Wiring Upgrades: Recent Developments in String Formulation

Guitar strings have gotten quite sophisticated, as makers of guitar wires seek to address the needs of players by offering more advanced metal formulations, winding processes, and other means of improving string life, intonation, and tone.
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Guitar strings have gotten quite sophisticated, as makers of guitar wires seek to address the needs of players by offering more advanced metal formulations, winding processes, and other means of improving string life, intonation, and tone.
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Guitar strings have gotten quite sophisticated, as makers of guitar wires seek to address the needs of players by offering more advanced metal formulations, winding processes, and other means of improving string life, intonation, and tone. Here’s an overview of some of the latest electric-string technologies, so that you can determine if any of these new formulations would be a better fit for you, your guitar, and your style of playing.

D’ADDARIO NYXL

Overview: NYXL guitar strings promise to “bend farther, sing louder, and stay in tune better than any string you’ve played before.” They feature a break-resistant, high-carbon steel core and plain-steel alloy to provide more strength and up to 131 percent greater tuning stability via a completely reinvented wire-drawing process coupled with a revolutionary “fusion twist” process for the plain-steel strings. The company also states the NYXL’s reformulated nickel-plated string windings have greater magnetic properties, resulting in higher output and enhanced midrange for more presence and crunch. The wound strings also offer enhanced response in the 1kHz to 3.5kHz range, offering improved articulation for cutting through a loud mix. As a final touch, D’Addario’s environmentally friendly, corrosion-resistant packaging ensures the strings will be fresh when you put them on.

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Field Test: The NYXL’s dropped in late summer 2014, so we’ve had the most time to evaluate wear. I put a set on a Les Paul Junior in early 2016, played it for a few months without changing strings, and then the guitar went back in storage for a while. Luckily, I had recorded some direct tracks with the new strings in February 2016, so I had a record of the sound when the strings were fresh. I took out the Junior last month, and I recorded the “old” strings again. Then, I restrung the guitar with a 2017 set, and recorded those strings. Referencing the recordings, the 2016 NYXLs had lost some midrange articulation compared to the 2017 set, but both tracks sounded alive and punchy. When I plugged the Junior into my Vox AC30—with the 2016 set still on—the tone was definitely bright enough to do a gig without any concern about the strings being too dull. I also have a Gretsch semi-hollow that has been armed with an NYXL set since December 2016, and used constantly for gigs and rehearsals. I haven’t felt a need to change the strings yet (it’s now May 24, 2017) as they continue to sound clear and articulate. I’ve only broken one D string on a NYXL set since 2016, and I’m really hard on strings, so I’m happy with the wear and tear factor. Since their debut, I’ve found the NYXLs always feel nice, retain tuning integrity (once stretched out), and sound very lively and bell-like right out of the package.

Basic Sets and Street Pricing: .009, .010, .011, .012, .013 ($12.99); 7-string ($15.99).

DR STRINGS VERITAS

Overview: DR’s new Veritas Quantum Nickel Guitar Strings are designed to combine more power with longer life. DR says that Quantum Nickel is more magnetic, and therefore more responsive and powerful than ordinary “eight-percent” nickel-plated steel wire. Superior core wire is also recognized as the foundation for tone, accuracy, and durability, and DR’s Accurate Core Technology (ACT) was developed to reinforce the core wire and fill in any imperfections along its entire length, helping to make Veritas strings sound louder and brighter, and last longer. Cool “extra”: Three plain Xenon strings are included in each set for free.

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Peer Commentary: DR started shipping the Veritas line around October 2016. We haven’t had an electric set in to test yet, but some of our former columnists—Stefan Grossman, Happy Traum, and Carl Verheyen—have raved about the tone and longevity of the Veritas line of acoustic strings, which also utilizes ACT. On the electric side, Peer reviews online have been positive, and YouTube videos of players using Veritas strings (non-sponsored) reveal a clear, articulate sound with a nice snap and pop to single-note lines. Hopefully, we’ll be able to schedule a full review soon.

Basic Sets and Street Pricing: .009, .010, .011 ($8.99).

ELIXIR OPTIWEB

Overview: Elixir Strings debuted the process of coating strings for electric and acoustic guitars, bass, mandolin, and banjo acoustic years ago, and the company’s Electric Nickel Plated Steel Strings with Optiweb coating represent their latest advancement. As Elixir states, “Now you can have the best of both worlds—the performance of a natural string, and the extended tone life of a coated one.” Elixir’s electric sets feature anti-rust plating on plain steel strings, while the wound strings are constructed with nickel-plated-steel wrap wire. The key innovation behind the Optiweb coating is a proprietary process that produces a lightweight coating that not only protects the string from the elements for longer tone life, but also allows the string to vibrate with less damping, “allowing for a crisp tone with a firm, natural feel that puts you in control of bends, vibrato, and sustain.”

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Field Test: Elixir’s Optiweb strings debuted at Winter NAMM 2017, and I was sent beta and production sets to evaluate. I’m aware that some guitarists remain tentative about trying completely coated strings, but I didn’t notice any perceptible difference in feel between the Optiwebs and non-coated strings. In fact, I enjoyed playing these strings. From a tonal standpoint, they sounded sparkly, articulate, and resonant on my Collings 290 (Filter’Trons) and a custom LAG Jet (humbuckers). Using my recording documentation again, the Optiweb strings did lose a tad of high-midrange clarity after four months of use—much like the NYXLs—but the tone was nowhere near muffled enough for me to change the strings. During a gig, I broke a high-E string on my California Guitars T-style, but that was the only instance of breakage from the Optiwebs during the test period. Tuning integrity was excellent after the normal stretching routine. I play pretty hard onstage, and yet I was able to go two or three songs without having to check my tuning.

