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The short life of strings

Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2010 2:11 pm
by Terry60
There's nothing nicer than the sound of a brand-new set of strings on an accoustic guitar. All of those delicious high harmonic overtones give such a delightful crisp ring to every pluck and strum. Combine it with a bit of reverb, courtesy of the bathroom tiling, and there you are, at the Albert Hall, all your admiring fans paying rapt attention to your artistry.

Gordon, of course, experiences this for real not just in the world of the imagination, both for his genuine artistry and the fact that he must get through more strings in a month than I use in a lifetime.

Are you like me, an ex-guitarist, someone who used to play for hours a day but now sees the guitar gathering dust in the corner and only occasionally picks it up when something seen on TV or heard on the radio inspires a sudden rush of nostalgia.

What a disappointment when you retire-hurt after 15 minutes with your left hand throbbing in pain because the leather calouses of youth have been replaced by fingertips more like a baby's bottom.

Even more disappointing though, is that muddy sound from strings that have only been played a few times but have already lost their edge.

The nicest strings I ever played were a Christmas gift from my sister. She gave me a set of my normal Martin medium gauge, but also a set of Ovations which were fabulous. "Where did you get them ?" I asked, when I was unable to find anyone that had ever heard of them let alone had any in stock. Unfortunately she had absolutely no memory of the details of her Christmas shopping, and I never bought another set.

They did sound brighter for longer than any other string I ever used, so years later, courtesy of the internet, I set out to track some down. I did finally locate a source in the US, but in the course of my research I came across another intriguing possibility.

A guy called Pete Rohrbacher, analyzing why strings "go off", decided that the galvanic action caused in bronze windings on steel wire, using sweat as an electrolyte was the problem.
After experimenting with different metals, he came up with a titanium alloy string with electro-chemically matched nickel windings, which don't corrode under normal atmospheric or handling conditions.

They were about double the cost of normal strings, but on a whim and a hunch I ordered a set of medium gauge around Christmas 2004. They're still on the Levin, though I finally ordered a replacement set this Christmas because I'd broken the 2nd trying an experimental tuning.

If I were a professsional musician, I think I'd order a couple of gross of the Ovations (or if I were eccentric and very rich), but for the (very) occasional player that I am, I've never had another set of strings that still sounded good when they were five years old, so the extra cost of the Rohrbacher's was a good investment.

Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2010 3:11 pm
Terry these sound amazing.

So what do we ask for specifically when we go into a shop or surf the net,are they Ovation strings?

Thanks for the tip sir just need a name and specific make or brand name or whatever.



Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2010 4:15 pm
by Mike Stranks
Fascinating stuff!

This seems to be the place to find out more - and buy the strings:

It's clear that this is not some smoke and mirrors job - the guy's got a US patent on the process!

Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2010 5:56 pm
by Terry60
The Ovation strings
were the best sounding I've ever had, and kept their edge for longer than the Martin's, but they're still Steel/Phosphor Bronze, so will also degrade with time, even infrequently played.
The Rohrbacher's are indeed from Mike's link, specifically the 2 on the left side here (depending on your gauge choice) ... e_Code=RTL
I can't use anything but medium on the Levin. The intonation goes completely to pot with slack light gauge. I've customized the bridge for the 2nd 5th and 6th strings to be spot on with mediums so string bending is out of the question if I don't want to slice off my fingertips.
I'm surprised you show any interest in the titanium strings Gordon. I wouldn't have thought your guitars spend a lot of time collecting dust.
The Ovations might be worth a $5.99 punt though if you normally use Martin's, though I'd be amazed if you hadn't tried thousands more brands than I've had hot dinners.
I suppose the Rohrbacher's might be appropriate if you have a collection of vintage guitars you keep, but don't use in performance regularly.
They don't sound as good as a set of new Ovation's, but they do go on and on and on sounding not quite as good, for an awfully long time after conventional strings have gone to seed.

Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2010 6:54 pm
Yep, used LOADS of strings. The best in my book are Martin SPs and Newtone Masterclass and Heritage.

Terry, thanks ever so for this interesting info my friend .It is what we like to think makes this FORUM and website of ours a little bit special and VERY friendly!

Be Well guv.


Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2010 7:05 pm
by Dave Warren
I've recntly tried some Dean Markley Alchemy and they sound awesome but again don't last to long.
I agree with Gordon the Martin SP's are a very good string used them for recording my E.P

Posted: Mon Jun 07, 2010 3:47 pm
by Jon G
Talking of strings, like guitars we're spoiled for choice nowadays. I don't know if anyone remembers when bronze strings became available, but when I got my first steel-string in 1970 (Ariana acoustic, used, £15 - still gig with it and great for recording) Harry Anderton in Guildford just sold me Black Diamond medium gauge and left me to it.

Once at uni I discovered you could get light gauge and I ended up on Picato ultra-light in a green box that was great for capos and picks. But they were steel-wound, and everybody I knew played steel-wound on acoustic until I saw Keith Christmas playing Martin bronze wound in 1973. I bought a set (miles heavier than what I'd been using) and now nobody seems to remember a time when the choice was steel, nylon or elastic bands.

Incidentally there's a very evocative Tom Petty song that describes going to the music shop for "one Black Diamond string". Anybody else remember those days?