View Full Version : Tenor banjo - may bell queen

steve V. johnson
Jun-10-2008, 1:33pm
Thanks to all for allowing tenor banjo discussions here. I don't know where
else to ask, which is part of my inquiry here.

I have acquired a May Bell Queen tenor banjo, apparently from the 1920's, a pretty nice one in very good condition and with a removable resonator back. I've searched the web a bit and found some pix of these. Most of them were dark-colored, and this one is a nice blonde, on the neck and the resonator back. I've also found pix of some that have fancy gold-colored metalwork and these are clearly a cut above most of them and of the one I have.

My situation with this one is that it has it's original tuners, which are friction, not geared. They're simple and pretty, all the metal parts are in great shape. I have two problems with them, tho: One is that I haven't the patience to achieve true tuning with them, I'm accustomed to modern geared tuners; Second, the G tuner slips a bit and won't hold tune at all.

I've tried a washer, and then small rubber O-rings on the G tuner shaft to hold the shaft more tightly against the face of the headstock, and that pretty much stabilized this tuner, so the second problem is solved, but not the first.

I have a set of modern replacement tuners from StewMac, but they would require enlarging the holes in the headstock. I would love to find some geared, modern, tuners with a shaft size such that I wouldn't have to drill
the headstock, but I haven't been able to find much information on alternative tuning machines.

Finally, I'm pretty certain of the value of this instrument, but I'm not certain, and I haven't been able to get good info on how enlarging the tuner holes
might affect the value. The value question is becoming less and less of a consideration, but I'd still like more information about it...

I've spoken with 1.5 people at Elderly (one directly, another indirectly, thru the first one) and they didn't really want to continue the conversation, just let it drop. (I have no hard feelings about that, it's fine.) And I've spoken with
a shop in the Carolinas which carried some fancy May Bell Queen banjos.
It seemed pretty clear to me that their advice was colored because they were
somewhat interested in buying my banjo, so I don't think I got completely straight answers.

So... I'd like to find other expert advice about this one. About the value, the history and most importantly about modern tuning machine alternatives that might let me install them without headstock surgery.

Failing all that, I'll either go ahead and do the surgery, or simply try to pass this one on to someone who has the patience (and experience) to keep it in
tune with the original friction tuners.

Many thanks!


Jun-10-2008, 3:29pm
Do you have pictures? I can't recall where a May Bell falls in the value scale, but I would never hesitate to make a change in the interest of playability.

Steve L
Jun-10-2008, 4:20pm
Steve, try pm-ing Mike Keyes. #He's our resident tenor banjo maven and in the unlikely event he can't answer your questions, he can probably steer you in the right direction. #Might be worth a call or email to Bernunzio as well.

steve V. johnson
Jun-10-2008, 4:22pm
Thanks, Dan. #The local votes are running in that direction.

I'll take some pix. #I have some idea of the value of these, but I haven't seen one like this one...

Thanks, SteveL, I will!



steve V. johnson
Jun-10-2008, 5:18pm
Here are some pix...

steve V. johnson
Jun-10-2008, 5:19pm
the back...

steve V. johnson
Jun-10-2008, 5:21pm
I think I have a close-up of the back... taken at a different time, tho.

steve V. johnson
Jun-10-2008, 5:22pm

steve V. johnson
Jun-10-2008, 5:23pm
and some on the problematic tuners...

This is the low side, the loose G tuner, but before I tried the washer/o-ring.

steve V. johnson
Jun-10-2008, 5:30pm
and finally, here is the G tuner disassembled, along with the modern StewMac geared replacement.

I guess I should take some pix of the way the tuner holes are cut in the headstock. #The back side is so nicely done, with a countersunk rim to fit the taper of the gnurled barrel. # That's the part that would necessarily be cut away to accomodate modern, geared tuners. #Another time for more pix, not tonight, sorry...

Steve L
Jun-10-2008, 6:40pm
Nice looking banjo Steve. I've got a lower-end May Bell...no flange, walnut body and resonator with an arch top tone ring. It came with a slightly funky neck, geared aftermarket tuners and a warm sounding plastic head. I had friction pegs on my Weyman for a while and life is just too short for that stuff! I like both banjos a lot.

steve V. johnson
Jun-10-2008, 6:46pm
Hey Steve,

This is all new to me... Banjo 101... <GG>

It's pretty. I had given it to a friend, long ago, and apparently he did so well with it (lives kinda far away) that some
relatives got him a nicer one. I never expected this one back, but he neither wanted the work nor the money
in selling it, so I got it back. Quite a surprise.

