Those $24 Acoustic Strings

As if I weren’t already blowing enough money on arcane strings, I’ve got a new obsession: Thomastik-Infeld Plectrum series acoustic strings (which sell for $24 in the U.S.).

If you hang out here much, you’ve heard me bitch incessantly about acoustic strings. I hate the way most modern strings are all hyped treble zing and blaring volume, at the expense of deep, decisive fundamentals. With due respect to my vegetarian friends, too many strings are all sizzle and no steak.

Screenshot 2015-06-03 14.55.56

Yeah, bright strings can seem energizing in a cocaine-binge sort of way. But all that glassy presence gets fatiguing. Meanwhile, darker bass strings leave sonic space for the treble strings to shine. Even on my teensy-tiny Martin 0-17, these low strings sing in a warm baritone voice, not like some squeaky, poorly Auto-Tuned teen idol.

This pricy Austrian set features brass-coated steel 1st and 2nd strings, while the bass strings are bronze, but with both silk inlays and flexible steel cores. The flatwound 3rd, 4th, and 5th strings nix finger noise and minimize tone contrasts between wound and unwound strings. The polished roundwound 6th string adds a touch of focus to the lowest register, yet introduces no awkward contrasts on melodies played across multiple strings.

The set is low in both tension and volume relative to most U.S.-made strings. Even though the low E is a chunky .059, it has a soft, relaxed feel that makes me want to linger over notes, shaping them. The harmonic range is fantastic, the dynamic range even more so. They’re long-lasting too β€” this video was recorded three weeks and many playing hours after installing the set.

I’m hooked. Damn it.

(Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man β€” I don’t want you getting your nasty treble overtones all over my acoustic strings, no matter how frickin’ jingle-jangle the morning happens to be. Just back off, pendejo.)

56 comments to Those $24 Acoustic Strings

  • Darn tootin'. I don't use these often, as only my most deep-pocketed, oligarch customers can afford them, but they're really nice. When I install a set, I usually want to buy some for myself but then my children complain that their tears are making their dry bread salty.

  • Oinkus

    Sounds good and it is obvious you like them. As poor as I am I still spend $15 on Cleartones I have a set been on my beater for almost 2 years , the ones on my Alvarez has been at least a year and a half. Never really think about it that much as far was all the info you toss in in the captions. I don’t play acoustic that much either , just require them to have strings and play when I want to play. We will see what happens now , have to figure out a way to get a set of those.

    • joe

      Even though I’m spending a stupid amount on strings, I’m REALLY trying to change them less often β€” cleaning them more, plus just enjoying the sound of worn-in strings. On big tours, most players get their strings changed every night. But if anyone is ever gullible enough to hire me for one again, I’m going to aim for more like once a week. πŸ™‚

      • el reclusa

        A trick I’ve found that works well for all string sets’ longevity (well, all but nylons) is to spray a little DeOxit DN5 on a paper towel, pinch and pull the strings through a coupla times before installing. I have pretty caustic hand sweat, but I find if I D5 ’em first and wipe the strings and neck down after playing, they last as long as coated strings but sound and feel normal..
        (apologies if I’ve shared this before, but it bears repeating!)

  • Oinkus

    $22.99 at Musicians Friend BTW

  • OWeh

    You talked…no…played me into buying a set. Just 12,5 Euro (14$) here in Germany. Lucky me!

  • smgear

    yeah, that sounds great – perfect for one of my parlors that has been searching for the right strings. They have a very pronounced voice, but my ears want me to believe that it’s simply that martin shining through – I’ve long speculated that the ideal string was essentially colorless to let the instrument speak. Anyways, since I’ve heard you demo several sets of strings on that martin, I gotta say that these really bring out the good stuff. Could you perhaps post a short clip sometime without the reverb? It’s hard to gauge just how punchy they are. Side note: I think that combo might sound even more awesome into a ribbon mic. (Edna is cool though πŸ™‚

    Are you still using tape-wounds on the other parlor? I tried them, loved them for about a week, and then realized a couple months later that I had completely abandoned the instrument. They were too quiet for everyday jamming and had such a distinctive touch and sound that I concluded it was better to just keep a set of strings handy if I ever ‘needed them’ and put some more typical strings on the guitar so it would get regular use. I still think they rock, I just don’t have a place for them in my mind/music at the moment.

