FEATURE > STRINGS
Photo courtesy of Cleartone Strings
Whether you’re new to guitar and confused
by the giant string wall at your local guitar
shop, or a veteran player who’s always
wondered about some of the lingo, here
we break it down to the basics to help you
find what will work best for your acoustic and
electric guitars. BY THOMAS SCOTT MCKENZIE
The first scene in Davis Guggenheim’s acclaimed 2008 documentary, It
Might Get Loud, shows Jack White string-ing a wire across a crusty plank of wood
outfitted with a Coke-bottle bridge, a Tele
bridge pickup, and nails for a tuner and
a tailpiece. It’s possibly the most primal
lap-slide ever, but despite its roughness it
sounds positively badass through White’s
ancient valve amp. What’s more, though
the film is chock full of luxurious close-ups of the iconic and priceless instruments
and amps used by White and guitar gods
Jimmy Page and the Edge, this opening
scene cuts to the chase in a way we rarely
consider: For all the emphasis, time, and
money we guitarists put into tonewoods,
pickups, amps, tubes, effects, speakers,
and even cables, we often spend very little
time thinking about the core component
without which a guitar simply becomes a
collection of wood—strings.
The history of stringed instruments
stretches back centuries. For most of that
time, strings were created using organic
materials, primarily animal hair and
intestines. Historians frequently refer to “cat
gut” strings, but that’s misleading, because
generally the intestines of farm animals
such as sheep, lamb, or cattle provided the
components for early strings. But that all
changed early in the 20th century, when
guitar builders began using steel strings to
increase durability and volume. Gibson was
an early proponent, and C.F. Martin & Co.
also transitioned to steel strings in the 1920s.
Guitar-string manufacturers of the era
typically evolved from firms producing
materials for violins and other instruments.
As just one example, the D’Addario family focused on violins before branching out
into guitar strings in the 1930s.
As the guitar became more prevalent in
the post-war era, the need for accessories
grew considerably. In 1962, Ernie Ball
capitalized on this need and expanded from
just selling instruments in his guitar store to
producing strings and accessories.
“Ernie Ball is the pioneer of [the sorts
of] electric guitar strings that you know
currently in the shops,” says Derek Brooks,
who works in the company’s artist relations
department. “All the popular gauges that
you see are from Ernie Ball and his fore-
thought into combining string gauges.”
Around the same time, GHS was
launched in 1964 in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Their Boomer series of strings marked the
beginning of major growth for the company.
And in 1970, Martin acquired the Darco
String Company (which was founded by
members of the D’Addario family) and
began manufacturing its own strings. Other
companies have joined the fray over the
decades and, today, an expansive industry
produces a wide variety of guitar strings.
PREMIER GUITAR JUNE 2012 113