Thanks for the good counsel!


Jun-10-2008, 7:43pm

That is a nice little intermediate level Slingerland banjo worth $600 give or take a few hundred (the tailpiece is worth $150 minimum), maybe as much as $900 depending on the tone ring and the condition of the neck. There are at least two more levels of the Maybelle banjo, the last one being very scarce. It looks like a late 1920s-early 1930s instrument.

While they vary quite a bit, they can be quite good for Irish music. I have a friend who has the next level up (a toilet seat tone ring, the Presto tailpiece, direct tuners like yours) which is great in a session. The value to players and collectors is not enough to worry about the tuners, however.

There used to be a German manufacturer that made geared tuners that fit the smaller holes, but apparently they are out of business. If you decide to go with modern tuners, you can't do any better than Gotohs (well you can, for $200 (http://www.zeppmusic.com/keith.htm) apiece.) The trick is to use a reamer to enlarge the holes. It takes a little work, but if you are confident with woodworking, fairly straight forward. Don't use a drill, you will splinter the wood. I don't think that the value of the instrument will suffer that much as it is not really a collectable.

Bob Smakula (http://www.smakula.com/Parts.html) sells the Gotoh tuners at a very nice price, if he has them. Otherwise go to Windy Strings (http://www.windystrings.com/tuners.htm) who are the importers and very nice people too.

steve V. johnson
Jun-10-2008, 10:00pm
Hey, Mike!

Wow, thanks very much for the comprehensive infos! Wonderful.

I'll check into the tuners you recommend, and I doubt that I'll do the reaming myself, but
I will make sure that whoever does it will use a reamer and go gently into that quiet headstock.
(Ahem, sorry there...)

Most reassuring, thanks!!!


Jun-10-2008, 11:15pm

You've got a really nice banjo. It would be a shame to replace the tuners unless the replacements fit the original holes. Give the Banjo Hangout a try.

banjo hangout (http://www.banjohangout.org/)

I have a 20's Slingerland May Bell Recording Nite Hawk tenor. It was a mid-range instrument in the Slingerland line. Even so, it's a very fine instrument. Unfortunately, after I bought it in the early 70's,I replaced the original tailpiece and gave it to the "luthier". I regret it now.


steve V. johnson
Jun-11-2008, 11:11am
Hi Bob,

Thanks for the Hangout! I remember some folks here (in other forums) writing that they didn't know of any sites
dedicated to banjo information and discussions, so this is golden.

Yeah, I feel the same, that it would be a shame not to fit the original holes. Certainly in today's world of 'we can
fabricate anything at all', someone, somewhere has thought of this before, so I'll keep looking. I know, however,
that my patience is finite, so if I can't find non-surgical replacements in a while, I'll find someone who wants it
with the friction tuners or I'll have the cuts done to fit modern tuners.

I'm a little confused, tho, by your last sentence. Is it the tailpiece replacement, or the giving away of the banjo
that you regret?



Jun-11-2008, 4:04pm

You can find one for one replacement friction tuners and Bob Smakula has a set of geared pegs that look like friction pegs (http://www.smakula.com/Parts.html) (or violin pegs) but they are not the same. He also sells vintage friction tuners.

If you want to learn about putting in the Gotohs lookHere. (http://www.banjohangout.org/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=118994)

Jun-12-2008, 8:57am
I'm a little confused, tho, by your last sentence. Is it the tailpiece replacement, or the giving away of the banjo
that you regret?

Steve - sorry about the ambiguity. I still have the banjo. The original tailpiece was broken, that's why I replaced it. Still, in light of today's vintage market, I should have kept the original.

Here's some Slingerland links:

Slingerland history (http://www.tbcnet.com/~slingerland/history.htm)

1930's Slingerland catalog (http://www.tbcnet.com/~slingerland/catalog.htm)

Here's a photo of my "Nite Hawk"

Eddie Sheehy
Jun-12-2008, 11:02am
I have a Gretsch Broadkaster tenor with the same kind of tuners. The Banjohangout.com is a great resource.

