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A quick search for banjo strings online will show you just how many different styles of strings there are. Getting the right strings is one of the most important factors in building the perfect sound.
When you get your first banjo you’re likely to just want something that is reliable, but as time goes on you’ll be tailoring your sound to exactly what you want, and that means getting the right 5-string banjo strings whether you want to play with a bluegrass tone, accompany some southern rock guitar, or bring a touch of folk to your playing. Let’s dive into the top 10 best banjo strings available and how they can make a difference to your sound.
Buying Guide – Choosing The Ideal Banjo Strings
Whether you’ve just got your first banjo or you’re a veteran looking to tweak your sound with some new strings, it helps if you have a strong understanding of strings.
In this buying guide, we’re going to look at some of the terminology you might see on strings and the features and factors to consider. It’s about more than just the gauge.
Tuning – Which strings to get for your preferred tuning?
How you will tune your banjo definitely impacts the strings you should use. For instance, some of the strings on this list are great for acoustic instruments that are ‘tuned down’.
If you use a standard tuning on your five string banjo then it shouldn’t be a problem to use virtually any light or medium gauge strings. If you delve into the world of Irish Tuning or other alternatives then it is worth getting a heavier gauge that can cope with the lower tension.
Gauges – What Do They Really Mean?
So, we’ve explained that a lower tuning should mean a lower gauge. What does this actually mean?
Gauges are tied to the thickness of the strings. The lighter the gauge, the thinner the strings (generally speaking).
Light strings are easy to play, they tend to have the bright “twang” that you expect from this kind of instrument. For that reason, the majority of players start with a light gauge. You may eventually move to a heavier gauge to give a fat, mid-range tone with more frequencies projected and a higher projection.
Heavier gauge also means more tension. This means that the banjo neck is an important consideration. Your banjo might not be built for heavy strings and this might mean costly repairs if you get it wrong.
String Brands – What’s the best Banjo string brand?
It’s worth mentioning a little bit about brands. As you can see from this list, D’Addario has featured heavily on the list. They make some brilliant strings, which are built to last. They’re not the only great string brand out there.
Just like with instruments themselves, some people tend to be very brand loyal when it comes to which strings they like to use. Some people stick with a brand almost religiously.
All the brands on the market are trying to provide something unique. While D’Addario banjo strings give loads of choice, you’ll notice that Aquila strings are also popular among those who want more of a mellow tone.
All of the brands mentioned in this list are reliable and offer plenty of quality. Finding the right strings for you is about matching the characteristics you are looking for.
Coating – Should You Go For Coated or Uncoated?
Strings are available both coated and uncoated. The coatings vary, but are usually designed to help with the tuning stability and durability. For instance, the Elixir strings are coated, with a focus on staying in tune. The POLYWEB coating is also designed to make the strings feel flexible and comfortable on the fingers, with a responsive playability.
Coated sting usually cost a little more, but they last longer if taken care of. It’s a personal choice based on whether you want that extra durability (or playability) or whether you’re happy with the tone and quality of uncoated strings.
Materials – What are the most common Banjo string materials?
One of the most vital considerations if you are looking to buy banjo strings is the material they are made out of. This can impact the tone, durability, and overall quality of the strings.
The most common materials include:
- Nickel – Nickel tends to be used for plating and gives a bright tone. If you’re playing in a Bluegrass style this can be the ideal solution due to the high-end response.
- Stainless Steel – A large portion of strings are made with steel, it is corrosion-resistant and also has a bright tone.
- Phosphor Bronze – This tends to add a bit of a warmer feeling on the strings that are wound. On a five-string model this means just one of the strings has this makeup. It can provide a lower-end richness to the tone.
- Nylon – Nylon strings are used for ukuleles but also for some other styles of instrument, and you can find great nylon strings for your banjo, which are reminiscent of the old catgut style that some banjos historically used. They have a warmer tone than steel or nickel.
GHS PF150 5-String Banjo Strings – Best All-Round Banjo Strings
Great for the Beginner
GHS Strings are some of the best-selling banjo strings on the market, and it’s easy to see why as they provide such a great option for beginners and intermediate players with a well-rounded tone.
These light gauge strings (010-012-014-022w-010) are easy on the fingers and have a fantastic, bright tone. The phosphor bronze design also gives the banjo some great low and mid-end frequencies, which provide that “all-round” tone. These strings are great for most genres of music, from bluegrass to folk.
The PF150 Phosphor Bronze set has specially designed loop ends that help the banjo to stay in tune easily. The strings are made and sealed in a nitrogen environment so there is no oxygen to make the strings degrade before you’ve even used them.
- Phosphor strings are sealed in a nitrogen environment to avoid oxidation.
- Long 42” winding fit so you can install on a variety of tailpieces and banjos.
- The strings come labeled by gauge rather than note, so make sure you know which string goes where.
