Putting Banjo Strings on a Mandolin.

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Putting Banjo Strings on a Mandolin.

Post by FritzKatt on Thu Oct 08, 2015 12:32 am

I understand you're a bunch of guitar guys, and I don't know how many of you (if any of you) dabble around in the realm of the mandolin, but yes, this topic is about putting banjo strings on a mandolin. My reasoning for such a topic is this:

I started collecting stringed instruments when I was 14, not because I knew anything about them or how to play them, I just loved music. When I was I hit a rough patch in life and started getting serious about instruments, not only playing them, but fixing and maintaining them as well. I put in number of sleepless hours absorbing information and learning about these instruments, and eventually started to deal with a couple serious musicians, and all of them have at some point and time have had a discussion with me about my little mandolin... It's a 1915 Stella Mandolin, 8 strings, spruce top, rosewood bowl, ebony fret board, Bakelite tuning knobs, celluloid pick guard, the type you typically find on Ebay for somewhere around a 100 dollars. Either way, to get to the point.... Everyone I get in to a discussion about this mandolin with always thinks I'm crazy then tends to question me when I say I put banjo strings on the bass side and mandolin strings on the treble side... With that said, I will be the first to admit that I have some off the wall practices, although I strive for perfection on every instrument and have developed my own tricks and secrets for doing so, as such there is always a method to my madness... Somewhere along the lines I had learned that these mandolins had strings on them that were much lighter than the mandolin strings of today when it comes to the G and D strings, the closest in gauge to those strings were actually .023w and .016 Banjo strings, a standard .038 light gauge mandolin string is way too heavy for the construction of this delicate instrument. As such, I started buying two sets of EJ61 banjo strings and one set of light gauge mandolin strings every time I string this instrument and giving it a string set up like this:

G - .023W
D - .016
A - .014
E - .010

Hehe, I give my apologies for writing a huge story out of the blue, but I've been deemed an idiot a couple times for this method and other methods such as this, even though I actually believe I found the information about the string gauges of those old mandolins while looking through old Stella documents as I was trying to verify the identification of what my mandolin was. I just figured since you're all instrument people, I wanted to throw this topic out there for discussion, see what your guys' input on my slightly strange way of thinking is. Smile

(Oh yeah, I can post some pictures of the mandolin in question as well if anyone would like to see them.)

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Re: Putting Banjo Strings on a Mandolin.

Post by corsair on Thu Oct 08, 2015 12:59 am

Sounds plausible to me, though unsure how that would affect the sound? If the mando you have is built for light gauges as you say, then putting heavier ones on will surely affect the pull on the bridge, and may bow the neck?? Damian... you care to weigh in??

I played bluegrass mandolin and clawhammer banjo for a while and never felt I needed to use anything other than standard gauge strings, though I did use John Pearce strings which sound great. Mind you, a very long time ago, someone told me that David Gilmour used an ultra light set of guitar strings, and in NZ at that time, you couldn't get 0.008s in guitar strings, so I used the 5th string off a banjo!! Didn't make me sound even roughly like DG, though.... Laughing

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Re: Putting Banjo Strings on a Mandolin.

Post by FritzKatt on Thu Oct 08, 2015 1:38 am

The sound was deeply affected by the banjo strings, I actually found the instrument to be more tonal and resonant with them. Keep in mind it is a 100 year old bowlback mandolin though, much different than a bluegrass mandolin. I have heard before that the .038 gauge strings have been a major cause of bowed necks within these particular mandolins over the years because of their delicate build.

I do have to say that I am one of those people that likes to experiment with things like this though. I like my instruments to be as close to what they would have been when they were first made as far as specs and sound are concerned, for the most part at least, doesn't matter if they are a century old. Also, Don't we all wish we sounded like David Gilmour? Razz

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Re: Putting Banjo Strings on a Mandolin.

Post by Barry on Thu Oct 08, 2015 8:48 pm

Mixing and matching strings on instruments has been going on since God invented wire. There's no end to guitar and bass combo's so I'm not surprised at experimentation with mando's, banjo's, etc.

I can't comment too intelligently on the latter, I've only restrung those in "standard" gauges, but certainly guitar players are notorious for messing about with all kinds of gauges and tunings. The bottom line, like so much of playing, is whether it fits your style and gives you the sound you're after...without buggering up the instrument of course.

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