Why Are Nickel Wound Strings still a Good Choice?
Many guitarists only choose strings considering their gauge. Others go into every tiny detail, from the brand to the materials used. This 6 string nickel wound strings Guide will teach you all you need to know about one of the most common classic string types.
My bottom line is that Nickel wound strings are an excellent choice for guitarists who love a warm, smooth tone. Nickel wounds, or pure nickel strings, help recreate vintage rock and blues tones and are still widely used by jazz guitarists. Depending on your style and taste, it’s worth trying a set. However, if you want strings that adapt to all genres and guitars while having more brightness, sustain and attack, it’s best to get a nickel-plated set.
Why Are 6 String Nickel-Wound Strings Popular?
Before getting into how nickel wound strings are made and their specifics, I want to help you understand why they are so popular.
Nickel strings were prevalent in the early years of the electric guitar in the 50s and 60s. As pioneers, companies were still experimenting with string materials and electric instruments in general. Most guitar and string manufacturers’ references were still acoustic and jazz guitars.
Nickel wound strings were the most used strings at the time, making them very tied to the sound of that whole era.
The English blues revolution had just started along with the first glimpses of rock n roll with the Beatles, Elvis, The Beach Boys, and other legendary acts. Jazz electric guitar was at its peak with the likes of Wes Montgomery. All of the above mostly used nickel-wound strings for their guitars.
Nickel wound strings remain popular for guitar players who want to recreate vintage tones, hunt for a specific warm sound, or other benefits of Nickel Wound Strings listed in the article.
What Are Wound Strings?
Wound strings consist of regular guitar strings, called core wire, with thick wire wrapping them multiple times. The name wound or wrapped is self-explanatory.
As a guitarist, you have surely noticed that the low E, A, and D strings do not look the same as the other three strings. The “bass” strings are wrapped to have enough low end without making the string too thick and unplayable. This technique has been around since the 17th century and is still the primary method used for manufacturing strings. What has changed is the types of materials used for the wraps.
Nickel wound strings use standard steel strings as their core and nickel to wrap the lower strings. The core metal used differs slightly from brand to brand, but it’s generally a type of steel.
The main difference between wound and unwound strings in a standard six-string set is only the three bass strings. Another difference in some brands is that traditional pure nickel strings have a round core wire while nickel-plated modern strings have a hexagonal core wire.
Don’t get confused; pure nickel strings and nickel wound stings are the same thing.
The top strings don’t need wrapping as their role is to provide high-end to the overall sound. Unwound strings are generally called plain. Typically, only acoustic guitar string sets wrap the G string, especially when choosing a thicker gauge.
Guitar Nickel Wound String Pros
- The warm, smooth tone is excellent for players looking for that range.
- Good to recreate vintage rock n roll tones and jazz tones
- Can balance out a bright guitar
- Easier on frets and hardware
- Last a long time and keep a consistent tone
Guitar Nickel Wound String Cons
- The tone lack attack and has less output making it not great for rock and metal.
- Feel slightly stiff on heavy gauges
- Offer slightly less tuning stability and intonation than modern strings
- It might cause allergies for people allergic to nickel
Keep in mind that all the tone-related pros and cons depend on the tone you are aiming for.
Nickel Wound Strings Tone
Nickel wound strings are known for the warm, vintage tone reminiscent of the 50s and 60s electric guitar era.
Pure nickel strings sound mellow and soft and are great to balance out very bright guitars. Think about the old record with twangy-sounding guitars. Old rock n roll, surf rock, and British rock are perfect examples.
Jazz players can also benefit from the dark warm tone of nickel wound strings. Old Jazz guitar heroes mainly used pure nickel strings to have less attack and twang. You can somehow imitate that Era’s sound by rolling off the tone control of your guitars.
However, rock guitarists switched to nickel-plated strings as the genre required more attack and higher output. Nickel wounds are known to lack both. When used with high gain, sometimes nickel wounds tend to sound muddy and are not the best choice for heavy riffs, palm-muted parts, or heavy genres in general. Nickel-plated strings have more of an edge and are what the modern guitarist most likely needs.
Considering that only the lower three strings are wrapped in nickel, the top strings will sound brighter than the bottom ones. This is not good or bad; it depends on your taste and gear.
Nickel wound strings make the tone warmer, but they will not fix a harsh-sounding guitar. If your guitar sounds too bright, almost hurtfully thin, you should consider changing the pickups on it as the string will not make that much difference. Consider another amplifier if you think it’s not the guitar’s fault.
Remember that there is no right or better tone. It all depends on what you are looking to get out of the guitar and what the song needs. For people who want to recreate vintage tones and warm guitar tones, I recommend trying out a set of nickel wounds.
Nickel Wound Strings Durability
A good advantage of Nickel wound strings is their durability and consistency in tone.
The bottom wrapped three strings tend to last longer as the entire wrapping is out of nickel that retains its tone even when slightly consumed. The string will sound the same and generally lose its tone after some months of playing.
Apart from saving you from changing strings often, the most critical aspect is the wearing of the frets. When the plating starts to wear off the strings, the steel wires directly contact the frets and consume them slowly.
Durability is related to you as a player and your tolerance to old string. Some prefer to change strings when they have lost their tone completely or always before an important show or recording session, no matter if the strings are brand new.
It’s also important to regularly clean your strings.
Nickel Wound Strings vs Nickel-Plated Strings
Nickel wound strings use pure nickel wire to wrap the bass strings, while nickel-plated strings use nickel-plated wire.
The core wire material is the same between the two string types if they are from the same brand. The top strings will be the same plain ones, and the difference is only in how the bottom three sound and play.