D’Addario EJ60 Nickel 5-String Banjo Strings – Superb D’Addario Strings
Light strings with a balanced tone
What better brand than D’Addario for your new strings? You’ll struggle to find a manufacturer with such a strong history of making strings for a variety of acoustic instruments.
These D’Addario nickel strings give a traditional banjo tone that is great for Bluegrass as well as folk genres.
Specifically these strings are made up of the following gauges: Plain Steel .009, .010, .013, Nickel Wound .020, Plain Steel .009.
A combination of plain steel and nickel-wound strings gives rich harmonics and a strong tone. These strings also have great projection for a light variety, and they are made to high specifications in the USA. They are built to last.
- Made in the USA.
- Nickel-wound strings project well.
- Great, traditional banjo tone with a Bluegrass vibe.
- Some users find the brightness of the high strings a bit too “tinny”.
D’Addario EJ55 Strings – Warm Phosphor Bronze Strings
A Rich and Warm Tone
The D’Addario EJ55 are a lighter version of the EJ60 strings.
If you’re looking for a richer tone with more warmth in the mid-range then this set of strings could be the ideal companion for your banjo.
The tone makes this tone better for playing certain songs and genres, and medium gauges are known for providing that “meaty” mid-range tone. These strings also offer superb projection, and sound better as a solo instrument when compared to a lot of other banjos, which are better played alongside guitars and other instruments.
The loop ends mean you can install these on any five-string banjo, and like all D’Addario strings they are made in the US. The string gauges are: Plain Steel .009, .010, .013, Nickel Wound .020, Plain Steel .009
- More warmth than most strings.
- A mellow tone great for solo playing or as part of a group.
- Made in the USA.
- Don’t have the bright banjo “twang” you might want for some solos or Bluegrass styles.
D’Addario EJ61 Nickel Strings – D’Addario’s “Middle-Ground”
D’Addario’s best-selling banjo strings
Yes, it’s yet another model of D’Addario strings. This provides a more balanced tone than the two string sets mentioned above. The nickel-coating gives that clear tone with more high end than the EJ55 strings.
You’ll be able to rely on the high-carbon steel and exceptional materials used by the US manufacturers. The strings are a little on the bright end when compared to the EJ55’s.
In terms of the gauge, these are the most common string gauge sold within the D’Addario range: Plain Steel .010, .012, .016, Nickel Wound .023, Plain Steel .010
Like we’ve come to expect from the manufacturer, you can rely on the loop-end construction which means they fit all sorts of banjo heads, and a corrosion-resistant packaging to ensure that the strings don’t degrade before you’ve even had the chance to use them.
- An all-round tone with plenty of Bluegrass brightness.
- A great choice for beginners.
- Excellent materials and corrosion-resistant packaging.
- Don’t seem to hold their tune as well as some other options.
Ernie Ball Earthwood 5-string – 80/20 Strings
80/20 alloy banjo strings
Ernie Ball is a brand you’ll probably have heard of if you’ve played guitar before, but they also make strings for other instruments. With these, they’ve used their excellent 80/20 string design to create a really impressive set of strings.
In the words of the manufacturer, these are made from “80% copper, 20% zinc wire wrapped around hex shaped tin-plated steel core wire” and the end result means a bright tone, perfect for playing in a variety of different styles.
The carbon steel core of the strings gives plenty of durability, and the strings are made in the US. Honestly, most of the very best banjo strings are. The gauge of the strings is .009 – .020 so they are on the light side of the market.
While they’re sold as Bluegrass strings, we would say that they have more of a versatile tone than that.
- Durable and hard-wearing strings with clever 80/20 design.
- Crisp highs which are great for Bluegrass and other genres.
- Made in the USA.
- Great for clawhammer style playing.
- More expensive than some other strings.
D’Addario XT – Medium Gauge, Durable Strings
Strings that are built to last
You may be noticing a pattern when it comes to brands. Undeniably, D’Addario are the kings of the medium gauges as well as the light gauges of strings. If you’re the kind of person who is forever finding that their strings go out of tune, or even break easily, these could be the strings for you.
They have a slightly different sound when compared to the other banjo strings on this list, as the brand has focused on durability here. The strings are coated.
The coating is made for break resistance as well as keeping the strings in tune. D’Addario’s research has shown that they stay in tune for 131% of the time of most strings.
There’s a resealable zip closure on the packaging, too, so that if you don’t use any of the strings they can go straight back into the package and stay fresh for when they are needed.
- Built to last with a coating to help them stay in tune, and avoid breakage.
- Resealable package to keep unused strings fresh.
- Not as good as some other models when it comes to clarity of tone.
Aquila New Nylgut AQ-1B – Nylgut Banjo Strings
Great tone for alternate tunings
These medium tension strings are an alternative to nylon strings for banjo. If you’ve played other acoustic and folky instruments such as ukulele then there is every chance that you’ve already played nylgut strings and those made by Aquila.
The 4th string is designed to be a different gauge, helping with some alternate tunings and ending up with a more balanced and powerful tone that can truly project.
