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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

More things about strings

No guts, but plenty of polish

Andrés Segovia pioneered the development of the nylon strings in the late 1940’s with Albert Augustine and described it as a breakthrough. Out went the unravelling, sticky, difficult to tune gut string. In came the smooth and reliable nylon. Although gut strings have a warm characteristic sound nylon had the edge – they were brilliant, stayed more in tune, and did not break and unravel.

So have there been any more string breakthroughs in the 60 years since that time? Yes, I think there have been two. The first, widely accepted, is the development of treble strings made of carbon. They have improved sound projection and sustain very considerably, although on some guitars they can sound thin and strident. The second, less well-known development, has been of semi-polished basses. These reduce left-hand squeaks and sliding noises by up to 80% and make playing and recording much easier. At present they cost twice as much as normal strings but are well worth it if you are after producing a clean sound environment in your playing.

Can’t tune, won’t tune
An eternal problem with the guitar is tuning it and keeping it in tune as you play. These are some of the factors that influence tuning:
- Placement or misplacement of the frets by the maker – one millimetre can make all the difference.
- Octaves in tune, other notes out of tune (or vice versa). This is partly due to the compromises of “equal temperament” tuning – see my “read more” suggestions below to find out more.
- Temperature and humidity changes.

And who or what is on the front line taking the credit or blame for these variable factors? Yes, your poor old strings. There is very little they can do about any of the above, although they deserve criticism if they themselves are uneven or inconsistent. If so, they will never tune. Some string manufacturers are better than others regarding this important aspect of quality control.

High tension vs medium tension vs low tension
High tension (HT) strings sound louder and more percussive than medium tension (MT) strings and are more likely to reduce buzzing basses. But HT strings make playing more difficult and wear out the nails more quickly. Low tension (LT) strings have a lovely singing quality, but are quieter and more prone to buzzes. MT strings are a favourite compromise.

Your choice of string tension may be greatly influenced by “the action”. This is determined by the height of the string above the fret-board at the nut and at the 12th fret. A height of 4 millimetres or above at the 12th fret is considered a high action. The combination of HT strings and a high action is hard on the left hand, especially on barrées and slurs. A high action should encourage MT and LT strings with no buzzing. Conversely a low to medium action of 2½ to 3½mm could work well with HT strings. Of course, you could experiment with changing the action on your guitar by raising or lowering the bridge and nut. I advise you to seek professional help on this: the margins are so fine. Lowering the action will make the guitar easier to play whatever tension strings you use.

Practical tips
Try mixing string tensions: a HT 6th string with MT on all the others. This tightens up the guitar, reduces the chance of buzzes on the low string, and is a good compromise.
Allow new strings (especially trebles) at least 48 hours to settle for best results regarding tone.
Check tuning accuracy at the 12th fret with an electronic tuner. Be prepared to discard some strings for faulty intonation. Return to manufacturer with a rude note, but don’t tell them I told you to do so!
As the basses begin to wear out wash them or take them off and string them up the other way round. This will give them a new lease of life. Once the trebles start becoming rough to the right hand touch or start playing out of tune throw them away. Better still, introduce them to some beads so that together they make a necklace. Maybe you can think of other useful employment for them.
Treble strings usually last 2 or 3 times longer than basses so there is not always a need to change all the strings at the same time.
Invest in a manual or electric string winder. This speeds up changing strings and doesn’t tire out your wrist bearing in mind that changing all the strings could require more than 200 turns of the tuning pegs.
Sweaty hands and fingers will wear out strings in an alarmingly short space of time. My advice: keep washing your hands and save money.

Read more:

The development of nylon strings:

Equal temperament tuning:


D’Addario Pro Arte EJ46 include lightly polished basses

Royal Classics pack of carbon trebles

Savarez Alliance Corum strings include carbon trebles

String winder:

June 2011

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=568 .
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