Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Advise on Trying New Strings

Hey flatpickers!

I am seeking advise on what type of strings to try on my Martin D-1.

I understand this is mostly personal preference; what you like and what your guitar likes, but I need advise on where to start. I want a really bluegrassy sound to the strings. Has BanjoBen put any articles or videos out talking about string choice? I generally like mediums, but open to your advise.

To start, what material strings should I try, or what material is typically used for bluegrass? 80/20 Bronze? From there, what brands are good and what models?

Thanks in advance! and thank you Ben for all your help in my bluegrass guitar adventure… G Lick!

Welcome to the forum Alex!
As long as you get strings for the right instrument and they aren’t so strong they fold the instrument in half, you can’t really make a “wrong” choice. It’s a personal opinion as to what tone and feel you want on your guitar (and maybe appearance if you are into the neon string thing). It probably came with Martin SPs to start with. Set MSP4200 are medium phosphor bronze (PB). Probably the most popular string I know of are similar: they are Medium PB by D’Addario (set EJ17 or EJ16 for lights). They are inexpensive and good sounding strings. My most frequently used strings on dreads are Martin Lifespan treated PB SPs (set MSP7200). They maintain their sound for much longer than untreated and uncoated strings. I don’t know what he likes now, but for a long time Ben really liked Elixir coated strings. I suspect they were the nanoweb PBs. You mentioned 80/20s. I like 80/20 strings as well. They aren’t quite as zippy as PBs. I was running Martin Lifespan 80/20s on a dreadnought for a while and will probably give them a try again at the next change.

It’s a never ending quest to find the strings for a particular guitar. Have fun and don’t worry too much about what others think. Pick something you enjoy (pun not intended, but I left it once I typed it) and don’t be afraid to try something different.

I can’t tell you what you will like in a guitar string, you really have to try a few different sets to figure it out for yourself.

However, in very general terms, 80/20 bronze strings tend to sound slightly brighter and I believe have a stronger bass ring. In contrast, Phosphor Bronze strings have a slightly warmer tone with a little less brightness (some folks hear this a harshness) and a more even tone from string to string. To my old ears, I hear phosphor bronze as more “midrangy”, while 80/20 bronze has more ring on top and bottom.

A D1 Martin is generally going to have plenty of fullness in the bass (compared to other body styles of acoustic). If this guitar is new to you, please have it properly set up at a good local luthier for feel, and intonation. Even Martins need to be set up properly for the player after they have left the factory. The first thing I did to my new Martin M-38 was bring it home and do a complete fret level/dress and intonation check to make it play as nice as possible. And it does!

I tend to use the same strings on all my acoustics from the dreads to the 000s. I like Elixir Nanoweb 80/20 bronze light-medium gauge strings. For many years I used Martin SP light or light-medium strings (they have a very bell like tone). The Elixirs I use sound very similar (to my old ears) but last much longer and have a slick, soft feel to them that I like when playing for extended periods of time. In addition, they last quite long. However, they are at least twice as expensive as uncoated strings.

The suggestion I would make is much like Mike’s above. Purchase a few inexpensive sets of strings (D’Addario is a good brand) of their 80/20 and phosphor bronze strings and find out what you like.

One last thing. Phosphor bronze strings often are a little lower tension than 80/20 bronze of the same gauge. Many folks like the feel of phosphor bronze for this reason.

Have fun!

Thanks for sharing an informative reply and personal experiences with guitar strings, Michael. I’m coming up on a year-and-a-half on the guitar and still experimenting with just about every aspect of playing. I’ve been surprised by the difference in playability and sound between string types and brands; changing picks makes a big difference too! I went to high school in Downingtown (many years ago). I suppose for you, it’s a good thing I’m out here in Colorado, otherwise I’d become a pest. Very much enjoyed your Facebook page for Southwoods Bluegrass!

