Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Favorite Strings

Howdy all -

Thanks again for the great chop chord advice. I’m still slowly improving my strength and precision, but I can see progress.

One of the things I was looking at the other night was the amount of strength necessary to depress the low G string with the pinky. Not fun…

So that got me thinking of string gauges (yes I know, check the action, but this was setup by TheMandolinStore, and I trust they got it as good as they could), in other words, I’m using J74 Mediums from D’Addario, however I’m considering trying J73s which takes 3lbs/sq inch off the G string in tension… What’s the drawback to trying this? There’s no such thing as a free lunch, so if I go to lower gauge strings, what am I missing out on? And should I just man up and go forward with J74s. I did eventually get enough strength for open chords without issues.

Thanks all!


Hey Matt, I’m sure they will fret a little easier but you’ll probably notice a decrease in volume and “punch”. My advice would be to stick with the J74’s, unless you try the J73’s and actually like the way they sound. Just don’t sacrifice tone and volume for easier action. You’ll eventually gain enough strength in those fingers.

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Bulldog’s advice is absolutely reasonable. If you look at the vast majority of 'grass mando players, they will have mediums. On the flip side, I would suggest that there is nothing to lose in trying the 73’s. I suspect you will be able to enjoy your playing more, and will be able to play longer in a given practice session. You will be building strength with either gauge strings. And the biggest thing… if you don’t like the tone, you can always replace them. I am getting ready to put another set of 73’s on mine.

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I know, check the action, but this was setup by TheMandolinStore, and I trust they got it as good as they could)

— End quote

Did you ask them for the lowest action or standard? If just a standard I have found that to be high. I keep my action pretty low to the point I have to readjust the bridge around now due to the drop in humidity in the winter. I am on ghs strings now with a heavier A string for tone.

Mando I find to be an easier instrument for theory but less forgiving than guitar on the hands especially In the beginning.

Hmm, no I didn’t ask them to… damn.

I do have some feeler gauges, what’s standard for action at the 12th fret? What’s low?

Thanks a lot! I think I’ll be sure to ask for low next time.


You could always try lowering the bridge a little on the G string side. If you start getting some fret buzz you know that you’ve gone too far.

— Begin quote from "mandolin_matt"

I do have some feeler gauges, what’s standard for action at the 12th fret? What’s low?

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Mine is about .050" (roughly 3/64") G string 12th fret, and it’s very comfy in that range.

Well, thanks for all your help guys. Looks like based on my measurements and your feedback I tip the scale at wimpy man :slight_smile: as my measurements match yours. Oh well, here’s to more practice…definitely requires more hand precision and strength than my guitar did. Need to work on a progression to build up to it… oh and I 'll try some J73s :slight_smile:


— Begin quote from "mandolin_matt"

Looks like based on my measurements and your feedback I tip the scale at wimpy man :slight_smile:

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You are not a wimp at all. I play guitar every day, and yet there are times when I still wear my fingers down. The good news about playing all the time is that you recover from overuse pretty quick. Playing the mandolin is something that is physically demanding at first. Stick with it and you will be able to play on j75s with chunky action if you so desire. Just keep working those fingers. You will get stronger, but the big key is you will get better. Better technique will allow sufficient fretting without excessive finger pressure (I am not trying to judge your current technique, but I’d say it’s likely that most all of us have room to improve).

BTW, My mandolin action came a bit lower than where it sits now. I raised it as I spent more time with it, as I have a fairly strong attack and it was a bit noisy. You might well prefer play lighter, and you can certainly try a lower action. Assuming you have an adjustable bridge, it won’t hurt anything to try it. I know people that prefer to have lower action in exchange for fret noise. That’s not my preference, but all that matters for each player is what makes them happy.

I just have to add that this forum and site has the most helpful and accepting group of music people I’ve ever met. :smiley:



I’m still fairly new to the mandolin so I’ve stuck to J74’s myself. Usually D’addarios. I tried Martins once and they sounded tinny so never went back to them.

I have been playing guitar for nearly 40 years though, and have done alot of experimenting with strings. Lighter gauge always meant less volume and a thinner tone. Different instrument, but not that different so I have no doubt that what Bulldog says is true here too.

I use medium gauge phosphor bronze on my main flattop (an old Gibson J-45) and love them. Whenever someone tries out my guitar they don’t seem to like it, but I’ve gotten used to the feel. My best advice is to go for the tone you like, and if it means you’re not quite as comfortable, I bet you would eventually get used to heavier gauges.

Just to throw a big curveball into the conversation… if you really want to get the most tailored combination of tone and feel you can always go with your own custom mix. For example, if I was being really picky, I might want lighter Gs (for feel and balance) and heavier Es (for balance with the As). You can get individual strings to tweak to your heart’s content. As for me, I don’t go that route, but some of the high end players do this (at least until they get a sponsor to provide their custom sets).

