My Flatwound Addiction


So smooth. So sexy.
So frickin’ expensive!

Hi. I’m Joe, and I’m a flatwound addict.

It took me a long time admit it. “What wrong with a little recrational flatwound use?” I used to ask. “I can quit anytime I want.”

Sure, I’d sometimes put flatwound strings on my Guild archtop. And sometimes on a bass. And yeah, I did that post about how flatwounds are the key to nailing that ’60s electric 12-string sound. And that other post on how flatwounds brought my reissue Fender Bass VI to life. And yeah, I may have happened to blurt out that I like using flatwounds on a MIDI guitar.

But I wouldn’t use them on, you know, one of my normal guitars.

But then I recorded that Bartók piece, using the above-mentioned Guid and Bass VI alongside two standard-tuned guitars with roundwounds. The piece has a lot of counterpoint — all these motifs bouncing between the instruments. And the more I listened, the more I realized that I liked the tone of the two flatwound guitars far more than that of the two roundwound guitars.

And then I bottomed out. I put flats on four more guitars. It wasn’t just musically risky — it was economically catastrophic! And that’s what brought me here tonight.

Funny thing about flatwounds: Everytime I pick up a guitar with flats, I react negatively to the dullness of the wound strings. Where’s the shimmer? Where’s the zing?

But the more I listen, the more I get sucked in. Parts layer over each other more readily. Chords speak more clearly. Fuzz and distortion yield sweeter overtones. It’s easier to get a consistent sound from melodies spanning wound and unwound strings. And the feel? Smooth, sleek and sensual.

Sigh. Maybe I’ll try and kick the habit again tomorrow.

103 comments to My Flatwound Addiction

  • I am so with you on this. There is something real cool and different about the intonation with flats, very pleasing to my ear anyway. Curious – do you use a plain third?

    • joe

      Whew. I was worried I was the only one. Thanks, man!

      Amazing how this stuff still mystifies me even after playing so long. My best guess about what’s occurring is that there are fewer overtones from the bass strings, which means that the treble strings have less to compete with. At least that seems to explain the counterintuitive fact that an electric 12-string with flats sounds “janglier” than one with roundwounds.

      I use a wound third because a) I like ridiculously heavy strings, and b) it makes for a smoother transition in tone and feel from the wound to unwound strings. Obviously that makes it hard to do real basic stuff, like whole-step bends on the third string. Sometimes I bend DOWNWARD to get those notes. But usually I just blow them off. It’s not like the world crying is out for yet more whole-step third-string bends. 😉

  • bear

    Egad on the price. Are D’Addario, GHS, and Fenders so much worse? Even Labella and DR look like a bargain by comparison.

  • Paul Boutin

    It’s part of your sound, isn’t it? I have a ’77 Jazz Bass with flatwounds on it. They haven’t been changed in three decades and I see no reason to mess with it.

    • joe

      Only in the last year or so — I really did use flats only very occasionally before that. And yes, key point: They generally last a lot longer than rounds, though I’m curious to see how long they survive on a “heavy traffic” guitar. Five times as long might justify the five-times-as-much price….

  • Dave

    I love flats on bass and my chambered humbucker Yammie + prefer silk and steel on my acoustic – this has got me thinking about putting them on my tele as well…

    • smgear

      +1. I default to flats on all my hollow/chambered electrics (most of what I play) and silk & steel or argentines on my acoustics. Flat wounds are like old Volvos – you’re always in control.

      • joe

        Yeah, it IS a control thing, isn’t it? I just feel like I can sculpt the note more than with roundwounds. Vibrato, in particular, is a lot more fun. As you can tell from my tasteless overuse of it in the video. 😉

        • smgear

          vibrato definitely shines. I always thought I did that on flat wound guitar strings just because it felt like my violin and muscle memory kicked in, but perhaps that is a more universal response. But yeah, I think flat wound appeal has something to do with control or maybe that’s the result of all-around better articulation. The strings sit more solidly, the intonation is more secure (assuming the guitar is set up well), but I think perhaps one of the biggest things is just that they’re quieter. It’s likes playing in an empty recital hall compared to playing in a guitar center showroom. When to take away all the ancillary string noise, you can start utilizing a lot of the more subtle playing techniques. cover more of the fretboard and hear the relative differences, etc. So when you noted that they first seem a little duller or darker (whatever your words were), that’s right, but at the same time, you’ve drastically dropped the noise floor which is why the notes are simultaneously dark, but well defined. Or something like that. Regardless, I do love them… the same way that I love rounds on a tele..

  • We love you, Joe.

    And you’re not alone at all. I’d even put flats on my banjo if I could! To me, it all started when playing bass in a jazz band. I wanted to get piano- like clarity, and got it in spades. And sure, they require more energy when plucking them. And sure, I got tendinitis. But instead of changing the strings, I switched to guitar. That’s how hooked on flats I am.

    Have you ever tried flats on an acoustic? I’m not sure they would work that well, and they’d probably damage the top with the extra tension, but I guess it’d be a worthwhile experiment. HEading to my music store now!

    • joe

      Love you back, Litos! 🙂

      “Piano” is the exactly the right reference! The flats give the guitar a consistency from register to register that always reminds me of playing piano. (Which is odd, since pianos are strung differently across their ranges, yet we never seem to dwell on the tone shift that occur when moving between piano registers with different stringing.) And I’ve always had the impression that this is what draws jazz players to the strings (plus the darker/cooler tone).

      But I’m discovering just how effective they can be for distorted/noisy/chaotic playing. The more I get into it, the weirder, the more I’m surprised that more modern players haven’t explored the option. In fact, I don’t know many non-jazz players who’ve used them since the ’60s. (Early Beatles records all features flats, though I’m not sure if/when they switched.)

