FEATURE > STRINGS
and he calls and says, ‘You fixed it.’ I
don’t think people realize that the set of
strings affects how the guitar sounds.”
To understand strings, there are a few somewhat technical areas to get a handle on,
including how strings are made. What we
consider to be a simple guitar string is actually the fusion of two main components.
First, there is the core wire—basically
the inner foundation of the product.
Some string companies use a hexagonal
(six-sided) core, others use a round core.
“You have to marry the tensile strength
against the flexibility of the core wire,”
says Martin’s McNair. “If you get it too
stiff, it’s not going to play well—the vibra-
tions start to slow down, and you don’t
get as much pressure against the fret.”
Second, there is the wrap material
that encircles the core. The shape of this
wrap material often drives the designa-
tion of how a string is “wound.”
Roundwound strings are constructed
by wrapping a round metal wire around
the core (imagine a spaghetti noodle
twined around a chopstick). They are
the most common string type today, and
they’re considered a good, all-purpose
option for multiple genres of music.
Flatwound strings are constructed
by wrapping a flat, ribbon-like material
around the core (imagine a linguine noodle around the chopstick). They produce
warm, somewhat subdued-sounding
tones often preferred by jazz players.
Halfwound strings combine the qualities of roundwounds and flatwounds.
In fact, some manufacturers take a
roundwound string and grind off the
edges. This produces a string that offers
reduced finger squeak.
Although these three types represent
the overwhelming majority of strings on
the market, some companies are exploring
new winding methods. For example, Dean
Markley’s Helix HD line uses a wrap-
ping material that has an elliptical shape.
Further, Rotosound’s Jason How adds that
machinery and construction speed are also
important factors. “Rotosound is one of
a few string manufacturers that designs
and builds all its own machinery entirely
in-house. This means we can control and
adapt to every possible function of the
wrap-wire angles, wrap speed etc. … Many
string companies wind their strings at ridicu-
lously high spindle speeds to achieve efficien-
cies. We have a unique system that allows us to
run the machines at the perfect slower speed
to produce a superior product and still achieve
What your strings’ individual components
are made from affects the final sound at least
as much as the type of construction. Most
manufacturers use steel cores but employ
numerous combinations of metals and alloys
to produce a wide range of tones across
their product lines. It’s a bit like the contes-
tants in a chili cook off, where some prefer
cayenne, some use red pepper, and others
choose paprika to augment their cherished
recipes. Guitar string producers do the same
thing, just with more volume.
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