If you want your banjo to treat you well, you’ve got to keep it well maintained, and part of that is making sure you aren’t playing on worn-out strings. How often you need to change strings depends upon quite a few different factors. Some people get by with playing on their strings for years while others who play on a regular basis may need to change them more often.
There is no set time that banjo strings last but there are some common timeframes that you can depend on as a banjo player.
So, how long do banjo string last? Banjo strings can last 3-5 years, but some musicians prefer to change them as often as once a month or once every couple of weeks. How often you need to change your banjo strings depends on how often you play, the quality of the strings, your climate, and what kind of sound like you the strings to produce.
Strings don’t last forever and they become more and more corroded over time and less responsive. In this article, we’ll break down the factors that impact the life of your banjo strings as well as how to tell if your strings need replacing.
How Often Do You Need to Change Banjo Strings?
Banjo strings can last years for some players, but that is certainly not true for everyone. Opinions vary widely on this. Some professional players change their strings before each gig, and others play on the same strings until they lose so much tension that they can’t stay in tune.
There are several factors that go into how often you need to replace your strings. Let’s take a look at them.
How Often You Play Banjo
If the banjo is your primary instrument and you only have one, it probably gets a lot of use. The more you play, the faster your strings will wear out, and the more often you’ll need to change your banjo strings.
If you practice every day for an hour, then you can expect to change your strings yearly at the very least, and maybe more often than that. If you only pick up your banjo once in a while, as long as you maintain it and store it correctly, the strings will last for years.
The strings may become corroded over time but will still produce good sound for those who play at home.
If you practice regularly and play live gigs, you will want to change your strings more often. Depending on how you want your banjo to sound at live gigs, you may find that you need to change your strings each time you play these gigs.
The Quality of the String
If you buy cheap strings, you aren’t doing yourself or your wallet any favors because cheap strings are notorious for wearing out quickly.
Here are some reputable brands that will provide good sound while giving a long lifespan:
- Ernie Ball
- Martin & Co.
Some brands make low-end and high-end strings, so if you want your strings to last longer, stick with the high-end versions even if it is a reputable brand.
Different strings will produce slightly different tones, so it is worth experimenting with different brands to find the tone you like. Then stock up in case they get discontinued!
You’ll hear from longtime banjo players that they can’t remember the last time that had to change the strings on their instrument. They love the mellow sound produced by broken in strings, and they don’t like breaking in a new set.
But others prefer the bright, crisp tones produced by new strings and make a habit of changing their strings regularly.
So, if you like that mellowed out tone, then you might not have to change your strings as often.
Believe it or not, your climate matters quite a bit when it comes to how often your banjo strings wear out.
Banjo players in hot, humid climates may have to change their strings more often. The build-up of dirt and grease happens more readily in these climates. Think about it. Even if your hands are clean, they are going to sweat. Your skin produces oils and dirt will eventually find its way onto the strings as you play. Over time, these oils, dirt, and sweat build up and cause corrosion that can ruin the sound of your strings.
I usually know it’s time to change my strings on my instruments when they begin to look corroded and sound a bit off. You can also feel the corrosion on the string smell the corroded metal on your fingers after you’ve played. Once you start to experience this, it’s probably a good idea to change the strings.
How to Know When to Change Your Banjo Strings
Given all of these factors that go into string wear and tear, you can’t really predict how often it will be necessary to change your strings, and there’s no reason to waste a good set of strings by changing too often.
So, how do you know when to change your banjo strings? There are clear signs when it is time to change your strings:
- The string breaks: The clearest sign that you need to change your string is if it breaks.
- The strings feel bumpy or gritty when you run your finger down them: These bumps are dirt. If cleaning doesn’t work, it’s time to change the strings.
- The tone just isn’t right: If you like the tone of your strings, but suddenly it doesn’t sound right no matter how much your fiddle with the strings, then the strings are probably worn out.
- You can’t get it your banjo to stay in tune: From time to time, you do need to tune your banjo, but if it becomes a frequent and frustrating problem, then it could be that the strings are worn out. It could also mean something else like a bad tuning peg, warped neck, or something more serious.
- Strings are dull and black: Sometimes, cleaning the strings will be enough to get them back in shape, but eventually, they just won’t clean up as they should. It’s usually a sign that it is time to replace (although some people swear by black strings, so this is somewhat debatable).
- The 4th string goes first: If you notice that your 4th string (also called the wound string) is going out of tune or sounding off, then you better get a set of strings on order. The wound string will wear out faster than the others because of its design.
- You bought a used banjo: If you just bought or received a used banjo, it is probably a good idea to change the strings if they show any of the above signs, whether you like the sound or not. Remember, all that black gunk is grease and dead skin cells.
Now, the people who like the sound of a good worn-in string might not change their string at the first sign of blackening or grittiness because of the tone produced. You can go for some time playing dirty strings. But if a string breaks or you can’t keep them in tune, it is definitely time to change them.
Is it Hard to Change Banjo Strings?
Thankfully it isn’t hard to change the strings on your banjo, but it does have a learning curve. Once you’ve done it a couple of times, it will be second nature.
- Banjo strings
- Wire cutters
- A string winder
- A chromatic tuner
- A pencil
It is best if you can do this under the watchful eye of someone who knows how to do it themselves the first time, but if you don’t have a banjo playing buddy, you could try a youtube video like the one below by Deering Banjo Company.
How Often Do You Really Need to Change Your Banjo Strings?
The real answer to this question is that you need to change your banjo strings as often as necessary to get the sound you want. If you like the sound of your strings, then there is no reason to change them. The people that will tell you to change your strings every couple weeks if you play a lot aren’t lying, but they’re also probably trying to sell you strings, so be mindful of that.
My rule of thumb? When you start to notice a deterioration of the sound you like, then it’s time to change them. After a while, you’ll get used to how often that is and what the warning signs are.