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


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

Ducks on the Millpond from Emmett Lundy – Fretless Clawhammer Banjo


This is “Ducks on the Millpond” adapted from Emmett Lundy’s fiddle playing. I’m playing in the equivalent of double-C (gCGCD) but tuned down. This tune is one of the ten I teach on my DVD “Unfortunate Puppy and Other Fine Tunes: Lessons in Intermediate & Advanced Clawhammer Banjo” (Mel Bay): http://www.hunterrobertson.com/unpupframe.html

Bonaparte’s Retreat – Fretless Clawhammer Banjo


Bonaparte’s Retreat based on William Stepp’s famous fiddle recording from 1937.

If you want to learn to play “Bonaparte’s Retreat” on the banjo, there’s a lesson for it on my DVD Unfortunate Puppy and Other Fine Tunes: Lessons in Intermediate & Advanced Clawhammer Banjo (Mel Bay): http://www.hunterrobertson.com/unpupframe.html

My fretless banjo here is tuned down from the equivalent of gCGCC or aDADD – double-C or D with the 1st string tuned down to unison with the 2nd string – to Bb: fBbFBbBb (the lesson is at standard pitch).

Going Back to Georgie (fretless clawhammer banjo)


This is a tune that Glen Smith played on fretless banjo, from the County album “Clawhammer Banjo Vol. 3″. My version has drifted off a bit since I learned it there… Sounds like it’s in the “Oh! Susanna” family. Tuning is gDGBD, a whole tone or so low.

Last tunes tabbed for Unfortunate Puppy


Well, it’s a pleasure to finally be able to announce that the last 4 tabs for Unfortunate Puppy and Other Fine Tunes are done! They’re up on my site and can be downloaded by anyone who has purchased the DVD (or the video as a download).

The final four tunes, ‘Ducks on the Millpond’, ‘Raleigh & Spencer’, ‘Ft. Smith Breakdown’ and ‘Unfortunate Puppy’ also have videos to illustrate the tabs, as there were some tricky timing problems in writing those four out.

They’re here: http://www.hunterrobertson.com/unpuptabframe.html

I wish you the best of luck with these tunes! And a lot of pleasure from them.

Dusty Miller


Dusty Miller, from the playing of fiddler John Alexander Brown, who was recorded in 1939 around Iuka, Mississippi. Brown learned the tune from his father sometime before 1900 in Itawamba County, where he was born in 1872. On “Great Big Yam Potatoes: Anglo-American Fiddle Music from Mississippi”, a great album, unfortunately out of print. But, thanks to Gadaya at Times Ain’t Like They Used to Be, downloadable:

Played on my trusty bakelite banjo, a semi-fretless Harmony, tuned to the equivalent of aAEAE/gGDGD but down a semitone or two.

More of my videos, as well as CDs, instructional stuff, and random thoughts on banjo playing on my website: http://www.hunterrobertson.com


Tablatures for Unfortunate Puppy: Lessons in Intermediate & Advanced Clawhammer Banjo


Been a while a-comin’, but we’ve finally got 3 tabs ready to go (Tony Spadaro, aka Oldwoodchuckb, has been giving me a hand): for Boatin’ Up Sandy, Cripple Creek and Lonesome John. I’ll put more up as we finish them.

As these are only available to people who’ve bought the DVD, there’s a user name and password involved. As I don’t have everyone who’s bought the DVD on my mailing list to send them the information, the user name and password are both simply the 3rd word on the very first page of the PDF notes that came on the DVD.

And here they are: http://hunterrobertson.com/unpuptabframe.html


Drunken Hiccups – Fretless banjo


“Drunken Hiccups” from Tommy Jarrell, in aAEAC# (well, tuned down a little), the banjo equivalent of Calico tuning on the fiddle. This tuning and aAEAE are great for a lot of cross-tuned fiddle tunes.

This one also goes by “Rye Whiskey”, “Clinch Mountain” and various other names. Lots of great recordings around: Hobart Smith, Elmo Newcomer and Bill Stepp and Frank Proffitt are some of my favorites.

Don Borchelt has a great video up too of his playing it on his partially fretless banjo in the same tuning.

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Old Joe Clark – Fretless Banjo – Clawhammer


Old Joe Clark from Luther Strong’s playing. Fretless banjo, tuned in the vicinity of aAEAE.

New Clawhammer Banjo Instructional DVD Release

I’ve mentioned recently a DVD on clawhammer banjo I’ve been working on. Well, it’s ready to deliver! The DVD is called Unfortunate Puppy and Other Fine Tunes: Lessons in Intermediate & Advanced Clawhammer Banjo and is out with Mel Bay Publications (Mel Bay 22208DVD).

First, a description of the DVD and then I’ll tell you the deal we’ve got going for the next week. Or just go here and order it: www.hunterrobertson.com/unpupframe.html
Unfortunate Puppy and Other Fine Tunes: Lessons in Intermediate & Advanced Clawhammer Banjo (133 minutes, over two hours of lessons) teaches ten classic fiddle tunes arranged for clawhammer banjo, as well as tools and techniques to help you create your own arrangements.

Hunter Robertson begins each tune with a brief introduction and then presents each one in four different stages to help you learn it easily. First, Hunter plays the tune at full speed. Next, he breaks it down, with verbal instruction. The tune is then slowed to half speed so that you can easily follow the right and left hand finger positions, which are shown with a split screen throughout. Finally, the tune is played at a medium tempo for you to practice along with.

The DVD also includes a video of Hunter demonstrating right and left hand techniques and a detailed 26 page PDF booklet with notes on the tunes, general technical information, and thoughts on learning, playing, and arranging for the banjo.

Lonesome John from John Salyer
Candy Girl from Uncle Bunt Stephens
Boatin’ Up Sandy from Wilson Douglas
Cripple Creek from Hobart Smith
Unfortunate Puppy from Elmo Newcomer
Ducks on the Millpond from Emmett Lundy
Raleigh & Spencer from Tommy Jarrell
Bonaparte’s Retreat from William Stepp
Leather Britches from John Salyer
Ft. Smith Breakdown from Luke Highnight’s Ozark Strutters
• A brief look at 2 and 3-finger picking.
• A full-length performance video of the song “Raleigh & Spencer”.
THE DEAL is that for the next week, ending the night of Feb. 4th, we’ll be selling the DVD at 10% off and you’ll also get a free download of a music video, ”I Truly Understand”, which we recorded at the same time as the DVD.
Use the button below to order the DVD and pay through Paypal (orders handled by Open Lens Productions, the video’s producer):

$22.45 (now $24.95 that the deal is over) + Shipping and Handling.