    • joe

      Hee hee. I wish I had another little Martin! But I think this is the same guitar I used for the tape-wound demo. I love the way those sound too! But they’re pretty useless for strumming/picking, while this set is good for both. But I’d have been tempted to use the Pearse set on this guitar nonetheless, but I get to enjoy them on my problematic classical guitar. It’s hard to imagine ever going back to conventional nylon strings on that one.

  • Martin

    Hi Joe. I got the John Pearse folk set after hearing your demos’
    and absolutely love them. Brought the whole guitar to life. While I
    don’t mind the top end zing too much of a standard acoustic set I’m
    always looking for new idea/sounds to spark creativity. I find these days that I get more mileage out of simple things like strings, capos’
    tunings etc. than buying more and more gear. Great demo and I’m looking forward to checking them out.

    • joe

      Thanks, Martin! The string thing is so self-absorbed and geeky. But there’s a lot to be said for you “simple things” approach. And it’s weird to me how so many of my fellow geeks obsess on stuff that makes next-to-no difference (cap material? “vintage” wiring?) when something as simple as string choice exerts a HUGE effect on your tones.

  • Paul

    I love being in Europe. These babies are about half the price here! https://www.thomann.de/gb/thomastik_strings_for_western_guitars.html

  • Sounds great, but then again, you could make bailing wire nailed to a 2×4 sing. πŸ˜‰

    • Have you seen the video “It might get loud” where Jack White actually does that?
      He builds a diddley bow with some nails, a piece of 4 by 4, a coke bottle and a ratty old pickup on camera in about 2 minutes and then plays it. I guess it sort of sings.

  • That wos beezer! Joe.
    I really liked the “Ooh la la” with the combination of 12 and parlor. I can see why you like having the harmonics on the bass strings damped down to help separate the melody from the bass line.

    • joe

      Exactly! Kind of trippy, isn’t it? Like I said to a YouTube commentator: As a rule of thumb, if you want something to sparkle, you have to make something else dark. It’s a but like the phenomenon I’ve observed with flat wound 12-string sets: Having stringer fundamentals and fewer sloppy overtones on the bass strings makes the trebles sparkle for days. Paradoxically, the tones seem chimer with flats.

  • Understood! But your kids' tears are just so delicious. πŸ™‚

  • Hmm … wondering where I can score some bailing wire…

  • mwseniff

    I should try these on my Wechter 000 as you describe my favored tone. How do they do with a magnetic pickup? I’ve been using Dadarrio EXPs since that was what Abe Wechter said would maintain the great intonation of my guitar. I have been using some tapewound Roto-Sounds on one of my Switch guitars and they sound pretty good. I am always looking for more better when ever possible.

    • joe

      Funny you should ask about the mag pickup! Just this morning, guitar genius Rick Turner chimed in on this topic on the Facebook thread. He says they DO work with mag pickups, and that you can use them on an electric guitar. This is totally news to me, but I’m definitely going to try it!

  • alright then. That is fantastic.

  • Any string with a steel core will produce some output from a magnetic pickup. The problem with using an electric guitar pickup with bronze or brass wound strings was always one of balance. The pickup makers more or less fixed the problem for acoustic strings with the use of rare earth magnets to produce an intense field under the wound strings. That makes up for the smaller signal from the bass strings which tend to have steel core wires that are thinner than the plain strings.
    As long as the steel cores in the TI Plectrum set aren’t way, way thinner than the plains (and they cannot really be much thinner than a normal wound set) they should work fine with a magnetic pickup designed for acoustic strings. A Sunrise pickup,or the Seymour Duncan that looks like it, or one of the LR Baggs M1s might be a good choice since they have adjustable pole pieces for fine balance.

