How To String A Banjo

Figuring out how to string a banjo is a simple enough process. The five string banjo, the type we'll be looking at in this article, is unique in that four strings attach to tuning gears on the headstock, the same as they do with a guitar, bass or fiddle.  One string however, is tacked onto the top edge of the neck, almost as though it were an afterthought and attached to a gear about 2/3's of the way up the neck.  The truth is that fifth string was an afterthought, appearing later in banjo history as an add-on drone string to the four string tenor banjo.  Here's how the stringing goes.

What You Need:

  • Five string banjo
  • Fresh set of five string banjo strings
  • Peg winder
  • Electronic tuner or piano
  • String lubricant
  • Pencil
  1. Select the type of strings you want to use.  You can buy nylon strings of the type that go on classical guitars.  They give the banjo a plunky, soft sort of sound.  To use them, however , you'll need set up the banjo for them. Specifically you'll have to widen the slots on the nut, the ivory plastic bridge between the fretboard and headstock.  For now, let's assume steel strings which are standard for the five string and accommodate styles of play ranging from bluegrass, to clawhammer, old-timey, folk, country and even classical music. The strings can run from silver coated, to brassy types; they can be silk wound or cryogenically treated. There are as many "best" strings as there are banjo players.  Find a set you like and stick to them.
  2. Remove the old strings one by one, replacing them as you go.  You don't want to have to reset the bridge if you can help it.  You can mark where the bridge sets on the drum with a pencil so you know where it sits if you accidentally bump it. The bridge is not attached to the drum, but is held in place by the pressure of the strings. So, don't take off all the strings at once.
  3. Start at the bottom of the neck with the D string.  Use your peg winder to loosen the old string. As you remove it, notice how it is attached to the tailpiece of your banjo. The tail piece wraps around the lower end of your banjos head and anchors the strings. The strings have a loop in them that hooks around a hook in the tailpiece.
  4. Use a pencil to widen the loop in the string at one end and loop it over the empty hook in the tailpiece. Run the free end of the string through the hole or guide on the tailpiece, lay it across the bridge and nut and stick the end through the hole on the tuning peg that's empty.  Use your pegwinder to crank the string onto the tuning peg. 
  5. Tighten the string up and tun it to "D" on your electronic tuner or piano.  By tuning each string as you place it, you keep the pressure on the bridge more even and the bridge is less likely to slip or move around. 
  6. Loosen the second string (the B string) and remove it.  Repeat the steps above with the G and D strings, tuning each as you go.
  7. Loosen the short Fifth string to remove it.  You may have to loosen the tightening screw in the end of the peg if it's not geared in order to turn it easily.  Attach the fifth string to the tailpiece and the tuning peg and tighten it till it's taut, then tighten the screw in the peg and tune up the string. 
  8. Clip any long ends off the strings.  The ends of a banjo string can puncture you like a needle, so keeping them short may save you some sore fingers.  Retune the banjo one more time.  You'll have to do that a few times till the strings become properly stretched.
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