Because it is a less-common variant of the instrument, finding the right strings can be a challenge. While some brands do have string sets specifically designed for the 6-string banjo, many players find it gives them more versatility and options to buy individual strings in the gauges they require. It’s also a very personal choice, depending on your playing style and what kind of ensemble you’re a part of, and there is no one right combination of materials and strengths that’s the best for every player.
Whether you decide on a pre-made set or buying strings one by one will largely depend on whether the sets available give you the materials and strengths you’re looking for and how much control you want over your tone. Whichever way you go, the ones listed below are among the best strings for 6-string banjos on the market. All are excellent choices to get the best possible sound out of your instrument.
GHS is a true string specialist, paying intense attention to details like the selection of their materials, winding direction, and core to cover ratio, and continuing to conduct research and make innovations that put their strings at the top of the list for many players. If you’re looking for a full set for a 6-string banjo, you can’t go wrong with these strings from GHS.
They use plain steel for the D, A, and top E, with roundwound stainless steel for the three bottom strings. All the strings are extra long and have loop ends with a special shape designed to fit on different shapes and styles of tailpieces. The tone, meanwhile, is bright and clear, and these strings are durable, as well, perfect for the gigging musician in a variety of genres.
Another good option for a full 6-string set is the BG110 from LaBella. Like the GHS strings above, they use loop ends that make them easy to attach to a variety of different tuning pegs; also like the GHS strings they use plain steel for the smallest two gauges. Where the LaBella strings differ is in the four lower strings, which are of stainless steel wound silk that gives your overall tone a rounder, warmer character that’s great for folk and world music.
The gauges on these strings are also generally larger than the GHS versions above, going from .010 for the top string to .051 for the bottom, resulting in a darker, fuller overall sound and a stronger string that will last longer—and stay in tune better—once you put it on your instrument. These are among the best strings for 6-string banjos in my book.
Gold Tone Banjitar Strings
Gold Tone is a rising company that’s been around since the early 1990s and has gained a lot of attention recently for the superb craftsmanship and tone of their instruments. They also make a line of specialty strings for less-common instrument configurations, like these custom-gauge guitar-style strings. They’re designed specifically for Gold Tone Banjitars but the loop-end design means they’ll also fit most other 6-string banjos with ease.
The heavier gauge gives you a lot of power, perfect for bluegrass players or folk-rock players who want the banjo sound but need more power to cut through the ensemble. They also give you a very even tone across the whole range, not too bright in the top end and without feeling boomy or muddled in the bass.
Martin Vega Nickel Wound V700
Another great option for the player who’s buying strings individually is this nickel-wound string from Martin & Co. The nickel/steel alloy utilized in these strings is designed to enhance the resonance of your instrument, with a strong accent on the attack and an incredible brilliance and clarity to the tone. The wrapped strings give you a smooth and consistent sound that makes them versatile to all playing styles.
This particular string comes in a range of gauges from .09 to .20, meaning you’ll be sure to find the right size for the three highest strings on your instrument, though you’ll likely want to pair it with a heavier-gauge option for the bass strings. If you’re on a budget, these are likely the best strings for 6-string banjos around.
What’s the Difference?
When you’re choosing a new string for your banjo, the first thing you’ll want to decide is what gauges you want to use. There are differing opinions in the banjo world about what size gauge is the right one for the instrument. Some players prefer the responsiveness of a lighter string while others like the power a heavier string provides, especially in the mid-range. If you’re usually a guitarist using a 6-string banjo as a crossover, using the same basic gauge on both instruments will make it more comfortable to switch between them.
You also want to think about what material is used to make the strings, a quality which arguably has an equal impact on the feel and sound as the string’s gauge does. On a 6-string banjo, the bottom two or three strings are typically wound, which means they have a core wrapped either in the same or a contrasting material.
Wound strings are more durable and more resonant, while the unwound strings are brighter. Most strings are made of stainless steel, which is popular because they project well, have a balanced response, and give players a nice, smooth feel. A nickel string will give you a brighter tone with a sharper edge to the attack, which you may find helpful if you’re using your banjo in a rock ensemble, especially when you use it on the higher strings.
To tell which are the best strings for 6-string banjos is to play a few different kinds. Luckily, banjo strings are pretty inexpensive (and when coupled with, say, Amazon’s no-questions-asked return policy, even safer to buy). Trying out a few different kinds could help you hone in on your ideal tone, and also gives you a sense of what other options exist on the market. If you’re not quite sure what sound you’re going for, buy a couple of the options on the list above; that should at the very least help to steer you in the right direction.