by Professor String
|Is Guitar String Innovation Lagging?||
When it comes to breakthrough innovations in the world of
guitar, many things come to mind. A few noteworthy items include
pickups, amplification, and various body making techniques. When
one starts to think about the breakthroughs in electronic
effects and recording software, it's a real mind bender. The
rate of innovation in those areas has been exponential over the
past forty years. Again, the amount of change has been
staggering. Interestingly, there are some areas of the guitar
that have been much slower in development. Let's take a look at
guitar strings. In the past forty years, both metal and
non-metal strings have undergone only a few major breakthroughs.
Today a new string product is usually somebody's signature set,
or a new mix of gauges, or new artwork on the packaging. These
efforts are hardly something to consider as "major
breakthroughs". So, without further delay, let's take a closer
look at the past forty years of guitar string innovations.
Over the past forty years, there have been only a few major breakthroughs in guitar string design. This excludes the introduction of various mixes of alloys. Adding more nickel, using copper, or mixing more phosphor into a base alloy is fundamental metallurgy. It is on the same par as adding different pigmentation to paint, and getting a different color. When one takes a look at string construction, there appears to be very few breakthroughs. Some attempts have been made to improve string construction with debatable results. Tapered end strings come to mind. Yet other construction changes have been made to accommodate specific guitars. Double ball end strings are something that comes to mind. So, which string designs have made significant impacts? There are perhaps only three major breakthroughs, to date, we can note.
1. Hexcore Strings
2. Cryogenic Strings
3. Polymer Coated Strings
Let's take a brief look at the contribution made by each of these breakthroughs.
The design of the hex shaped core started around 1970. It ended up being superior to the round shaped core. This clever innovation addressed two things. The first problem the hexcore addressed was more related to a manufacturing problem. Getting the wrap wire to stay coupled to a round core wire was problematic. It required an adhesive to be used. The adhesive was applied to round core wire, and then the wrap wire was wound around it. The performance of the adhesive was marginal as the wrap wire would not want to stick to the core wire. To get around this problem, the hexcore had sharp points that dug into the wrap wire as it was being wound. It gave a much tighter coupling. This solved a second issue. The adhesive slightly dampened the vibrational energy from the string. The hexcore gave a cleaner and brighter sound.
This is a string innovation that is still not understood by many, but the results have been significant. Perhaps the early marketing of cryogenic string technology fell short. It is a complicated sell into a market filled with many beginners and three chord song writers. Don't believe it? Try explaining why somebody should pay extra for strings that have been frozen to minus three-hundred degrees. It is difficult for most folks to imagine a temperature that cold, let alone the merits of it. So, what is this innovation? Here is the geek speak: Cryogenically freezing a string to liquid nitrogen realigns the atomic lattice structure of the metal in the tempering process. It yields a much harder string that produces a brighter sound. In short, cryogenic strings can take a beating. They are the string of choice for bassist that are into heavy slap, and still want that bright, clean sound.
Polymer Coated Strings
Although micro polymer coating technology has been around for awhile, the application of it in guitar strings has only taken hold in the past decade. The addition of a protection layer to a string's construction has been a breakthrough in string life. Corrosion resistance now exists for string leveraging alloys such as bronze. Players can expect three times the life in tone quality with polymer coated string. Coated strings have been a hands down hit with the acoustic market.
If we are looking at three breakthroughs over forty years, that averages to be something new every thirteen years. Let's hope that pace can improve.
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