    • joe

      Well, what do you know?. My Lowden needs restringing, and it’s got one of those Duncan Sunrise knockoffs. Time to try something new! πŸ™‚

  • Wow. I have got to try these out. I usually donΒ΄t pick up my acoustic, because i have never seem to find a set of strings that don't sound so horrible bright. I guess the good news is I live in europe, so the price for this brand is very reasonable. Love your site. Because of it I have become obsessed with flat wound strings.

  • Shadowgolem

    These are great strings! Got them as a gift for my brother last year and he referred to them as “Unicorn tail hairs dipped in Phoenix tears.” He did find they did not last as long as typical “long life” strings but he does not baby strings either. His lasted about as long as the silk and steel did for him.
    Good luck with them, your playing style really makes them shine. Perhaps you could get a promotional discount from the maker or at least a bulk order.

  • David Fung

    Strings so expensive that nobody complemented you on your interpretation of Wichita Lineman? No strings are that expensive – that was a great recording!

    People have been raving about the T-I Jazz flatwounds for bass for years now. It took me a long time to decide to try a set (5 string set is $100). They are very interesting and different – low tension, very light gauges, much brighter than most flatwound bass strings. Fortunately, I didn’t love them – if I want bright, roundwounds are much better and if I put on flatwounds I want some old-school thump.

  • They do sound great. And given how often I play acoustic guitar, they should last me 10 or 15 years

  • Martin

    Hi Joe. You’ve done it again-)
    Had the “plectrum” strings on for a couple of days now and they sound wonderful. Great sustain and seem to be over all better balanced.
    Bit quieter than usual but not a bad thing as I live in a flat so don’t annoy the neighbours too much. Although I don’t always reply I keep an eye on your site regularly and it’s always got some insight or other to keep the brain cells working. What’s left of them anyway-)

    Thanks again.

  • Joe, I'm beginning to think you're a shill for Big String πŸ˜‰ I was just looking at these when shopping for Thomastik flatwounds. I'm already a fan of their rope core strings, now I'm hooked on the flatwounds. If I go for these, I'll only be changing strings once a year!

  • Hi Joe

    Inspired by this video, I bought a 12-gauge set and fitted them to my Norman B18 CW Cedar guitar. I too love the sound, as well as wincing at the price. I’ve shot my own video, which you can see here:

    https://youtu.be/x3pPRRBZYO0

    The playing is nowhere near as elegant as yours, but I hope you like it πŸ™‚

    Thanks for the great site!

    Best regards

    Phil

  • Colm

    Joe, have you tried the Thomastik Infeld Spectrum strings? I’ve never played the Plectrums but I’ve been using the Spectrums for a couple of years now and like them a lot. Based on the blurb, I opted for the Spectrums and haven’t looked back

    • joe

      Hi, Colm! No, I haven’t β€” but I probably should. I’d been avoiding all bronze strings, but I wound up loving the bronze Plectrums (though they’re made differently than any other bronze strings I’ve encountered). But maybe Spectrums are different too? How would you compare them to bog-standard bronze strings?

  • Lionel Artom-Ginzburg

    stringsandbeyond.com currently has a 20% off deal on TI strings. So $18 a set. Coupon code 20OFFTHI. I just bought a set to try on my Godin parlor acoustic, which has never sounded the way I want with conventional strings….

  • Lionel Artom-Ginzburg

    Wow. Just….wow. My Godin parlor, which has always sounded sort of dense and midrangey, has opened up like crazy. Not a subtle difference at all. It really doesn’t sound like the same guitar. I put on fairly light ones– the 11s, because I know that sooner or later my 10-year-old will pick that guitar up and I don’t want to give him blisters, but now I’m thinking I’m taking the parlor to my college reunion next weekend instead of the dreadnought. The weirdest thing is that the harmonics are so much clearer on the high end that I’m being *much* more sensitive to tuning and intonation issues. If the high E slips a little during a bend, I know about it instantly.

