Is it possible to design banjo strings that can satisfy everyone? – Clearly no. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t find the best strings for your play style and personal preference.
Banjo strings are just like guitar strings and those for other string instruments. They are available in a variety of materials, made using different techniques, and cover a wide range of sonic characteristics. This makes them difficult to categorize in general.
6 Best Banjo Strings - Uncluttering the Complex World
To make things a bit easier, have a look at my favorite picks for high-end and affordable banjo strings. This should help you figure out the brand, gauge, and style that are best-suited for you.
Table of Contents
- 6 Best Banjo Strings - Uncluttering the Complex World
- Banjo Strings Materials
- Having Loop End Strings Is Not the End of the World
- How to Figure out the Right Gauge
These strings are among the most popular with experienced 5-string pickers. They give your banjo a vibrant bright tone and they have a rather smooth feel even though they don’t feature any type of special coating.
The strings are a combination of plain steel and nick-wound steel (.020). They are associated with a dynamic sound projection and good note sustain. All in all, these are among the most affordable options for banjo players looking to give new life to their instruments.
The big difference in sound between the EJ60 strings and other light gauge 5-string sets comes from the use of ultra-fine grain carbon steel in the D’Addario EJ60.
Since they are loop end strings, the EJ60 may be a bit harder to tighten, at least for beginners. Expert banjo pickers should have no problem dealing with this design seeing as how ball-end strings have only become popular in recent times.
The Martin & Co. V730 banjo strings are medium gauge standard strings, .010 through .025. As is the case with most nickel-wound strings, these are capable of a brighter tone and great clarity.
Although their sound transcends genres, the V730 strings remain best-suited for bluegrass. The alloy is of superior quality to many others on the market. You’ll get not just a very smooth feel and great volume but also a high resistance to corrosion and tone decay.
These strings represent a long-term investment. With that in mind, they’re also slightly pricier.
Like all makers of banjo strings, Elixir makes light and medium gauge banjo strings. The light gauge strings (.009 - .020) are perhaps the more versatile of the two. They suit beginners, and banjo masters would be able to squeeze every ounce of tone out of these strings.
One interesting and distinctive feature of these strings is the POLYWEB coating. Developed by Elixir, this makes the banjo strings easier on the fingers when you’re sliding. These strings can be played at very high speed and the coating protects against grim buildups.
The note articulation is good and the tone life is pretty much as long as you could hope for. Again, this is partly the handiwork of the POLYWEB coating.
These are nickel-plated steel strings that can give your banjo a golden tone that’s on the rich and bright side, ideal for bluegrass licks.
These banjo strings have been designed with a very specific style of banjo playing in mind, frailing banjo. As a frailing banjo string set, the Ernie Ball Earthwood comes in a medium gauge that helps achieve that classic warm banjo tone.
The strings are made of an 80/20 bronze alloy (80% copper and 20% tin). This not only gives the strings a very unique feel but it also gives the banjo superior projection of the lower registry notes. Of course, not everyone may agree with a warm tone, but at least the Ernie Ball Earthwood strings aren’t as unbalanced as other bronze alloy strings.
I also find the overtones to be richer, which always helps a banjo player take center stage. The strings are also loop end. They have good articulation and sustain but they may present some issues in the tightening department, which is nothing a bit of experience won’t fix.
The PF150 is a set of light gauge strings, .010, .012, .014, .022, .010. Unlike other sets that offer a nickel-wound 4th string, the PF150 set comes with a phosphor bronze string that adds a bit of warmth and helps maintain a nice and balanced tone that’s not too crisp, low, or bright.
GHS offers these strings at a fair price too considering the more unusual material. It’s also nice to see the use of extra-large loop ends. This should make it easier to restring your banjo with these strings. The total winding length is 42”.
One of the things I really liked about these strings is something that I’ve often noticed about most GHS strings. The strings are smooth but not too sleek. They offer good adherence which should help new players develop left hand dexterity and finger strength.
If you’ve never used Deering strings before, now is as good a time as any to try. I’m particularly fond of the Vintage light gauge string set. It has the following string gauges: .095, .011, .012, .20, .095. As you can see, this isn’t the thinnest of light gauges.
But this could actually be an advantage for anyone that wants to learn banjo with average projection and a tone that stays true to a specific banjo.
These strings have more than enough volume and note articulation. The tonal clarity is impressive as is the surface of the strings when it comes to bending and sliding. I should also point out that bluegrass banjo pickers are probably going to get the most out of these strings.
Banjo Strings Materials
Most banjo strings that you’ll come across these days are nickel-plated steel strings. That’s because they tend to have a brighter tone that’s great for banjos in general and bluegrass in particular.
Pure stainless steel strings are also bright and durable. Phosphor bronze alloy strings may come with five or four bronze strings. In some cases, the 4th string may be a nickel-wound string that adds brightness to the overall warmer tone of bronze strings.
Coated strings are kind of the newest trend. They’re not new types of strings by any means. It’s just that more modern banjo players seem to have taken a real interest in them. Various polymer coatings are used on these strings to improve their durability and make the wire surface sleeker, easier to slide and put pressure on.
Remember that Elixir is the brand that pioneered coated strings. Although there are other companies that have adopted polymer coated strings, Elixir’s POLYWEB coating is still arguably the best known in the music industry.
Having Loop End Strings Is Not the End of the World
Loop end strings are known to pose a few issues when the time comes to restring a banjo. Their nature makes them difficult to hold in place while being tightened.
However, that doesn’t mean that ball end strings are always better. Instead of making unnecessary modifications to your banjo, it’s best to just pick the appropriate strings for the style of banjo you own.
How to Figure out the Right Gauge
If you know nothing of string gauges, here’s a quick guide on how to approach gauges. There are three gauges called extra light, light, and medium. Light strings offer the best of both worlds in regard to ease of play and sound projection. At least to intermediate and advanced banjo pickers.
The tone also plays a part. If you want a warm tone, the heavier the better. And the other end for something bright and crisp. The thickness of the strings is not supposed to be the determining factor for the sound but a complimentary factor to your banjo.
Of course, banjo strings also come with custom gauges and that’s where things might get complicated. But by the time you reach the point where you need custom strings, I probably won’t have any new knowledge to share with you.
Pick and Pluck Your Favorite American Licks
If your banjo simply doesn’t sound the way it used to, trying out one or more of the string sets in this article should put you on the right track for greater things to come.