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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Sat, 14 Nov 2015

Ernie Ball Power Slinky strings on the Fender Lead I, plus musing on guitars in general

After years of using flatwounds (generally D'Addario Chromes beginning with a .012) on my Fender Lead I guitar, I decided to go light(er) and roundwound with a set of Ernie Ball Power Slinky nickel-wound strings (.011, .014, .018p, .028, .038, .048).

And I'm liking the sound and playability very much. While I like the feel of really heavy strings (I use D'Addario Chromes, the .013 set, with an .014 subbed for the high E and a .018 for the B string), I think those strings overwhelm the solidbody Fender guitar. Or least that's how I feel for the way I play it.

I really like the plain 3rd string, which contributes to the overall evenness of volume and tone.

Even with only a bridge humbucking pickup, the Lead I has a very wide tonal range, and I can easily dial in a good jazz sound.

So much depends on the way you have everything set up -- the knobs on the amp and guitar, the way you play it. I generally use a heavier touch and keep the volume lower.

As I say above, I've gravitated to really heavy strings, but now I'm thinking differently, and I really like this Ernie Ball set. The lower strings, and the low end of the instrument in general, have a lot less muddiness (and a lot more definition).

The guitar, which I've had since I bought it new in what I think was 1979 (but the serial number indicates 1980) is a nice, heavy instrument.

I've pondered "converting" it to a Lead II with two single-coil pickups. I even have a Lead II pickguard ready to go, but I've just never gotten around to that mod (I would need the pickups, pots and tone capacitor, and then I'd have to figure out the wiring).

I'm using the orange Roland Cube 60 amp that, like pretty much every electric guitar I've ever had, I purchased when I was in high school.

About the only guitar I've "let go" over the years was the nice handmade classical that I used during my time in the music program at CSUN. I can't even remember the name of the company, but it was a nice guitar. It had a cedar top -- you could really smell it. I'm more of a spruce-top person, so I'm not all that sorry I don't have it, but it was a very, very nice instrument, and I think I'd enjoy playing a well-made classical guitar built with really good wood.

Takeaway: Players of different kinds of music on the guitar think that they need a certain type of instrument, strings and amplifier to credibly make a certain kind of music. For jazz that seems to be an archtop guitar, heavy flatwound string and amps with a whole lot of headroom so you don't have to drive it too hard to get the volume you need. While I agree with the amp requirement, and I absolutely love the sound of an archtop guitar (both electric and acoustic), when it comes to strings (light, heavy, flatwound, roundwound) and even type of guitar (solidbody, flattop, classical, full archtop, archtop with bridge in a block of wood), there are plenty of viable, sonically rich options.

Note: The Ernie Ball strings image came from the Musician's Friend site. I used an iPod Touch to take the Fender Lead I and Roland Cube 60 photos. The sweet case that Ilene sewed for the iPod Touch can be seen next to the guitar.