I was just corresponding with another guitarist here on word press on the subject of guitar strings and wanted to share what I’ve learned about those little pieces of wire in 30 years as well as its various plectrum’s. I’m going to focus mostly on electric guitar strings because that’s where most of the variances are.
Electric guitar strings differ in tone when the material changes. My very good friend Touch Singleton has taught me more about tone in the last 10 years then I learned in my entire lifetime. Buy one of his guitars, you will hear the difference believe me. Electric strings come in a few different flavors; nickle wound, pure nickel, steel and yes even bronze. IMHO bronze strings on an electric sound poorly as the bronze does not conduct electricity well to the pickup’s magnets. However, when Gerry Garcia used them on the Americana they sounded pretty darn good.
Steel strings polarize the magnets wonderfully and are resistant to corrosion but they’re very bright sounding, to bright sounding for my sonic pallet. Pure nickel string were the norm years ago but cost and economic trends made them rare until the last few years saw manufactures revive them. nickel wound for myself have the best of both worlds, the steel to make those Alnico magnets (my personal choice of pickup magnets but that’s another article for later) fire and the nickel wrap to give a smooth even tone.
In the last 10 or so years some manufactures have started branding a separate line of strings that have coatings on them for longevity of life. I have found these to suck the tone out of every electric brand I’ve tried which include; DR, D’Addario, Elixir and Ernie Ball. None has yet to received a passing grade for myself simply because the coloring of the tone the coating creates. However I want to equivocally say this does not apply to one brand of Bronze acoustic strings, the brand Cleartone. Cleartone phosphor bronze acoustic guitar strings actually do what the coating process intended from the start, add string longevity. They don’t color the sound at all to my ears but they are very pricy. For me, the price tag is worth being able to have my Taylor at arm’s length in my home studio without worrying about the strings oxidizing in a week and sounding flat.
I have my guitars tuned different or set up for different styles of music, the following are my current preferences for my guitars and why I chose them. I have a custom Singleton Crossroads the guitar I now play the most. Touch Singleton built it for my hands based on their measurements and my personal preferences. Because the Neck Pickup is a Seth Lover hand wound by none other than Seymour Duncan himself and the Bridge is a Quarter Pounder it’s not your typical Telecaster. I can play Metal on this Guitar! In fact I can play Rock, Hard Rock, Smooth Jazz and country on it at any time. I tune this Guitar to 440 and Drop D when the need arises. My Strings are Ernie Ball Hybrid Slinky’s on this guitar, nickel wrapped for tone and a light top end so I can play it all night without my hands giving out at the end of the last set.
My Second most played electric guitar is an US Strat plus that I’ve heavily modified. I Purchased from the custom shop in Norco, CA as a B stock item during one of the parking lot sales in the 80’s. I was told it was one of many Jeff Beck prototypes that were designing for him at the time. It came with Lace Sensor Pickups and that Baseball Neck size Jeff Beck neck standard on the JB model Fender strat for all these years. I took the pickups out and replaced the Neck and Middle with Texas Specials and the Bridge with a Stratocaster spaced Seymour Duncan JB. My Stings of choice for this guitar are D’addario Pure Nickle 10’s. This guitar is generally tuned to Eb or Drop Db and produces a very distinct Jimmy Hendrix and Ty Tabor Tone. I rarely take this guitar out of the middle and neck blend because it sound so good there, really I’m smitten with the tone after all these years. The other Mod I made was to take 3/4″ of meat off the neck on a milling machine, it never stayed in tune until I did this mod which was intended to fix the neck for another project guitar at the time.
My Les Paul sports a set of GHS Zakk Wylde Nickle Plated Boomers gauged at 11 – 70. This Guitar Has the Standard SH4 and JB set up but is tuned to Drop B for slide and heavy riffage. Les Paul’s are pretty simple, they all sound great with heavy strings. My Taylor has had Cleartone light Bronze strings on it since they came out. I can’t say enough about how great I think these strings are.
I’ll leave plectrum’s for next time :)