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Thread: When to replace strings?

  1. #1

    When to replace strings?

    I'm new to playing banjo and realize I have a lot to learn. One of my first questions -- how often do I need to replace my strings? I committed myself to practicing 30 minutes each day, but realistically average an hour. That said, I'm putting at least 7 hours use on my strings each week. Are there X number of hours use in a set of strings or is it an age thing? I travel a lot with work and take my banjo with me so I'm not missing any practice time, so I don't want to risk getting caught out somewhere and break a string or something like that. Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
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    Re: When to replace strings?

    I wouldn't base it on hours. Base it on how your strings sound and feel. It will be different for everybody, based on their technique, their finger chemistry, etc.

    If you notice the intonation changing to where they are out of tune when fretted, it may be time for a string change. If they start getting dull and dark and rough, consider changing. If they lose volume and brightness to the point where they sound muddy and flabby, change them. It really just comes down to how long you can live with the strings as their sound quality and playability start to decline.

    I change mine about every 3 weeks. I think Deering just put out an email in the last few days where they recommended once a month. Some people go several months or even years between string changes. But I think the best gauge is just to use your ears. When things start to not sound right, a string change will usually make it better. And it's always a good idea to check intonation when you do this, to see if your bridge needs any fine adjustment in its location.

    If you're worried about string breakage, carry an extra set with you. Better to have it and not need it, right?

  3. #3
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    Chelmsford, MA
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    Re: When to replace strings?

    I hardly ever replace my strings. I've got 5 banjos here now and I think I changed a set last year on one of them. I know I've gone as long as 4 years between string changes. Then again I swap which banjo I play all the time so in a year of playing one of my banjos might see 2-3 months of playing time before I switch.

  4. #4

    Re: When to replace strings?

    Tobin's experience sounds about right.

    As a general rule, string life is around 20 hours of play. You can play them as long as you like past that, and some prefer the tone of old strings. As strings age they loose their sparkle. Some of this is oxidation, from the chemical reaction that happens between the metal, the oxygen and the oils from your hands. The rest is metal fatigue. Most metal hardens when it is bent. Think, bending a piece of metal back and forth a few times to break it. This same thing is happening with your string. When you see a string plucked in slow motion, there is actually a lot of movement happening. This changes the structure of the string. This is also not happening uniformly, so the string begins to play untrue. This is where old strings begin to have intonation problems. You tune the instrument, but it is a bit out of tune up and down the neck (separate from incorrect intonation).

    Since all of this is gradual, you don't really notice until you put on a new set of strings and then "wow", a totally different instrument.

  5. #5
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    Manchester - NW UK
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    Re: When to replace strings?

    How often ? - well maybe not as often as the folk who make / sell them would like you to !. I've been playing banjo for 53 years & i've had strings on one for months at a time & they sounded fine - BUT - "..you don't really notice until you put on a new set of strings and then "wow", a totally different instrument. " . How correct that gentleman is,& it really is a BIG difference. When strings get tired,they do loose their tone & become 'flat' sounding - exactly the opposite of how they should sound,so simply keep your ears open for any change in the 'brightness' of the tone & try different brands of strings over a period of time as well. Some strings will have a 'more pleasing difference' than others & may suit your particular banjo set up better,
    Ivan

  6. #6

    Re: When to replace strings?

    After changing them a few times I'm starting to get the feel for when it's time. I can already tell by feel when they're done. They get loose and my playing starts to get sloppy. I like them very tight. Maybe that's something that will change with time and I can get more use out of a set of strings as I get better. Not sure though. This is my first string instrument. I really appreciate all the help and advice I've been getting from the folks on this website.

  7. #7

    Re: When to replace strings?

    "Mandolin wire"* - the name used to define the type of wire used for musical instruments - is very elastic. You many notice that when you install new strings, once a string is pulled snug, you keep turning your geared machined to bring the string up to pitch which keeps drawing more string onto the post. Surprising as it may be, a .010" D string on a 26.5" scale will stretch almost 1/4" when brought up to pitch. And, you've probably noticed that when you take your banjo out of the case, especially if it is within a few weeks of installing new strings, you are always tightening strings UP to pitch, not loosening them down to pitch - a further example of the strings ability to stretch. When strings are new and flexible, they produce a more elaborate overtone series. That is, you hear a greater range of the overtones that the strings can produce. ("Overtones" are like harmonics, except that a harmonic is a sound you can make by forcing the string to vibrate in specific modes. Overtones refers to the order and intensity of each of these tones that are part of the overall sound we hear.) When strings are new, they sound rich. When strings loose their elasticity, sound "dead" - the dead sound is the result of hearing less of the overtones and more of the "fundamental" - the lowest note at which the string can vibrate, i.e., the "D" in the example above. So, when to replace them depends on how much playing they have been subjected to, how hard they have been played, and how long they have been stretched to pitch.
    ...R
    * In the wire industry, "mandolin wire" refers to high-carbon steel wire that is a gauged at .050 or smaller. "Piano wire" refers to the same wire that is .050" or larger.

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