by Professor String
|Bulk guitar strings: A Good Deal for Coneheads?||
If you have an appreciation for television classics, then you are probably familiar with the Saturday Night Live skits featuring the Coneheads. Whenever it was time for the Coneheads to eat, they would always declare it was time to “consume mass quantities” of beverages and consumables. It was funny watching them pound six packs of soda and stuff full bags of potato chips into their mouths. Mr and Mrs. Conehead (aka. Beldar and Prymaat) must have been savvy shoppers as they surely purchased everything in bulk from the grocery store. It has always been cheaper to buy in bulk quantity versus individual purchases. This mantra also includes guitar strings.
Just about anyone who plays a stringed instrument typically buys their strings individually packaged or in packaged sets. If you are a guitarist who plays ultra light gauged strings and breaks them almost daily, you might be buying your strings in bulk. Buying strings in bulk often implies buying 10 to 100 strings at a time in one particular gauge. Just like anything else bought in bulk, your cost per string is much cheaper. In fact, the whole idea of buying bulk strings is purely for one reason: Cost savings.
Often times, smaller local music stores will have a special on free string installations. Guitarists can come into the store and have their old strings replaced with a new set. Typically, there is a guitar technician in the back of the store who is restringing each of the instruments brought into the store. Again, the strings and labor are free. To make this whole thing affordable for a music store, they will use bulk strings. Some of you might be wondering why a music store would offer such a deal. In short, they are trying to generate traffic through the store. As you wait for the strings to be installed, they are hoping you will stick around the store and shop. The whole thing is a promotion. It’s a nice win-win deal when you think about it. You get a new set of strings installed, and the store gets an opportunity to get more business from you. So, what kind of quality can you expect from a promotional set of strings? Let’s take a look…
From a quality standpoint, there are things to consider when it comes to using bulk strings. Again, let’s remind ourselves that bulk strings are about saving money. So, the questions will boil down to what is being sacrificed to get the savings. Here are some items to consider.
1. In-Store Promotional Bulk Strings
If you are getting a free set of promotional strings installed, consider the brand you will be getting. The brand is more than likely to be generic, or at the low end of the quality totem pole. There is a high probability the set will be a low cost import no-name Asian string. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Yes and No. If you are using the strings for your less than perfect hand-me-down guitar, then this is a good opportunity to string-up some new metal. However, if you give the slightest toot about your tone, then you should stay away. Much of our discussion at this point, has focused on the generic type of bulk strings. There are popular brands who offer their strings in bulk. If you are partial to a brand, this can be an opportunity to get cost savings. Be sure to as the store what brand of string they are installing. Many larger guitar makers use brand name bulk strings in their production facilities.
2. Bulk Packaging
When you buy strings in bulk, the packaging can be very different than buying strings in individual sets. If you are concerned about corrosion protection, most bulk packaging does not have the same level of corrosion protection as you find in premium string sets. Many times the strings are packaged in long plastic envelopes that contain strings of the same gauge and are sealed with moisture attracting desiccant silica inside. Once the package is opened, the corrosion and tarnish process starts. In bulk packaging, the strings are grouped together. As you take strings out of the package, there is a much higher risk of tangling. If one is not careful, a string can get a sharp bend in it during detangling.
3. Tuning & Metal Composition
If the strings are from a low cost generic string maker, it is hard to say what quality the alloy will be. Raw material sourcing, particularly in China, can be a boondoggle for quality premium wire. The globalization of manufacturing has placed a heavy demand on just about every natural resource including steel, brass, and tin. As a player, this means unstable string elasticity resulting in the string going out of tune more frequently. It can also translate into premature breakage.
In summary, if you are trying to save money while keeping your strings continuously fresh, bulk strings are something to consider. As we have described in this article, there are pitfalls and advantages. Finally as a tip, there are some non-discounted bulk strings on the market made by popular brand name manufacturers. If you are not getting a bulk price discount, why bother? You are much better off to buy the single packaged sets.
Then again…maybe you aspire to be a Conehead named Beldar and need to consume mass quantities! Munch, munch, munch!
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