Many guitarists are on a never-ending quest for the ultimate tone.
Typically, the first thing that a player will think is that a different
guitar, amp, pickups, or maybe a new stompbox will do the trick.
But it’s often the small things that go overlooked, and sometimes
it’s these small things that can make a huge difference in tone and
performance. One of the most frequently overlooked accessories is
the string! If you think about it, the string is a crucial tool to a guitar
player. The string is the physical connection between the player and
their instrument. Players should take a bit of time to experiment with
different strings and find the set that will deliver the best sound and
feel for their instrument and playing style. Different materials and
gauges will offer different results.
As a leading manufacturer of strings, for decades Fender® has
strived to deliver a high-quality product. Taking advantage of the
better materials and improvements in engineering available today,
Fender recently made some changes to take its already widely used
line of strings and brought it up to an even higher level of quality.
For 2010, the Fender string package got a facelift. The new package
design looks more modern and is appealing to the eye, as well
as being easy to recognize in a store. Staying “green,” all six strings
are now packaged in a corrosion-proof bag and the complete set
is packaged in a recyclable box printed with soy-based inks. One
cool feature on the new strings is that the ball ends are painted with
classic vintage Fender colors like sea foam green, graffiti yellow, lake
placid blue and candy apple red to identify them individually. Don’t
worry if you can’t determine the gauges by feel, as the color codes
are printed on the inner bag.
I received samples of the new USA-made Fender Pure Nickel 150
and Nickel-Plated Steel 250 sets in light gauge (.009–.042) and regular
gauge (.010–.046). I tested the strings on four pairs of similar guitars
which all resonate well both electrically and when played acoustically.
I chose two Telecaster®, two Stratocaster®, two Les Paul® Standard
guitars and two Floyd Rose®-equipped ’80s San Dimas® Charvel®
guitars. The Telecaster and Les Paul guitars were strung with .010s,
and the Stratocaster and Charvel guitars were strung with .009s. Each
guitar had a pro set-up. I used a late-’70s Fender Twin Reverb® for
clean tones and an early-’70s 100-watt Marshall® half stack for dirty
tones. No pedals, just straight into the amps.
Out of the package, both types of strings feel silky smooth to the
touch and not sticky or greasy, like they have any type of unusual
coating. They’re very comfortable to play on, bend, slide, and they
stay in tune rather well after being stretched for a few minutes.
Tuning becomes more stable the longer the strings are on the guitar.
I started my evaluation by playing clean chords and riffs with the two
Teles, listening to the qualities of the Pure Nickel set first. The Pure
Nickel strings have a warm, even, unadulterated tone that allows the
guitar’s inherent tone to come through. You can add treble on the
amp’s EQ for more edge, or dial in a softer tone with less treble, more
mids and bass. I decided to use the Pure Nickel set as a point of reference
to compare the Nickel-Plated Steel strings. When I compared
the Tele set up with Nickel-Plated Steel strings, I noticed that the steel
core brought out a distinctly crisp, edgier and more biting tone while
the nickel retains some of the warmer characteristics. There’s more
snap and pop to them, they are more sensitive to finger movements,
and they cut through more than the traditional-sounding Pure Nickel
strings. Nickel-Plated Steel is good choice for a Tele when playing a
more aggressive style where you would want to hear more “spank.”
The same is true for the Strats. The Pure Nickel strings serve up
warmer, more classic sounds while Nickel-Plated Steel strings bring
out more hard-hitting characteristics. Depending on the sound of
your pickups and the tone you’re going for, either set can do the job.
For the Charvels, I preferred Nickel-Plated Steel, particularly for
playing heavier rock and lead lines with sharper teeth to cut through
the mix. The steel also seems to bring back some of the harmonics
that can be lost when a guitar has a floating tremolo like a Floyd
Rose. The Pure Nickel strings are simply rich and classic, and I
preferred them for playing cleaner parts with the Charvel. To my
ear, the Pure Nickel strings also proved to be a better match for the
flame-maple top Les Pauls. I favored the rounder tones produced by
the strings to smooth out some of the biting tones that a maple top
adds. However, if I was using a Les Paul with a dark, dull or muddy
tone and needed to add some edge, sparkle and perhaps a bit more
definition of the notes, the Nickel-Plated Steel strings would likely
be a better choice to balance out the tonal range and bring out
more of the highs and harmonics I would want to hear along with
the warm, rich over all tonal characteristics.
To test the longevity of the strings, I left them on each guitar for
a week and listened to them over and over again to see if there
was any noticeable degradation in their tonal quality or feel. It is
important to take note of whether strings retain their tonality and
to see if they become brittle or tarnished. What I found is that the
strings held up extremely well through the week with no real loss
in tone. They continued to stay in tune (I did check tuning each
time I picked up the guitars) and the finish did not tarnish. Wiping
off your strings after playing is typically recommended to remove
dirt and help extend their life.
If you’re always tweaking your gear and searching for that magical
combination, your strings should be a strong consideration. There is
great value in learning what the tonal characteristics are that different
types of strings will produce. This information is essential in knowing
how to shape your tone. So before making major gear-change
decisions, simply try changing the type of strings you use. It’s surely
the easiest and most inexpensive piece of the tonal puzzle. After testing
Fender’s new string offerings, I’m sure they have a set that will
enhance your guitar’s tone and feel to suit your playing style.