Jim in Texas writes:
I’ve been looking for a good discussion on the relative merits of string gauge choice on the web, and am surprised to find very little of it. When I started playing, someone tried to convince me that “serious” banjo players didn’t play lights. That mediums were for real banjo players. I started playing lights when I had inferior banjos as I found that they produced a brighter tone from a non-responsive tone ring. I started playing GHS JD Crowe lights and have used them ever since. I’ve always gone on the assumption that heavier strings were a) louder, and b) harder to play, in that you had to impart more energy into the string in order to get an equal response to a lighter string. I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this. To me, it’s about feel, but it’s also about what we all have as our own preference as to what the banjo should sound like. I remember you playing my light gauge, low string height, arch top Doug Dillard style banjo, which you could make fret buzz almost immediately. I, on the other hand, playing tight to the bridge a la Dillard, could hardly make sound come out of your Granada, so I know technique also plays a huge role here.
Anyway, if you’d choose to do a discussion of string gauge and your experiences, thoughts, etc. on this topic on your site, I would sure appreciate it!
I can talk about that, and my experiences, but on one hand I have “what works for me,” and what I’m more apt to want to talk about is “advice”, which turns out to be nothing more than “do what works for you”.
I think you’ve got it pretty well pegged. It’s just a personal preference, with no certain prescription for what is good and likeable for everyone. Mediums do tend to give stouter tone, and less of the highest high end. Lights have a certain delicacy and lightness which I sometimes find very appealing. But finger pressure and distance from the bridge are part of the equation and they can have a dominant effect, allowing the player to play in a lot of different “voices”.