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Thread: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

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    Default Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    I use D'Addario J75 strings on my Ellis, but wonder if my 1924 Gibson A snakehead would take them? It's super solid and doesn't have even the slightest bit of top sinkage, but I don't want to push it. J75's don't seem that much heavier than the j74s I am using, but wanted to see if anyone has experience one way or another.

    Thanks,
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    Registered User lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    Baron, I just put J75's on my 1912 A and they sound great! The action remained nice and low and they added some bass. I don't think they are too heavy at all. Dan

    P.S. Thanks for the lessons! You are great and I have learned lots from you.
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    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    For what it's worth, the D'Addario J75 set exerts a total string tension of 194.0 lbs (tuned to the GDAE standard), whereas the J74 set has a total string tension of 181.6 lbs. So the 75's exert just 6.8% greater tension than 74's. That's not a whole lot more. If your mandolin can handle J74's, then it almost certainly can manage J75's, as well.

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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    I have Daddario custom mediums on my '23 snakehead. Can't imagine J75s would be that much more stress.

    Would worry even less on a 1912 Gibson A,as they have that thick V-neck.

    Given that,as on my snakehead,the top has not sunk any,I may try J75s on it at some point.

    I'm going to check out your free mando lessons. Need all the help Ican get.

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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    Thanks everyone, I'll throw on a set next time I change strings!

    Baron
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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    There's a happy medium somewhere -- too much tension can dampen the top, even if it's not enough tension to cause damage. I think J74s are way more tension than that instrument was designed for.
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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    I've worked on many Gibson mandolins made between 1910 and 1930. These mandolins were NOT made to handle either set that has been mentioned. Not only do you risk warped necks, you also risk sunken or distorted tops and sides coming loose from the neck block-- something that I see from time to time that is difficult to repair.

    I just had to straighten an extremely bowed neck on a teens A that had been strung with J-74's. I was there when the former owner bought the mandolin 25 years ago. It had a nice straight neck when he bought it. I've had to plane the fingerboard, or sometimes remove it to straighten the neck on quite a few teens and '20's Gibsons that had been overstrung. I mention the one above in particular because I know the history of the instrument.

    Y'all can do whatever you want, but you have been warned.

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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    I've worked on many Gibson mandolins made between 1910 and 1930. These mandolins were NOT made to handle either set that has been mentioned. Not only do you risk warped necks, you also risk sunken or distorted tops and sides coming loose from the neck block-- something that I see from time to time that is difficult to repair.

    I just had to straighten an extremely bowed neck on a teens A that had been strung with J-74's. I was there when the former owner bought the mandolin 25 years ago. It had a nice straight neck when he bought it. I've had to plane the fingerboard, or sometimes remove it to straighten the neck on quite a few teens and '20's Gibsons that had been overstrung. I mention the one above in particular because I know the history of the instrument.

    Y'all can do whatever you want, but you have been warned.
    This is a very good message as it is first hand information from an experienced mandolin tech/luthier. I have two of these mandolins on which I now I feel I should put on light gauge strings. What is the set and gauge you would recommend? Thank you, Dan
    Dan Brooks

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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    I usually go 10 or 10.5,-14-24-38. The maximum that I feel safe with is 10.5-14-25 nickel -40 nickel.
    Many people don't know that nickel strings have a lower tension than bronze strings of a similar gauge. Phosphor bronze has the highest tension.

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    Registered User lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    I usually go 10 or 10.5,-14-24-38. The maximum that I feel safe with is 10.5-14-25 nickel -40 nickel.
    Many people don't know that nickel strings have a lower tension than bronze strings of a similar gauge. Phosphor bronze has the highest tension.
    Thank you! I didn't know the alloy had that much impact on tension. I am going to seek a set for both Gibson A's. I was thinking the nickle would be easier on the fingers with a guitar or mandolin... is that true? Thanks again!
    Dan Brooks

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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    Quote Originally Posted by lflngpicker View Post
    I was thinking the nickle would be easier on the fingers with a guitar or mandolin... is that true?
    I don't know . . .

    Now that I think about it, probably the nickel is a little more friendly.
    Last edited by rcc56; Jun-28-2018 at 8:58pm.

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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    Baron - Why do you want to use the heavier strings ?. Is it simply because they are ok on your Ellis,or are you after a specific change in sound (tone / volume) ??.

    I use GHS A270's (Tom Ellis's 'go to' strings) on my own Ellis,& it sings !. When i've changed from J74s to J75s (now EJs) on my Weber "Fern" ages ago,i found that the heavier G & D strings sounded a tad dull. I was hoping for more volume,but i had to pick the heavier strings harder to achieve it. So i swapped back to EJ74's,picked as hard on those as i had on the 75's & got as much vol. as i ever wanted.

