When playing the bluegrass or clawhammer banjo, you need the best strings to get the sound you deserve. Getting a string with the perfect sound and one that hardly breaks will support your entire playing session.
The kind of banjo strings you choose can influence the sound coming from your banjo and your overall playability. If you’ve had the chance to explore the different kinds of banjo strings, you’ll know that there’s a lot of work to do to make the right choice.
If you’re looking for the best strings for bluegrass and clawhammer banjo, you’re reading the right article. This guide walks you through the two best major banjo strings reputed for quality sounds and durability.
What’s the Best String Gauge for My Banjo?
Banjo strings are available in different gauges – from light to medium to heavy gauge and medium light. The question is, how do you decide which one to go for? The truth is, every banjoist is different in their unique play. The best way to make a choice is to experiment.
However here’s a good general rule:
If you’re heavy-handed, go for the heavy or medium string so that the force you apply will be balanced on the string. Conversely, choose the lighter string if you’re looking for a mild feel playing.
Heavy gauge strings tend to have a stronger resistance when tuned. Unlike the lighter string, which is slack and may require more control and carefulness while playing.
So overall, if you’re looking for the perfect string for a balanced tone, you may consider medium gauge banjo strings.
The Best Banjo Strings for Bluegrass Banjo:
Elixir Medium Nickel Plated Strings with Polyweb Coating
The way metal strings are made has been around as far back as decades. Get a piece of metal, have it stretched, then add winding or not. This is an already complicated process that needs no further steps.
However, Elixir was one of the first brands to introduce a unique polymer finish on their guitar and banjo strings:
This polymer finish boosts the durability of the string, allowing you to enjoy the same sound with your string even after a long time of use. That’s why I recommend Elixir’s coated nickel banjo strings, especially for bluegrass banjo.
Elixir is popular for producing some of the long-lasting strings in the market, but that quality does come at a price. You’re not getting these strings for cheap. However, it’s worth the extra cost for a coating that is durable and rust-free. The Elixir banjo strings won’t rust even if you don’t play your banjo for a long time.
Many players find they can get up to a year or more out of the same set of Elixir strings. So while they may cost a bit more upfront…. they may even save you money in the long run. Especially if you practice your banjo for many hours a day and run through strings quickly.
When it comes to feel and tonality, Elixir’s Medium Polyweb Coating feels smooth on your hand while maintaining a balanced tone throughout play.
So overall, if your goal is to get the best banjo strings for bluegrass with a balanced tone and long-lasting features, then you won’t go wrong with Elixir coated banjo strings.
The Best Banjo Strings for Clawhammer & Frailing:
Ernie Ball Earthwood 80/20 Bronze Banjo Strings
I remember when I was stuck looking for the best banjo strings for clawhammer style banjo.
I tried using the lighter strings and I didn’t seem to like how they work for my mileage. I was not pleased with their hollow sounds and how they’re too stretchy. I mistakenly pulled the 1st string a couple of times when playing.
On top of that, light strings can bend easily which may make them mash together when you make some chords. And this could also affect your intonation of play.
When I switched to medium gauge banjo strings, Clawhammer style sounded and played much better.
That’s why for clawhammer banjo strings, I recommend Ernie Ball medium gauge 80/20 bronze banjo strings:
When It comes to clawhammer and frailing, the Ernie Ball strings are much better than most brands out there.
These Ernie Ball strings are decently stiff and resistant to pull-offs which prevents any of these issues with clear and consistent sounds.
The Ernie Ball strings are also more affordable than the Elixirs above. However, they may not last as long since they don’t have a polymer coating. Still, the 80/20 bronze alloy boosts sound and increases flexibility while helping you maintain a consistent tonal range as you play.
Best Banjo Strings for Beginners
Both Elixir strings and Ernie Ball strings are a decent choice for beginner banjo players. It simply comes down to your preference and whether you want to learn bluegrass or clawhammer style banjo playing.
If you’re going for bluegrass, the Elixir strings are a good fit.
And if you want to go for Clawhammer, don’t hesitate to give the Ernie Ball strings a try.
One final note: I recommended medium gauge strings above, but as a beginner, it may be best to start with light gauge strings then work your way up to medium as your fingers toughen up and your technique improves.
Learn More About Bluegrass Banjo
If you’d like to learn more about bluegrass and the banjo, check out my other helpful articles: