Why You Should Try Pure Nickel Strings

Discussion in 'Tonefreaks' started by gmacdonnell, Dec 30, 2008.

  1. gmacdonnell

    gmacdonnell V.I.P. Member

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    Hi Fellas,

    I was writing a reply to the "Best Strings" thread, but it was gettin' long, and I thought maybe would help some other folks out if I posted it on its own.
    I'm sure a lot of guys know this stuff, but for the ones who maybe don't, here goes.

    I'm a working player, and my only real pastime is pickin', (fishing's fun if i got a guitar!:naughty:) I'm not a gear snob, I'll use whatever works, but I try to get the best sound and setup I can, cause I take pride in my work and music.

    If you haven't ever tried some high-quality 100% nickel strings, give them a shot. Ever since I bought a set of Pyramid Strings when the shop was out of everything else, I've realized strings matter even MORE than I thought, (which was a lot!:shock:)

    Best Pure Nickel Strings:

    Iif you're looking for warm, sweet or "vintage" sounds, or if bending and vibrato is a key part of your style, some Pure (100%) Nickel strings are the way to go.

    But after testing with friends and other players, I've found not all nickel sounds the same. I've heard many times that Nickel from Europe is the highest quality available, and though I hope the US catches up, for the time being the best Pure Nickel strings I've found are:

    *Pyramid ($10-12)
    *Thomastik BeBop or Blues Sliders ($12-18)
    *Snake Oil ($8.50)

    and

    *DR Pure Blues are exceptional, and are less expensive ($6) and much easier to find than the ones above.

    All these strings, in addition to being 100% Nickel, have a Round Core.
    (I don't mean Round-Wound, I used to confuse the two!) This is how strings were made back in the day, and it definitely adds to the sustain, elasticity, and durability of the string. I feel it adds a bit more snap and punch too, which is nice in combination with the warmth of Nickel.
    (Modern strings use a hexagonal shape, which uneven distributes pressure on the windings, and doesn't vibrate in as pure of a elliptical motion.)

    I won't say any of these brands is flat-out superior to the others. As always, there isn't a "best."
    But you might prefer one over the other.

    Here's my reasoning behind using these high-quality strings, and should pretty much apply to any 100% High-Grade Nickel and Round Core strings you find.

    Tone:

    Pure Nickel, round-core strings are noticeably warmer in tone. They usually have a softer attack, but sort of "swell" up after you pick the string. They tend to be much more dynamic and responsive to changes in left or right-hand technique. I've generally found them to be very versatile, because they let you use settings that would be too harsh, (lot's of treble on the bridge pickup,) or too muddy, (warm, distorted neck pickup with tone rolled-off,) with other strings.

    Just as importantly, whether or not it has to do with the Nickel itself, the fact that you're getting a premium string with top-grade materials means that you'll have much more accurate intonation, especially on chords higher up the neck. Pure Nickel strings make the individual notes in chords stand out clearly, but they always sound harmonious and cohesive.
    ---

    Feel:

    These kinds of strings have a slightly warmer (literally), smoother feel. It just feels a bit more natural, (just the opposite of coated strings, IMO.)
    They are MUCH more flexible, which = more sustain and easier bends. This is so apparent that usually you can go up 1 or 2 gauges and have the same feel, but with more volume, clarity and tone.

    For Example: Compared to D'addario 10's, (D'addario's are very high-tension,) I can perform the same bends with the same effort on a set of DR Pure Blues 12's.

    But since they sustain much better than steel/nickel strings of the same gauge, as you increase string size, you'll get all the benefits while keeping your sustain.
    ---

    Durability:

    100% Nickel also lasts much longer than part nickel or steel strings. Their durability is almost akin to coated strings like Elixir's, but they don't have that "coated" feel. Their elasticity, and round core also means you'll break less strings. Since I've made the pure Nickel switch, I've only broken 2 high E's in 5 years.

    Example: If I'm gigging 6 nights a week, and playing 10+ hours a day (gigs, practice, rehearsal, lessons,) a set of Pyramids last me at least 2 weeks, usually 3, before they're noticeably, (but not much) less bright. (DR, Thomastik and Snake Oil last similarly long.) My hands don't sweat much and I always rub down my guitar and strings after playing. Even if I'm just noodling.
    ---

    Cost:

    Before using 100% nickel I was changing strings every other day, which I couldn't really afford. I would have changed them every day if I could've. The tone just faded away and the intonation got noticeably worse. I bought D'addario's in bulk, for $3.50 a pack. I eventually switched to Webstrings.com (similar to D'addario's) and paid about $2.50 a pack.

    I even tried a bunch of coated strings, but I kept breaking the the Elixirs and Cleartones, and really don't like the feel, even of the DR coated set.
    I also felt they dulled the tone a bit. So I never used them long-term.
    So based on the prices I paid here's some figures.

