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Improving my guitar’s tone. Part 3: Different strings?

So far I’ve discussed improving the tone from a guitar cabinet and swapping a pickup in my arch top from Eastman Guitars. The third tonal change is strings. 

I’ve been using Flat wound strings on all my humbucker-equipped guitars for over thirty years. I’ll try a round wound string set once every 5 or 10 years, but I always return to the flat wounds. My favorite set is the Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Swing. Over the years I’ve been reducing my string gauges. I once used 12 or 13s but am now down to 10s.

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Single coil guitars sound best to me with round wound strings. I’ve used several different round wound strings usually pure Nickel wound strings. My favorites until recently were Ernie Ball 2251 Regular Slinky Pure Nickel strings, but I’ve used D’Addario and Fender in the past. The first set of strings I put on the Telecaster when I got it was the Ernie Ball pure nickel 10-46 set.

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But—I always like to experiment with strings when I get a new guitar and sometimes use it as an excuse to try new things on old guitars. The humbucker equipped Epiphone and Eastman both had Thomastik strings that were over a year old. I purchased Pyramid Monel round wound strings, D’Angelico Electrozinc round wound strings (made by D’Addario), spare sets of Ernie Ball pure Nickel strings, and Flat wounds by La Bella because no one had the TI Jazz Swing sets in stock and I’ve used the La Bella in the past. All the round wound strings had the same gauges of 10-46 with plain 3rds. D’Angelico makes a jazz set with a wound 3rd string (10-47 and larger sets). I might try them in the future but, unlike the past 30 years, I’m sticking with an un-wound 3rd string for now.

So far, I’ve only changed the strings on the Eastman and the Squire Telecaster Thinline. The Eastman got the D’Angelico Electrozinc set and the Telecaster got the Monel strings. The first string broke two days after I put it on the guitar.

Both Monel and the Electrozinc formulation from D’Angelico are steel alloys popular in the early days of metal guitar strings. Monel is a Nickel and Copper alloy stronger than pure Nickel and resistant to many types of corroision. 

The steel for Electrozinc strings was made by Bethlehem steel using a process similar to but different from galvanization. When the steel plant was closed, the source of the steel was lost until it could be replicated in Europe. The D’Angelico strings are stronger than standard steel and coated by D’Addario’s EXP process.

I’ve tried Monel flat wound strings from Rotosound (12-52 is the only gauge available) and Martin Retro Monel acoustic strings on my Martin guitar. I hated both. This was the last chance for Monels.

So, what did they sound like? First the Eastman arch top. Wow!!! Amazing. All these years I thought I liked flat wound strings best and then blammo. I love these through any amp and speaker combination I’ve tried. I was so impressed I’ve ordered two more sets to try on the Epiphone 335-Pro and my Telecaster Thinline. I wonder if part of the speaker cabinet problem was the strings and if I’d tried these before the other things I did, I would have fixed the problem.

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Alright. How did the Monel strings compare. Monel feels different to my fingers. Once I get past that, they sound OK. Maybe more than OK. Good. But they don’t blow me away the way the D’Angelico Electrozinc strings do. I’m not sure the Monels sound better than a Slinky pure nickel set. Maybe, but if so, there is a trade off in the feel which is better on the Slinkys. I’ll have to play more to decide.

In this series:

1 … Improving my guitar’s tone. Part 1: Bad speaker cab?

2 … Improving my guitar’s tone. Part 2: A different pickup?

3 … Improving my guitar’s tone. Part 3: Different strings?

1 thought on “Improving my guitar’s tone. Part 3: Different strings?”

  1. I laughed when I read the bit about moving from 13s down to 10s. I think its part of the aging process. I’m 73 and down to 11s so maybe 10s means I’ve got a few gigging years left. btw: I’m also a sometimes guitar builder and all things jazz guitar enthusiast.

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