Nick Jennison reviews D'Addario's XS coated acoustic strings—an innovative line of guitar strings specially coated to prolong life expectancy and tone, plus deliver incredible reliability. If you play guitar regularly, hate unexpected breaks and/or the feeling of dead strings, then you'll probably love what D'Addario XS has to offer.
"Strings are strings", right? You'd be surprised how common this attitude is among guitar players, but it couldn't be further from the truth. The string is both the part of the instrument that you actually *play*, and the thing that actually produces sound. Consider it this way - a string without a guitar, if stretched tight enough, can make music. A guitar without a string cannot.
This is *especially* true with acoustic guitars, where string gauge and material are some of the only ways to manipulate the tone of your guitar, and without the signal processing typical with electric guitars, the sonic differences between string sets are even more pronounced.
Of course, sound is not the only consideration when choosing strings. Playability is an equally important factor, as is longevity - hence the popularity of coated strings, which are a great option for improving string life, but can be something of a compromise. This is where New York string pioneers D'Addario come in. Following on from the success of their wildly popular NYXL and XT strings, the XS string range make use of the same premium materials and manufacturing techniques, but with a more aggressive coating for even longer string life. What's more, they're now shipping on every new Taylor guitar.
Where the XTs are made with a treated wrap wire, the XS strings are made using a more traditional film coating, and have a similar "smooth" feel to some of the most popular coated string brands (some of whom actually use D'Addario strings and apply their own coating - a surprisingly common practice). What's interesting is that they don't seem to exhibit any of the drawbacks of coated strings that many players - myself included - find so off-putting.
Firstly, the feel. I tend to find coated strings hard work - I slide off them, which means I tend to apply too much fretting pressure just to stay "on" the string. I also find it difficult to get a convincing pull-off using just the friction of my left hand calluses, because of the slickness of the string. While the XS strings certainly feel smooth, I found them very comfortable and "natural" to play.
Next, the tone. Coated strings can often sound a little dull compared to an equivalent non-coated set, and I think this is down to the way the coating is applied. Now, this is just a hypothesis, so take my inexpert opinion for what it is, but strings can become dull if the gaps between the winds fill with dirt. A thick coating can have exactly the same effect. Now, it could be down to the thinness of the coating (which is *incredibly* thin) or the way it's applied, but the XS strings sound as bright and vibrant as I'd expect from an uncoated string, with an impressively long and even sustain to boot.
Finally, performance. While I haven't had the XS strings for long enough to really test their lifespan, I do happen to know several guitar players who absolutely *destroy* guitar strings. There's something in their skin chemistry that corrodes strings the way that sea air corrodes ships. So, I took the beautiful Taylor guitar that these strings came fitted on to be played by each and every one of them, and then left the guitar in it's case for a few days. This is a recipe for dead strings in my experience, but the XS strings came out looking, sounding and feeling brand new. They also took almost no time to bed in, and held their tuning exceptionally well.
D'Addario XS strings are everything that they (and many other brands of coated strings) purport to be - they have the tone we love from uncoated strings, but with a greatly increased resistance to wear and corrosion and, as such a much longer lifespan. They feel great, and have the same "squeak-reducing" effect of traditional coated strings without dampening the tone in the process. Honestly, they're hard to fault, and even at double the price of a traditional string set, they're something of a bargain since they're going to last more than twice as long, and save you the time and effort of several string changes in that time. It's easy to see why Taylor Guitars likes them so much!
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