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Thread: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

  1. #1

    Question Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    So here's what's up: About a few months ago, I ended up with some not insignificant nerve damage in my hands/arms/neck from my dayjob. The kind that makes playing a stringed instrument pretty difficult at times. I swapped to D'Addario 9s on all my guitars, acoustic included (yay for D'Addario EJ41s).

    Uku is no issue, it's nylon, they don't rightly give me any issue.

    My mandolin, on the other hand... That's proving right difficult. 10s on it are still a bit too much to play for more'n about 15 minutes at a stretch. I'm loath to leave D'Addario, as I've been with 'em for 20 years, but it don't seem they make any lighter at all from what I can find on the Truth Oracle (google). I do prefer phosphor bronze, as the mellow tone compliments the warmth of my mandolin's midrange.

    My other thought was to start playing in a less-than-standard tuning. I mean, on acoustic I already play a lot of DADGAD, is there a nice compliment for that on Mandolin? I'm still fairly new to playing it myself (though I grew up around it being played casually), so feeling all this out (if you'll pardon the pun).

    Any advice/help/pointers would be greatly appreciated!
    Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.-Geralt of Rivia

    Serve... Save... Slave... Slay... I've sins aplenty, aye. But regrets? Not so much.-Fray Myste

    It's the best and strongest steel that goes through the hottest fires.-Me

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    I know you like D'Addario, but if they don't make a string light enough for you I would try something else. GHS makes a 9-32 which is nice and light, I use it on cant top mandolins.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  6. #4
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    Might look at Thomastic mandolin strings, I've never used them but they get good reviews and they are typically lower tension than typical mandolin strings. They may produce different tone too -- they are flatwound -- and they also may be a little easier on your fingertips. A little pricey, but reports are that they last a long time.

    I'd also think you might want to look at your action before changing strings, you might need to give up a little volume by lowering the action for less tension on your hands.

    Regarding alternative tunings, I'm a big proponent, but they come with baggage... You have to be able to learn on your own because no person and no book teaches how to play mandolin in alternative tunings. I tune to GG CC EE GG all the time, it's like 2nd nature to me now and I would never go back to standard tuning, but I've developed a complete playing style around that tuning...

    I also have hand issues now, RA has given me a trigger left thumb and a trigger right ring finger. As such I have recently re-learned playing postures for both hands for mandolin, banjo and double bass... My observation is that sometimes a person just has to adjust and do things differently in order to get along.

    Best of luck to you during this transitional time!
    -- Don

    "Music: A minor auditory irritation occasionally characterized as pleasant."
    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."


    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug (plus many other noisemakers)
    [About how I tune my mandolins]
    [7/29/2019 -- New Arrival!!!]

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  8. #5

    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    GHS... Thomastic... Cool. Will look into both. Was hoping to avoid changing from D'Addario, but eh. Do what ya gotta do to stick with the craft. Flatwounds I generally only use on fretless instruments, never thought to change to them for the nerve damage--good shout.

    Action is about as low as I can get it without buzz (and so it is with all my instruments). That's one of the first things I do is put 'em through a proper setup when I get 'em, and if I don't know how, I take 'em to my former tech (yeah, I used to gig). So it's set about as low as it'll go. I might could get another half mm out of it. MAYBE.

    I tend to adapt pretty quickly to new tunings. DADGAD and Low C for instance are my go tos on Acoustic. And they've become such staples that when I do gig out (very rare these days--even before the stay-at-home) if I play in standard my regulars are like "Uh, are they feeling OK?" So that shouldn't be much an issue.

    Just had trigger finger release done on my right traffic finger. It's currently healing nicely. Whole procedure was less than 30 minutes, and outside two stitches and large bandage (not gauze packing, just a Band-Aid), everything's normal. I mean, there's some... mobility issues for now, but the doc says that I just have to get used to using it again. If you can, I *highly* recommend the operation for it. Gave me back the ability to fingerpick, albeit slowly (no Dust in the Wind just yet).

    Thanks all for the suggestions, likely going to look into the Silk and Steel first, if they're lower tension but still 10s, that'd be pretty nice if it works out well since 10s are what are on there now. So we'll see what we'll see.

    Again, thanks everyone for taking the time to help me out with this!
    Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.-Geralt of Rivia

    Serve... Save... Slave... Slay... I've sins aplenty, aye. But regrets? Not so much.-Fray Myste

    It's the best and strongest steel that goes through the hottest fires.-Me

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  10. #6

    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    If nothing else helps much, and if you want to pull out all the stops and sort of go extreme... this works for me anyway (arthritis)...

    1. Go ultra-light *and* then tune the whole mandolin down a half-step or one fret (makes the strings more slack and easier to fret because takes less pressure to hold the strings down) *and* then slap a capo on the 1st fret and just leave the capo there permanently (the capo brings the mandolin back up to standard GDAE (so you can easily play along with other people and recordings etc). A capo on a mandolin is admittedly a nuisance and will get you plenty of sideways looks from people afraid to ask why you're using that capo that way, but the reduced string tension will (slightly) help make the instrument a bit easier to play.

