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This article was originally published in issue #49
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Ernie Ball has managed to do that very rare thing of taking an already great product and finding a way of making it better, by changing some things that you or I would probably have never thought of.
Improved tone, feel and output
Competition in the strings market has never been keener, with the top manufacturers continually innovating in an attempt to grab market share. One of the latest is veteran Ernie Ball with its much talked about Paradigm strings, due for release just before this issue of GI goes live. Lewis Turner has been trying them out...
Strings, love 'em or loath 'em, we all need 'em! I think electric guitar players fall into a couple of categories when it comes to strings, those that are very particular and only ever use the same manufacturer, type and gauge, changing them before there is even a hint of any tarnish. Then there are those that will use anything, and probably only change them as a last resort when one breaks, (I have fond memories when I was a lad of having to use a G string as a high E as it was all I had, and 60p for a new string back then, was just way too much!). But how important are strings on an electric guitar? It's possibly easier to hear a difference with acoustic guitar as its tone isn’t going to be masked by various other factors such as, amps and effects. However, we all know how different your electric sounds and feels with a nice fresh new set of strings on, so which to buy, that's the question, especially as the market seems to get more complicated all the time, with many of the big brands launching their 'best ever' ranges every year or so.
Ernie Ball needs no introduction, I'm sure many of you were drawn to the brightly coloured packs as a kid, and many an argument raged over the luminous Yellow vs Bright Pink sets! Having been around for over 50 years, the family run business has been committed to crafting guitar strings in Southern California from the introduction of the Slinkys in 1962 to the invention of brand new Paradigm strings that we are looking at here. As always, be sure to check out the video to hear them for yourself.
Ernie Ball says the new strings offer up to 70% more fatigue strength than traditional strings, thanks to its patented RPS (Reinforced Plain String) technology which claims to dramatically increase tensile strength by up to 35%. Those statistics alone should be music to all guitarists' ears. In Ernie Ball's own words they are the 'Strongest strings known to man'. That's a bold statement indeed, and of course it would be impossible to test all these things in one short review session. However, there are videos on the manufacturer's website of John Petrucci and Paul Gilbert (who takes a drill to them!) trying their best to break a string and failing, so thanks to their efforts I didn’t feel the need to hang my guitar by its whammy bar for my own strength test!
What I did do was fit a set which Ernie Ball sent to GI some time before I filmed the review video, to live with for a while and give them some stick. I put them on the guitar I knew I would be using the most and set about bedding them in. The first thing I noticed was that they do feel slightly different to the normal Ernie Ball Slinky strings I usually use - a little smoother. It's important to note, however, that these strings are not coated, so they don’t feel drastically different or weird in any way.
Ernie Ball uses an exclusive plasma enhanced process to remove defects and improve corrosion resistance. 'Everlast nanotechnology' (whatever that is…) is applied once the strings are wound, changing the way they react to moisture and oils, resulting in longer lasting strings without the tone-killing side effects of coating. This all sounds like pretty impressive science, although Ernie Ball of course won't reveal what these actual processes are, but the fact they are not coated alone will get many people's interest as that is still a controversial area and not everyone is convinced by coated strings.
Tuning stability was fantastic right from the off, a couple of initial stretches when putting them on and it was plain sailing from there - even my best attempts at Gilmour style tone-and-a-half bends didn’t shift their stability! They have got a good amount of abuse in the last couple of weeks, including sweaty gigs, after which I purposely didn’t wipe them down afterwards, to see how they would last, and whether the tone would be affected. There was hardly any tarnishing at the end of those two weeks, and the tone stayed consistently bright. I'm normally a bit pedantic about changing my strings, on average around once a week, but I still have them on and am fairly confident that I'm not going to break one in the heat of battle, or suffer from a dull tone.
Doing a string review on camera is quite a tricky, as clearly you can't tell how they feel and you are getting a secondhand sound once the original signal has been through various bits of technology and devices. In a straight-up comparison, to my ears the Paradigm strings sound brighter, with better tonal consistency across the range, whilst also delivering more bite and punch. I have a floating trem on this guitar and despite being my normal gauge these strings did raise the bridge a little more than normal, requiring a bit of claw adjustment. I have found in the past that this can happen as string tension tends to vary with different manufactures. I gave the Paradigms as much abuse as possible, using big bends (my guitar actually choked out before the strings gave way) and general hard play. After all that over the top playing I would have expected some tuning issues, but there really wasn’t anything and I could have quite confidently carried on playing without any tuning concerns, and more importantly they didn’t break.
Having used these strings now regularly in anger I can happily say they are a big improvement over the standard Slinkys, offering greater tuning stability, tone, feel and durability. They are more expensive but you won't be replacing them as often so it ends up equalling out.
Ernie Ball has managed to do that very rare thing of taking an already great product and finding a way of making it better, by changing some things that you or I would probably have never thought of. The standard Slinky strings are still great, of course, but if you really want to hear and feel a difference put a set of Paradigms on. You won't be disappointed.