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Hands-On Review: D'Addario EXP Strings

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D’Addario demonstrates their startling powers of EXP

By Darius Van Rhuehl
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer

In my early days as a struggling musician, I couldn’t afford to replace strings as often as necessary for that bright, clear, piano-like sound that I adored. To compensate, my strategy was simple; I learned to love the sound of dead strings. And when I did buy new strings, I had a far more clever ruse to keep them fresh. I wouldn’t put them on the guitar . . . at least not until I’d be recording or playing an important gig—much like saving a vintage brandy for a special occasion. When it came to not re-stringing my bass guitar, I did so with confidence after I had read that one of the secrets of a Motown giant was never to change his bass strings. Worked for me! (Of course with modern slap styles that could be a problem.) But what if somebody made strings that wouldn’t die tragically in their youth? D’Addario claims to have done just that with their EXP strings. Let’s see.

D'Addario EXP16 Coated Phosphor Bronze Light Acoustic Guitar Strings

String theory

I’ve heard some really arcane strategies to prolong the life of strings including boiling them in water, which I’m pretty sure is a tale of the old wives’ variety. I mean metal strings in water? And good luck getting them back on your guitar. Another more technically astute process to prolong string life (and one that actually works) is to coat the strings as a preemptive strike against people with nicknames such as “acid hands” or your basic airborne corrosives that tarnish strings, causing their early demise. Naturally, the idea of a string that sounds like new for longer is appealing, but what kind of coat are we talking about? And how will it feel on fingers that are accustomed to naked steel, since coated strings tend to have a slicker surface (kind of like spraying them with WD-40)?

Apparently, while other string manufacturers were jumping on the coated-string bandwagon, D’Addario chose to hang back and take a closer look at the whole coating thing. Then, in 2001, D’Addario introduced their EXP technology, which offered the rich, brilliant tone of new strings that lasted three to four times longer than conventional stings, and solved the “feel” issue. How did they do this? According to D’Addario, “We apply an ultra-fine corrosion-resistant coating to the wrap wire before it’s wound onto the core. Since the EXP coating is so fine, it’s virtually undetectable, allowing strings to maintain their natural feel.” Sounds good. Lets see if it plays, so to speak.

Truth or D’Addario

Sorry D’Addario, but it’s test-of-fire time. My plan was to play daily for a 45-day period and record each session. Since the sound of an instrument can change dramatically by moving a mic very small distances, I decided to record using the guitar’s electronics, which also effectively takes the sound of the room out of the equation. My Breedlove AC25/SR Plus acoustic-electric would handle the steel string chores, and for the classical strings, I borrowed an Alvarez Masterworks Series MC90C Classical acoustic-electric from Musician’s Friend. I went direct into the instrument DI of an A Designs Audio Pacifica preamp and then straight to disk. I chose the Pacifica because it’s a straight preamp with no EQ or compressor sections in the signal path, and its incredible high-frequency response and detail would shine the light on dulling strings. In the meantime dear reader, enjoy life, don’t work too hard, and I’ll check back with you in a month or so.

Back already? Time flies on the page, doesn’t it? It's now been a month-and-a-half since we spoke in the last paragraph (it’s a technique we writers call time-lapse typing) and I now have 90 24-bit/96kHz WAV files sitting in my computer (45 days of the steel-string and 45 days of the classical). To do the listening tests properly and objectively, I enlisted the services of my studio assistant, Igor. She randomly moved files around so that I had no idea which file was recorded when. How many did I get right? I’m proud to say out of 90 samples . . . that’s 90 whole samples, not 74, not 52, but 90 . . . which is two times 45 . . . and that’s a lot of samples . . . not to mention hours of listening to A/B comparisons . . . I almost got one right! And I was listening really hard. Igor had a similar experience, and her ears are much better at perceiving high frequencies than mine. The fact is, pretty much every take sounded like it was recorded with fresh strings regardless of when in the 45-day period it was recorded. Impressive.

The wound up

Being primarily an electric player, I’ve never been married to any particular acoustic guitar string, though I’ve used D’Addario strings simply because someone said they were good and I never had any complaints. But after hearing the Breedlove with the EXPs, I’ve been contemplating the wedding vows. I couldn’t believe how good they sounded—actually making the guitar sound more expensive, with greater projection, a shimmering top end, and richer in the lower registers (and this guitar has great projection to begin with). I was also impressed with the way the EXP strings felt. That said; the overall feel of the EXPs made my transition from electric to acoustic a much smoother one. To be honest, I wasn’t even paying attention to the whole coating thing. Wait a minute . . . not feeling the coating is what we’re going for. Okay, so top marks there as well—Good on ya, D’Addario.

I have no reservations recommending EXP strings to anyone and everyone. Yes, you’ll save money on strings and they do last longer than traditional strings, but even if they didn’t, they’d still pay for themselves with brilliant tone and excellent playability. But the best part is that you don’t have to save them for special occasions. Put ’em on and play ’em to your heart’s content.

Tags: Strings D'Addario

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