Thanks Jug. I work/live at Westtown school these days (just spitting distance from Downingtown). Choice of strings and picks make a huge difference in the tone of your guitar. I’m toying with the idea of putting a set of Martin Monel strings (nickel alloy based) on my acoustic. I am told that they last a long time, feel nice under the fingers and sound broken in as soon as they are put on. Tony Rice and Kenny Smith swear by them.

Southwoods has undergone some changes recently with addition of my son playing mandolin. I need to update our Facebook site with some more recent video/audio cuts. It’s a blast playing with my son. We played through Whiskey Before Breakfast the other night and he picked a tempo that he tore through like a machine and I struggled to keep up. Will the circle be unbroken? Hmmmm…

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I’m toying with the idea of putting a set of Martin Monel strings (nickel alloy based) on my acoustic. I am told that they last a long time, feel nice under the fingers and sound broken in as soon as they are put on. Tony Rice and Kenny Smith swear by them.

— End quote

After having the Monels on my Collings since August of last year, I decided to go back to my normal EJ-17’s since I still have 8 packs out of a 10 pack left. I really didn’t need to change them, as the Monels still sounded quite good. I thought maybe I had grown to the sound of them after that period of time and that they were deader than what my ears were telling me. I was wrong. After putting my usual EJ-17’s on I am quite disappointed. I will be ordering more of the Monel’s. I would agree that they last a long time (very long for un-coated strings) and that they sound broken in, but as for the feel, I think they are somewhat course and squeak alot on any little slide, especially when first installed. But any round wound string can be this way, so basically, they feel about like any other string, just a touch courser possibly.

I wasn’t aware that Kenny Smith was a fan of these. That’s great to hear, he has incredible tone to me and is one of my favorites.

I’d say give them a try. You may or may not like them. I was reluctant to try a set, because most people I talked to gave them bad reviews. We will never know for sure until they are actually on our own instruments and we hear first hand.

Anyone interested in buying some D’adario EJ-17’s?

Hi Alex, if you’re looking for advice on where to start I think D’Addario EJ17’s would be a good place. Sort of give you a “base” to go by until you find what’s right for you. Many pickers I know and don’t know have used these at one time or another and many still do. I used them on all my guitars for years. I’d try different brands but always come back to them. That is until I got on the wagon with Mike and a few others a while back and started using Martin Lifespan 7200’s. I still use the EJ17’s on a couple of guitars though and still like trying new brands every so often. Just listen to these other guys on the forum and try what they use and sooner or later you’ll find your “go to” strings.

By the way J.W. I was actually going to order a 3 pack of EJ-17’s from Elderly this week. If you were serious about unloading a few sets of yours give me a holler.

I was kinda serious, but I’d be glad to send you three sets. I’ll send you a PM and make you a fair, Banjo Ben forum friends deal. :laughing:

Have you tried the Monels?

And a fair Banjo Ben deal it was! Appreciate it J.W. I haven’t tried the Monels yet but they’re next on the list for a test run. Really liking the Lifespans at the moment.

Just realized this thread was started a while back and we haven’t heard from Alex in 9 months. So much for my advice. Man, I gotta start paying attention to the dates on these threads! :laughing:

You gave some good advice :smiley:

Finally got around to buying a set of TR Monels yesterday along with a set of bridge pins for a new D-18 I bought a couple of weeks ago. The D-18 came factory with Lifespan 7200’s so I’ll be able to get a good comparison with strings I normally use. Will change the pins and strings in a few days and let you guys know how it turns out. I know J.W. will be happy I’m finally trying the Monels. :smiley:

Congrats on the new D-18.

What exactly is it? Brand new, new to you or a real pre-war? :wink: How do you like it?