    With regard to your question - If i were the owner of a Gibson 'Snakehead',knowing the era in which it was made,my first strings would be a set of Thomastik Infeld 'medium' strings. TI strings are well known for their incredible tone & long life. They are expensive,but they apparently last a very long time,one set outliving 3 to 4 sets of other strings. I'd simply want to bring the finest tone that i could get from such an old instrument - out of respect,
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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    Quote Originally Posted by Ivan Kelsall View Post
    Baron - Why do you want to use the heavier strings ?. Is it simply because they are ok on your Ellis,or are you after a specific change in sound (tone / volume) ??.
    Mostly just trying to align the playability of the two instruments with my own playing style. I understand they are different beasts, but being fairly heavy handed on the Ellis, I'd like to be able to push the Gibson a little harder, or at least see if I like the way it takes to J75s.

    I've used flatwounds in the past but really like the sparkle and warm brashness of round wound phosphor bronze strings.

    Thanks for all the thoughts everyone, I'll be keeping an eye on this thread going forward!
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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    Quote Originally Posted by lflngpicker View Post
    Thank you! I didn't know the alloy had that much impact on tension. I am going to seek a set for both Gibson A's. I was thinking the nickle would be easier on the fingers with a guitar or mandolin... is that true? Thanks again!
    Phosphor bronze strings have much more tension than several of the other alloys. I use the same as rcc56 on my Gibson. It's not like you need heavier strings to make them sound good, they sound good anyway. The nickel have a smaller core and less tension. I use the 11-16-27-41 on my ff hole and don't notice any more tension. I haven't used phosphor bronze in years tho, but the silk and bronze have much more tension than silk and steel. The phosphor seems to add tension, they are more than 80/20 also.
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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    When I was playing around with different strings I put Martin Mediums (10 to 34) on my 1910 Gibson A4 and it got louder.

    It had sounded what I can only describe as "nasal" with J74's.

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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    I completely agree, neither 74 or 75's are the right choice for that bird, simply don't drive the top the way they should. I think you'll get much more from it with a lighter gauge string.

    Quote Originally Posted by August Watters View Post
    There's a happy medium somewhere -- too much tension can dampen the top, even if it's not enough tension to cause damage. I think J74s are way more tension than that instrument was designed for.

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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    I just placed an order for a bunch of strings, including some of the GHS pure nickels, I'll see how those go! Thanks for the thoughts everyone!
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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    I have a '17 Gibson A-3 and a '64 Martin A. I've used J75's in the past a time of two but they seem to be a bit too much for the tops. I use the Martin M400 80/20 sets now (.010 -.034) and they are fine for me.
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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    Try a set or two and see how they respond, if you like them, fine. Remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
    I can’t offer a knowledgeable answer, it’s not something I’ve tried. I did go through a super heavy phase and while the heavy sets did drive the top pretty hard, the day I went back t straight stock J-74s or even 75s there was a much more “broad” sound, the top was not encumbered with the extra weight. That’s the extent of my experience of heavy string experiment.
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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    I usually go 10 or 10.5,-14-24-38. The maximum that I feel safe with is 10.5-14-25 nickel -40 nickel.
    Many people don't know that nickel strings have a lower tension than bronze strings of a similar gauge. Phosphor bronze has the highest tension.
    Like so many things here on the MC, this topic has been discussed in the past.

    First, I am not aware of evidence to suggest that teens A-models by Gibson had tops that were carved any thinner (on average) than, say, their famous 1922-24 Lloyd Loar-signed F5 models. Folks have routinely strung their teens A's with J-74s, as well as J-75s, for decades -- and these are the same gauges as are used on F5 mandolins. Please note that here is an older thread that discusses this subject at length. According to Paul Hostetter, writing in that thread, "Gibson designed those mandolins [A models] for the equivalent of J-74s, and that zillions of them have survived just fine for seven or eight decades with the equivalent of J-74s, [so] worrying at this late date about whether they can take it is pretty odd." This statement flat-out contradicts your unsupported assertion that Gibsons from 1910-20 were "NOT made to handle either set [J-74s or J-75s]." And that's because they were made to handle these gauges of strings.

    You are correct to point out that nickel string sets tend to carry a bit less tension, on average, than phosphor-bronze wrapped strings of the same gauges. However, that difference is pretty minor, and not likely to affect the long-term stability of a carved top. Here are some actual data to consider:

    According to D'Addario's Tension Pro calculator, for the D string (0.026" gauge) in the J-75 set, the tensions are 23.36 lbs for phosphor bronze and 21.77 lbs for nickel, a difference of 7%, with the nickel being lighter. For the G string (0.041") in the J-75 set, the tensions are 25.79 lbs for phosphor bronze and 22.07 lbs for nickel, a difference of 17% (but I also had to go 0.01" thinner; they don't make a 0.040" gauge in nickel). Of course, the E and A strings are unwrapped and don't differ between sets. So the net tension in a set of phosphor bronze-wrapped D'Addario 75's is 194.94 lbs (all 8 strings), whereas it's 182.32 lbs for nickel-wrapped (but going lighter on the G string). That's just 12.6 lbs difference for the entire set, i.e., a difference of 6.9%. In reality, you won't change the tension that much by switching to nickel strings from phosphor bronze.

