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This article was originally published in issue #27
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How much importance do you put on your string choice? Some players become hardcore devotees to a single brand for many years, some chop and change manufactures, and some just use whatever they can get their hands on! There are the players that change their strings religiously once a week because they like the clear crisp tone a new set brings, then there are those that only change them when they break or become so rusty that their intonation is compromised. Some players actually prefer the sound of older strings as they are less bright. For me I fall into the one brand, change them regularly category. I personally think string choice is one of the most important and biggest factors in how you sound and the tone you produce. Strings are the first point of contact for us, so they need to sound great, feel great, be strong, and last well. If you haven’t really considered strings much before, now might be the time for a re-think and a play around with different manufactures, gauges etc. Great sounding strings are probably more important on an acoustic as you don’t normally have an array of effects to hide the basic tone.
Elixir strings have been around for a while now and have built up a hardcore following. Renowned for their long life and consistent tone, thanks to being the pioneer in coated string technology, the only brand to coat the entire string. Having the outer string and the gaps between the windings protected from debris that builds-up contaminating strings and killing tone. Elixir's latest acoustic set, the HD Light, has been developed with Taylor Guitars in line with their new 800 series (reviewed in GI issue 25). Taylor's master luthier, Andy Powers, wanted to create a custom string set that would bring a bolder, stronger high end and fuller, warmer low end. So has Elixir achieved the brief? And will they work well on other guitars, besides Taylor 800s?
It's quite hard to review strings. As I mentioned above they're very much a personal choice, and the feel of strings also differ vastly, and that's something we can't get across in a video. You also need to live with strings for a while to see how they perform over time. For this review the good people at Elixir sent us two identical 800 series Taylors, one loaded with regular Elixir strings, and one with the new HD Light set. I also had an acoustic at home strung with the new set that I have been using for a while now. We opted to mic the guitars up so you should hopefully get the true acoustic tone, rather than a slightly processed one going through an EQ system. I also performed a straight A/B test, playing three typical examples, finger picked, strummed and single string lead lines, demoing each one and then swapping to the next so you shouldn’t have to remember for too long how each one sounded. Have a look at the video and listen if you can hear a difference.
Elixir experimented with blending heavier medium strings for the treble strings with the bass strings of a regular set, resulting in the following gauging for this new set; 0.13, 0.17, 0.25, 0.32, 0.42 and 0.53. The strings are Phosphor Bronze with “NANOWEB” Coating, with increased tension on the treble strings.
During my time playing both sets I found a definite difference between the two. I noticed a much bolder sound overall, this could be down to the fact that the new set are slightly thicker, as thicker strings give a fatter tone, the high end was much stronger, with the increased tension improving their articulation, and balancing their voice in the mix. What I mean by this is with most string sets you will notice a vast dynamic contrast between the bass strings through to treble (this is why pickups on electric guitars are often raised more by the treble strings to pick up easier), this is an obvious fact due to the very nature of the strings getting thinner. However, with this new gauging, the transition is not so obvious and manages to achieve a more balanced dynamic across the entire range, the same can be said when fretting notes higher up, they seem to have great sustain and attack. I also found when strumming that the low end was much fuller and warmer, dynamic contrast was still very much achievable depending on where and how you played on the guitar. They seem to have a real sweet spot in the mid range.
Now let's not forget that I have been lucky enough to be playing and reviewing these on two high-end Taylor guitars and not everyone is going to be so fortunate. So do they only work on Taylors, or will you notice the change on any standard acoustic? Well as mentioned above I was also sent a set to live with and I opted to put them on one of my cheaper acoustics to see how they would perform. Elixir strings have always had a very “slinky” feel about them that tends to yield a love or hate relationship. I like the feel of new strings so no problems there, and due to their coating method this feeling never fades, in fact I have had Elixirs before and only changed them once the intonation started to go, and that takes a long time. These new ones are no exception, they still feel and sound like brand new, plus everything I mentioned above, fuller, warmer, balanced etc. was evident and true on my lower end acoustic, which is great news!
Elixir already has a great name and a passionate following and these new strings are yet another leap forward in tone, balance and feel. Please don’t think they can only be used on Taylors, I'm pretty certain they will give most acoustics a new lease of life. Hopefully the differences I have described are evident in the video, if you still aren't convinced then I would say take a plunge and give them a try, I'm quite certain you won’t be disappointed. And anyway, when was the last time you changed your strings...?