Steely Strings Fit for a King
By Russ Kent
Contributing Editor, Harmony Central
Last year, Ernie Ball continued its history of innovation in electric guitar string design with the company’s Cobalt Series, strings that last longer and produce more output than any previous design. But the company did not rest on its laurels. Instead, the Ball sorcerers decided to keep charging ahead with the quest for the ultimate in string durability, going quite literally to the core of the problem. The result is the new M-Steel Slinky Electric Guitar Strings. And you’ve got to play ’em—over and over and over again—to believe ’em. These are strings that can stand up to the attack of the brawniest axe men in the realm.
More important, M-Steel Slinkys have a noticeably extended frequency response, which means your axe will be generating higher highs and lower lows, along with bigger out put, than ordinary strings. This advance in frequency range and tone is the primary benefit of the practically indestructible strings Ernie Ball has cooked up in its magic cauldron.
More Steel, Still Slinky
Like a marauding band of metallurgists, the Ball wizards forged a new type of string in the fires of their foundries. The secret is maraging steel, made from an ultrahigh-strength alloy that Ball has utilized to create the strongest and longest lasting string core available.
Maraging steels are k nown for possessing superior strength and toughness without losing malleability. They are aged with an extended heat-treatment process, and their strength comes not from the usual suspect, carbon, but from compounds including alloys of nickel, cobalt, molybdenum, and titanium. This defense-grade material is the foundation of the M-Steel line, which includes five Slinky gauges: Super, Regular, Hybrid, Power and Skinny Top Heavy Bottom.
Better yet, M-Steel strings promise increased fatigue strength while maintaining additional output, increased clarity and fatigue resistance. The wound strings use a patented super cobalt alloy wrap around the maraging steel core. M-Steel plain strings feature a cobalt winding around the ball end of the string. That reduces slippage and breakage and keeps the string in tune better than conventional plain strings.
Windings of War
Armed with a new set of Regular Slinkys (a “10-set”) from the M-Steel line, I prepared for battle, with a few concerns. I generally love steel electric strings, because of the increased brightness. But what about increased fret wear from the hard steel? I put that concern aside, as maraging steel is known as much for low abrasion characteristics as for having the strength of the gods.
M-Steels cost a bit more, but if the strings last longer and maintain brightness and clarity, that’s a no-brainer trade-off. If you’re a guitarist who never breaks strings, more power to you, but working musicians on tour with high-energy shows know the score—you can’t play two or three hours a night and not break strings. Even if you don’t break ’em, you still gotta change ’em, because strings that maintain their tone at an intense playing level for more than about a week, even with good maintenance, haven’t been made. Or have they?
I strung up my 20-year-old, battle-worn Strat with the M-Steels and began testing. It was good to see that there was no major difference in look or feel—other than the slightly reduced sheen and slickness of the hard steel— from the tried-and-true Regular Slinkys I’ve used for over 20 years. They saddled up like knights of the realm and stood at attention after the requisite winding, stretching, and fine-tuning.
I was looking forward to plenty of bite from the single-coil pickups and extra clarity when using the neck pickup for heavy blues, and was not disappointed. High-neck rhythmic strumming on funk and fusion tunes had all the snap and crackle of a fresh Slinky set with a perceptible bump in the upper midrange—strong without harshness. Country chicken pickin’ through my stompbox compressor maintained its clarity. The M-Steel strings responded with plenty of power and without a sense that there was deterioration with every strum. It was the same when I switched to the neck pickup for Hendrix-style wailing. The M-steels just felt right. A quick wipe down every few songs and they seemed as fresh as when they were first unwound for stringing.
I pulled out song after song from my personal rock catalog to challenge these steely warriors’ durability. I played high string, wide-bend solos trying to break a string under normal playing conditions. It never happened. Sure, the unwound strings of a 10-set are less likely to fail than those in a Super or Extra Slinky set, but I’ve broken plenty of .10s, .13s, and .17s with less intense workouts than I gave these M-Steels. Three weeks of four- hour-a-day workouts, and the first set I put on was still playing and sounding great. The M-Steels are built to last.
Sets of Steel
The M-Steels have the extended range I’ve had visions of: lows that pound like a mace, and highs that slash like a sword. Clad in maraging steel armor, these strings will be the enforcers of my melodic ideas for the foreseeable future. Anything that gives longer life, dependability and quality to my axe while helping me avoid the too-frequent chore of replacing broken and degraded strings is welcome in my musical kingdom. Bring them into your noble army and see if their cold steel doesn’t provide you with warmth and comfort well into a new musical age—or at least a lot longer than your last set.