Ernie Ball is king when it comes to the string game, and they offer a comprehensive range of different acoustic strings for different situations. For this review, we’ve tested four different sets against each other to find what each is suitable for.
Earthwood Medium Light 80/20 Bronze Alloy
These strings are made of tin-plated steel core wire with a wrap made of 80% copper and 20% zinc, hence the name. There’s no corrosion-inhibiting phosphor or any coating, so the idea is that these strings will give you supreme punch and clarity, but may not last as long as certain other sets in the product range. These strings sound pretty bright, so they’re in the ‘maybe you need that, maybe you don’t’ category. Perhaps your guitar sounds quite dark and you need to do something to bring back the sparkle. Or perhaps you really need plenty of pick attack. In that case, these will work well for you. They have great punch – which is awesome for heavily-strummed techniques – and beautiful sustain too. Ideally they would suit a player who wants a really clear sound for recording, or a touring player who isn’t fussed about putting on new strings quite regularly. The brighter tone might not be for everyone but you’ll know from this review if it’s for you.
Great treble clarity
Not very long-lasting
Aluminum Bronze Strings
Some strings are great at expressing clarity. Others excel at expressing fullness. The Aluminium Bronze construction is somehow able to do both of these at the same time, and they do it nice and loud. The clarity seems nice and consistent across the full range of the fretboard. The low end is full and powerful without being too boomy. These strings feel relatively smooth (especially for non-coated strings) with the bare minimum of finger noise, which is impressive for strings with such clarity. The windings seem very tight and consistent, the ball end is quite smooth and the strings themselves come out of the package extremely clean. Whatever Ernie Ball is doing to keep corrosion at bay is workin’!
Ernie Ball says the addition of aluminium enhances resistance to acids, sweat and string contaminants, so that’s surely a big part of it, and bodes well for their long-term usability. Overall they’re a great multi-purpose string for those who really want their guitar to be heard. If you prefer to blend into the background then these might not be for you, but if you want all of the nuances of your playing to be appreciated, you should check them out.
Loud, full stone
Might be too bold for some players
Everlast Coated Phosphor Bronze Strings
With these strings Ernie Ball sought to create a coated product that improved string longevity, but didn’t sound like a coated product. To do that they investigated nanotechnology, eventually finding a cost-effective solution that molecularly enhances the surface of the strings to repel tone robbing contaminants – gunk and grime that can stifle and corrode the string – yet is so thin that not even a sound lab can detect a tonal difference.
In addition to the nanotechnology treatment to repel unwanted moisture and oils, the plain strings have a patented titanium winding around the ball end to reduce slippage and breakage, and to maintain tuning integrity. These have actually been my string of choice for a few years now: I use them on an Ibanez Charleston acoustic and a cheapie Monterey dreadnaught, and I’ve found them to stay fresh and lively for a ridiculously long time. Importantly, each guitar maintains its distinctive voice. The Ibanez is a particularly mellow-sounding guitar with smooth high end and a thick midrange, while the Monterey is a dreadnaught with all of the high-end sparkle and low-end thud you’d expect of that body shape. Neither guitar suffers from the ‘muffled highs and sterile mids’ syndrome I’ve often found with some coated strings. Instead they simply sound pretty much the same after six months as they do when I put them on.
Very, very long-lasting
Sweet highs and clear mids
Earthwood Medium Light Phosphor Bronze
If you like the general sound of the Earthwood 80/20 set but you need something longer-lasting, this set might be for you. They’re made with the highest quality phosphor bronze wrap wire to inhibit corrosion, and they have clear highs – not as clear as the 80/20s but still quite respectable - with a tight low-end response that’s still full-sounding.
Usually it’s one or the other. In fact, the lows are so prominent and supportive that Ernie Ball lists these on the ‘warm’ side of its tone chart, but when you hear them you’ll certainly notice the high-end sparkle too. You’ll also notice a warm midrange which stops short of sounding too fat or honky: it provides just enough harmonic sophistication to handle solo nger style situations, but not so much that it’ll get cloudy in a band mix. By the way, these are the strings used by The Counting Crows, The Edge, and Maroon 5.
Bass might be too warm for some
For more details on Ernie Ball products, visit www.cmcmusic.com.au.