When it’s time to change guitar strings you’re faced with a dizzying array of makes and types. One modern alternative is the coated string.
I use and recommend Elixir Nanoweb Coated Strings. Are they, or some other brand of coated strings right for you?
In this short article, I’ll describe the basics of what coated strings are, their advantages, and disadvantages. After that you should be better prepared to make an informed decision.
What are Coated Strings?
Several years ago, the folks at Elixir recognized that there’s nothing like the sound of new strings. Nearly all guitarists agree: the tone, sustain, and stability for remaining in-tune – are optimal with new strings. That’s why traveling and professional musicians tend to change strings every single day.
Each of these qualities deteriorate over time. Whether we like it or not, every time we play our guitar we damage the strings.
The amount of damage depends on a number of factors: how clean your hands are; how much you sweat; the oils your hands naturally produce; the contaminants in the air around you; and how well you clean your strings after you play. In short, the more skin, sweat, dirt, and debris you leave on your strings, the faster they wear out.
Elixir decided to help by putting a barrier between your strings and all these contaminants. What they came up with, after lots of testing and customer feedback, is a very thin tube of material around each string. The tube creates a ‘skin’ to protect the string. It’s tough enough to hold up against fingers and picks, without interfering with string vibration and tone.
Advantages of Coated Strings: Tone, Longevity, Reduced Squeek
Most people think the only advantage of coated strings is the extended life they provide. But if they don’t sound great, long-life is just a long time you spend with annoying strings. For me, an advantage of Elixir strings is the great tone they provide.
Elixir estimates that their strings should last 3 to 5 times longer than non-coated strings. Do they? Unfortunately, that depends on how you play.
For me they easily provide the promised life expectancy. However, a friend of mine who tried Elixir’s and found that the coating became shredded in about the same amount of time that his other strings wore out.
So, they are cost effective for me, but not for him (although he did like the tone).
Finally, the coating significantly reduces the squeaking sound you get as you run your fingers up and down the strings while changing chords or playing a riff. Some people like this sound, others don’t. If you want to minimize the sound (which, to me, is like fingernails on a chalk board!) coated guitar strings will restore your sanity! (Well, maybe.)
Cost is the primary disadvantage of coated strings. Elixir’s cost $12-14 per set (although I’ve found them on sale for as little as $7). Similar uncoated strings cost $3-5.
Are they right for you? I encourage you to try them and see for yourself. For me they provide long life with great tone. Fewer string changes means I spend more free time practicing!
Important Tip: Regardless of which strings you use, clean them after every use for the longest possible life.