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This article was originally published in issue #30
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For many guitar players strings are almost the last things they consider when thinking about their tone, but especially for acoustic players, the brand and type of string you choose can have profound consequences for you sound. There are almost as many string brands on the market as there are manufacturers of guitars but Ernie Ball is one of the biggest names and is considered an innovator within the industry. Its newest acoustic string is called the ‘Aluminum Bronze’ and is designed to give more projection and clarity than traditional Phosphor Bronze strings, while providing natural resistance to sweat and corrosion without the need for coating. Just for the record (in case the spelling fiends are tutting already - 'aluminum' is what the metal is called in the USA and features in the product's name. In the UK it is known as 'aluminium'. It's the same stuff, honest!)
The strings are made from (prepare for the science bit!) Ernie Ball’s 'maraging' steel hex cores with an Aluminum Bronze wrap wire and whilst we have no idea what 'maraging' means, the steel hex core gives the strings more output when used with pickup systems and the Aluminum Bronze gives the corrosion resistance and brighter, more projected tone.
Ernie Ball provided us with two identical acoustics, fairly generic Far Eastern mid-market guitars, one fitted with a set with Ernie Ball ‘Earthwood’ acoustic strings and the other with the new ‘Aluminum Bronze’ set. The ‘Earthwood’ set are made from a very different set of materials to the Aluminum Bronze, with a tin plated steel core wire wrapped with an 80% copper, 20% zinc alloy. Whilst they sounded great, the Aluminum Bronze set offered an easily perceptible brighter top end and fuller bottom end with a lot more projection and volume. Miked up, the difference was easy to perceive and for listeners in the room the difference in tone and volume was marked. Through a pickup based system the AB strings offered a higher output and more balanced tone that was significantly more pleasing to the ears and picked up more dynamics of a performance.
As ever, the proof is in the listening (and the playing, of course!) so check out our video and hear the difference.
The AB strings are certainly impressive and, whilst slightly more expensive than traditional acoustic sets (around $3 or £2 more than Earthwoods at street prices, we reckon) they certainly offer enough of an improvement to justify the extra cost. If they last as long as Ernie Ball suggests then they represent a definite step forward in acoustic string design and are well worth trying out.
For the record, the new Ernie Ball Aluminum Bronze strings come in four sets: 011-052, 012-054, 013-054 and 010-050 and in case you developed a passion for our testbed review guitars and are dying to know what they are, they're both Woodstock WHW41309 models.