The exact percentage of nickel and other metals used in the wraps on nickel-plated strings depends significantly on the brands and the model. When buying strings, you can check out the materials on the string pack, although you can only tell the difference once you string your guitar and play them.
Tone-wise, nickel-plated strings are brighter and have higher output, sustain and attack. Nickel-plated strings do better with high gain as they retain the clarity of the tone and note separation when playing chords. Overall nickel-plated strings are more balanced and better for rock and modern genres.
You can tell the difference in tone when first changing strings. Generally, when you put on the plated string, you can fill the brightness and snappiness after some days of play though they tend to lose it. The same feeling is less prominent when putting on a new pair of pure nickel strings.
Due to the shape of the core wire, modern nickel-plated strings have slightly better intonation and tuning stability than nickel wounds. However, intonation and especially tuning stability are mainly related to your guitar and the setup.
Nickel wound can feel a bit stiffer to play than plated strings. In the early days, players like Jimi Hendrix or BB king used very light gauge strings, the typical string set gauge was 10-38! There is not much difference in playability on such a light gauge string, no matter what string type you use.
Today, if you use 10s today the thicker string will be around 0.46, so you will feel the slight stiffness of the wound strings.
Overall, a modern guitar player would have a better time with Nickel-plated strings in tone and reliability. Nickel wounds are more for guitarists that are focused on getting specific tones.
Nickel wounds are also more expensive than plated strings. The price is related to production costs and does not imply that one pair of strings is better.
Nickel Wound Strings vs Coated Strings
Coated strings use a thin layer of synthetic material protective coating on the wrap wire, core wire, or the entire string to prevent corrosion as long as possible.
Moden sets of strings today have different types of coating, each making the string more resistant in another way. However great this sounds, there are some drawbacks. Compared to nickel wound strings, a coated string is more durable and could last you longer; however, coated strings take away some of the tones out of the strings.
I would suggest trying on coated strings only if you feel like you need an extra layer of resistance to strings snapping or wearing out.
What to Look for in Guitar Strings
Buying a new set of strings is an experience that changes drastically the more you play guitar.
At first, you might only buy a set of strings by judging if it’s light or heavy on your hand, later by adapting it to your guitar, and ultimately by considering them based on many factors.
Some general things to look out for when buying a new set of strings are the following.
Usually, durability is related to the price. Very cheap strings are not made to last long and keep the guitar properly intonated with a lively tone for long. Also, there are specific types of strings, like coated ones, that are highly durable and last longer than usual strings.
Always aim for strings that fit your style. If you are into heavy metal, you should probably get the cheapest nickel-plated strings rather than the most expensive pure nickel ones. You can look up what types of string players you like to use to experiment with.
You should always consider your guitar before buying strings. If you switch from a light gauge to a heavy one, you might need a setup. Also, some guitars are not made to support very heavy stings, which might cause issues with the neck.
The playing level
For a total
If you find an expensive set you like, always buy one before purchasing a budget. Sometimes a higher price doesn’t; justify the value of the strings, or they just might be good for you.
Nickel Wound String Brands to Consider
Different brands use different materials and ultimately manufacture different sounding strings. I recommend using one of the following brands in any string gauge you’re familiar with.
DR Strings PHR-10 Pure Blues Pure Nickel Electric Guitar Strings
The DR Pure Blues strings are built precisely as in the old days and have an excellent warm tone. If you are into rock n roll, blues, or jazz, this set will help you get the mellow, warm sound you might be looking for.
The strings have quite a lot of sustain and are almost as cheap as any pack set of quality nickel-plated strings.
Ernie Ball 2251 Regular Slinky Classic Rock N Roll Electric Guitar Strings
The Rock N Roll set of strings became a guitar staple in the 60s when people were first trying to play lead guitar and threw away the high E string from sets to replace it with a thin Banjo string. Earnie ball was the first to launch the slinky round wound string with an already thin E string capturing the attention of all young rock and blues players.
The set is made from pure nickel wire wrapped around tin-plated hex-shaped steel core wire. The Hex shape means more tunning stability and better internal than Nickel-plated strings.
This Earnie Ball set is a perfect blend of a vintage tone with a modern build and durability.
D’Addario NYXL1046BT Balanced Tension Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings
This set is the most expensive on the list at almost double the price of the previous two. This set features break-resistant, high-carbon steel core and plain steel alloy, enhancing resistance and tunning stability.
Modern techniques applied to the wounding also make string better at high gain, keeping the clear mid-range.
Although the strings are great, I think you should try only a set first and then decide for yourself if the extra price makes any difference for your guitar.
Answer: The only danger with the strings comes if you are allergic to nickel. Since the wounding is of pure metal, it’s more likely you’ll react to them. There is no risk of snapping unexpectedly.
Answer: Yes, and they sound as good as on an electric. Feel free to experiment with string types on any guitar as long as you consider the tension you put on the neck.
Answer: Most players tend to wear out after 2-3 months of playing. However, depending on how sweaty your hands are or how much you play, they might wear much faster.
Answer: The strings start to sound dull and very different from when they sounded new. They lose their sustain and sparkle. Intonation starts to become faulty, and you can tell when you play a chord that it doesn’t sound right, even though the guitar is perfectly tuned.
Also, you can consider changing strings if you have an important show or recording session, even though they might not be that old.
If you are looking for a classic feel and tone for your guitar, nickel-wound strings are a great choice. Pure nickel adds warmth and roundness to the tone while sacrificing some of the edge and sustain typical for nickel-plated strings.
If you are a first-time buyer, I recommend purchasing any lighter gauge set to try out if you like how the strings feel and sound. If you know what you are buying, I suggest purchasing hex-core nickel-plated strings at an above-average price to improve overall versatility and reliability.
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