Banjo Strings: What kind should you buy?

What are the best banjo strings you can buy? 

Should you go with medium or light gauge strings?

Do you need to spend extra money on more expensive banjo strings?

There’s no shortage of banjo string choices in today’s market.  They make them in a multitude of different sizes, gauges, and materials.  This is SERIOUSLY overwhelming for the beginner banjo student.

In the old days, you were limited on what you could buy at your local music store.  When I was growing up, it was Gibson Earl Scruggs strings or Vega lights; that was pretty much all my local music store had.  However, with the advent of the internet and online ordering, you can get anything you want delivered.  Let’s take a look at some 5-string banjo string options.

Some of the string characteristics we will look at in this article.

  • String weight (Medium vs. Light Gauge strings)
  • String Manufacturers
  • Where to buy

Banjo String Manufacturers

GHS Banjo Strings

I’m starting with these because they’re special (I’m using them :P)

Yes, I use the GHS PF 145 Medium Light 5-string banjo strings on my Gibson Earl Scruggs and Gibson RB-250 banjos.  I like these strings because they are slightly heavier than light gauge strings, but the 3rd string isn’t so heavy that it’s tough to bend.

 

GHS banjo strings PF145
GHS PF145

Another super popular option are the J.D Crowe sets:

J.D Crowe Studio banjo strings: GHS PF-140’s

Your first string is slightly heavier than a light gauge string at 9.5, the 3rd string is a 12, so it is quite easy to bend.  These strings are a great option for the beginner as they will be easier than medium gauge to play.  I used these for years and they are a great string.

 

GHS banjo strings PF140
PF 140 banjo strings

GHS PF-135 J.D Crowe Stage banjo strings.

banjo strings by GHS Jd Crowe Signature set
PF 135 GHS banjo strings

This is the J.D Crowe STAGE set; they are basically a bit heavier.  I’m assuming the idea is if you’re playing out in the elements (on a hot stage), the heavier 10’s hold tune better.  They also allow you to dig in a bit more if you’re in a loud jam (as opposed to a quiet studio setting).


D’Addario Banjo Strings

D’addario XT 5-string banjo strings.  These are medium gauge and are some of the heaviest of the bunch.  I used these on my Romero openback banjo for awhile.  I think if you’re playing clawhammer or without picks, these are a great string; or if you are heavy handed.

For me, I found the 3rd string a bit too heavy for the amount of bending I do in my own playing.  So I had to find something a little lighter.

Pros-They stay in tune well and are less inclined to break. 

D'addario medium banjo string package

You can of course get these Daddario strings in a lighter variety as well:

D'addario light gauge banjo strings

Martin Vega Banjo strings

When I was growing up, Vega lights were one of the only options I had for banjo strings.  The old Vegas were my choice for a long time.  They had this really cool GREEN CHENILLE on the string loops that looked cool.  Anyways, the strings have changed in appearance (I don’t know if they are made in the same place or not).  I’ll tell ya-These strings are a SOLID choice. 

However, the 1st string is a 9 and the 2nd string is only a 10.  Coming in as the lightest string, I think these are better for players that have a lighter touch and those not playing outside in hot environments much.  They have great clarity, note separation, and are easy on the fingers!  The best part about these strings are they are SERIOUSLY BUDGET FRIENDLY!  At $3.99, you might as well try them if you haven’t.

 

Martin Vega banjo strings light gauge

Elixir  Banjo Strings

 

Elixir banjo strings
Elixir banjo strings medium gauge

I’m going to be blunt here.  I don’t get these strings (Sorry Elixir).  They are more expensive due to the coating.  However, you can buy multiple sets of the other strings for the same price.   Not to mention these strings have always sounded dead to me.  I tried them twice and disliked them.  I know some people that swear by them, but they are not for me. 


Where to buy banjo strings?

You can order them from Amazon as listed above.  I also order from Sweetwater

and Elderly Instruments

*Occasionally Sweetwater will run a nice sale on strings. 


Medium or light gauge banjo strings?

 

Medium strings:

Pros:

  1. Will stay in tune better
  2. More Sustain
  3. More Low End
  4. More Volume

Cons:

  1. Harder to Bend
  2. Harder to press down (might be an issue for beginners)
  3. Not as bright/clear sounding; can get muddy sounding on certain banjos

Light Gauge Strings:

Pros

  1. Easier to Bend
  2. Greater Clarity
  3. Easier to press-in

Cons

  1. Won’t stay in tune as well
  2. Possibly more prone to breaking
  3. Less headroom if you have low action, resulting in buzzing sounds.

 

What kind of strings does a banjo use?

Some banjo strings are made from stainless steel. Others are made from Phosphor Bronze or nickel. The larger string (4th string) on the banjo is wound. Some Clawhammer and Classic-style banjo players use nylon strings.

How often should you change banjo strings?

The more you play, the more often you’ll need to change them. I recommend changing them every four months. You might need to change them sooner if your hands sweat a lot or you are playing many hours. Many factors can cause them to lose their tone sooner.

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