Coated Strings Review
Reprinted from a post on the
RMMGA Newsgroup

by Stephen T. Boyke
2001 Stephen T. Boyke, all rights reserved.

Many months back I mentioned I was testing Elixir Nanowebs and D'Addario EXPs, as well as Elixir Polywebs (as a control) on my guitars.  I kept fairly good notes and also recorded the guitars with various strings at varying ages.  I ended up adding John Pearse Phosphor Bronzes into the mix as well, to get a comparison to non-coated strings. I'm more or less done, so I thought I'd report to the group.  I play only instrumental fingerstyle, using fairly short nails (except the thumbnail is long).  I'm classically trained a play a mixture of folk, new age, Celtic, etc. tunes.  I generally use light gauge strings, but use medium gauge for the 1st and 2nd strings.  Occasionally, I'll add a medium gauge 6th string to the set.

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Guitars used:

  1. Webber Roundbody - koa/cedar

  2. Tippin OMT - ei rosewood/alpine spruce

  3. Goodall Standard - koa/redwood

  4. Tippin D - ei rosewood/englemann

  5. Webber OM - ei rosewood/englemann

  6. Collings 000 - mahogany/adirondack

Opinions and observations on the Strings:

Elixir Nanoweb Lights
Simply wonderful on all of the guitars. The Tippin D can get a little over-overtoned and muddy sounding when played fast and hard.  The nanos mitigated this effectively.  Tonally, the nano lights were consistent throughout the wound strings.  Changing volume was also fairly consistent from string to string.  Sustain was no better than the polys, and perhaps slightly less than the JP PBs.  Longevity is better than the polys.  There is a "phosphor bronze" like tone to the nanos, and it remains throughout their life. Like the polys, it takes the nanos a few days to "wake up" after first being put on a guitar.  The nanos have slightly more string noise than the polys; much less than the EXPs and significantly less than the JPs.  The string noise diminishes with string age.  The nanos handle dropped tunings very well.  Fingernail wear is the same as the polys, an important factor at least for me.

D'Addario EXPs Lights
At first, I didn't like these strings.  They had a midrange-type sound, as if the EQ was boosted in the center.  This was particularly pronounced on a midrangey guitar like the Webber OM. After using them for a time, however, I began to appreciate them more, in a subtle way.  They are very responsive to right hand attack, with great sustain.  Intonation is first rate, as is tonal and amplitude balance.  There's quite a bit of headroom in the EXPs, certainly more than the polys and slightly more than the nanos.  Not a bad string at all.  They certainly last and last. Fingernail wear is greater than the polys and nanos but quite a bit less than the PBs.  They sounded best on the Goodall and Webber Roundbody, bringing out all these guitars have to offer in spades.  No problem with open or dropped tunings, although the 6th string was a little wimpy when tuned down to D.

John Pearse Phosphor Bronze Lights
This is one great string.  A little too busy in the upper partials when new (i.e., too bright), but incredible during midlife and late life.  Better sustain than any of the others, although the EXPs were not far behind.  Some loss of volume on the upper frets when compared to the others.  This was particularly notable on the Tippin OMT which has killer amplitude and tonal response in the upper frets.  They really bark on the Collings.  The nanos have a sound closest to the JP PBs.  The JPs had a decent life, with the "fade" taking quite some time, but the JPs certainly change character over their life much more than the coated strings.  No complaints with open or dropped tunings, very capable and responsive.  String noise is very bothersome when compared the coated strings, although the noise diminishes with age.  Fingernail wear is a problem, limiting my playing time to 10 hours per week.  This also does not diminish much with string age.  String drag (when sliding, etc) is more prevalent than the coated strings.  This also does not diminish much with string age, and actually gets worse with age.  The JPs made all the guitars just sing.  Very responsive to the right hand.

Elixir Polyweb Lights
I've used these strings almost exclusively for the past several years. The main reasons were:

  1. low string noise,

  2. low fingernail wear and

  3. balanced, warm sound.

They're great strings with a lot of capabilities. It does take a little more care to coax a certain tone or volume out of them.  Their tonal range is perhaps more narrow, but it is center based, and more likely to help with musical expression.  The polys are very balanced, although the medium gauge 6th string is less focused than other polys. Longevity, string noise and nail wear are all superb.  They are the perfect string for the Tippin OMT, allowing the sophisticated abilities of that guitar to shine.  

I've restrung the Webber Roundbody and the Tippin D with Nanoweb medium gauge.  Both guitars are tuned to Eb (i.e., down 1/2 step).   I've put Thomastik-Infeld lights on the OMT.  Some interesting sounds already.  Very powerful.

-- Stephen T. Boyke