Nylon vs Steel Banjo Strings: Choose Wisely

Many of you have read the proverb in childhood, “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost“. This means that even the smallest things make can make a big difference. In the case of musical instruments, this proverb holds to be true as well.

Every music enthusiast knows that even tiny changes like turning the nuts a bit tighter, attaching a thicker string, choosing the right pick can make a whole difference in the tune of a banjo. Therefore, the features of banjo such as which strings to use have been a big concern irrespective of user.

For newbies, the concern might be bigger as they don’t have any previous knowledge. 

Even for a pro banjo player, it might be a bit confusing if they should shift to a different string. Don’t worry. All of your concerns regarding the banjo string will be addressed here.

In the Banjo community, there is a debate going on about nylon vs steel banjo strings

So before choosing the right one, let’s get to know about them first!

Nylon vs Steel Banjo Strings

Nylon Strings: Basics You Should Know

In the earliest time of banjo playing, sheep’s intestines were used to make strings. This was not particularly a great choice not because it was GROSS but also it used to react with heat and humidity harming the overall tuning. 

But thank god, due to the advancement of human civilization and technology, Nylon strings were introduced and still popularly used by most banjo players.

Nylon strings are mostly made of Nylon and in some cases, Nylon material is mixed with other synthetic fibers to make better quality strings. The configurations of a nylon set are different from the common steel one.

A typical nylon set usually has three wound strings known as basses and three plain strings called trebles. There are different types are colors of nylon. First is clear and textured nylon. The textured nylon is mostly clear but slightly ground for better consistency. 

With textured strings, however, experience more string squeak and noise. 

They’re also perceived to sound a little warmer than clear nylon trebles.

There are also black and red nylon strings. There is not much mention if the color brings any changes but Black nylon trebles are most commonly seen on older folk nylon banjos and are associated with a softer, warmer tone, as well as less clarity and precision.

Steel Strings: Things You Should Know

A basic steel five-string set banjo generally has four plain steel strings and one wound string.

Plain strings are made of music wire that has a loop on one end to keep the string in place. They’re made up of single strands of wire in various widths that are smooth to the touch. 

The wound string starts with a plain steel core and is then wrapped in wire. 

The small core keeps the string flexible and tension low, but it boosts the string’s low-frequency sensitivity, which is why wound strings are always used for bass (lower pitched) strings.

Brass, bronze, nickel, nickel-plated steel, stainless steel, and other metals are used to wrap wound strings. The copper and tin content of brass and bronze alloys varies, and some contain other elements such as phosphorous to warm or cool the tone hue.

Nylon vs Steel Banjo Strings: What’s the Difference?

Now that you know all the basics about these strings. Let’s get to know what sets them apart and how to tell the difference.

Material Quality and Sound

Metal strings are used on steel-string guitars, which produce a brighter, clearer tone. Nylon strings, which give a gentler sound, are used on classical guitars. 

Additionally, a nylon string is more flexible and under less tension at the pitch, resulting in a longer attack and mellower sound. Whereas a steel string is under considerably more tension, resulting in a faster attack and brighter sound.

Musical Preference

The majority of nylon strings are used in folk or classical music. Steel strings are employed in practically all types of music, including country, rock, and pop.

Nylon strings are perfect for a more classic tone, such as old-school jazz. Steel strings, on the other hand, are best for a contemporary sound like bluegrass or rock.

User Experience

For nylon string tuning can be can an issue because nylon is a softer material, it is more susceptible to variations in humidity and temperature.

As a result, you have to tune it too often. But tuning takes a few seconds. If the music is worth it, why not! Steel-string doesn’t have much of that issue.

However, it is considered that it’s hard to play on steel-string as when pushing metal strings on the fretboard, they can be more difficult on your fingertips, especially if you’re a beginner guitarist with no calluses. Nylon strings are gentler on the fingers, making fingerpicking and pressing on the fretboard easier.

But, the music community says the preassumed inconvenience should never be in consideration while choosing your instrument. Because learning music requires dedication and passion. A true artist should never shy away from a bit of hardship.

Nylon vs Steel Banjo Strings at a Glance

DifferenceNylon StringsSteel Strings
Set typeConsists of three wounds, three plainsConsist of one/two wounds and three/four plains
Material QualityNylon and synthetic fibers, tenderBronze, copper, and stainless steel, hard
SoundSoft and mellower toneBrighter and crisp tone
GenreClassical and folkBluegrass, rock, and other
TuningHave to tune too oftenTuning stays for a decent time
Consumer typeBetter for beginners, as strings are softer and easy to push downDifficult for beginners as strings are quite hard and difficult to push down

Nylon vs Steel Banjo Strings: Which One Should I Buy?

Rather than thinking about the string quality, we should think about the banjo player first. 

If you’re a beginner you should pick the Nylon ones, no doubt. Because nylon strings are much softer and kinder on fingers. 

It makes it much easier to learn plucking with softer string as the beginners. But if you’re an experienced and well-learned banjo player you can go for both. 

But now the question that which one should you go for?

You should consider which type of music you’re interested in or will be playing with your banjo. If you’re into classical music and want to produce a more traditional type of music such as old-school jazz, then pick the Nylon one. 

But if you’re someone who plays bluegrass or rock and other types, then go for the steel strings. Pricing won’t be much of an issue as both strings come at the same price.

However, which banjo model you play can be a factor. According to the instrument body, the strings sound differently.

Conclusion & Recommendation

Both strings have their pros and cons. Having to do too much tuning is annoying and having sore fingers is also irritating. But what is more vexing is being unable to play your desired tune. 

Music is all about satisfaction and enjoyment. If you don’t enjoy the music you play then it’s not worth all the trouble. Therefore, choose your genre and pick your banjo strings accordingly. Your music, your choice.

But we can certainly help you with our expertise in this nylon vs steel banjo strings conflict.

If you want to go for steel banjo strings –

Our suggestion would be D’Addario EJ60 Nickel 5-String Light Banjo Strings.

These strings have the ideal balance of tone and projection.

For nylon banjo strings – 

We recommend Aquila New Nylgut AQ-1B Banjo Medium Tension DBGDG-Set of 5 (4th Red Series String) as most of the music can be played smoothly on these. 

Remember, MUSIC HEALS ALL!

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