John, from a U.S. Army address:
I am looking for some guide as to when I should restring my banjo. I have heard so many things which probably have some merit such as when the string breaks, when it sounds flat, when it feels rough. Quite frankly, the only thing I have noticed is that some of the strings begin to sound tinny after a while.
There is so much variation between banjo players on so many factors, that I often stay away from rules of thumb that get too specific (such as: every ___, or every ___ hours of playing time). Like many things, it’s up to personal taste. But I do think many people leave them on too long, where they sound duller, are more prone to breakage, and become harder to tune, due to the overtones becoming out of tune, due to wear of the strings.
Probably the best guide is to listen carefully to the difference between old strings and the new ones once you put them on. I personally like the sound of fresh strings. The brightness of the wound 4th is usually the first thing to go, and then the general banjo gets slowly less bright (which some people like). When it becomes hard to tune, then it’s time to change. The sign of this is when your electronic tuner says it’s right, but it still doesn’t sound right, and the chords sound out of tune. That’s the overtones being out of tune.
I practice one-and-a-half to two hours a day, jam every Monday night for 4 hours, and jam every third Saturday for 5 hours. Actually the jams are more of a band that plays country, country rock and bluegrass for Senior Citizen Centers. I started with a new set of strings in January and have restrung once to date. I know this is stretching the time frame.
You’ve got that right. For anyone playing that regularly, two months is pretty much a maximum. For you, I can only recommend that you use your judgment as to how soon to change strings, comparing what you have with the “fresh string” sound.
Keep picking! Sounds like you’re having fun with it.