Sunday, October 26, 2008

String Me Along

I have two instruments I consider my "main" instruments. That's my Tele and my A/E. Someday I shall have to name them, but right now "my electric" and "my acoustic" uniquely identify them.

For instruments that are not my main instruments, I switch strings when they break. I changed strings on my fiddle once because, "Hey, I've never changed strings on a fiddle before", and once because "Hey, these Black Diamand fiddle strings just suck so much!" I once, several decades ago, put new strings on a bass, but never since, and I can't for the life of me recall if there was any breakage involved. Intellectually, I think that coated strings like Elixirs are a great idea for non-main instruments, since they'll last on instruments set aside for a while. Financially, I can't back that up.

I once saw that Nickel Creek were Elixir string endorsers. I noticed that Chris and Sean were named and interviewed, but Sara didn't. I wondered why. The I realized/remembered that the bow sticks to the strings, and that grabbing and letting go, we get vibrations. You gotta put a lot of rosin onto a new bow to make it work. The last things you want are slippery coated strings that won't grab the bow.

My Wednesday playing these days is all acoustic, being part of a worship band with two guitars, bass, grand piano and drums. Except, can you really call it "acoustic" playing when you're in a lead channel on your GT8? Anyway, the acoustic sound I dislike is the clanky, chimey new string sound and like it better when the strings settle in a bit. For the acoustic, I change all the strings when the G string breaks, because I figure that if I just swap out the G, it won't be too long before I've beaten the D string enough to break. If I had a bigger gear budget, I'd probably keep my acoustic string change regimen about the same.

For the Tele, things are different. When I had bridge cables on, I still bent, and now that I'm running with angel hair for strings, I just bend more, and the longer you keep strings on, the more elasticity they lose and the more they detune when you bend. I know that most heavy touring players swap guitar strings after every gig because the sweat and the gunk that builds up under the hot lights kills a string, and studio guys wanting to get a consistent bright tone have their strings changed every day or several times a day. I've never been that guy, but I could probably use changing strings more often than I do, which is "rarely". Certainly when it breaks. Mostly when they look grungy.

Looking at the pole to the right, I see that I am not alone in letting the strings stay on for a while. Is it an aesthetic choice or an economic choice? What strings do you like?


Patrick said...

I like Elixirs on acoustic 6, D'Addario Phosphor bronze on the acoustic 12, D'Addario XL 10's on the shred monster, and Chromes on the jazz box. Oh, and right now there's a set of DR's on the world's punkest bass.
I haven't actually played any of them amplified in over a year. I haven't gigged on any of them since July of '07. Generally, I don't change strings until they break, but I've also had to change strings because they started to suck too much (finger gunk, rust, bad sound). Elixirs seem to last bit longer than unsheathed, and the difference in sound isn't much of a sacrifice. XL's are affordable and durable. Chromes aren't quite as durable but I really like the flatwounds on my jazz box. As far as the bass goes, I changed strings because one broke, and DRs were on sale.

Kevin said...

I change every six months or so -- D'Addario XL 10's electric, still looking acoustic (about to replace Elixirs with plain old Martins). I'm both cheap and lazy: it's hard enough to find time just to play, and when I replace strings I like to do some maintenance too (clean fretboard, check setup), so it's sort of a production. I usually wipe after playing and keep them in cases (and as a bedroom player, I don't sweat much) so the strings don't gunk so much as the wound strings start flattening at the frets.

I also don't much like the new-string acoustic sound. It takes about a week before the sound warms up to where I like it.