Modern string coatings sound more like items Spiderman would pack in his work bag. Nanoweb. Polyweb. Fibreflex. They're all currently in use by different manufacturers, and strings wrapped in them all cost a little more than standard sets, so the question is: are they worth that extra cost?
Regardless of neologistic sci-fi names, coatings are basically there to protect the strings. As one guitar tech we spoke to put it, they're like the waterproofing spray used to treat technical outdoor clothing – they keep your corrosive sweat, humidity, dust and other nasties away.
The upside of all of this is that the strings last longer, because it takes longer for them to corrode and wear down. Thickness of coating (and therefore string life) varies: Elixir's polyweb coating is more sturdy than its nanoweb counterpart, for example, while Fender's dura-tone and Tanglewood's infinity sets have lighter coatings designed to bring some flexibility back to the strings while still offering a little protection.
The flipside? Well, they might not sound as good. They'll last longer, sure, but it will be at the expense of some of the tone. How much you notice this will depend on how you like your setup, but you can expect your guitar to lose some of its treble cut and sound a little more mellow. Of course, that might be exactly what you need if it tends to be brash...
You'll also feel the difference. The coating creates a distinctive squidginess when you're fretting notes that might not appeal to everyone. So it's down to the individual: coated strings might be a blessing for the hard-gigging musician who wants fewer string changes over the length of a tour, for example; or for those with slightly more acidic sweat who wear through strings like they're paper.
But hey, let's not get too serious. Music's meant to be fun, and in that spirit coatings can also be used to dress your instrument up. Take DR strings' Neon option, which gives your threads a lovely green glow. You don't have to be a nu-rave Klaxons-aping goon to appreciate the fun factor there – again, the sound may not be as good as with other strings but the crowd will go nuts for your acoustic glow-in-the-dark version of 'Thriller' down at the open mic night. Trust us. Restring and light 'em up!
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