The material is also designed to prevent moisture being absorbed, which is something that some strings made out of nylon or nylgut can struggle with. This moisture is more likely to make the instrument fall out of tune easily or even make the strings degrade.
There’s no real metallic twang to the sound when you use these strings, so it is easy to confuse the sound with other instruments. For this reason, we wouldn’t really call these strings a traditional sound. For example, those looking for 5-string light banjo strings for Bluegrass tones will probably be disappointed if they buy these.
- Great for a folk sound and for alternate tunings.
- Rich yet mellow tone with good mid-range.
- Not suitable for use with every banjo head and tailpiece.
- Strings may break when tuned up to a standard tuning.
Elixir Strings Banjo Strings – POLYWEB Coated Strings
Long-lasting strings with coating
String manufacturers are always looking to find new ways to make their strings more appealing than the competitors and get the edge. Elixir strings manufacture strings for all sorts of instruments, including the banjo, and they have integrated the clever POLYWEB coating.
In terms of the banjo string tone, they have a fairly rich sound with a focus on the midrange. They’re medium gauge, which means the strings are: .010 .012 .016 .023 .010 in gauge with a steel wrap wire.
So what is the POLYWEB coating all about? Well, it serves a couple of different purposes. Firstly, it is designed to keep the strings feeling ‘slick’ and allow you to play even fast solos and melodies without the feeling of being ‘stuck’. The coating is also designed to stop corrosion. Elixir Strings conducted a survey which states that the brand protects the tone life better than other string varieties.
In terms of price, these strings are one of the most costly models you’re likely to come across. The extended life of the strings goes some way to justifying this, but be warned that you’re likely to pay a little extra for the Elixir strings.
- A rich sound with plenty of mid-range frequencies.
- A great coating to protect the tone for the long-term.
- Much more expensive than some competing models.
Aquila Red Series AQ-11B – Medium Tension, Maximum Projection
Comfortable with excellent projection
Like the other Aquila strings on this list, these are great for alternate tunings, and the excellent composite material is a clever way to ensure bright tone and amazing projection.
These strings are fantastic and responsive as you move around the fretboard, so it is excellent for those who play intricate solos or playing quick melodies.
The tone is quite unique, and doesn’t have the same sort of high-end ring that some of the other models do, but for a richer and lower intonation the Red Series AQ-11B does a fantastic job. A lot of people are using these strings for tuning down, and that extra bass and high projection means they make a fantastic solo instrument as well as an accompaniment.
Aquila has used a composite material on these strings designed to absorb less moisture than most of the other materials, which can help with the tuning stability and means that it isn’t quite so important that you keep the humidity stable.
- Great tuning stability.
- Unique tone, great for tuning down and providing a rich midrange.
- Strings may break if tuned too high.
- Not a traditional ‘Bluegrass’ tone.
D’Addario EJ60+ – D’Addario’ s Revolutionary “Half Gauge”
Uniquely gauged strings for light players
D’Addario EJ60+ strings are yet another option from this iconic brand. You’ll probably find that once you start playing, you develop your own little quirks and preferences with all kinds of setups. These strings are designed for a custom feel and they have a fascinating design with gauges you will struggle to find elsewhere. Plain Steel .0095, .011, .013, Nickel Wound .020, Plain Steel .0095, to be precise.
The tension of the strings gives light gauge players another option when it comes to creating an authentic tone but also providing you with a fantastic level of projection.
Like other D’Addario strings, there is a loop end construction for universal fit across virtually every type of banjo. In terms of the materials, these are made of nickel-plated steel. They have a smooth enough touch, and though they don’t last as long as some coated models, they’re still brilliantly-made in the US.
- Another gauge option with “half sizes”.
- Excellent, traditional tone.
- Stronger projection than many light strings.
- Not quite as long-lasting as some other models on the market.
Summary – Experimenting With Banjo Strings
Over time you will tweak your setup and end up with the perfect tone for you. Along the way, you’ll inevitably experiment with different strings and tunings. Choose strings for the style of music you want to play, and experiment with your tone until you’ve perfected it – that’s not only necessary, but also fun and will teach you a lot about your instrument of choice.
How often should you change banjo strings?
Some banjo strings can last years, especially if they are coated and therefore designed to be specifically long-lasting. More professional players prefer the brightness of fresh strings and therefore change regularly, even once or twice a month.
How many strings does a banjo have?
As you may already know, banjos come in different styles. Four, five, and six-string models are available. You will find that five-star models are vastly more popular than the others. Tenor banjos with four strings are rare, but have their place, especially in folk setups. Six-string models are an option that some guitarists tend to opt for as it is easier to transition.
What tuning are banjo strings?
There are different tunings and these depend on the type of banjo you are playing and which tuning you decide upon. Five-string banjos are usually tuned in ‘Open G’ which means that the notes are G, D, G, B, D from the fifth string to the first.