Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The search for the right guitar strings . . .

As my good friend Sean Simon says, "You don't know anything about woods for guitars."

Sean is the owner of Grapevine Guitar Works.  And he is right, I really don't know that much as I should about the different woods that guitars can be made with, and how they affect the sound.

However, I do know about guitar strings.

For the record . . . I do not like the feel of coated strings.

I like the idea of the so-called benefit . . . better sound and longer life . . . but I do not like the feel.

I have used Elixir's . . . I had a set on my Taylor Custom.  I've tried them on my Guild jumbo 6 string.

They are OK, but it feels like I have to go wash my hands after I play.

Now, others of you will sing praises of Elixir's . . . that's OK with me.  If Elixir's was all I could get, I would play them, and probably in time like them more than I do.  I don't hate them.  They are a good string.  I just don't like them.

I thought Cleartone strings might be the answer . . . sad to report they are just too stiff.  Yes, the coating is much thinner than Elixir's; yet, it seems to me that it takes more effort to fret the strings.  I am finding that others agree.

OK . . . I want the benefits of coated strings . . . but not the feel of a coated string.

Funny, how things bring you back home.

For years I have used Martin SP phosphor-bronze strings.  There is really only one difference in a phosphor-bronze string and a bronze string . . . the bronze string is going to sound brighter.  That's it.

I personally prefer the fuller and deeper sounds of the phosphor-bronze.  As in all things, sound is a personal preference.  On my Guild jumbo's, I think the phosphor-bronze are louder, and since I have to play acoustically (no amp) in most of the places I play . . . that works to my advantage.

I had been meaning to try the new Martin LifeSpan SP strings.  So I did some research.

The coating on most Elixir acoustic strings is between 8-10 micron's.  The coating on Cleartones is less,  and speculation runs that it is between 4-6 microns.

Now, as far as coatings go . . . I think the Cleartone process is better than Elixer, but I also think the Elixir strings themselves are better than Cleartones!

I know, I am a lost cause . . . but bear with me just another minute.

Martin LifeSpan SP's advertise that the coating on each string is only 1 micron.

Now, it's a Martin SP string, made in Mexico, with the Cleartone coating.  It's not a Cleartone string.  It's my beloved Martin SP Phosphor-Bronze string . . . with 1 micron of Cleartone coating.

Now, it seems to me that "only"1 micron of coating may suggest some benefits:

First - the feel will not be as "slicky" as other coated strings.

Second - less coating may mean more volume.  That's what I want to find out.

So, I picked up two sets, one for the Taylor GS custom and one for the Guild jumbo 6 string, which is in the shop for a new pickup and yearly set up.  I use medium gauge.

The verdict . . . well, it's still out.   I like Martin SP's.  I like the sound, I like the feel . . . and I don't mind changing strings . . . it only takes about 10 minutes.   I thought the LifeSpan strings felt like regular SP's.  And they sounded just like I expected.  I need to play them for a few months.

So, we will see.  The Martin LifeSpan strings were about $5 less than Elixir's and $6 less than Cleartone.  That's a savings of about $30 a year for me.   The sound is what I personally want and what my ear likes.  The string feels like my beloved SP's.   Now we will see over time and lots of playing if there are any other positive benefits.

By the way, I've been paying $5 for regular Martin SP's for quite a while.  

I read a quote from Tommy Emmanuel before starting this blog entry.  He calls coated strings "condom strings" and won't use them.  Monte Montgomery uses regular GHS strings.   I believe John Mayer and Eric Clapton also use uncoated strings as well.

Well, I not Tommy Emmanuel, Monte Montgomery, John Mayer or Eric Clapton.  I'm just a an folk "boom-chucker" acoustic guitar player.   But I know what I like as well.  It's all a matter of sound and feel.  Meaning, it's all about personal preference.

And as I've said . . . . , the jury is still out for me.  More to come.

God's grace, and the joy of piddling around with guitars, still amazes me . . . ><>

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Monte uses D'Addario EXP Coated strings on his guitars.

Don from D'Addario