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View Full Version : steel strings on a banjolele?



river_driver
07-28-2015, 07:44 AM
I know you can't put steel strings on a wooden uke, but what about a banjo uke? Anyone tried it? Is it even advisable?

Gold Tone offers a couple steel strung, very short scale travel banjos - the Plucky (https://www.goldtone.com/product/plucky/) with a 15.875" scale and the CC-Mini (https://www.goldtone.com/product/cc-mini/)with a 19.75" scale. It's not obvious to me how they would differ structurally from a banjolele, which has me thinking you could get away with steel on a banjolele. But maybe I'm wrong. I can accept that.

(The main thing that's keeping me away from a Plucky is I don't want the 5th string.)

hoosierhiver
07-28-2015, 07:53 AM
I've got one I strung with mandolin strings

gnordenstam
07-28-2015, 08:00 AM
How do you have it tuned?


I've got one I strung with mandolin strings

hoosierhiver
07-28-2015, 08:18 AM
How do you have it tuned?

Tuned high G, it's been so long I don't remember what brand strings I used.

kypfer
07-28-2015, 12:36 PM
river_driver wrote:

It's not obvious to me how they would differ structurally from a banjolele, which has me thinking you could get away with steel on a banjolele ...
Comparing the instruments in the videos to my solitary "John Grey", the feature that immediately strikes me is the inclusion of the metal rods within the pot of the Gold Tone instruments that my instrument does not have, though my full-size 5-string banjo has two!!

I believe these provide two functions, a provision to adjust the neck angle and thus the action, also as strengthening for the strain of the steel strings. I think I'd be very wary of fitting steel strings to an instrument that did not have this feature, just in case the added tension, in a "worst-case scenario", effectively ripped the neck off ... maybe I'm being a little melodramatic, but these things aren't usually fitted unless there's good reason.

The other consideration I'd have would be the tuners. A lot of older banjoleles have friction tuners that would struggle to hold the tension of a steel string ... and be a pain to tune even if they did cope!

As always, YMMV ;)

PhilUSAFRet
07-28-2015, 02:33 PM
If tuners are stopping you, get tenor banjo/guitar friction tuners.

k0k0peli
07-28-2015, 03:06 PM
I didn't string my 1920's-era Varsity banjo-uke with steel specifically because of the tension tuners, and I didn't want to re-drill the headpiece for geared tuners. A newer banjo-uke with a torsion rod and geared tuning machines *should* be suited for metal strings.

Jim Hanks
07-28-2015, 04:20 PM
Check with the builder/manufacturer if you can. Odds are pretty good that an instrument designed/marketed as a banjolele will not be braced for steel strings. As far as the Plucky or Mini, who says who have to put all 5 strings on?

DownUpDave
07-29-2015, 01:42 AM
Best thing to do is to contact Dirk at South Coast. He does make an all metal set for tenor ukuleles called Classic Metals, they might work.

SteveZ
07-29-2015, 01:52 AM
Considering the scale length, mandolin strings (if the bracing is right, tailpiece accommodates, etc.) may be the ay to go. I use EMando.com (who sells custom sets and single stings) for strings for the KonaBlaster and did so for a MandoBird I once had. Am considering trying steel on the Deering banjo uke and EMandocom would be the source.

UkerDanno
07-29-2015, 03:44 AM
just try some Aquila reds!

river_driver
07-29-2015, 06:31 AM
Thanks, everyone, for your insights!



Comparing the instruments in the videos to my solitary "John Grey", the feature that immediately strikes me is the inclusion of the metal rods within the pot of the Gold Tone instruments that my instrument does not have, though my full-size 5-string banjo has two!!

I believe these provide two functions, a provision to adjust the neck angle and thus the action, also as strengthening for the strain of the steel strings. I think I'd be very wary of fitting steel strings to an instrument that did not have this feature, just in case the added tension, in a "worst-case scenario", effectively ripped the neck off ... maybe I'm being a little melodramatic, but these things aren't usually fitted unless there's good reason.

The other consideration I'd have would be the tuners. A lot of older banjoleles have friction tuners that would struggle to hold the tension of a steel string ... and be a pain to tune even if they did cope!

