Choosing Strings Leaving You Strung Out?
Here you'll find information on the differences in materials, winding processes, gauges, and other things that make a particular string sound and play the way it does.
Electric Wound Strings
Common types of metal used in winding electric guitar strings. Keep in mind that this only pertains to the wound strings, not the plain ones.
: Most strings of the 50's were wound with an alloy called Pure Nickel. It wasn't really "pure" but that's what we call it. Pure Nickel strings have a soft feel and produce that warm, vintage tone.
Examples are the Fender 3150 Original Bullets and the DR Pure Blues strings. D'Addario labels their EXL series "Nickel Wound" but they are actually Nickel Plated Steel. Pure Nickel sets will be labeled as "Pure Nickel".
Nickel Plated Steel
: Nickel plated steel is the alloy most widely used in string making today. Commonly known as NPS, it is a steel winding with a nickel plating applied. The nickel plating enhances the feel and reduces finger noise and fret wear. They are hotter and provide greater sustain and a brighter sound than pure nickel.
Practically every string manufacuturer makes an NPS string for electric guitar. Examples are the D'Addario EXL's, Fender 3250 Super Bullets, GHS Boomers, and, of course, the popular Ernie Ball Slinkys, which we also carry in single strings.
NPS is also used widely in bass string manufacturing.
: Stainless steel strings are hotter, brighter, and provide more sustain than either pure nickel or NPS. They are more resistant to oils, acids, and sweat and are, hands down, the longest lasting strings. Stainless is a harder material so it feels a little different and can cause more fret wear. Most flat-wound sets and pedal steel guitar sets are made of stainless. Examples are the Fender 3350 Stainless Bullets.
: Chrome is much flatter sounding than nickel, NPS, or stainless and is commonly used for... guess what? That's right, flat-wound strings. We have one chrome set in our catalog --- the D'Addario ECG24 Chromes.
Acoustic Wound Strings
Acoustic strings must exibit good resonant qualities to make your guitar sing. Here are the materials used in winding strings made for acoustics. While you're reading, keep in mind that the information here pertains only to the wound strings, not the plain strings
: Bronze is actually a mixture of copper and tin. An 80/20 bronze string is made of an alloy comprised of 80% copper and 20% tin. This alloy is the popular favorite and is also cometimes called brass.
Bronze strings produce a very brilliant, crisp sound when new but begin to lose their new sound after only a few hours of playing. Performers who change strings a lot typically love them.
Every string manufacturer makes 80/20's. Our most popular sets are the regular Martins, which actually use zinc instead of tin, and the Ernie Ball Earthwoods.
A similar version of the 80/20 bronze is the 85/15 (85% copper, 15% zinc or tin). These strings are a little less bright than 80/20's. Dean Markley Bronze strings are 85/15's.
: Phosphor bronze (P/B) is second in popularity to the 80/20 bronze strings for acoustic guitar. They produce a bright, but slightly warmer and darker sound than bronze stirngs. The small amount of phosphorous in the alloy helps them retain their new sound longer than bronze.
The P/B string was introduced to stringmaking by D'Addario in 1974. D'Addario's are our most popular P/B sets. Most American made acoustic guitars are factory strung with Phosphor Bronze strings.
Silk & Whatever
: Silk and steels or silk and bronze strings use a layer of silk between the steel core and the metal winding. This softens the sound of the string and makes it feel softer as well, while reducing finger noise. They are good for vocal accompaniment and can make a guitar that is hard to fret easier to live with.
: While silverplating is used in maufacturing many classical string sets, it is uncommon in streel string acoustic string making.
Silverplated steel strings are softer to the touch and not as loud as the other acoustic winding methods. On the surface, they look more like an electric string because of the silver color.
We have not found an explanation of how these strings are made. In fact, we have only found one manufacturer using this term. They are the old Black Diamonds, the drug store strings of the 40's, 50's, and 60's. If there wasn't a real music store in your town, Black Diamonds were about all you could get.
Until just a few years ago, Martin made a set called the Martin Country strings that were silverplated steels. They were discontinued in the mid 90's.
: Monel was developed by Gibson back in the late 1920's as the first alloy for metal wound guitar strings. It provides a fast decay and warm, mellow attack and produces a darker tone.
Monel is used on the Gibson's Chet Atkins Signature Series set, designed by Chet and Gibson for the Gibson SST acoustic/electric solid body guitar.
Every wound string consists of a winding around a center core wire. The core wire can make a big difference in the way a particular string sounds and feels.
: The hex core wire is typically a high carbon steel alloy that is six sided in cross section. The six individual points firmly grip every turn of the winding wire. This insures a longer lasting string by keeping the core from slipping in the winding and causing a "dead" string.
Today, unless the string package states differently, you can assume that it's a hex core.
: Though prevalent in the past, round core strings are a bit more difficult to find today. Not all manufacturers produce a round core set. DR Strings are more actively involved in promoting round core design than any of the other manufacturers.