Well I tried some Elixir lights with that nanoweb coating this evening. Hmm how do I put this…they are slippery? My pinky splits the uprights on the g string with what would be normal pressure. I end up with my finger sitting on the fret with a string on either side…such a strange feeling. I will try it for a few days but this is really strange. You guys ever tried these things?


I have tried the nanowebs (I have one set installed as we speak) and I do not have that problem of the splitting of the strings. They are slicker than non-coated strings, but that wears off a bit with playing in.

When you are fretting are you on top of the fret? Typically, one would want to be just behind the fret. It makes life much easier.

— Begin quote from "mandolin_matt"

I just have to add that this forum and site has the most helpful and accepting group of music people I’ve ever met

— End quote

I must agree with you Matt. The folks on this site are great and more than willing to help any way they can. It’s amazing what you can learn just from reading other people’s questions or thoughts… It seems like something I’m having issues with makes it’s way to the forum before I had time to ask about it myself. We all go through the same things at some point in learning our instruments.

As far as strings go, I’m not an Elixer fan or any other coated string. I like J 75’s. They have a nice thick tone and my mandolin is not very loud, so it needs all the help it can get. (so does the guy playing it). Once you get used to the heavier strings, I think you’ll like them and won’t have any problems. I know you are getting different suggestions and ideas and that’s what this forum is about. No one is wrong or right, what works best for you is what counts. The main thing is just play. Play for long periods of time as Mike stated and you’ll build up calosses on your fingertips. Try tapping your fingertips on a desktop or the kitchen table like you’re typing. You should be able to hear a significant difference between your fretting hand and your picking hand. I still get sore sometimes though if I play for too long, but it is a quick recovery time. A big plus with lighter gauge strings is that they’re easier on the instrument with less tension pulling on the top.

So these are some more thoughts for you, hope it helps and didn’t make it worse.


And I’ll add that JW’s mando has a killer lead tone. It’s sweet and woody. Good stuff!

I was looking for some info on strings myself, since I have no background on the subject. I have been playing Ben’s tunes for about a year now and am getting a great education. After reading the posts, I have a better understanding of strings. Today was the first time I even knew that manufacturers had such a variety of strings. I would just buy Gibsons one time, D’addario the next. I have been using J75s. No wonder my fingers are getting a beating. Next time I’ll buy 73 and 74 and try out what works best. Also, is there a way to measure string height on the fret board. I noticed there was mention of low and normal, but how is that measured. I have a Washburn M-5S Jethro Burns and it has the adjustable bridge. Right now it is cranked as low as it can go on the E string side and there is about an 8th of an inch left on the G string side. I have been working on Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing and barring the D and G is difficult to get a clear sound. Also, I was curious as to how mandolins vary on neck widths? Mine is about 1 1/16 inch at the nut and 1 1/2 at the 12th fret.

Howdy Super55,
I measure string height at the 12th fret with a ruler that sits flat across the frets (measure to the bottom of the strings). You can also use feelers. I have a specially marked ruler for it, but in my opinion, it’s overkill for a mandolin. When you get as low as a mandolin, I have a hard time reading that accurately. Basically a mandolin should have very low action (compared to a longer scale instrument like a guitar). I just looked at mine and it’s about .050" on the G string (about 3/64"). I could stand to go up a smidge on that on the bass side. As goofy as it sounds, with an adjustable bridge just go as low as you can until it gets a bit buzzy, then go back up enough to clean up the tone. BTW, going to lighter gauge strings will lower the action and heavier gauge will raise the action, so if you are changing string gauges, you might wait until you settle on a gauge you like before you dial the action in real fine.

Assuming there is nothing else wrong with the mando, I would think that the bridge could be shaved to further lower the action. Barring on a mandolin is not the easiest thing in the world, so it doesn’t mean your mando needs adjusting. With that said, if the action can go lower without buzzing, it would help with barres. As far as neck width, there is quite a bit of variety available. Measured at the nut, I have seen them from around an inch to up to 1 1/4" I have one at 1 1/4" and another at 1 3/16", both are considered “wide” nuts.

Thanks for the info. Next time I’m in town I am going to get some lighter strings to experiment with, but first I am going to lower my bridge on the G side. That’s easy. I’ll try it tonight.

Well, after lowering the G string side of the bridge all the way down, it was too low. I raised it back up just a bit and now it seems perfect. The sound is good and it is much easier to bar. Now part of this may be more practice time with the barring, but I am really happy with the set up now. Thanks for all the good information. :smiley: