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There has been a lot of talk recently about guitar strings, especially with Ernie Ball’s new Paradigm strings being released.
Like many players I’ve tried a lot of different strings over the years. As a kid I just played whatever the guitar had on it until they were so rusty that I literally had to buy a new set of strings. I played Slinkys from 9s to 10s, even tried a set of 11s, I tried Elixir strings, Martin strings (on my acoustics) and finally ended up sticking with D’addario strings 10-46 after a friend gave me a set in my teens.
The main issue I have with strings these days is how quickly I go through a set on my main gigging guitars. For example on my guitar ‘Joyce’, 2010 Suhr Modern, I need to change strings every week. Ideally I would change strings even more regularly than this, maybe every 2-3 shows, but the cost and sheer amount of strings I would have to have with me per touring contract would be huge. I change them as often as I can because I use that guitar for about 75% of my live work every show, 6 shows a week. Depending on the venue with lights, humidity and sweat thats a lot to ask of a set of strings. To help them get through that amount of live playing, stay pleasant to play and retain as much sonic ‘life’ as possible I use GHS Fast Fret. I apply it before the show during my warm up time, and then after the show to take off as much of the sweat and grime as possible.
‘Joyce’ is fitted with a Gotoh 510 2 point pivot bridge, which is simply excellent. Its tuning stability is amazing, even when giving the whammy bar some serious grief a la Van Halen, as I like to do. They say it stays in tune about 95% as well as a locking Floyd Rose with only having locking tuners!
On my second main live guitar, ‘Eddie’ the Gibson Les Paul, I can usually get away with a set of strings for a little longer. This guitar only gets used for 2 or 3 songs a night. So, as long as they get a wipe down at the end of the gig, the tone of the strings is usually good for a while.
On my studio guitars, ‘Strats’ etc., strings last much longer. It really is the rigours of gigging and heavy playing that affects string life the most. When only playing in the studio in comfortable conditions a set of good strings lasts weeks with very little tone degradation, even playing for 2 or more hours every day.
Lube it up
I found over the years that one of the keys to keeping a guitar playing well, in tune, night after night is lubrication. The best way I’ve found to do this is using the excellently named Big Bends Nut Sauce. It’s a string lubricant that you can apply to any place the string touches. I apply it to the bridge saddles and the nut slots on all my guitars when re-stringing, and it really makes a difference. Especially on my Les Paul and Strat.
You can find out more about Big Bends products here.
What I use
Currently I use D’addario NYXL strings in 10 gauge, sometimes 10-52. These are a really great string for me because they bed in really quickly, stay in tune, very rarely break, sound and feel great and the sound lasts through a lot of playing. The only problem is, for touring, they can be expensive costing around £15 a set. Because of this if I’m on a lengthy contract I sometimes use D’addario regular EXL110s instead as you can usually find the 3 pack for about the same cost, so 30+ packs of strings is much cheaper. They sound almost as good as the NYXLs, feel pretty good to play but the main disadvantage is that they take much longer to bed in. With NYXLs you can literally put them on, stretch them, tune up and they are ready to gig.
I’m hopefully going to try a set of the new Ernie Ball Paradigm strings soon, and I’ll do another blog once I’ve tested them live.
Also I’ve been hearing a lot of really good things form other players about Sfarzo strings, and really want to try a set to see if they live up to the hype.
Make ’em last
These are my best tips for making your guitar strings last and keeping them sounding their best.
- Use good quality strings from a respected manufacturer
- Clean your guitar (fretboard, saddles, nut) before stringing it with a new set of strings
- Use a good string lubricant such as Nut Sauce
- Stretch new strings multiple times after stringing to ensure they are not going to move and go flat during playing
- Wash your hands before playing so that you transfer as little dirt and grime to the string as possible
- Use a string cleaner after each time you play
- Keep your guitars out of direct sunlight, at room temperature and preferably in a case to maintain tuning and string life
Do all these things and your new strings should stay sounding great for a long time.
Be sure to check out the nice folks at Guitar Zone when buying new strings and guitar gear. They have great knowledgeable staff, good prices on everything, and its where I buy loads of my gear from. Chris is a #legend!
Also visit Strings Direct when purchasing new strings, they sell every brand of string going at very good prices with same day dispatch.