Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Question of Balance and Tension

D'Addario is debuting our new Balanced Tension strings at the Winter NAMM show. I thought it would be useful to get some background on how we came up with these sets.

Somewhere back in the 1950's, guitar players realized that if you bought a set of strings, threw away the low E, used the A as an E, the A as a D, and so...and added a banjo string for your high could get a light gauge set that allowed you to bend the unwound G string easily. String makers eventually put together sets that reflected the demand from the musicians and today's commonly-gauged sets have been around for several decades.

Most of these gauges were selected by feel or trial and error, and most of us learned to play on these pre-packaged sets. Over the years, some custom variations appeared by combing light tops and heavy bottoms, half-gauges and other hybrid approaches.

As the #1 manufacturer of guitar strings in the world, D'Addario is often approached by builders and luthiers asking what we recommend for strings on their new instruments. A decade ago we came up with a Tension Guide that helps determine which strings to used based on scale length, the mass of the string materials, and pitch (tuning).

If you graph the tensions on a set of EXL110 strings, you can see that some strings are higher and some lower. We tried to flatten out that roller-coaster of a graph by reducing or adding string gauges until the total set had a very similar feel across all of the strings.

When you first try a set of BT strings, it may take a little getting used to, as we have all adjusted our technique to compensate for the unbalanced tension sets we learned to play on. After a few minutes playing them, many players have noted that the whole set feels like it is a gauge lighter than it actually is. The expected tension differences are no longer as evident from string to string and the general feel is a bit softer, even when some of the gauges may have increased in diameter.

I notice a difference in the amount of effort needed to bend the B string versus the G string. We all have muscle memory that we use to keep us in tune while bending and the BT sets definitely seem to affect that in a positive manner.

I suspect to see some improvement in tremolo systems returning back to pitch as an added benefit, especially Bigsby or vintage Fender styles. The balanced tension across all six strings should help distribute the pull on these spring-loaded devices more evenly.

The Guitar Center guys stopped by the booth to check out the Balanced Tension strings, and here is a video we did for them. Check out the new packaging as well:

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