    Average One-Month String Costs:

    *D'Addario's: 15 x 3.50= $52.50
    *Webstrings: 15 x 2.50= $37.50
    *Thomastik Blues Sliders: 2 x 12= $24.00
    *Thomastik BeBop: 2 x 16= $32.00
    *Pyramid: 2 x 10= $20.00
    *Snake Oil: 2 x 8.50= $17.00
    *DR Pure Blues: 2 x 6= $12.00

    Obviously, the pure Nickel, round-core strings are the least expensive, especially the DR Blues set. So, I've actually saved money by using pricier strings, (same lesson I've had to learn with guitars and cars!) Even if you don't play as often, or don't change strings that much, you'll probably find they you won't be spending as much money or time on your strings, giving you more time to play your guitar!
    ---

    Conclusion

    Just buy a set already! :applause:

    Seriously though, I hope this was helpful. It took a lot more time than I'd thought. But if it helps some guys out, it's worth it. I've got to get back to recording, but I'll pop back later when I get a break, in case there are any questions.

    BTW, for further reading, there's are good GP article here: Pure Nickel Strings

    Anyway, good luck, God Bless, keep on smiling and keep on pickin'.
    Gabe
     
  2. gmacdonnell

    gmacdonnell V.I.P. Member

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    Just real quick add-on

    Easy to Find Alternatives:
    There seems to be a trend towards these kinds of strings, even with the bigger makers.

    *Dean Markley "Jimi Hendrix Pure Nickel"- have heard good things

    *GHS "Carlos Santana Big Core"- tried a set on buddy's guitar, seemed real nice, and he loves them.

    I haven't owned either set, but they should be worth a shot, and seem more common.

    Then there's

    *Gibson's pure Nickel are nice, but don't seem to last or sustain as long as the ones I mentioned before.

    *Fender's is pretty good, but lack some of the sparkle and durability of the nicer strings.
     
  3. shotgunlew

    shotgunlew V.I.P. Member

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    I think im gonna make the switch!
     
  4. gmacdonnell

    gmacdonnell V.I.P. Member

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    Haha, one convert!

    If you're trying them for the first time, the DR Blues are a good way to go, and not too expensive. I was SO happy to find them, because they get me the tone and feel of the European companies, (Pyramid, Thomastik, etc.) and use the same materials and techniques, but they're made in the USA and are a good bit less money. :thumb:

    Seriously though, I find most players end up loving them. The only guys I wouldn't recommend them to would be metal players, or guys who want a sharp, piercing tone. The sustain and warmth of the Pure Nickel/Round-Core Strings just makes them sound messy with high-gain monster amps, (they do love fuzz boxes, overdrive and distortion however. Just not that buzzsaw "nu-metal" tone.:dude:)

    Snake Oil does make a Pure Nickel string for that application, though I haven't tried it, since I don't use a ton of gain.

    **One thing I forgot to add: I've heard from several techs and luthiers that Pure Nickel strings are much easier on your frets,fretboard, and bridge. So you end up wearing out parts much less frequently, and you can go much longer with a refret or re-dressing. Big Plus, in my book!
     
  5. Jason

    Jason Senior Member

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    Weird. I tried a set of DR pure nickels a number of years ago and found them to be waaaay too bright. Sounded very thin and tinny to my ear.
     
  6. overdriver

    overdriver Banned

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    IMO that is weird I and most players I know like them on Fender but find they sound some what dull or muddy on LPs each to their own depends on what a persons needing.
     
    Thumpalumpacus likes this.
  7. gmacdonnell

    gmacdonnell V.I.P. Member

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    The regular nickel-plated DR's (Hi-Beam?) are a bit bright for me, but I've never had that problem with the DR Pure Blues. Or any pure nickel string, for that matter. But tone is very subjective. :hmm:

    The other benefits of the nickel strings, however, aren't. They're pretty black and white.

    I think there's a perfect set for each guitar and player, if you know what you're looking for, it makes it much easier to find it.

    Of strings I mentioned, the Thomastik BeBops have a great punch and drive, but less sustain, (on purpose.) Still easy to bend. The Blues Sliders are super easy to bend and are very mellow but can still sting.

    The Pyramids have a great treble bite, but a very warm bottom and a nice, full midrange.

    The Snake Oil Brand is just fantastic. They've got loads of harmonics and are very full, without being muddy. They can still cut through, but the sustain and flexibility is astounding.

    The DR Blues are pretty much my basic "go to" set. For the money, I think it's the best string around, provided it's tonally compatible with your guitar.

    I'll probably test out the GHS Santana's when I get a chance- they should be pretty sweet as well.
     
  8. SKATTERBRANE

    SKATTERBRANE Banned

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    I tried Pyramid, DR and Snake Oyl and I agree with you. The other two I have not tried.
     
