As a guitar player, one of the things you’ll spend most on over a lifetime (and nearly every month or two) are strings. I’ve known a lot of guitar players, and most have a favorite brand and gauge string – and getting someone to switch is much akin to getting a smoker to switch brands of cigarettes. Most players have found what they like, and they want to stick to it. But given a compelling reason to try something new, many will give another brand a chance. I think for some players the deciding factor is also money. When strapped for cash, if you see a deal on string you think might work – you’ll probably pick ’em up.
I read a few short articles a few years back that talked about nickel strings, and how much better the tone was. At the time I was into finding the right tone, so I set out to find and try some nickel strings. I was using regular Gibson stainless steel strings, and switched to Fender 150’s ball end nickel plated strings. I saw a noticeable difference right away. The strings were easier to bend, the high’s were clearer, the sustain was better, and the overall sound was noticeably better. In my opinion, when you put on a fresh set of nickel plated strings the sound is very, very bright. I’ve been buying the Fender 150’s nickel plated (10’s) for about 2-3 years now. I always bought the original ball end kind. When they were out of stock I switched to the “bullet” style. For my style of playing (classic rock, blues) the bullet ends always ended up breaking 2-3 weeks in. The ball ends seldom did that.
Recently I need to buy some more strings and my local guitar shop and Guitar Center were both out of the ball and bullet ended Fender 150’s. I was just going to buy a dozen sets online from someone, but I needed to have at least one set that day. I had a gig coming up and I knew that they needed to be changed before the others would arrive in the mail. Now, when I first read about nickel strings I could only find nickel plated. I never could find ALL nickel strings. That day I was at Guitar Center and pressed for time, and the guy behind the counter showed me a pack of “DR Strings”, the “Pure Blues” kind. He told me that they were 100% nickel strings (not nickel wound), and that they had a “round” core instead of “hex”. Supposedly the round core strings bend easier and resist breaking better.
I am pretty pessimistic and hesitate to listen to most salemans BS. But I tried this brand nonetheless. I have to say after putting them on and playing them the last several weeks – these strings are brighter, more toneful, bend easier, and for some reason (so far) they don’t get as dirty either (after a gig). I like this brand so much, I went back to GC and bought 4 more sets yesterday.
Now before I let you go listening to only more sole opinion, I’m going to leave you with some factual information about nickel guitar strings. In April 2007, Guitar Player wrote an article about the historical background of nickel plated strings that you should read…here is just a brief excerpt:
By the 1950s, widespread implementation of magnetic pickups in electric guitars had led string manufacturers to experiment with Monel steel, stainless steel 430, chrome, nickel, and other materials with more desirable magnetic properties than previously used materials such as bronze and brass. Nickel was found to not only possess a balanced and pleasing tone, it was also easier on frets, and, perhaps most importantly, it produced less distortion.
You can make up your own mind by buying and trying a set of DR Pure Blues guitar strings right now:
Gauges 10-13-17-26-36-46. Pure Blues electric guitar strings from DR Strings are designed with pure nickel wrap wire, roundwound upon round cores. While this is a slow, expensive method of string making, it does produce a guitar string acclaimed for increased sustain, vintage tone, and great low tones for playing music from rhythm to lead. The extra step of winding pure nickel around a round core give Pure Blues strings a punch that players say they are surprised to get in a vintage electric guitar string. Sounds great on any guitar!