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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Sat, 05 Aug 2017

These are the guitar strings I'm using right now

These are the guitar strings I'm using right now.

On the Gibson ES-175 electric archtop, I'm moving away from flatwounds for the first time. At least three players I admire, Pat Metheny, Joshua Breakstone and Bruce Forman (all links go to their string choices), are using roundwounds on their archtop guitars.

You do get some finger squeaks, but the sound of the lower four wound strings is much clearer. I guess you can say it's more defined -- less "smoky" maybe. Whatever you call it. The guitar is sounding better. (in case you were wondering, my flatwounds of choice were D'Addario Chromes -- the .013 set, and I usually replaced the higher two strings -- the .013 and .017 -- with an .014 and .018).

I'm using the .013 set of Ernie Ball Nickel Wound strings -- the pack with the eagle on it. I'm also sticking with the .013 and .017 in the set instead of opting for the slightly heavier replacement strings:

On my Fender guitar, a 1979 Lead I (though for some reason the serial number says it's a 1981), I actually used D'Addario Chromes flatwounds -- the .012 set -- for a long time. Way back in the past, I used .010 and .011 roundwound sets: Ernie Ball Slinkys, GHS Nickel Rockers (before I knew there was a difference between pure nickel and nickel-plated steel).

The .012 flatwounds were definitely too big for the nut on the lower couple of strings, though the extra tension didn't affect the neck at all. That 1970s Fender neck is a single piece of maple with no added fretboard and a skunk stripe behind it to cover the truss rod, and it's super strong. I have never needed to adjust the truss rod.

I wanted something slightly lighter. Strings that would fit in the nut slots without any filing, and a clearer, less-boomy, more defined low end.

I picked up a set of Ernie Ball Power Slinky strings, which start with a .011 high E and tend to run slightly lighter in the lower strings than the usual .011 set.

The strings have been great. Returning to roundwounds on both my Gibson and Fender is like I'm playing two new guitars. You can change your sound so much just by changing strings and picks -- two of the cheapest things in the guitar world.

Slinkys are nickel-plated steel, and I do have a set of this same gauge made with pure nickel windings called Slinky Classics. Pure nickel is supposed to be more subtle than nickel-plated steel. Maybe they'll sound better. But I like this current Ernie Ball Slinky set so much, I don't want to make the change.

I don't need a .052 or .054 for the low E (like Ernie Ball's Skinny Top Heavy Bottom and Beefy Slinkys), and this set is balanced very well for what I want.

Here's what the Ernie Ball set looks like:

My Yamaha flattop guitar -- it's probably 5 years old at this point -- has a solid top and is a "solid" guitar all around. It's put together very well and is pretty tough.

The guitar shipped with Yamaha's own custom-gauged set of .012s -- roughly equivalent to light-gauge strings. I think the strings were phosphor bronze, which tend to have a longer life.

I probably should have stuck with .012s when I changed the strings, but I decided to go up to a medium-gauge set that begins with a .013. I went for Ernie Ball Earthwood 80/20 bronze strings.

They sound amazing, and they're cheap enough that I don't mind changing them sooner.

This was my first time changing flattop strings. I've changed strings on electric and classical guitars hundreds of times -- I even do the thing where you tie the nylon strings to the bridge.

But bridge pins? I was a bridge pin virgin. I had the bridge-pin puller on the end of my string winder. One of the pins popped out with such force that it hit the ceiling. After that I made sure to block the path with my hand. I did have one of the pins edge out a bit after I tightened the string up. But I got it done.

I'm not a fan of bridge pins. It's just the tension of the pin and the angle of the string tension holding everything together. I'd prefer an archtop tailpiece. That I can deal with.

I also had to crank the truss rod quite a few turns after I replaced the .012s with .013s. I started with quarter turns, but I had to keep cranking and cranking, loosening the strings in between adjustments. I thing I have it right now. I got tired of cranking after awhile. It plays well and sounds great.

Here is my Ernie Ball Earthwood set:

So, what did I play today? I have been working on "How High the Moon," but today I worked on the chords for "Waltz for Debby." I'm very, very slow. That's what I'll say about it.S