Jun-12-2008, 1:00pm
Kind of a visual change but right angled geared tuners are significantly lower than 4:1 for the commoner planetary tuner , Thats what I'm using on my 4 string Melody Banjos , Mandolin scale neck with friction tuners Really is a near impossible thing to tune.
and you don't need bigger peg head holes, either.

Eddie Sheehy
Jun-12-2008, 2:52pm
My Gretsch Broadkaster. Heavy on the MOP.

John L
Jun-13-2008, 1:40pm
I had the same issue with my TB, a Stewart probably of a similar vintage. I replaced the tuners, but did not have to do anything with the holes. Works much better and I have the originals to put back, although I doubt I ever will. I am not a purist, but I hate being intrusive unless absolutely necessary.

BTW, I started a thread on strings for tenors, and have not had a chance to make the string change I promised. Must get to that! I bought a special Irish TB set which is supposed to be for tuning of GDAE or GDAD, rather than the more typical CGDA.

steve V. johnson
Jun-15-2008, 12:59am
It's interesting to consider right-angle tuners... Hmmmm....

My latest research has located some of the discontinued German narrow-shaft planetary tuners that Elderly used to sell.

I found a couple of sets on eBay, bid to at least $120. It's cool to know that they're out there, it's nice to see what they are really
like, as opposed to simply hearing about them anecdotally. I don't think that I'll go that deep in $$ for 'em.

Someone at the Banjo Hangout said flatly, 'such things don't exist'... OK.

Also, there are tuners that look like fiddle pegs with gears inside. They were designed for fiddles, to provide
geared action for fiddle tuners, so the main shafts are conical, but they're available and affordable. Not for my
application, but really cool.

More and more I'm resigned to reaming the tuner holes and installing modern tuners.

"Stay tuned", I'm sure there's some more to come...



Ken Olmstead
Jun-16-2008, 7:47pm
Steve, aren't old banjos fun!! 6 months ago I was given a 1930 Vega Vox III plectrum banjo. Being a 4 string banjo player I often have people wanting to show me their heirloom instruments and I usually know what to expect when they come out but when I opened the case on this one...whoa! I won't say it is the "Loar" of Jazz banjos but getting pretty dang close. Anyway, I told him I would research the repairs and that it was going to cost somewhere between $500-1,000 to repair and would be worth quite a bit more than that if it was. After a couple weeks he called me and said it was mine if I wanted it!!! So I am just this week sending it off to be repaired but a lot of decisions have been made so I can sympathize with you!

Very sweet banjo you have there, by the way!!!! Worth the trouble! Because it is so clean it would be nice to keep it as original as possible but it is no good to anyone if it can't be played!

Hope I am not stretching the rules here by speaking about a "plectrum" banjo. After all it does have four strings and I can tune it to fifths if I wanted to!! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

steve V. johnson
Jun-20-2008, 11:11am
Many thanks to you all for your information and comments! #You've been most helpful, and so have the nice folks at the Banjo Hangout. #That joint
seems almost as nice a place, tho I haven't visited there very widely yet, as our dear Cafe. #Very nice folk, and they were very generous with help for me.

So... I made the decision. #I found that I could have geared tuners for the MBQ that fit the original 1/4" holes, but that I couldn't find any contemporary ones made to that standard (not to say that they don't exist...), tho Elderly used to carry them; #and I found out that Planetary-brand geared tuners were used on some banjos before WWII, and now the cost of a set of four starts at a bit over $100. # These don't seem terribly rare, I saw several sets available on eBay.

But what I chose was to use the contemporary 3/8" Planetary geared tuners that I had gotten from StewMac. #My good friend Dave McConnell, songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist of the Lopers, is also a fine woodworker, and he has enlarged the tuner shaft holes and installed the new ones, just today. #I also found some antiqued ivoroid buttons for the tuners at StewMac and they match the banjo much better. # Yes, I should have known to get the ivoroid buttons on the tuners in the first place... duh... but at $3 each it didn't hurt to order the ivoroid ones. #

Would anyone here like to have a set of the big pearly white ones?

