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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
DADGBE how far can you tune strings on a banjo? (35) RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo? 27 Jun 09

This is actually a more complicated question than it would appear to be at first glance.

Modern bluegrass instruments won't be hurt by tuning the strings up but the action will change because of added downward pressure on the head. They're usually set up with light gauge strings and the aggregate tension is not very high. On the other hand, older, more lightly constructed instruments could be damaged by greater string tension and are often set up with medium or heavy strings which apply lots more tension.

Next, what's your string material? The commonest is metal which has a relatively small range of variability between the lowest tension which will produce a good tone and the highest before it breaks. Nylon monofilament which is used in thicker gauges can be placed under greater stress before breaking than steel. I've seen a neck snapped off by a set of fairly heavy nylon strings - nasty!

Gut is also used in thicker gauges and is strong enough to possibly damage an instrument. Flourocarbon fiber strings are even stronger and also can sound great over a much wider range of tension. It's really easy to damage a lightly made instrument with them but, with a bit of care and common sense, they're the best sounding strings I've found for old timey playing.

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