    2. If all that isn't enough, then go all-out and remove one of each pair of strings, so instead of 8 strings you have 4 strings. It's still at GDAE so you can play your usual tunes. You'll lose volume though, and removing half the strings will make it will sound like a tinkly high-pitched guitar instead of a mandolin sound, but at the very least it could be useful for practicing.

    3. If you need still more relief from pain, go electric *and* use variations of the above techniques. Electric, when carefully set up for lightest tension and lowest action without buzzing, can be even kinder to your fingers, and you don't have to struggle with heavier strings just to get enough volume to be heard (plus, you can optionally plug in headphones and no one but you can hear you, great for practicing without disturbing others in the household). But if you're in with some so-called 'traditional' bunch, where your musical cohorts object to electric anything (don't get me started on that - electric instruments have been around for almost 100 years now, which darn well ought to qualify as "traditional" by now - it's how they're played that matters, IMO), anyway you could just use the electric for practicing, which could help reduce pain and damage to fingers.

    (In my case, instead of a proper electric mandolin, I use a regular cheap Squier guitar tuned in 5ths with a capo at various locations depending on what 'instrument' I want to play. The Squier's gentle consistent neck shape and easy-to-play jumbo frets seem super friendly to my arthritic fingers. To emulate a mandolin (for basic non-critical lo-fi practicing anyway), I scoot the capo way up high to the guitar's 10th fret and play the top 4 strings (by "top 4" I mean the smallest highest-pitched ones), whereas to emulate an octave mando or fifths-tuned tenor guitar I put the capo at the guitar's 5th fret and use 5 of the strings for a resulting GDAEB tuning, so it becomes GDAE with a bonus high-B string (so I can use the handy open-B string instead of the 7th fret on the E string) which is advantageous because I can keep my fretting hand in one place without have to scoot it around.

    FWIW, here's a video I made a few years ago, that shows me using various combinations of the above ideas.


    (or direct link)
    Although in this instance the mandolin capo is on the 2nd fret and started out for a different reason (an old cracked peghead that I was afraid would break off completely if I brought the mandolin up to full string tension so it's tuned down one whole tone (2 frets) and then capo'd at the 2nd fret to bring it back up to standard GDAE). Anyway this type of thing with the reduced string tension, capo, electric, etc., allows me to keep playing in my old age, whereas I would otherwise not be able to.

  11. #7

    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    I really don't have to worry about volume on my mandolin. It's a Kiso-Suzuki MR-150, and that thing is LOUD. It's a bowlback, and I'm yet to find an acoustic that matches its natural projection, midrange warmth, and note clarity. I know that sounds biased, particularly from someone who's fairly new to playing the instrument, but I've grown up around mandolins, and acoustic instruments in general.

    Tuning down a half step is actually how Tony Iommi compensated for the loss of his fingertips. So that may be something to do. I don't know if I'd end up slapping a capo (remember, it's pronounced ka-POO if you really want to get on peoples nerves) on it or no. Right now I'm thinking of tuning to 5ths straight up and seeing how that works, that'd let me do some fancy lead runs with the mandolin to compliment my 12-string guitar.

    Hopefully the string change will be enough. I'll find that out by next weekend (payday). It was on the guitars, should be on the mandolin.

    As to tricks and whatnot, as I get older (right now I've not hit my 35th year), I'm sure I'll have to come up with other ways to play. The nerve damage at this age was a shock. I got lucky, it's so bad in the neck the doc's surprised I'm able to move (some years ago I was in a pretty nasty freight accident) at all, let alone walk and do fine motor skill things like play an instrument. He said it'll get worse as I age, and I will eventually lose the ability altogether, sooner rather than later if I push it.

    I aim to prove him wrong. Group of doctors said I wouldn't make it to 21. That was the first, second, and on through the 12th opinion. Bad heart they said. Blew past 21. I like proving them wrong. :D

    Thanks for the advice on the detuning, and for the advice on using a guitar to mimic. I may use that just for funzies because I like doing weird stuff with instruments.
    Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.-Geralt of Rivia

    Serve... Save... Slave... Slay... I've sins aplenty, aye. But regrets? Not so much.-Fray Myste

    It's the best and strongest steel that goes through the hottest fires.-Me

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  13. #8
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    10 ~ 36 , lighter, I presume ... & set up low with a well set up fingerboard - fret leveled neck ..
    writing about music
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  14. #9

    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    10s are currently on it, it's set up as low as it can be without any buzz, and the fretwork is pretty decent for the age of the instrument. As I said, I'm likely going to try the Silk and Steel first, come payday, and see how that goes.
    Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.-Geralt of Rivia

    Serve... Save... Slave... Slay... I've sins aplenty, aye. But regrets? Not so much.-Fray Myste

    It's the best and strongest steel that goes through the hottest fires.-Me

  15. #10

    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    Quote Originally Posted by SolusAsh View Post
    ... detuning, and for the advice on using a guitar to mimic. I may use that just for funzies because I like doing weird stuff with instruments.
    Same here. Sometimes utilitarian workarounds can result in fun new discoveries.

