17 fret tenor banjo strings!

17 fret tenor banjo strings!

I know, I know this is a personal preference and everyone has a different opinion but I’d still like some insight on some good strings! I have a 17 fret Deering open back banjo and I want to keep it tuned GDAE, just like some ideas on some strings! Especially like to know what gauge I should go for heavy or medium!? Thanks MM

Re: 17 fret tenor banjo strings!

‘Heavy’ or ‘medium’ won’t be a meaningful answer, you need the actual numbers for the string thicknesses (.010" etc. or whatever).

Re: 17 fret tenor banjo strings!

Well I’m a little overwhelmed with choices good sir! Just want a deep rich tone, and again I’m not sure!

Re: 17 fret tenor banjo strings!

A "John Pearse" heavy gauge set should deliver the tone that you are looking for:

Specification as follows:

.013 - Plain Steel
.020 - Bronze Wound
,028 - Bronze Wound
.040 - Bronze Wound

Re: 17 fret tenor banjo strings!

I like to try to balance the tension on the strings I play. Not only does it help in balancing the sound, it also makes it easier to play, because you get similar resistance out of each string.

I generally buy nickel-wound guitar string from juststrings.com for my banjos. If you can use ball-end strings, you can buy in bulk for maybe (US)$3.75 a set. If you need loop-end, juststrings doesn’t carry the wound banjo sizes in bulk, but they do sell singles.

To figure out what string gauges I want, I use an online string calculator here: http://www.bangzero.org/stringtension/ (requires java plugin…) It’s a little confusing to start out (especially if you’re overwhelmed by choices), but it’s fairly straightforward once you understand it.

My longer-scale banjos look something like this in the calculator:

len 23.0"
G,, .042 NW == 16.99#
D, .028 NW == 17.33#
A, .018 NW == 16.49#
E .011 PL == 15.96#
total == == 66.77#

Here’s a description of each line:

Banjo = a header line.. it ignores this
len 23.0 = the scale length of the instrument in inches (Your 17 fret would be shorter…)

Then the string lines look like this:
(note) (gauge) (material) (tension)

The note is in ABC format (the two commas after the G indicate the low octave. The single comma after the D and A indicate the middle octave, and the E has no comma, which indicates the high octave).

The gauges are the standard notation in inches.

The material in this example is "Nickel Wound" on the G, D, and A. And "Plain Steel" on the E. I prefer a wound A string to a plain steel, because it balances better with the other strings. (Other materials would include PB=Phosphor Bronze and XS=Stainless Steel, and material affects tension slightly)

The tension is marked in pounds (lbs, or #)

The way the calculator works, you can put in either the gauge, or the tension, and it will calculate the other for you. The problem is that if you try to match the tension too exactly, you will come up with gauges that can’t be purchased. In general, after about .013, strings are sold in even numbered gauges.

So for your Deering, it might look something like this:

Deering 17 fret Banjo
len 21.0"
G,, .044 NW == 15.44#
D, .030 NW == 16.98#
A, .020 NW == 16.58#
E .012 PL == 15.84#
total == == 64.83#

The calculator will figure the total tension for you as well, but I don’t worry too much about that for banjos. It can be an issue when you’re talking about a vintage 5 course cittern/bouzouki, or something, which ends up with more than 200# of tension on the neck, and you worry about it warping the neck, or cracking the top with all the down pressure.

Anyway, this is just a guide. Packaged strings tend to be in gauges that I don’t like much, so I just build my own sets. And it’s kind of fun to play around with the calculator to see what kind of tensions you’re running.

(For what its worth, Mix O’Lydian, I’ve only ever had one banjo I thought sounded good with Bronze or Phosphor Bronze…. And I had another one that sounded good with Stainless… But I really prefer Nickel on pretty much every other banjo I’ve ever set up…)

So there… How’s that for an answer with regards to "heavy or medium"? 😉

Re: 17 fret tenor banjo strings!


The "John Pearse" sets that I have used with success are stated as being "bronze wound" but in reality they appear to be brass-wound.

I’ve found that these strings deliver a "warmer" tone than the nickel-wound strings that I have also tried.

I’ve also made up TB sets myself using "Ernie Ball" custom guitar strings.

Re: 17 fret tenor banjo strings!

I think the advice you got on the other forum about Daddario J74 Mandolin strings is the way to go. Two sets of strings for less, and they will just be long enough. 11 15 26 40.

Re: 17 fret tenor banjo strings!

I play a short scale 1917 Vega Whyte Laydie, contrary to popular thinking, it sounds amazing with Redwing mediums,

12, 18, 28, and 38s

Dave H

Re: 17 fret tenor banjo strings!

Thanks I appreciate the advice! I’ve played Irish fiddle for the last few years and the jump to a tenor has got me asking questions lol

Re: 17 fret tenor banjo strings!

After much experimenting I have settled for my 17 fret tenors on GHS ‘Custom Shop Celtic tenor banjo’ which are 14/24W/32W/42W and stainless steel wound. They last better then bronze wound in my experience and sound less’brassy’.