I'll get the MBQ back from Dave's shop this weekend and I'll take some pix. #He says that the gear case comes very close to the edge of the headstock,
but doesn't go over. # When I heard from him he'd finished it but had not tuned the MBQ back up nor played it at all.

Now for some new strings... #I know nothing about strings for these things...

(ack!!! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif As the saying goes in Indiana, 'If it ain't one thing, it's another... and it's always sumpthin'...)

So, many thanks, again, to you all! Hooray!


steve V. johnson
Jun-24-2008, 10:37pm
Hello again!

Here are some pix showing the headstock after the new tuner surgery.

The tuner washers just touch the nominative inlays a bit.

steve V. johnson
Jun-24-2008, 10:41pm
Headstock from the bass side.

The tuner ever-so-slightly hangs over the edge of the headstock.

steve V. johnson
Jun-24-2008, 10:42pm
Here's the back of the headstock. The ivoroid tuner buttons aren't as dark
as the original ivoroid ones, but maybe they'll darken with use, time, finger
grease. They certainly look better than the mother of plastic ones that came
with them. If anyone would like to have those (they're stock with the tuners from StewMac), please contact me. I have no further use for them.

steve V. johnson
Jun-24-2008, 10:46pm
Here are a couple of other views... the treble side.

steve V. johnson
Jun-24-2008, 10:48pm
And the bass side.

steve V. johnson
Jun-24-2008, 10:59pm
I've restrung it with .042, .032, 020p, 014. Pretty close to my bouzouki (42, 32, 20w, 16) and it's tuning up nicely and with a bold voice
and it's holding tune nicely. I think that I'd like to move up to a wound .020 on the A and probably up to a .016 on the E. There is a difference in timbre
between the wound and plain strings, so those changes may smooth out the difference.

The head seems to be pretty tight, the new strings didn't really dimple the top at all below the bridge.

The button screws on the tuners tighten or loosen the action of the tuners, not how they hold tune, I think, but how
hard one has to work to turn them. It's sort of like having locking tuners (like the guitar shredders use!), as one can loosen the button screws to
make it easy to tune and then tighten them again. LOL!! No, not really.

The action is pretty high, esp above the 7th fret. Next I'll take it to my local banjo guy, Rick Nagy at Roadworthy Guitar and Amp here in Bloomington.
He's met this one before, but hasn't seen it in a very long time. Mike Keyes' articles on the Banjo Hangout about tenor setups emphasize that the tone
ring needs to be parallel to the rim and he mentions some good points about the head tension and tuning. That's all a bit out of my reach, so I'll ask
Rick Nagy about all that.



Ken Olmstead
Jun-25-2008, 11:04am
You did good with the tuners. Looks like how it might have come at a higher price point. I did not chime in when guitar tuners were mentioned but I knew you would do the "right" thing! That is a beatiful instrument! Those are some realativly heavy guage strings you have on there though!! Did you trade your gym membership for the banjo? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

steve V. johnson
Jun-25-2008, 11:40am
Thanks for your kind words!

The guitar tuners idea is probably a good one in some circumstances... I know some folks struggling with very old and beat-up open-back tenors complete with abused and hinky tuners who may be able to benefit from it... #I've told a couple of 'em about it, anyway.

I found a thread on the Banjo Hangout (sorry if I'm repeating myself) that Mike Keyes had begun about setups used (or neglected) by players of Irish trad music on tenor banjos. # Some of the respondents' string gauges for ITM tenor banjos went from .038 to .044 on the G string and from .010 to .016 on the E string. #Mike mentioned in an email with me that my bouzouki gauges might be an ok place to start.

As to the gym membership, a fan of the Lopers band gave Dave McConnell a Deering six-string 'banjitar', and right after the first time I played it, I renewed my gym membership, just to be in shape to hold the thing, much less carry it! # http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif #It almost made it onto a couple of songs on our new CD, but didn't quite make the cut. #At least in part because nobody wanted to carry it to gigs. (We already carry too much stuff...)



Chip Booth
Jun-25-2008, 12:19pm

Based on this image from page 1 the Dharma Initiative is obviously trying to use banjo players to infiltrate the Mandolin Cafe.

steve V. johnson
Jun-25-2008, 12:31pm
Hey Chip,

I can't claim to be a "banjo player" and I don't watch "Lost" either... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

I had to look up the Dharma Initiative! lol!!