I’ve been wanting a mahogany guitar for a long time. I had a job a couple weeks ago north of Ft. Wayne in Waterloo, In. So on my way back home I stopped at Sweetwater. My only goal was to compare A D-18 Golden Era with a D-18 Authentic. So he brought me one of each straight out of the box and I played them both for a good 45 minutes. They were both great, incredible sounding guitars, but as usual, the necks just weren’t right for me. The G.E. had a full 1 3/4" nut width with, I believe 2 5/16" string spacing at the saddle while the Authentic had standard 1 11/16" nut and not sure about the spacing. It was a dramatic difference. I like the in between of my Collings and Gibson and just couldn’t get comfortable with either one. I’m sure with time I could get used to either one but I like the necks on my current guitars so much, that I just don’t really want to try to get used to something else. Too old and stubborn I guess. I wish now I would have also tried a standard D-18 to compare along with them. I haven’t tried one since they changed the specs. I hear they’re great and similar to a G.E.

I don’t currently have TR Monels on anything. I will be ordering some very soon. Thanks for the reminder and again, congratulations.

JW I suspect you’d love the neck on the new D18. It’s comfy. I am weird, but I have gotten pretty indifferent to neck shape as long as I have enough spacing. I play different shapes often, and don’t hardly even notice it.

Sonically how much difference did you think there was between the GE and the A?

JW, this custom batch with ADI tops looks like it might be a potentially good fit for you: … =31&page=1

What might be even better is to do a custom on the D18GE and put the low oval neck on that… that way you get the more scalloped braces of the GE.

Sorry for the interruption… back to strings. Speaking of which, anyone try the new lifespans? Martin is now doing their own treating instead using ClearTone. I haven’t tried them yet.

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JW I suspect you’d love the neck on the new D18. It’s comfy. I am weird, but I have gotten pretty indifferent to neck shape as long as I have enough spacing.

— End quote

No, I’m the weird one. I’ve never played a Martin yet with a neck I like. Don’t get me wrong, I love Martin guitars, I just haven’t found one with the right neck. I’m so used to my Gibson’s thick chunky V- neck, that the low ovals feel very strange. Mine is thick, but it’s just a shade over 1 11/16" and not quite 1 23/32". But the string spacing is the key. It’s spaced wider at the nut where the strings are close to the edge of the fretboard. Most people that play it, pull the high E over the edge when they play up the neck. The Collings is 1 23/32" and shaped very similar to the Gibson, also with wider string spacing at the nut. So, this means most likely a custom order which is not good, because I prefer to buy used. Oh well, no hurry.

Thanks for the link to Jon in Florida. I looked at the specs and it shows 1 3/4" nut, but with 2 1/8" saddle spacing. This seems odd. Wouldn’t it be 2 1/4" or 2 5/16". It may be a typo.

— Begin quote from "mreisz"

Sonically how much difference did you think there was between the GE and the A?

— End quote

Believe it or not, the Authentic had a much bigger sound. They both sounded great but the A had bigger bass, bigger overall sound. I was very suprised. Every G.E. I’ve ever played has the sound I just described. Maybe this was a dud. I liked the feel of the G.E. better though, much better. It had a satin neck, while the A was all gloss and it was too thin. It was also about 2000.00 more.

— Begin quote from "mreisz"

anyone try the new lifespans? Martin is now doing their own treating instead using ClearTone. I haven’t tried them yet.

— End quote

Oh yeah, this was supposed to be about strings. I didn’t know Martin was doing that. Does Martin actually make their own strings, or does someone else make them and put Martin’s name on them.

From what I understand they make them all. I think they have a big shop in Mexico.

Finally got around to trying the Monels on the D-18. Took them off after a week and went back to Lifespans. I can completely understand why some players like them. You definitely hear more guitar and less string if that makes any sense. I missed the bright sound of my PB’s though. Not that one’s better than the other, it’s just a matter of what kind of tone you want to pull out of your guitar. I may try them again on another guitar sometime.

J.W. sorry I didn’t answer your post a while back. Been out of pocket for a few months. I bought the D-18 brand new. It’s a 2014 model with the Ambertone finish and it is a very good guitar. Very different than the pre 2012’s. Not as powerful as a GE but not too far behind. The neck has less meat to it than a GE which is the only reason I prefer it. I’m a weenie and can’t deal with chunky necks.

Congrats on the ambertone D18! I bet that guitar is a keeper. I really think the “new” D18 has raised the bar for the standard series.