    Please tell me that their electric and bass strings aren’t this good. This could get very expensive, even at 20% off. (On a related note, is it just me, or do the red windings on the top of the wound strings, like you see on better bass strings, really make it much easier to get good loops latched on quickly?)

  • smgear

    I see your $24 strings and raise you $7

    https://www.juststrings.com/optimaacousticguitar.html

    “gold plated laboratory steel” – haven’t tried them and it redlines my BS meter, but the reviews look good. Anywho, just thought I’d give you a heads up so you can try them, make a demo, and then persuade me to try them.

    • joe

      As long as it’s laboratory steel, I’ll pay anything!

      Those look tempting β€” but I’m probably not going to get to it right away, ’cause I have a big box of Thomastiks. Anyone else tried them?

      • smgear

        will be getting some thomastiks on my next order… How are yours lasting? I’m thinking about trying them on an archtop to give it a more unique tone. I’ve also decided to cull the guitar herd, in part because I’m spending too much time and money changing strings on guitars I rarely use. πŸ™‚ Side question, I found some awesome tapered cigar boxes that make for ultra comfortable cigar box guitars. I just finished a fretless short scale cigar box bass that turned out awesome. I’m starting a full guitar version and I’ll have a sizable compartment for onboard effects. I’m thinking about adding a soul food/klone, the fiend, and maybe a fuzz or two. Any recommendations? I’ll probably be putting a set of wilde/bill lawrence pickups in it so I’ll have a pretty clean source to start with.

  • Lionel Artom-Ginzburg

    Optima does sound like BS, but there must be *something* to their sound. Brian May endorses (and actually uses, more important) their electric guitar strings, and you can’t deny that the man has an ear for tone.

    • Mr May also uses a sixpenny piece as a pick, which seems very awkward to me, I have never liked any kind of metal as a pick material. I always thought that he used old silver coins, but then I read a comment from his guitar tech who said they were just nickel silver. Then his guitar is made from blockboard with those really crude Burns pickups and he plays through a cheap old transistor amp rescued from a broken record player. Perhaps he needs to use strings coated in precious metal in order to make the rest of that junk sound half way decent πŸ˜‰

      Anyway Optima themselves don’t say very much about the construction of their strings, other than the fact that they are gold plated and will therefore resist corrosion. Gold is quite soft so I would have thought the plating wears off quite quickly. Wound strings are said to corrode and die mostly because of electrochemical reaction between the wrap wire / plating and the core wire, promoted by human sweat (wound piano strings, which are not in contact with human fingers, seem to last for years). The cores of wound Optima strings are steel. I don’t know if the core wire is also gold plated and I don’t know what the electrochemical differential is between gold and steel. Optima strings seem to be a good option for guitarists that suffer from a reaction to nickel.

      I would agree that there is a LOT of BS floating around in the guitar / string industries, but I also think it’s very healthy that most string companies do seem to be genuinely trying to introduce innovations and to make better strings. I think recent years have seen some real advances in string design and manufacturing, as well as some ‘me too’ nonsense with things like strings coated with any old rubbish just so a manufacturer can claim to have coated strings, just like the strings from other companies with coatings that really do work.

  • this guy plays good not just the strings

    • Shizmab Abaye

      I remember watching John Jorgenson’s demo of the D-Tar DSP preamp where he clicks through the settings and miraculously is able to play in a variety of disparate styles.

      It’s this one:

      https://www.d-tar.com/mama_bear_videos.shtml

      Fortunately by that time I’d already owned a MIDI guitar and realized “this is my crappy playing through a trumpet patch” so I didn’t fall for it.