Wool Chinese sculpted rug circa mid-70's, bought in Mill Valley, CA, when I was a recording studio mgr out there.
We have skylights that sometimes make it tough to find a place to get a pic w/o glare, and on that particular day, that spot
worked. #I regretted the background motif (thought it distracted from the banjer pattern), but I wanted to get it out so folks
could help me with the infos.

I will confess that I enjoy the Tibetan Buddhist community here in Bloomington...


Steve L
Jul-05-2008, 9:18am
Okay Steve, It's been long enough. How does she play and how does she sound?

steve V. johnson
Jul-06-2008, 10:47am
Hey Steve L, thanks for asking.

It sounds great, so far! #I haven't played it in ensemble yet, so the relative 'loudness' is not measured, but it seems real loud at home.

The tuners hold very nicely and, while still a tad trickier than my guitars, zouk and mandolins, are quite usable. # It has quite a ring and
sustain, overtones, with or without the resonator back, and that's not a thing I hear from other banjos, so maybe I have to put a sock inside it...


I do know two other banjo players who do that, one with an open-back and
the other with a resonator back on their tenor banjos, but it seems like such
a joke to actually -say- (that is, -write- it).

The G and D strings, at 40 and 32, sound great. The A is a plain 18, and I think a wound 20 (my usual zouk size) would be better, as there is a bit
of a wide difference in timbre between the 32 and the 18p. Of course, another response would be to go lighter on the low strings... It has a 14 E
string, and I feel that's light, too, but we'll see...

A couple of folks have expressed concern over the string sizes and damage to the neck, but from Mike Keyes' thread at the Banjo Hangout on tenor banjo setup, it seems that others have gone heavier than this. Mike said that he thought that my zouk set (42, 32, 20w, 16) would be a good place to start.
The neck has not changed shape at all under this tension.

Which reminds me... If I were to keep this one, I would probably change
the frets. I think bigger, modern, tang-topped frets would suit the bigger
strings better. The tiny old bar frets are very short (certainly relative to my
other modern instruments, and even small and short compared to the ones
on my '36 Kalamazoo KM-11 flat top mandolin), and slightly larger ones
would feel better and probably help a player move faster. But that's a change
for later.

We had a lot of last-minute calls for gigs this past week, so I didn't get to
take the MBQtb downtown to our local banjo guru-tech, Rick Nagy at Roadworthy Guitar & Amp. I'd like him to look at the head tension and the
action, which is high.

I think I recall him saying before that to change the neck angle, the neck would need to be shimmed against the ring, or something like that. The
bridge feet are quite thin already, so there's no taking those down and
everything else seems to be fine, so I think that the neck angle is the only
place to address the action height. It's usable to the fifth fret, but at the seventh there begin to be tning issues. I haven't measured the height, so
I can't tell you simply how high it is.

The head is skin, and seems quite tight and healthy to me, tho I really don't
know relative head tightness, from inexperience. I don't think that this is
the original head... There's a label on it (I'm not at home just now, so I can't
go look and tell you what it says), but it looks a bit newer than the 1920's.

Mike Keyes said that the Grover tailpiece, the original, that's on it now would
be of great value to some bluegrass banjerists, and that I could sell it for a pretty bag o' pennies (so to speak), and that a contemporary tailpiece could
be a nice benefit, but later for that. Same for a different bridge.

Other than a head check and the action adustment, I think this one's ready
for sessions. I don't think that I'm the guy to play it, tho I try from time to time, but I am eager to hear some of the better players around have a go
on it.

I originally got it for TJ Hull, the Culchies fiddler who now lives in Milwaukee.
He thought he'd go looking for a Gibson '20's tenor (some particular model
he'd heard about), but I've been keeping him informed on the changes, and
so when this one is all right it will go back up to him.

So there 'tis... I'm really happy with it and TJ and I have agreed on what will
happen with it if he chooses not to keep it. I may become a banjer player yet...


Again, thanks for asking! I'd like to post again after Rick has seen it and after, I hope, we have sorted the action a bit better.


Steve L
Jul-07-2008, 7:33am
Sounds good Steve. #High action seems to go with the territory for some of these older and relatively inexpensive banjos, though the area of the 1st seven frets we (I trad guys) tend to play in is usually okay. #Having a good wooden bridge made might go miles toward helping once you know what can be done with the neck angle.

