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Are “special” guitar strings any better than normal strings?

*** Updated 10-7-17 ***

Over the last couple decades a variety of new strings have arrived on the scene. This includes strings that allegedly “stay in tune” better, "bend" better, and “coated” strings, which supposedly last longer and sound better than un-coated strings. This coating is basically a fine, flexible shell that protects each string, popularized by companies like Elixir.

Elixir Coated Strings

So is there any truth to this or are we all strung out over nothing?

Stay-in tune strings and super bending 

In my many years of playing and working on all sorts of guitars, I have never seen any difference in guitar strings that stay in better tune than others, including those marketed to stay in tune better. If this luxury exists, I have never seen it nor know any pro gigging guitarists who use special strings to stay in better tune. In reality, I believe tuning issues are usually hardware issues on your guitar besides the strings themselves. While all strings will go out of tune, with much written about this subject, I believe the biggest factors in guitars staying in tune are: 1) poor quality machine heads (tuning pegs), 2) intonation and action setup, 3) nut and nut angle, and 4) playing technique. There may be some others, but these are the big ones. Let’s also not forget the obvious, playing with the whammy bar. Knowing these factors can eliminate 90% of your tuning problems & the rest is livable! See my other blog about these factors and how to manage them here: Four Tuning Reasons. 

D'Addario NYXL

Some companies boast strings that bend further. Recently I tried D'Addario NYXL strings and I must say these strings are different. They are easier to bend, they actually feel like a lighter gauge string when you start bending notes. You'll either love or hate this, but clearly D'Addario is onto something here with this new alloy or whatever they are using that created this new string. (It is possible using a string with a new alloy or different tension can affect the setup on your guitar, so you may need to re-adjust action and bridge issues especially if you have a whammy or tremolo setup.) They claim some other benefits about staying in tune and louder tone which may be true, but my examination only focused on the bending aspects. Once again most tuning issues are with the guitar not the strings, see section above as even "normal" guitar strings can be made to stay in great tune.

Coated strings – Candy Coated Nonsense or Real Icing on the Cake?

Do you like the look of a brand new penny, all shiny and vibrant? Coated strings rival this look for a long time. Coated strings have been around for awhile, but most would agree Elixir was the first company to really make strides and a household name with guitarists everywhere. This is an area where I do think ‘special’ strings live up to their billing with a noticeable difference; coated strings generally sound better & last longer. They also corrode slower and retain that nice brassy bronze appearance, especially on acoustic guitars.  I feel the value here is more greatly realized on acoustic guitar, because electric guitars have the benefit of effects and amp settings, so you can still get a good sound out of old electric strings. Loss of tone and brightness is much more noticeable on acoustic guitar. Some of this has to do with the string alloy, and the rest lies in the fact the acoustic guitar is normally amplified only naturally, so here’s where coated strings like Elixir and Cleartone (and likely some other brands) will stand out from ‘normal’ guitar strings. But you’ll still see, or should I say hear, a benefit with coated electric guitar strings, too. If you haven’t tried coated strings you really should at least once. So as it turns out, coated strings do generally live up to the hype if you want to pay a few extra bucks for them.

Classical nylon guitar

There is one other point worth mentioning, since classical guitar strings are usually left out of this conversation. If you’ve never tried Savarez classical or flamenco strings, you are in for a treat. They are all made in France, and whatever they’re doing over there is working, because these strings really do sound better with nicer tone than regular nylon strings. You’ll also pay quite a bit more for them, but once I made the switch I never went back. I have no relation or financial ties to the company, but Savarez really makes great nylon guitar strings.

Savarez Classical Guitar Strings
Savarez nylon strings really do sound great

A Special Guitar Polish

Since we’re on the topic of ‘special’ guitar products that do something extra, keep in mind that Eternashine Guitar Scratch Remover kits act differently & simply work better than normal guitar polishes. Where normal guitar polishes usually just clean, Guitar Scratch Remover kits do a complete finish restore and nicely lift light scratches and more, where other polishes fall short.
Have a comment, question or did we miss anything? Feel free to reach out to us, and thanks for reading! JJ

 

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  • Dee Stevens on

    Hey Jeff! …

    My guitar playing is suffering from a lack of pro-skills!
    Could you recommend a Stompbox that might turn me into Dimebag?

    Thanks …

    KANSAS Rules™


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