Basic Sets and Street Pricing: .009, .010, .011 ($12.99).

ERNIE BALL PARADIGM

Overview: A key aspect of Paradigm strings is the Reinforced Plain Strings (RPS) process, which firmly locks the string to the ball end without the need for a traditional lock twist, which can over-stress the wire and become a breaking point. The company says this gives Paradigm plain strings up to 35 percent more tensile strength, along with better tuning stability. Both Paradigm plain strings and wound-string core wires are made up of ultra-fine-grain, high-strength steel using EB’s new state-of-the-art wire-drawing process, resulting in up to 70 percent more fatigue strength. An exclusive plasma process removes contaminants and smoothes out defects, as well as ensuring that the wire has a more stable microstructure before it is wrapped, which means the strings will last longer. Finally, the wound strings receive an “Everlast” treatment of a nanometers-thin coating in order to repel moisture and oils that lead to tone-killing buildup, yet without dampening the high frequencies.

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Field Test: Paradigm strings were announced at winter NAMM in January 2017, but Ernie Ball provided me with some beta packs preceding the official launch, as well as production strings this April. Ernie Ball guarantees the strings against breakage or rust within 90 days of purchase, and there have been some hilarious videos online with players trying bust the Paradigms on their claim to be relatively indestructible. I put a Paradigm set on my heaviest Les Paul, loosened the strings a tad, grabbed all six strings, and shook the guitar up and down. Nothing. I slammed my pick down on the strings like a sledgehammer. Nope. I did rapid bends while picking furiously with the edge of a 25-cent coin. No ill effects. In addition, throughout nearly four months of gigs and sessions, I never broke a string, so I think these things are pretty tough (understatement alert). Tonal integrity was top notch during those months of gigs, as well. The strings lost just a touch of high mids during the time span (I recorded reference tracks again), but always sounded shimmery, punchy, and articulate. I saw no need to change them—even for a recording session. Intonation was spot on—and remained spot on—and, touch-wise, the Paradigms felt as good as other quality strings.

Basic Sets and Street Pricing: .009, .010, .011, .012 ($14.99); 7-string ($16.99).

GHS STRINGS

Overview: GHS hasn’t unleashed any new formulations in the past couple of years, but they have acted to protect the quality of the current string line. They released their Nitro-Packs in 2014, which seal each individual string in tear-resistant packages where the nitrogen environment inside is totally oxygen free. GHS is so confident of this protection that they offer a two-year guarantee (from the date of manufacture) if you find a string that’s corroded or oxidized.

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Peer Test: We haven’t personally tested the longevity effects of the GHS packaging, but I have an artist friend who has about a year’s supply of GHS strings in Nitro-Packs. He reports that when he changes strings they have retained their “new string” clarity and intonation—even when grabbing replacements that have been in Nitro-Packs for many months.

Basic Sets and Street Pricing: .008, .009, .010, .011, .011.5, .012, .013, 7-and 8-string ($3.95-$20.99).ed-steel wrap wire.

MORE COOL STRINGS TO CHECKOUT

We focused this report on the strings we’ve had on our instruments for a while, because we wanted to give readers a real-world view on how the most recent string formulations stand up regarding longevity, tuning integrity, tonal quality, and breakage. That exercise required a few months’ worth of gigs, rehearsals, practicing at home, and feedback from peers. But the strings that made the short list due to recently marketed new formulations certainly aren’t the only options for enhancing the tone of your favorite guitars. Here are some other strings that have been used by enough editors and musician friends for us to call your attention to. Guitar Player will publish comprehensive, “field test” reviews on many more strings in the near future.

CLEARTONE

Cleartone has provided the staff with nickel-plated electric strings and phosphor-bronze acoustic strings to use for our guitar tests from time to time, and they’ve all offered great tone and feel for various video demos and print reviews. The company “treats” its strings with a thin coating that claims to increase string life by five times and deliver 35-precent more volume as compared to comparable coated strings.
Basic Sets and Street Pricing: .009, .010, .011 ($14.99); 7-string ($17.99); 8-string ($20.99).

D’ANGELICO

D’Angelico just announced the revival of their Bethanized Electrozinc electric-guitar strings this January, and we have not had any samples to test as of yet. The cool story is that John D’Angelico partnered with John D’Addario in 1938 to make the original strings, and D’Angelico and D’Addario have joined forces again to make the brand new, EXP-coated versions.
Basic Sets and Street Pricing: .009, .010, .011, .012. .013 ($12.99 rock; $14.99 jazz).

DUNLOP

Dunlop has been kind enough to send us many packs of its nickel-wound electric strings and phosphor-bronze acoustic strings, and they’ve ended up on test instruments and gigging guitars alike. Whether acoustic or electric, the Dunlop sets we’ve had in the office have offered excellent articulation, wonderful string-to-string clarity, and spot-on intonation.
Basic Sets and Street Pricing: .009, .010, .011, .012 ($3.49-$3.99); 7-string ($4.95); 8-string ($5.74).

LA BELLA

GP’s Matt Blackett was so impressed with La Bella’s Vapor Shield acoustic strings—which promise “no flakes, no cracks, no peeling, no muffled tone”—that they received Hall of Fame honors in 2015. The company offers electric sets with Vapor Shield, as well, and the gauges and pricing are as follows.
Basic Sets and Street Pricing: .009, .010, .011 ($13.99).

SIT

Gigging buddies around our locale have reported SIT electric strings as being responsive and dynamic. We’re certainly interested to learn more, so keep your eyes peeled for a review soon.
Basic Sets and Street Pricing: 008, .009, .010, .011, .012, .013 ($4.99); 7-string ($N/A); 8-string ($N/A).

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