  16. #11
    Registered User keme's Avatar
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    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    Bought a set of strings today, Ernie Ball Light gauge was all they had. Didn't think much about it.

    When I came home I noticed that they are lighter than the GHS lights which are my usual choice. I immediately recalled reading this thread.

    At 009/013/022/034 the wound strings are a tad heavier than the GHS ultra lights which JL277z suggested, but I guess the difference is so minute that the choice depends more on availability. They are not bronze wound, but appear to be stainless steel. First I thought they must be specifically for electric, magnetic pickup, but several players mention them favorably for acoustic tone.

    Looking forward to trying them out.

  17. #12

    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    Alright, so. Basically decided on ordering Ultralights after looking at string tensions. It'll save me nearly a kilo of tension on the high strings. That's quite a bit. In addition, I'm looking at alternate tunings, and have found "Split tunings" are a thing. But I can't find any real info on them yet.

    Does anyone here have resources for that?
    Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.-Geralt of Rivia

    Serve... Save... Slave... Slay... I've sins aplenty, aye. But regrets? Not so much.-Fray Myste

    It's the best and strongest steel that goes through the hottest fires.-Me

  18. #13
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    Frank Wakefield is known for cross-tunings, among other mandolin techniques. Might find some YT cuts of his. I don't know which of his songs he cross-tuned, but others here might be able to share that info...
    -- Don

    "Music: A minor auditory irritation occasionally characterized as pleasant."
    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."


    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug (plus many other noisemakers)
    [About how I tune my mandolins]
    [7/29/2019 -- New Arrival!!!]

  19. #14
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    Sierra Hull on split tuning...


    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  20. #15
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    Probably the best known split tuning, Bluegrass tune, "Get Up John" by Bill Monroe.

    Explained by Dennis Vance...

    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  21. #16

    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    So what I'm seeing from all of it, basically if you're going to do split tunings, it should essentially turn the open strum into a chord.

    I'll have to experiment if/when my strings get here (I'm still waiting on a double neck guitar I ordered 2 weeks ago...), maybe find something that sounds good as an open strum compliment to DADGAD or Low C tuning on guitar (as those are the tunings my 6 string acoustics are most often in).
    Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.-Geralt of Rivia

    Serve... Save... Slave... Slay... I've sins aplenty, aye. But regrets? Not so much.-Fray Myste

    It's the best and strongest steel that goes through the hottest fires.-Me

  22. #17
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    Cross tuning (aka spit tuning) on a mandolin is more than open tuning. It's specifically turning your four course mandolin into an 8-string mandolin. Meaning, you can potentially tune each string to a different note. It doesn't have to result in an open chord, and as Sierra mentions, there are no rules once you start separating the strings into unique notes.

    If you like the concept of cross or split tuning, the next horizon is replacing the nut and saddle with an evenly spaced nut and saddle, so you can then also fret each note separately. That is of course harder to revert back, but that possibility is out there.
    -- Don

    "Music: A minor auditory irritation occasionally characterized as pleasant."
    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."


    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug (plus many other noisemakers)
    [About how I tune my mandolins]
    [7/29/2019 -- New Arrival!!!]

  23. #18

    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    I don't think I'd go so far as to replace the nut and saddle. At that point, seems to me an 8 string guitar would be better suited for the task. /shrug

    I just like to faff about with things, try things that are considered "outside" the norm (for instance, I use a Kyser quick-change capo on a guitar upside down, so the piece that's normally on the neck is on the strings, only fretting three of, leaving the other three open), and come up with interesting sounds.

    At the end of the day, all of my music is inspired first and foremost by progressive rock, and each and every instrument I use (including my voice, effects, and indeed, even the processing I do in-studio) are just extensions to get the concepts I feel and hear out of my head and into my ears.

    Don't know if that makes any sense at all?
    Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.-Geralt of Rivia

    Serve... Save... Slave... Slay... I've sins aplenty, aye. But regrets? Not so much.-Fray Myste

    It's the best and strongest steel that goes through the hottest fires.-Me

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  25. #19
    Registered User Steve 2E's Avatar
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    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    I lot of old time fiddlers use alternate tunings like GDAD or GDGD and many other combinations. I think its worth experimenting with. I think you can also cross tune without necessarily having to try to split pick the strings, although as shown above that can create a cool effect.

  26. #20

    Default Re: Strings for Nerve Damaged Hands

    First off, sorry for the delay in reply. Been a rough week here at Casa De Solus. Due to the 'Rona, have not been able to go out to get new strings yet, broke the ones I've got on my mandolin currently, and shipping to my location has been delayed by... Well, DHL and USPS have basically said "We'll get to you when we get to you," so ordering strings is a bit of a tossup. Still, the playing is coming along rather nicely.

    I did try the tuning Ms. Hull was speaking of, had a lot of fun with it, until one of my high strings broke. I think once I get new strings on it, and get it set up proper again, I'm going to have a lot of fun with this concept.
    Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.-Geralt of Rivia

    Serve... Save... Slave... Slay... I've sins aplenty, aye. But regrets? Not so much.-Fray Myste

    It's the best and strongest steel that goes through the hottest fires.-Me

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