  9. gmacdonnell

    gmacdonnell V.I.P. Member

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    If you like the Pyramids, DR's and SOB's, you'd have a pretty good idea what the Thomastik are like. They're super high-quality, and have a great tone and feel. For jazz or clean-ish blues, I just love 'em. But for all-round use, I tend to stick with the other brands.

    BTW, found this GP review of the GHS Big Core string. Seems like good stuff:
    GHS Carlos Santana Big Core

    When Snake Oil came out, it was just great news. And I actually found out about DR Strings from Derek Trucks. I'd thought they only did bass strings.

    I think if you're putting down 1,000 + on a guitar, plus hundreds on pickups, caps and pots, you gotta try a bunch of different strings, too. So many players just assume they're all the same or that the differences aren't that big.

    But the difference between a regular set of D'addario's and say, Snake Oil Brand is like the difference between Fender and Gibson: huge.
     
  10. Es Paul

    Es Paul Senior Member

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    I've been using Ernie Balls Pure Nickels for the past 3 changes and they are awesome. Very tame. Noticeably warmer. They do not last too long though. In my case maybe. I use my R9 for at least an hour a day and don't wipe them down too much. The other night I played for a good 4 hours. Really tiring. My high E string felt gritty even after i wiped it really well. I love them, but make sure you buy 2 or 3 packs at a time. Cheap too. 6 bux.
     
  11. siore

    siore Senior Member

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    Are the Gibson nickel strings just as good? I've been hooked to D'Addarios for way too long, and these look pretty interesting. :hmm:
     
  12. dwagar

    dwagar V.I.P. Member

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    I've used Snakes for a few years, but I always find myself out of them and having to buy locally.
    I've tried the Hendrix strings, thought they were good.
    And I'm using the DRs now, good strings too.
     
  13. gmacdonnell

    gmacdonnell V.I.P. Member

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    I actually had forgotten about the Ernie Balls. They do make a nice nickel string. Thinking back though, I seem to remember mine also not lasting as long.:hmm:

    I think the Gibson pure nickels sound and feel very nice- but they're not as flexible as the DR, Thomastik, Snake Oil, etc. They also seemed to have a bit less sustain, and didn't last quite as long. Tonally though, they might be just perfect, depending on what you're looking for.


    I played D'addario's for a long time. They're definitely a good string and very consistent. But after experimenting, I've found it almost impossible to go back to them. They have a higher tension than almost any other brand, so they don't bend as easily, and in comparison to pure nickel, they sound a bit harsh on my LP Jr. or 335.

    But strings are real personal, like picks. (I should do one of these on picks someday...) There isn't really a "best", just the right one for the job or for the player. I just wanted to share my findings on some of the lesser-known or pricier strings, cause I used to think they were gimmicks.:laugh2:

    Whenever I'm recording or going into a session, I like to have a few different kinds of strings. Since I'm pretty familiar with them, I know how they sound, and can pick the perfect one to compliment the track.
     
  14. siore

    siore Senior Member

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    Thanks. Just the info I need. Bright is right for me, but the supposed lower tension of nickel wounds are having me look at a few. :)
     
  15. mdr40z

    mdr40z Senior Member

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    I'm with you gmac, I been using the DR Blues for some time and love them
     
  16. VictorB

    VictorB Formerly LZF Super Mod

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    I've been using pure nickel strings for a few years now, they have a sound and feel all of their own. If you don't want to spend a fortune on "boutique" strings I suggest these...

    [​IMG]

    D'Addario Guitar Strings
     
  17. 5F6-A

    5F6-A Senior Member

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    At last!! A man after my own heart!

    the strings I use;

    Thomastik-Infeld

    For my Strat: Blues sliders

    For my Gibson: Jazz Bebop


    :thumb:

    I've been telling people for ages but nobody seemed to listen... now it's not just me! :dude:
     
  18. gmacdonnell

    gmacdonnell V.I.P. Member

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    Wow, 5f6-A, another Thomastik player?!? I know exactly what you're talking about: except a couple straight-ahead jazz players, no one usually knows about them. They really are fine, fine strings. And I agree with you 100% about your choices: I use the Sliders in my Tele and the BeBop's on my 335. Perfect match! I bet they're easier to get over there- here I can only find them at Rudy's on 48th St. in NYC...

    siore, if you like a brighter sound, but want to try the pure nickel strings, check out the Snake Oil Brand "Rock" string. It's designed to be a bit brighter, but it has all the advantages of the pure nickel string. Everything SOB makes is top-notch, in my opinion.
     
  19. 5F6-A

    5F6-A Senior Member

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    yep


    I don't think I'll be playing a different string. They sound and feel perfect.
    and yes.. you're right. You can get them here without much hassle but I have to order them over the net. Many big stores stock them here in Europe though, so no worries....
     
  20. zoso777

    zoso777 V.I.P. Member

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    What about the Gibson Vintage (pure nickel) ? :hmm:
     

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