I'm sort of in the camp of thinking those gauges are pretty heavy, but I tend to take Mike Keyes word as the gospel in these matters so there's that. #Going a bit lighter might not only be easier on the hands but put less pull on the neck as well. #

I had a skin head on my Weymann 150 ( an 18 fretter) and it sounded great but was a nightmare to keep in tune. #When I changed out the head, I got some funny overtones that I couldn't adjust out. #I remembered when i played in rock bands with drummers, they would often tape about a one inch wad of paper towel in a particular spot to stop this sort of thing. #I tried this in various spots on the underside of the head and found an area where it stopped the overtones without costing much in the way of volume. The banjo looks a bit like it had out patient day surgery, but it works!

Try to dedicate some time to playing the banjo. #It's really a ball to play melody in a session and be heard!

Jul-07-2008, 2:17pm

I just did the math on your string setup.

I used String Tension Calculator (http://http://www.pacificsites.net/~dog/StringTensionApplet.html), one of many such tools on the net. #Plug in the numbers and see what you come up with. #I came up with nearly equal tensions of cgda and GDAE.

Even the standard strings can cause neck bowing in a 19 fret instrument with no internal bracing. It occurs over a very long time and if it happens, it happens. #Most of the time, since ITM is usually played out of first position, it is not that bad, but I always hate to see it.

steve V. johnson
Jul-08-2008, 12:19pm
Steve L sez, "High action seems to go with the territory for some of these older and relatively inexpensive banjos, though the area of the 1st seven frets we (I trad guys) tend to play in is usually okay."

I read somewhere else on the Cafe that a famous player said something like 'There's no money above the seventh fret anyway...'


"I remembered when i played in rock bands with drummers, they would often tape about a one inch wad of paper towel in a particular spot to stop this sort of thing. "

Yep, I've done that, both with performing drummers and in the studio (but usually with drummers who didn't know how to tune their kits very well...), and
there are variations, one of the best -and- most novel involving the use of a sanitary napkin, which, when taped in just the right spot, can make a drdum just sound wonderful.

Ahem... I did some experiments with some white artists' tape, which leaves no residue at all from the adhesive, and I do think that there's a particular
spot that might be productively damped with a bit of tape.

I haven't been able to get down to Roadworthy yet... I hope I can this week!



steve V. johnson
Jul-08-2008, 12:23pm
Hi Mike,

Mike Keyes wrote, "I just did the math on your string setup.

I used String Tension Calculator is one of many such tools on the net. #Plug in the numbers and see what you come up with. #I came up with nearly equal tensions of cgda and GDAE."

Excuse me if I'm being dense, but ... is that good? #It would seem, on the face of it, to suggest that the MBQTB may well be comfortably at home with these... # I've used tension calculators, but not on this one.

There seems to be a chorus of voices out there telling me to lighten up... #So I'm likely to do so, at least a bit.

I have no particular investment in stringing this thing as heavily as I can.



Jul-08-2008, 12:53pm
If the GDAE tension is about the same as the cgda tension, then whatever damage that string tension will do is the same. There is no sense in using lighter gage strings if they make your banjo sound bad. Most people will look at the gages of the GDAE strings and come to the conclusion that these strings have more tension. That would be true if they were tuned an octave higher (which you couldn't do, anyway) but the GDAE tuning is much lower than the cgda tuning so the tensions equal out most of the time.

I have had similar gage strings on a number of banjos for up to 7 years now with no damage done.

If you are concerned, by all means go to the D'Addario J63i set, but I doubt that you will be pleased with the sound they produce.

Each of my banjos has a slightly different set of strings on them. I usually buy strings individually (although my main banjo just happens to do best with the D'Addario OM set) so they have different total tensions. None of my G strings exceed 44 and most use 42 with the E strings usually in the 12 range. The others are variations of 30-32 and 18-20. String the instrument to your liking, after all, you are the one who has to play it http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

There is no one magic string set out there. Like bridges, each string set has to be tailored to the banjo. I remember seeing a short scale banjo that had a 56 G string and a very odd assortment of other strings including a silk and steel A string. The owner insisted that this was the only way to string any banjo. It sounded OK to my ears.