View Full Version : Tenor Banjo with Nylon Strings?

10-24-2011, 08:57 AM
I know, just try it and find out, right?

I have an old Bacon 17 fret tenor banjo at home. I recently restored it to better playing condition and was thinking about putting nylon strings on it and making it a Baritone Banjo Uke. I already tune it to DGBE with steel strings, but wondered what it would sound like.

Does anyone have any suggestions on strings? Would a standard baritone uke set work or do they make baritone banjo uke strings?

Thanks in advance,

10-24-2011, 10:23 AM
To be honest, it will probably sound much better with the steel strings it was designed for. I'm sure that if you've been playing it already, you've found that the tension isn't really high enough to hurt your fingers too bad after a few times playing it.

10-24-2011, 10:34 AM
The tension isn't an issue. I play a 12 string. I just wondered about the baritone banjo uke sound.

10-24-2011, 11:32 AM
Scale length will determine the correct strings and tuning.
A Baritone Ukulele has a 20 in. scale. If your banjo is around that try the bari strings. If you need a longer string try some classical guitar strings.
Your banjo is designed for steel strings, but you might get an interesting sound with nylons, as you said all you can do is try.
Strings are not a major purchase, so go for it.

10-24-2011, 02:50 PM
Here is a steel string tuned GCEA

And here is a nylon stringed version

That last one I am sure has Aquila on it, totally inspired me to buy a 90 year old Maybell to give it a try. It is in the mail, and I am hoping to put Southcoast linears on it, but I love the Baritone scale length and figured it was worth a shot. Hoping it works, but Chicago tuned steel string is not too much trouble either.

10-24-2011, 03:11 PM
I need to get my Bruno Tiple off my signature now that you have it, Zach. If you look down there, however, I still have one vintage piece left from my days of restoring old instruments. It's an old no name open back Tenor Banjo. Simple - very nice neck, and (now) in all around great shape.

Here's what I've learned if you want to go from steel strings to nylon. First, throw out much of what you know about selecting for wood body ukuleles. You're now dealing with a much different animal.

A drum body produces a lot more volume that a wooden one. Tenor Banjos are normally in 5ths: CGDA. A Baritone Ukulele set-up might seem the obvious choice, since DGBE starts a little higher, and finishes a little higher - in other words, the notes are in the same range. The scale is also the same.

When you move from steel to nylon (two strings wound), however, you lose a lot of brightess and punch. The strings are also much thicker - and banjo necks are pretty narrow. Beleive it or not, I think you get a much better sound going up in tuning - to key of C - in other words, the regular high re-entrant ukulele tuning: GCEA.

You have thinner strings - a better fit for the neck - brighter sound because of the thin diameter, and because you have that drum body, unlike the weak sound that tuning produces on a wood bodied Baritone, you'll still have great volume (though less than with steel).

I think the Tenor Banjo is the ultimate ukulele rythym instrument - it was meant to be a bright rhythm instrument, and it cuts beautifully in that tuning.

There is a group of banjo devotees who like the funky old time sound, with gut strings. I can't use them much here because of the humidity (on the porch, they'll get sticky and stretch so much you can't finish a song). Nylguts (at least the old formula did) give a respectable aproximation on a banjo without the problems in humidity.

Aquila also makes a Baritone set in high re-entrant C. The gauges are here - at the bottom:


The only trouble is that neither these, nor any Baritone set will likely be long enough to cover the extra distance to the tailpiece. To take care of that, you go to Aquila USA, where the classical players buy nylgut. Pick your length:


A Tenor Banjo as ukulele, to me, is a great way to go!

10-24-2011, 03:19 PM
...That last one I am sure has Aquila on it...

Yes it does - and that high re-entrant G tuning sounds pretty good too. I's still go with the C tuning - especially with an open back.

10-25-2011, 07:23 AM
I did it with my old Vega back in the early 80's, liked it fine. But, then I switched over to guitar strings and liked that better. Just janglier and more like a banjo. It's totally a matter of preference, and you should try it to see what you think.

10-25-2011, 08:07 AM
Classical Guitar Strings? I have several sets at the house for my Taylor NS. I might experiment with that.

10-25-2011, 09:49 AM
I tried stringing my tenor banjo up with nylon strings. It lost that in your face sound banjos have. Couldn't get the tension right to bring out any decent sound.

02-23-2013, 10:10 AM
And what about the truss rod?

I don't know if it has to be adjusted when changing to nylon...