As always, YMMV ;)


I didn't string my 1920's-era Varsity banjo-uke with steel specifically because of the tension tuners, and I didn't want to re-drill the headpiece for geared tuners. A newer banjo-uke with a torsion rod and geared tuning machines *should* be suited for metal strings.
My fault, I should have mentioned I am looking at modern BU's that have the metal rod (Is it called a torsion rod? I'm not banjo-savvy enough to know these things.). And I favor geared tuners, so the friction tuner issue is not a concern.


Check with the builder/manufacturer if you can. Odds are pretty good that an instrument designed/marketed as a banjolele will not be braced for steel strings. As far as the Plucky or Mini, who says who have to put all 5 strings on?
Taking the string off is one thing, dealing with the lopsided fretboard and the 5th string tuner sticking out partway down the neck is another entirely! I'd rather just not bother.


Best thing to do is to contact Dirk at South Coast. He does make an all metal set for tenor ukuleles called Classic Metals, they might work.
Ah! I was not aware of that. Maybe I should've guessed though.


Considering the scale length, mandolin strings (if the bracing is right, tailpiece accommodates, etc.) may be the ay to go. I use EMando.com (who sells custom sets and single stings) for strings for the KonaBlaster and did so for a MandoBird I once had. Am considering trying steel on the Deering banjo uke and EMandocom would be the source.
Do I remember right that you prefer fifths tuning on your ukes? I'd want GCEA (probably linear rather than reentrant) and I'm not sure I could get there with mando strings. If the tailpiece accepts ball-end strings, I think I can work it out with light electric guitar strings.


just try some Aquila reds!
Meh, not a fan of Aquilas.

SteveZ
07-29-2015, 07:14 AM
Do I remember right that you prefer fifths tuning on your ukes? I'd want GCEA (probably linear rather than reentrant) and I'm not sure I could get there with mando strings. If the tailpiece accepts ball-end strings, I think I can work it out with light electric guitar strings.

It's just a matter of ordering the particular strings one wants in the appropriate gauge/note. EMando.com provides in ball and loop ends. It's just a suggestion rgarding a vendor which has served me well.

river_driver
07-29-2015, 07:20 AM
It's just a matter of ordering the particular strings one wants in the appropriate gauge/note. EMando.com provides in ball and loop ends. It's just a suggestion rgarding a vendor which has served me well.
Ah! Very good to know, I will check them out!

PhilUSAFRet
07-29-2015, 07:20 AM
Deering is currently testing metal strings on their new banjo uke.

k0k0peli
07-29-2015, 07:33 AM
Taking the string off is one thing, dealing with the lopsided fretboard and the 5th string tuner sticking out partway down the neck is another entirely! I'd rather just not bother. Y'know how the plectrum and tenor banjos evolved? By just dropping the short string! That bothersome side-tuner can be removed. Some mods even involved running a buzz-saw down the neck to eliminate the lopside. Crude surgery... ;)


Do I remember right that you prefer fifths tuning on your ukes? I'd want GCEA (probably linear rather than reentrant) and I'm not sure I could get there with mando strings. As mentioned, it's just a matter of selecting the right gages. Several online string-tension calculators can help picking out a custom set for any tuning. BTW there's a neat trick for stringing mandos and 'ukes: flip-em! I reverse-strung one soprano 'uke and tweaked it to very re-entrant fifths: a#-F-C-g, good for strumming mando chords but damn weird for melodic picking! I *could* take the same approach with a set of Aquila Fifths on a soprano 'uke or any mando strings on a strong-enough banjo-uke. That would be another brain-stretching exercise. But it invokes more UAS for me. Yow.

Anyway, you have many stringing options. Have fun!

DeepWater
07-29-2015, 10:32 AM
I've got one I strung with mandolin strings

Cowboy Mike, that's awesome... tuned GCEA?

Captain Simian
07-29-2015, 02:19 PM
I know you can't put steel strings on a wooden uke, but what about a banjo uke? Anyone tried it? Is it even advisable?

Gold Tone offers a couple steel strung, very short scale travel banjos - the Plucky (https://www.goldtone.com/product/plucky/) with a 15.875" scale and the CC-Mini (https://www.goldtone.com/product/cc-mini/)with a 19.75" scale. It's not obvious to me how they would differ structurally from a banjolele, which has me thinking you could get away with steel on a banjolele. But maybe I'm wrong. I can accept that.

(The main thing that's keeping me away from a Plucky is I don't want the 5th string.)

You freak me out with how much you read my mind some days.

