-banjos, there are lots of other issues that come into play. If you've looked for other mando-banjo threads, you'll know what I'm referrring to.

Ken Berner
Mar-07-2006, 10:45pm
Again, thanks Bob for your assistance. I will try a lighter string next time I change them. I have gone to a Fiberskyn head (fairly slack) and a more massive bridge already. I find also, that muting with the heel of my picking hand really takes some of the bite out of the tone, as well as a more rigid pick like Golden Gate. The tone I am getting now is much closer to what I intended from the start. I guess that "getting there" is half the fun!

Mar-08-2006, 3:28am
I got a wool boot sock rolled up and stuffed between the rim stick and the head on mine for home playing. , Remo head on vega lil wonder BM, light strings on mine - 008-036, too slack a head tension lowers the action too far, and down-pressure on the bridge reduced too. but its a short bridge.

Mar-08-2006, 10:57am
I don't know what the mando banjo strings are supposed to be, but from the banjo perspective a fat wound string is a .024, much thinner than mando strings. Maybe the short scale requires a fatter string but I would stay on the thin side to get some twang out of it and make it real easy to play. Volume will be lower too.

Mar-08-2006, 6:48pm
Volume is rarely a problem. "could you point that the other way"
is more often the response from across the music circle.

Paul Hostetter
Mar-08-2006, 11:40pm
Since the point of departure is the title "Vintage Mandolin Banjos," I'll observe that if the instrument in question is vintage and has been strung at all, it was probably strung most of that time with something along the lines of J-74s, because this is about all thatís been available historically. And if you observe a lot of the old instruments you note that the necks are pulled and even the rim itself is curled a bit from string tension. And it's axiomatic, except in the case of Gibsons, that the scale is the short 19th C. 13" scale. In other words, J-74s will exert less tension on a shorter scale. Itís why they work well with Martin mandolins too.

If a mandolin banjo has lasted 50-100 years being strung with the typical hefty strings, it's sort of silly to change now unless you like the feel and sound of lighter strings. It certainly can't hurt to try, of course. I tend to prefer J-74s because they intonate better on that short scale. I also use a compensated bridge based on the old Vega bridges because I find they temper the clanginess of the mandolin banjo a bit without subduing the sound altogether. And being in tune is a plus.

Ken Berner
Mar-09-2006, 9:34am
Thank you Paul, for jumping in here with some good feed-back. Think I'll stick with the J74s, as they are doing the job and I have plenty around for my other 8-stringers.

Mar-10-2006, 1:47pm
I use an OAS (Old Army Sock) mute on mine. I also have it strung with GHS Silk and Steel strings.

Ken Berner
Mar-10-2006, 7:01pm
Hey Glen, Do you suppose a Marine sock would be all right? I guess if it is dirty, it will work even better!