Hey, it's just a set of strings! Right? By Steve Henderson
So, here we have yet another company promising a must-have, game-changing, genre-defining, life-fulfilling answer to our prayers. And this time, it’s all about strings. The last few years have seen a focus on things other than the actual lumber: glues, lacquers, nuts and saddles, bridge pins, machine heads, pickups and, of course, strings. The recent evolution of strings has centred on the durability factor (coated, treated, etc.), sometimes with little regard to tone or feel.
A few years ago, I was asked to review some treated strings, and, I admit, I was quite reluctant due to my previous experience with a popular brand of coated string. However, I agreed to do it with as open a mind as I could muster because, well, that’s the gig. Surprisingly, they were fabulous. Having used D’Addario and Ernie Ball strings for decades, changing to treated strings (Cleartone) was a big step. But the new technology was sound, and the sound was great!
ALWAYS ON THE BALL
In recent years, the folks at Ernie Ball have taken another look at this whole ‘string thing’ and currently offer options such as cobalt, titanium and M-steel strings, along with their traditional types. Now, to say that the Ernie Ball company knows about strings is like saying Einstein was quite clever. In the ‘60s, Ernie Ball himself was the guy who responded (when Fender and Gibson wouldn’t) to the needs of professional musicians by providing lighter string sets and single gauged strings so that players could personalise the feel of their guitars, be more expressive (bend easier), and fine-tune their tone.
His independence as a string maker meant that he could respond quickly to market needs, and musicians everywhere benefited immensely. So began the Ernie Ball empire, which has contributed an extraordinary range of practical, affordable and quality products to the music community.
I WANT TO (BE) BREAK FREE
Their latest is the Paradigm string range, which they claim to be “break resistant” and “ultra durable”. In fact, they’ve put their money where their collective mouth is by offering a 90-day replacement guarantee – if they break or rust, they’ll give you a new set. Ernie Ball claim their new high-strength steel is tougher than anything else out there: up to “37 percent increased tensile strength and 70 percent more fatigue strength” than other coated strings.
A high-temp plasma bath “cleans and restructures the surface of the material at a molecular level” to create a more stable string surface. Their updated Everlast nanotech treatment is designed to prevent corrosion (on the string surface and in between the windings) and repel the contaminants that cause these problems. Plus, Paradigm plain strings incorporate their proprietary RPS reinforcement system.
But there are three questions to consider: how do they sound, how do they feel, and how do they last? I test-drove a set of Paradigm phosphor bronze strings on a 40-year-old Martin D-28 (the benchmark model for acoustic guitars) and the first thing I noticed was that the sound is not brassy and clangy, like many brands tend to be when first installed. The Paradigms have a kind of played-in sound – that settled tone you normally start to hear after a couple of days.
The next thing I noticed was the lack of attenuation in the top end (those weird, muted highs common to coated strings) – the highs are loud and proud, retaining their body in the upper reaches of the fingerboard: play a D on the top three strings at the tenth fret and the tone has noticeable presence and sustain. Another issue is the feel: the Paradigms feel ‘normal’ – not slippery or greasy as coated strings are, but smooth with a touch of resistance, so you always know where you are. These are all traditional attributes that other technologies have sometimes compromised for the sake of longevity.
These Paradigm acoustic strings feel right at home on my old D-28. Having had them on the guitar for just a week, I can’t speak to their corrosion resistivity. To test their toughness, however, I’ve given them a hiding with some heavy picks (1mm and 2mm nylons) and some seriously flawed technique (my students wouldn’t get away with it), and the Paradigms haven’t flinched. They are still as tonally rich as when they were installed, and they continue to stay in tune.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I don’t know anything about the tech behind this resilience, but it works. The Paradigms sound great – balanced and full – and after getting to know this guitar for four decades, they sound right. Are they cheap? Not at $30-something. But that’s not the question. The question is, are they good value? When they last three or more times longer than standard strings, the answer is a clear ‘yes’. And that makes them cheap!
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Phosphor bronze
• Corrosion resistant
• Break resistant
• 90-day guarantee
• Hermetically sealed packaging
• Authentic tone
• Great feel
• Some may initially balk at the price
Ph: (02) 9905 2511