A Review and Comparison of the New Red Series Nylgut Banjo Strings from Aquila

2013.03.11

A review and comparison of the new Red Series Nylgut banjo strings from Aquila Corde Armoniche.

Aquila, the company that makes Nylgut strings, sent me a trial set of a new string they’ve made, Red Series Nylgut. As Mimmo from Nylgut explained: “Instead of increasing each gauge I was able to increase the density of each string. So all 4 strings have similar diameters. This can be done using different quantities of metal copper powder added to the melted Nylgut during the extrusion of the product. Explanation: on a traditional banjo set, the strings have very different diameters. Unfortunately, the thicker the string, the duller the sound. In fact it is well known that the 3rd string is duller than the 2nd and the 2nd duller than the 1st. With this innovative solution the problem is now solved: banjos now work like harps — all the strings have the same bright sound. On these sets, gauges are thinner than those of traditional white Nylgut while the the tension is exactly the same. Performance: brighter sound than Fluocarbon & Nylgut strings, closer to metal strings. More sustain. More powerful than Nylgut & Fluocarbon strings.”

I already had a set of the original white Nylguts on my old S.S. Stewart, so I made a recording of it still strung with them for comparison before swapping them out for the new red set and recording again. Both sets are “classic” gauge. (I’ll call the old strings “white” for the rest of this review. I think there’s also a more recent gut-colored set of Nylguts, but from what I’ve read they’re the same as the white, it just being the color that was changed.)

First impression: the new strings are definitely red — almost candy apple red! It’s a color that might give the traditionalist pause. I suppose once upon a time phosphor bronze looked out of place on a string too. It’s a little funny to see on the Stewart, but I’m getting used to it.

Compared to the white Nylgut, these strings seemed to stretch out fairly quickly. I put them on, tuned up roughly and let the banjo sit for an hour or two. Tuned up again and I was able to play more or less, though having to do some fairly heavy tweaking between tunes. You wouldn’t want to put these on right before a gig, though maybe you could quicken the process some by hand-stretching the strings. In the video, the red strings had been on the banjo for about two days and were good and stable.

By eye (I don’t have calipers to measure their diameters accurately) the difference between the 1st and 2nd strings of the different sets doesn’t look all that great, on the 3rd though it’s quite noticeable. The 4th string in this red set is unwound — there are white sets with an unwound 4th, but mine was wound so I can’t compare them. The unwound red 4th sounds good, doesn’t feel unduly stiff and its big advantage is that its timbre is the same as the rest of the strings. Personally though, I think I prefer a wound string — its timbre is different from the other strings of course, but that’s something that can be used to advantage, like for a bassy drone.

The red strings are lightly textured, which I like. On the white sets, I would roughen up the right hand playing area of the strings with 600 or 1000 grit sandpaper to give them a little more grab, like gut has. I’ll probably do the same on these eventually but out of the package I already like their feel more. As well, they feel quite a bit stiffer than the white, which I also prefer – the white classic gauge felt a little mushy to me (though the feel of the heavier gauge minstrel set suits me fine).

The sound of these new strings is bright and sharp, as you can hear in the video — which I also like. In the clawhammer section, I’m playing with my short index finger nail, but with a longer nail or a pick, they’re even brighter.

Since changing the strings on the Stewart from minstrel gauge to classic a while ago, I haven’t been playing it as much, but I think I’ll be picking it up more often now.

The finger-picked tune is “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)” by Harry Dacre, played in gDGBD, and the clawhammer tune “Shortenin’ Bread”, in the same tuning. The two sets of videos were recorded a few days apart, thus the costume changing.

Hunter Robertson

Old-timey Music for Body & Soul – http://www.hunterrobertson.com

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