    Note that since this tension change (~7%) is about the same as switching from J-74s to J-75s (see my earlier post), you could probably switch from J-74s (which are phosphor bronze) to a set with the same gauges as J-75s, but nickel wrapped, and not experience any tension change!

    Of course, some (not most) A-model tops do collapse over time. I would not be too quick to assign these failures to the popular use of medium-gauge strings, however. Mandolins are fragile things and subject to high string tensions -- regardless of the gauge -- and tend to experience lots of environmental assaults from changing temperature and humidity, handling, etc. And carved spruce can be a fickle, and highly variable, material. Some fraction of them will fail.
    Last edited by sblock; Jun-29-2018 at 12:42pm.

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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    I agree sblock. String it up with the 75’s find out if you like them on that mandolin. It’s sort of like going for an eye exam. Try a change always with the set before it as your last reference. Of course this is much easier if your familiar with the instruments ability to perform.
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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    Mr. Block can argue all that he wants. After having worked on a couple of hundred of these mandolins and seeing what has happened to many that have been heavily strung, I am comfortable with my conclusions. I do not keep repair logs, but I think 25 years of experience is sufficient practical evidence for me.

    Those who disagree with me are free to risk their own instruments, but please don't give advice that may risk instruments belonging to others, especially if you have not had considerable experience working on antique instruments.

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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    as a fixer you may see a higher ratio of problematic instruments that your conclusions are applicable and can no longer carry the loads they were designed for. Your conclusions are correct in that respect while losing their applicability with the bulk of instruments out there who’s track record prove your warnings mute.
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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    On behalf of repair people throughout the world, I thank you for contributing to our job security.

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    Default Re: Heavy gauge strings (J75) on a vintage Gibson A

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    Mr. Block can argue all that he wants. After having worked on a couple of hundred of these mandolins and seeing what has happened to many that have been heavily strung, I am comfortable with my conclusions. I do not keep repair logs, but I think 25 years of experience is sufficient practical evidence for me.

    Those who disagree with me are free to risk their own instruments, but please don't give advice that may risk instruments belonging to others, especially if you have not had considerable experience working on antique instruments.
    Yow -- pretty harsh! On the one hand, you start by conceding that say I'm free to "argue" all I want. But on the other, you then tell me not to "give advice" to others! So -- which one is it?! You can't really have it both ways, can you?

    In fairness, I harbor no doubts that you've seen many a carved mandolin top that's failed in your 25 years of repair experience. But, as other experts who have as much (or more experience) have already noted here on the MC, the teens A-models from Gibson were pretty variable, and were not all carved in a similar fashion, so some wound up with thinner tops than others. Indeed, over the years, some of those thinner tops have failed, particularly ones where the humidity control was not great. But these top failures do not imply that these A's were not created to handle medium-gauge strings in the first place, because they were. They might well have failed with lighter gauge strings on them, under the same circumstances -- how can we know one way or the other? And plenty of A's are still around today that haven't failed in 100 years with medium gauge strings on them.

    I realize that you attribute top failures in A models to their being too heavily strung, but there's darned little evidence to support that conclusion. And other esteemed luthiers would seem to disagree with you (see earlier thread). Your own personal experience is valuable, and I do appreciate it, but it is purely anecdotal evidence. Gibson A and F models were designed to use gauges similar to the J74's available today (a medium gauge). And the difference in pull between J-74s and J-75s is less than 10% (see the data I provided earlier). That's not a lot of difference: you'd get a greater fractional increase in the string tension by simply raising your A string up to A# (or your G string to G#), for example.

    Face it: there's A WHOLE LOT of string tension on a mandolin. J-74 (medium) strings give 181 lbs, and even J-62 (light) strings give 145 lbs. Regardless of whether you select light, medium, or heavy gauge strings, the mandolin is already a high-tension instrument. Tops that might happen to be carved too thinly in spots, or exposed to extremes of humidity, are likely to fail under this much tension over the long haul (say, 100 years)! However -- and this is my key point -- there is not really much latitude available to reduce the tension by switching to lighter gauge strings.

    I happen to like the sound of medium gauge strings on an A model a lot better than light gauge, and many of my mandolin buddies feel similarly. And no question about it: a good many -- but certainly not all!! -- mandolins from the teens are surviving just fine, and have been strung successfully for over a century, now, with medium gauge strings.
    Last edited by sblock; Jun-29-2018 at 5:19pm.

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