by Professor String
|Want to put some heat on your tone? Try some Frozen Strings.||
Strings have become one of the hottest things in guitar and bass string design.
It’s no pun! We are talking about cryogenically tempered strings. Some of the
first sets of cryogenically tempered strings hit the market about two decades
ago. But they really did not get into the mainstream of visibility until about a
decade ago. Since that time, many players have found the merits of using these
uniquely made strings. At the same time, many players are still unfamiliar with
cryogenically tempered strings. We are going to take a closer look at this
innovation mostly misunderstood by many and often mistaken as another string
So what are cryogenically tempered strings (also called cryogenic strings)? They are strings that have been taken from room temperature, to extremely cold temperatures (about -320 degrees Fahrenheit) for about fifteen hours. Once the strings have fully temperature soaked, they are slowly brought back to room temperature over a period of fifteen hours. The whole thermal cycle process takes about thirty seven hours to complete. The cryogenic process addresses five things from a metallurgical perspective:
1. It closes and refines grain structures within the alloy.
2. There is a reduction in retained stresses, wear and surface roughness.
3. It reduces retained austenite in the metal.
4. Increases dimensional stability
5. Increases overall durability
In theory, this means the string will achieve a greater stability in tuning as it is brought to full tension. In addition, the tone will not decay as quickly as the strings begin to age.
The Frozen Unknown
As mentioned earlier, many players are still unfamiliar with cryogenic strings. For the most part, the strings have made significant inroads into the electric bass market. They have become popular with many bassists wanting to retain a bright sound after countless hours of slapping and string popping. They are a little pricier than regular strings due to the extra process time required to make the strings. If a player is not aware of the story behind cryogenic strings, then paying a little extra might not make sense. This is true of any product being marketed. But, by word of mouth and Internet forums, the strings have become known, and proven, for their extended life expectancy. In addition, they have started to gain a reputation for quicker stability in tuning…two of the most desired traits wanted by musicians. Interestingly, the bottom line in sales figures for cryogenic strings has been good, but not overwhelming in recent years. Look no further than to see the continued limited offerings in this string segment. Cryogenic flat wounds and acoustic sets are virtually a “no show” in the cryogenic string market. The sales numbers have not made it justifiable to expand into these offerings. Why? Take a look at the marketing campaigns trying to sell the strings. Getting the idea of freezing strings to mean something to the weekend guitarist or bassist is a tall order. Instead of taking the problem head-on, string marketers have leveraged the tired and lazy old fashioned method of selling the strings: Get a celebrity endorsement to say how fabulous the strings play. This risk is having cryogenic strings take on an image of being just another gimmick. Are they missing a real opportunity? Maybe. Cryogenic strings represent one of the more innovative metallurgical processing improvements in string performance. It’s curious that they have not been marketed as a solution, but as just another flavor on the string menu.
For bass players, slap style has long been the test for string durability and tuning stability. The continuous beating and snapping of the strings against the frets takes a toll. For many bassists doing slap, a crispy clean sound (aka. Marcus Miller) with plenty of bite is desired from the strings. More importantly, the ability of the string to stay in tune is critical. The tone is easy to achieve with a brand spanking new set, or a set with minimal playing time. However, the tunability of a newer string is an issue until it is goes through a period of break in. As the string starts to age, the tuning starts to stabilize, but the crisp clean tone starts to fade. For the professional musician with extremely deep pockets and a personal bass technician, it’s never a problem…just simply put another new set on the instrument. However, for those players on a shoe string budget (or, bass string budget!) changing strings after a few sessions is not financially practical. For many bassists, the answer has been cryogenic strings for tone stability and tunability over extended periods of time. Cryogenic strings do not solve all the issues with bass strings, but they do present a more focused solution towards the lifecycle of a bass string.
Many guitarists have not become familiar with the merits of cryogenic strings. Guitarists have different string problems than electric bass players. There are so many different desired tones and sounds players seek. The tone can range from soft warm bell tones to ultra bright rip-your-head-off shrill. Regardless of the tone desired the problems remain with tunability and string life. For many guitarist, bending and tremolo bar usage takes a toll on string life. For these players, cryogenically tempered strings may offer some relief. Unfortunately, it is a Herculean marketing task to get the message across about how cryogenic tempering can help. Here are some of the barriers to getting the message across to players:
conclude this section, I’ll refer to the statement made at the end of the
Cryogenic Bass paragraph: Cryogenic strings do not solve all the issues with
guitar strings, but they do present a more focused solution towards the
lifecycle of a guitar string.
If you are a guitarist or bassist, and you have not tried a cryogenic set of strings, give’em a test drive. Who knows, maybe you’ll stumble upon a string secret your fellow players do not know about.
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