A round core string provides more physical contact between the core wire and the winding. This enhances the sound of of the string through greater sustain.
Some players insist round cores break more often. This is probably due to the fact that round wound strings are more flexible. This means a softer feel and easier bends. Any string that bends easier is a prime target for "string breakers".
Core to Wrap Wire Ratio
The difference in the size of the core wire diameter as compared to the wound wire diamenter can have a big impact on the sound of a string.
Suppose you had two identically made stringes except for a difference in the size of the core versus the size of the winding. The larger core and smaller winding will have greater volume, sustain, and tone life. The smaller core will be easier to play.
Most manufacturers use standardized ratios. Adamas uses a procedure called composite gauging on their 5th and 6th (A and E) strings. With this procedure, the core and winding are made of the same diameter wire. This means that neither the core or winding is dominant in its vibration and is supposed to produce greater volume with a shaper, more precise tone.
What? You mean they're not all the same?
Nope. All wound strings do have a small core wire that the winding goes around. But the shape of the winding itself has an effect on the sound and the feel of the string. Click on the links below to find out more.
: Of course, as the name implies, the winding itself is a round wire. Round wound is the most common shape, producing the brightest and clearest sound on acoustic, electric, or bass. Most non-professional guitar players don't even know that any other kind exists.
: Flat wounds are made with a flat ribbon winding which produces a completely smooth outer wrap. This provides for effortless sliding and practically eliminates finger noise. They produce a flat, dark sound.
Tension-wise, flat wound strings are stiffer and, thus, more difficult to bend. If your guitar has high action already, stay away from flat wounds.
We are only aware of one flat wound acoustic set and it is not all flat wound, having a round wound 6th string. The D'Addario Flat Tops are half rounds.
A good example of flat wound electric strings is the Fender 50 series, known as Stainless Flats. Another is the D'Addario Chromes ECG24 Flat Wound set.
Many southern bass players are familiar with flat wound bass strings. They produce a kind of dull thud but the quietness of sliding around your bass neck is great.
: Half round strings begin as round wounds and then follow one of two paths. The round winding is either crushed with rollers to a semi-flat surface (also known as roller wound) or it can be precision ground and polished. Either way, the flatter, smoother surface of the half round produces less finger noise. The trade off is a loss of brightness. Examples are the GHS Nickel Rockers in electric and the D'Addario Flat Tops in acoustic.
Plain Strings (the unwound ones)
Every guitar player knows that the smallest strings on a guitar are smooth, without windings. These strings are called plain strings.
Plain strings for electrics are the same as plain strings for acoustics. When you are restringing your guitar, either one will stab you in the end of your left hand's index finger without a second thought. The only difference in the E and B strings of an acoustic and electric set is the size, or gauge, of the string. Most electric sets use a plain string for the G string where acoustic sets require a wound string.
Since the same material is used for both acoustic and electric, it must do double duty. The plain acoustic string must have strong resonant qualities. The plain electric string must have strong magnetic properties. Virtually all plain strings are made from an alloy called Swedish steel which excels in both qualities needed.
Here are some other processes used in string manufacturing. Some are widely spread, some aren't. At any rate, each one of these processes claims to be beneficial to the guitar string in some way. We'll tell you what each one means and what the claims are, but it's up to you to decide if they're true.
Cryogenic freezing has been found to increase the life of steel tools by two to five times. In 1985, the Cryogenic process was applied to a set of piano strings. Almost 3 years later, the piano remained accurately tuned.
What is cryogenic freezing? Well, in this process, the guitar string is treated to temperatures below -300 degrees Fahrenheit. (That's -2,100 for a dog, but they usually prefer cat gut strings.)
The subzero temperatures produce changes in the molecular alignment of the metals of the strings. This is thought to extend string life and enhance the tonal brilliance.
Although many manufacturers produce a Cryogenically Frozen set, the most well known are the Dean Markley Blue Steels.
: GHS uses this process in which the winding stops short of the ball end of the string, before it passes over the bridge saddle. The core wire is thus allowed to contact the bridge saddle directly.
This produces an extremely bright wound string while the plain strings are,of course, unaffected
:PolyWeb is the name Elixir strings use for their special coating. This high-tech procedure involves coating the strings with a light, durable polymer web. The intent is to reduce string contamination from sweat, acids, oils, and other grime. Of course, the result of cleaner strings is a longer life.
The PolyWeb coating gives the strings a slick, almost wet feel. This process drives the cost of a set up a great deal.
: Most strings have a ball end, where the end of the string is wrapped around a hollow metal ball and then wound around itself. This creates a stop on the end of the string to hold it in place in the bridge.
Fender is the only maufacturer of the bullet end. The bullet is a small, tubular piece of metal that looks like a . . . uh . . . well, okay, it looks like a bullet! It is soldered directly to the end of the string. It was devised for the Stratocaster and allows the string to seat itself more firmly in the tremelo block.
Well, that should just about cover it.
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