I've been toying with the same idea. I found this page to help calculate the gauges:

http://www.mcdonaldstrings.com./stringxxiii.html

I set it up to give me gauges for a guitar with a 13.5" scale tuned A-D-G-C-E-A. I ignored the low A and D and got this.

G-.32 wound
C-.22 plain
E-.17 plain
A-.13 plain

For re-entrant I'd probably use a .13 or .14 for the G.

river_driver
07-30-2015, 08:13 AM
You freak me out with how much you read my mind some days.

Cap...

81960

So I discovered that Jake W. had strung the res-jo-lele I got from you with steel strings at one point:
http://antebelluminstruments.blogspot.com/2011/06/cool-tone.html
Gotta try it now. To the music store!

Jon Moody
07-30-2015, 08:47 AM
Deering is currently testing metal strings on their new banjo uke.

Deering actually built theirs like a banjo, and are using a standard 11" rim for it, so that one will easily accept steel strings (depending on gauge, of course).

Captain Simian
07-30-2015, 04:36 PM
Cap...

81960

So I discovered that Jake W. had strung the res-jo-lele I got from you with steel strings at one point:
http://antebelluminstruments.blogspot.com/2011/06/cool-tone.html
Gotta try it now. To the music store!

Well, what happened?

fynger
07-30-2015, 10:19 PM
If it aint built to take steel....don't do it.

SteveZ
07-31-2015, 02:20 AM
If it aint built to take steel....don't do it.

Best advice there is!

river_driver
07-31-2015, 02:22 AM
Well, what happened?

Nothing, yet. The music store is in the next county and I haven't had a chance to get there yet. And I'm taking vacation starting Sunday so it may be a couple weeks before I report back with results.

river_driver
07-31-2015, 02:24 AM
If it aint built to take steel....don't do it.

But that's the point of my original question... ARE modern banjoleles with steel torsion rods built to take steel strings?

Nickie
07-31-2015, 02:46 AM
The other day we had a woman in our workshop with a very old banjolele with steel strings. She said they had been on for a long time. It was so loud I wanted to take it away from her for the workshop, and hand her a uke, but I could tell she was having none of that.

SteveZ
07-31-2015, 06:58 AM
But that's the point of my original question... ARE modern banjoleles with steel torsion rods built to take steel strings?

IMHO, if we're talking about a truss rod, having one is not enough by itself to handle the tension of steel strings. The tailpiece has to be strong enough to hold the ball or loop (light or thin metal bends and snaps). The tuners should be "banjo tuners" or geared tuners designed to take the higher strain. The tailpiece needs to be installed securely onto the pot so the tailpiece doesn't bend or fly off. A coordinator rod (or pair of them) adds more support to keep the pot from bending/warping under steel tension.

So, while keeping the neck straight under tension via the additional bracing of a truss rod is good, steel strings requires a lot more consideration in design. Failure of tuners, tailpiece and/or structure can result in serious injury.

river_driver
07-31-2015, 02:30 PM
Thanks SteveZ. That helps me understand the risks better.

Henning
08-07-2015, 07:11 AM
Odds are pretty good that an instrument designed/marketed as a banjolele will not be braced for steel strings. As far as the Plucky or Mini, who says who have to put all 5 strings on?

Id take the guess it is like putting steel strings on a classical guitar or nylon strings on steel stringed guitar. You can do it. But its no good!

Tootler
08-08-2015, 02:26 AM
My banjo uke looks as it it's basically a regular banjo but fitted with a short fretboard. If that's the case, then it would probably take steel strings but I wouldn't want to fit them. It's loud enough as it is with the Aquila currently fitted.

bman40
08-15-2015, 08:17 AM
i am embarking on converting my eddy finn concert banjo uke to streel strings today. emando wa very helpful and put together a custom set for me. i ordered a new tailpiece from a banjo outfit here in canada, and will swap that out as well.

I'll fill y'all in on how it all comes together - hopefully tomorrow.

TheCraftedCow
08-16-2015, 10:24 AM
I didn't read all of the posts as though I was going to be tested, so if I am redundant, you know why. I have a PLUCKY and love it! All you would need to do is remove the 5th string and then it is four strings CGEG quickly becomes GCEA and it is a banjo ukulele. I put a plate on the back of mine with a gap between it and the body. It now is like the Eddy Finn model 2 with a reflector plate that does not go beyond the walls of the body. The first one I had, someone else had even removed and plugged the 5th peg hole.