Snake Oil Brand Original Nickel and Rock Formula Strings

Snake Oil Strings purveyor Dean Farley got the idea of creating vintage-style strings after playing a 1960 Les Paul Standard in the ’80s, and wondering what the guitar would sound like with the original factory strings. According to Farley, a decline in guitar-string manufacturing began in August 1970.

“That’s when companies started putting an anodized flash of nickel over a steel core, rather than using pure nickel,” he says. “Did it sound the same? No. Did it eat your frets alive? Yeah.”

In response, Farley’s Snake Oil Brand offers pure-nickel Original Nickel roundwounds ($8.50 direct), which are designed to provide the same tone, feel, and longevity of ’60s-era strings. To test this claim, I strung an ’03 PRS Custom 24 Brazilian with a standard .010-.046 set, and a ’69 Les Paul Custom with a custom set gauged .011, .014, .017, .028, .040, .050. The strings quickly came up to pitch, and they stayed in tune after only a few minutes of break-in time. Snake Oil cautions that while Original Nickels are ideal for single-coil instruments, they may sound too dark on denser and weightier humbucker-equipped instruments. However, the strings sounded wonderful on both of my guitars. In fact, the difference in playability and sound between the SOBs and the strings I’d been using was dramatic. The silkiness of the Original Nickels was slightly reminiscent of coated strings—they virtually eliminated string noise, but without the unnatural feel—and the warm, sensuous, harmonically rich tones that poured forth engulfed me like a hot bath. The strings were also a tad more taut, responding precisely to even the subtlest differences in pick articulation.

For those requiring a somewhat brighter and more powerful sound (pure nickel is less magnetic than most other metals used in string construction), Snake Oil offers its Rock Formula strings ($8.50 direct). “The Original Nickel and Rock Formula sets are completely different designs, with different core-to-wrap ratios, metals, and other factors,” details Farley.

I was hard put to decide which strings I preferred, as the Rock Formula shared many characteristics with the Original Nickels, adding only a bit of additional high-end and output, and feeling slightly more refined to the touch. The PRS has a brighter sound than the Les Paul—partially due to its Brazilian rosewood fretboard—and it was able to draw more sparkle out of the Original Nickels, particularly on split-coil settings. That said, both sets sounded wonderful on both guitars, and I was able to compensate for differences in high end by simply adjusting the treble on my amplifier.

I was also impressed by how long both string formulations retained their tone and feel. When tracking in the studio, I typically change strings every day, as I can hear a noticeable degradation in sound after a few hours of playing. When I put on the Original Nickel and Rock Formula sets, however, I felt no need to change strings even after three weeks of continual use. Snake Oil contends its strings last longer because the company uses only the finest materials, and has done extensive research into metallurgy. Whether this is true or not, I can say that Snake Oil Brand now has a new customer. Me.