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Another Small Step for Mankind

These are the strings I just switched to and they sound great.

Guitar players, especially vintage guitar players will try almost anything in their quest for “that” tone in their heads. It’s often a tone that was born many years ago-at a concert or maybe on a stage one night when everything came together; ┬áthe right guitar, the right room, the right amp and settings and the right frame of mind. I haven’t gigged in something like 38 years but I still remember a night or two or three when, for some reason, everything sounded exactly right. The guitar sustained forever, the tone was rich and fat and complex and I wasn’t playing through any pedals. I still have it in my head today. I remember what I was playing on a few of those nights and I’ve tried to replicate it and I haven’t been able to. I got it with a 64 ES-335 through a 64 Super Reverb and, another time I got it with an Epiphone Wilshire (P90s) through a Fender single Showman. We were loud but, in the case of the Showman, the gig was outdoors and I had it cranked up to around 7. The guitar was just on the edge of feedback and it took on a life of its own. I’ve tried dozens of amps and I’ve owned hundreds of guitars and I’ve come very close to that tone but I’ve never quite nailed it. Part of that is the fact that I don’t gig any more and that, I’m sure, has a lot to do with it. I mostly play at home with much smaller amps at much lower volumes. But I’ve recently noticed something else that I hadn’t paid much attention to. The strings. The strings? Yep, the

Here's another round core string. I haven't tried them yet but they cost less than Pyramids.

strings. They don’t sound the same as they used to. Back in the day (the day being the period when I played regularly with a band from 1964 to 1973) I used whatever strings were available (and cheap) at Hermies Music Store or Drome Sound in oh so cosmopolitan Schenectady, NY. It didn’t seem to matter that much back then-they all seemed to sound pretty much the same. I guess they were all made more or less the same way. Apparently that’s no longer true. I’ve been using D’Addario’s for years and years because they are cheap and I can buy them in bulk. They sounded fine to my ears and I never saw any compelling reason to switch. Then, I read an article that explained that strings aren’t made the same way as they used to be. Machine made strings use a hexagonal core whereas, back when I was performing, they used round cores. Apparently the hex core allows the machines to wind the string with more consistency. But I felt compelled to try a set of round core strings, so I bought a set of Pyramid pure nickel handwound strings. The quest for tone is an incremental search and every little teeny improvement is noted-things like capacitors, pots, nut material and at least a dozen other things. Whenever I put on a set of new strings, they always sound too “metallic”…it isn’t twang so much as a “liveliness” that sounds wrong. It goes away in a few days but some of the brightness and sustain seems to go away with it. Enter Pyramid strings. I put a set of 10’s on my wonderful blonde 59/60 ES-345 and there it was. The sound of what my guitar used to sound like. It put a big smile on my face because it’s one of those things that when it’s wrong you know it but you don’t know why but when it’s right, you know it’s right and you don’t care why. There are other brands that sell strings made the old fashioned way and I urge you to try them-after all I’m not on the payroll at Pyramid. I don’t know why they sounded right but they certainly did. Now all I need is a big outdoor gig where I can crank up the ol’ tweed Bassman to “11” and make that 345 sing.

9 Responses to “Another Small Step for Mankind”

  1. Chris W says:

    Charlie, how’s the string balance on them for you? I just put a set of Nickel Pyramid flats on my ’61 ES-175 recently and I find that the wound vs unwound are still out of balance even with the pole pieces at their extremes (high for wound, low for plain steels). I like the tone, but they are basically unusable due to the output differences between strings.

    FWIW, I find the D’Addarios to be the brightest strings on the market for a given construction (D’Addario nickel plated steel vs other brands nickel plated steel, D’Addario flats vs other brand flats). I’ve been using Elixir polywebs, which I find to be a semi-bright tone that lasts forever. I’d be in the poorhouse with a my 60+ guitars if I had to change strings every few months on all the guitars due to corrosion.

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Balance seems OK on my 345 (which are roundwound). I’ve only strung up the one guitar with them. I’m ordering up a few sets of DR round core to see how those stack up (cheaper than Pyramids). I don’t like coated strings but if I had 60 guitars, I’d be using them too. I like a bright string but it’s that metallic thing that bugs me with D’Addarios-and they don’t stay bright for that long if you play them a lot.

  3. Chris H says:

    Currently experimenting with various Pyramids on my guitars. Perhaps you could check the following?

    Switching from regular D’addarios or Ernie Ball to Pyramid Nickels (the Orange package as above) seems to mean the intonation of the wound strings being quite out of whack. Not a problem to re-do it on an ABR but it meant I couldn’t get my ’57 Special to intonate properly on the wound strings. Care to check if the wound strings are out of kilter on yours after the swap? I venture to guess the different core to wrap ratios could be responsible. I certainly like the easy feel and mellow tone.

    Agree with Chris W regrading the flats. The bass strings just thud in comparison to the unwounds. I’ve tried the green label Pyramids that many swear by (also pure nickel) but I think the Orange are a nice balance top to bottom.

    By the way, if you like a round core string that is a little brighter and a little cheaper the Dean Markley No. 1973 set (in the orange package with the hand done drawing on the front) are such a string. Similar loose feel and mellow tone signature to the Pyramids.

  4. OK Guitars says:

    I had no obvious or glaring problem with the intonation when I switched but I haven’t played them that much yet. I will put them through their paces over this weekend. I don’t think it would hurt for them to be a little brighter and I’ll definitely try the Markleys (as well as the DRs). I haven’t played on flats since around 1965 except for the occasional guitar I buy that still has them (and they’re usually 30 years old).

  5. Chris H says:

    Great! Would love to hear your thoughts when you’ve put them thru their paces.

  6. Paul S says:

    Hey Charlie,

    now that it’s been a few months, what did you think of the different brands of round core strings?

    Thanks,
    Paul

  7. OK Guitars says:

    Hi Paul
    You just anticipated an upcoming post. I switched back to good ol’ cheap D’Addarios. Not because the round didn’t sound great because they did. But the premium price and the fact they went dead very, very quickly was a factor. I change strings pretty frequently as it is (and I don’t gig). I just like the “snap” of new strings and with Pyramids, that was gone in a couple of weeks of daily playing. The DRs were no better.

  8. dan says:

    Hey Charlie – Coincidentally I just started experimenting with Nickel wrap strings as well. I found my faithful D’addario’s to be a tad bright/brash on my 345 and tried a pack of DR Pure Nickel 10’s… and have been very surprised that a string change could make such a dramatic difference. Much warmer/mellower in a good, classic rock-ish sorta way, and interestingly enough they seem to generate noticeably less output – did you feel that as well?

    I played the 345 through a Marshall 50 watt today and couldn’t believe how good it sounded. The amp has never sounded as nice – go figure.

    Intonation is spot on, no issues at all on that front. No thoughts yet on durability – after 2 weeks they still seem to play great, but we’ll see how it goes…

    Best,
    Dan

  9. OK Guitars says:

    I was impressed at the difference and how authentically “vintage” the nickel wrap round core strings sounded. The trouble with the Pyramids, besides the price, was that after a couple of weeks they sounded dead. I haven’t gotten around to the DRs yet.

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