  • Roman

    Enjoy your steel-stringed acoustic work very much… Such a pieces from movies and folk tunes – it sounds great. It will be a real pleasure to hear someday your covers of possibly “Story of Dorothy Gooch, Part 1” by Fahey…he made it better than “Some Summer Day”. I Haven’t heard anything more naturally played, it’s something essential I hear there, irrational – so transcedental, possibly, i don’t know..

    https://youtu.be/O0Yc306ZnjY

    or Leo Kottke’s Tennessee Toad from 1969, it really cries from 0:50 – it’s my favorite song played by Leo

    https://youtu.be/_SJlz7LoNGg

    Thanks for your art!

  • shadowgolem

    D’addario seems to have gotten the note on making strings with better harmonics. The new nickel bronze line sounds pretty good so far. 12$ street price.

  • m-ga

    I got a set of these to try out. If you’re in Europe, you can get them for Β£9.54/€12.40 from Thomann.de.

    For reference for US readers, you can get a standard acoustic string set for Β£5 or less if you shop around. So these Thomastik strings are about twice as expensive as you’d usually pay.

    (Incidentally, if you’re not already aware of the Thomann website, it’s definitely worth a look – you’ll find the prices of a lot of items way cheaper there. Shipping within Europe is free after a Β£140 spend, so it’s worth batching purchases together).

    Back to the review. They’re the nicest acoustic steel strings I’ve ever used. They look good too – the red end windings are pretty. The strings themselves feel expensive (they are expensive!).

    The strings are quieter than any others I’ve used. This doesn’t matter much amplified. Unamplified, they’re a lot more intimate than you’d expect from acoustic steel strings. I tried them on a Taylor Big Baby, and they made it that bass-light guitar sound nicer than I’d ever heard it (not much more bass, but smoother definition). I’m excited about trying them on my Gibson J-45.

    The one weak point, for me, is longevity. Usually, I can keep strings forever. I must have a very undemanding body chemistry. I hardly ever break strings while playing, and can keep strings on for a year or more, even with regular playing. The sound is dreadful, but I for some reason I quite like the dead sound. For example, I prefer the completely dead sound to the sound of completely new strings (this, and the hassle of changing, might be why I keep strings on for so long).

    The Thomastik Plectrums sound beautiful when new. If you had a guitar tech and unlimited funds, you wouldn’t even think about having a new set put on before every show

    Back to longevity, though. I put on a set just before Christmas. After an average of 2 hours playing per day (maybe a bit less, as I hardly played over Christmas week) the tone was falling off by mid-January. Towards the end of January, they were sounding unbalanced. Three days ago, I noticed that the winding had come loose on the G string, and that the G string was effectively dead as a result (even buzzed a bit). Yesterday, the D string snapped.

    The treble strings still sound reasonable. The two low bass strings have noticeable wear on the windings. My guess is that these strings use standard cores with nicer-sounding-than-usual windings. The windings might achieve their sweet sound at the expense of a longer lifespan.

    I’m about to order several more sets, along with a set of “Power Pins” which allow a quick acoustic string change by going straight through at the bridge. It’s a costlier set-up, but Β£10 for strings every couple of months doesn’t seem much to pay for the tonal satisfaction. I might end up switching back and forth between these and cheaper, sturdier, sets though.

  • Telephone

    Greetings, Joe. I just received a set of TI Plectrums, .012-.059, and found that only the 3rd string is flat wound, with the 4th, 5th, and 6th being round wound. Ordered them from a popular online purveyor that offers strings and other things beyond. A closer looks at the specs on their site reveals this-

    AC110 Extra Light .010 .013 .016(F) .022(F) .030(F) .041(R).
    AC111 Light .011 .014 .019(F) .027(F) .036(F) .050(R)
    AC112 Medium Light .012 .015 .024(F) .033(R) .044(R) .059(R)
    AC113 Medium .013 .016 .025(R) .034(R) .047(R) .061(R)

    Are you still able to get the .012-.059 set with flats on strings 3, 4, and 5? If so, where?

  • Hoke

    What are the model and name of the twelve string set you bought.?
    Thanx amateur player
    ;!;

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