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All Strung Up

In part three of our series investigating some of the string options available to guitarists, we stray into the realm of cobalt and nickel...

Wednesday, 2. May 2012  -  by  Russ Thorne

As I've been sampling a few new string delights over the past month or so, I've realised more and more that my original food analogy wasn't too far off the mark. There's no right or wrong string by definition (although we don't recommend testing this theory with your home-wound yak hair and glue ones), it's more a matter of individual taste.

Going Cobalt

Ernie Ball's cobalt strings, for example, definitely make a difference to the tone of the guitar. There's more wriggling around going on at the high end and a noticeable sense of depth compared to regular slinkys, say, along with a more pliable feel to the strings themselves. You get more definition to your notes and more response from the guitar, as if it's taken a gulp of fresh air.

Which is great for most things, particularly clean work or intricate soloing. However, it's not always good to have everything crisp. A little sludge and a little darkness can be integral to some sounds so these sophisticated fellows might not suit everyone – where would grunge have been without that messy drone? Sometimes dirty is best.

Gimme a Nickel

Likewise pure nickel strings (such as D'Addario's sets), themselves a throwback to the earliest electric guitars, might not fit all styles. You get less magnetic bite and a warm glowy tone that suits retro rock and blues – but bright country and vintage pop players (like me) in search of a little more twangling and jangling may need to keep the steel in their strings to avoid feeling somewhat muted.

Cost can be a factor too – cobalt strings come in considerably above the price of a regular set, although pure nickels can be comparable depending on where you shop. But you do get something very tasty when ordering from the more luxurious end of the menu, and you'll certainly notice the difference with cobalt strings – then it's up to you whether you keep it up or return to your regular strings. Sometimes it's nice just to have a burger, after all...

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