    • joe

      Oh, forgot to add: I put Aquila Nyl-Gut strings on my banjo, and I love the sound. They’re nylon strings from Italy that have a guy like sound, and they sound wicked on banjo, like some field recording from the 1930s. 🙂

  • Oinkus

    Never put flatwounds on one of my guitars,have checked them out on a few different jazz archtops a friend has and he loves them.Can barely afford cheap strings ugh pricey dangit.

    • joe

      Well, they last a lot longer than roundwounds, as noted above. I’ll let you know how the expensive ones sound after a few months of heavy use.

      In the US, US-made strings sell for much less than those imported ones. But I really love the most expensive brands: German Pyramids and Austrian Thomastik-Infelds.

      • smgear

        I’ve been using Infelds on my violins for years. At $70+ a pop, just keeping my four primary fiddles going kills my wallet.

      • Oinkus

        The Infelds were only $22 when I searched ,not a huge increase in price. I generally use Cleartones and they are $15 electric and $17 for the acoustic. Of course I have 10 packs of $2 D’Addarios , it is just silly not to have cheap backups!! And now for something completely different

        • mwseniff

          I have found one of the drawbacks of having a good string stash is that band mates continually need a high E string then you have many incomplete sets of strings. Playing heavier strings helps but I just ended up buying individual single sized 25 string packs (and make them bring “party favors” in return). Sometimes it’s good to find out if a band mate is a total mooch early on as they usually have other bad traits that make them undesirable as well.

  • mwseniff

    Hello my name is Matt and I use/abuse flatwounds. Does that get me in the support group? 🙂
    The Trini Lopez guitar sounds so cool. I love the darker tone it seems very different from a 335’s tone. Wish I bought the one my buddy was sacrificing back in the 80’s.
    As I have stated here before I use flat wounds on many of my guitars (please don’t ask how many guitars it makes me cringe). I currently use D’Addario Chromes 12-52 on my Switch Oscars, Epi Les Paul Signature (hollowbody)several lapsteels, my fretless Dano Guitarlin and my Am Std Gr-ready Strat as well as one of my Modern Player Jaguars. I found that the Hipshot Trilogy Bridge on my Strat seems to work better with flatwounds the tuning stays sweeter when you throw the levers to change the tuning of each string. The Chromes are pretty reasonably priced. I like wound 3rd strings as they just sound cooler and seem to have slightly truer intonation up and down the neck.

    I also have some Fender Stainless steel flatwounds I bought all they had at a sale for $2 a pack. I put then on my Squier 7 string which I keep tuned in an open G. These are the 13-54 and I add an 11 on the high string. The Fenders seem stiffer and a bit bassier but work really well tuned down but they are not my choice for a regular guitar.

    I keep D’Addario Chrome flatwounds on my Washburn extra long scale fretless bass as they are smooth and seem to last a long time.

    But what started me on flatwounds was my electric cello (built by a buddy) I went thru several brands trying to find a set that had good magnetic properties as the electric cello has both mag and acoustic pickups in parallel. I tried several brands and types including Jargars, Thomastik Infelds etc. but ended up on the Super Sensitive Red Label that I started with as they seem to have the best balance between pizzicato (plucking) and arco (bowing) with my pickup setup. That was a very expensive exercise that left me right where I started.

    I use burnished roundwounds on many of the guitars that don’t have flatwounds as I play slide 99% of the time. The burnished strings have a smoother surface but still have good life and strength. I have tried ground roundwounds(say that 5 times fast after a couple of cocktails) but the grinding seemed to limit life and reduce string strength.
    I agree with Joe that flats work great for fuzz and distortion as well as other FX. Flatwounds also are great for midi triggering as they don’t seem to cause as much of the high pitched false triggers, tho’ this doesn’t seem to be much of an issue with my GR55 but really helped on my old GR30 guitar synth.
    I was very surprised at the tone improvement on my Gibson 60’s Tribute SG (w/ P90s) it really gave a much richer tone and as Joe notes the sound is much more balanced and intonation is a bit sweeter (I have found that I needed to touch up the intonation for the flats compared to roundwounds). For my ears the flats sound much sweeter up and down the neck with my slides and P90s seem to have been made for flats.
    Overall I am slowly moving towards more flatwounds and will probably buy some expensive brands the next time the farm comes thru with some cash. Strings tend to last a long time for me since I fingerpick and play slide so I don’t get as much string oxidation as my bandmates.
    I buy a lot of strings from since the local shops just carry the same old stuff and Juststrings has an amazing array of strings for just about any instrument. I am not trying to spam you but I just find them very convenient and prices seem OK YMMV. The strings also seem to be as fresh as any place I’ve ever bought them and I’ve bought strings that were oxidized right out of the package that probably had been languishing in a dislay case for a decade or more.

  • Dave

    Another quick thought – I don’t use a pick and the sound / feel of fingers on flatwound strings is what initial got me interested in them. I feel like I get much more subtle variation / control with flatwound strings than i can get with roundwounds. They respond better when I dig in and slap – especially with just a touch of amp grit. I wonder if there’s a correlation between a preference for flatwound strings and fingerstyle playing?

  • zyon

    I’d like to see a side by side comparison, wound strings on the same guitar and then switch to flat wound and play through the same setup and settings. also, do you see the same benefits if you use a pick to play? I think the “plunk” would become more pronounced with a pick.

  • I can see where you are coming from, but I haven’t tried flats yet. I’ve been using elixir strings for the same reason. Tho I can’t remember if I bought the nano or poly, it’s been too long.
    I’d like to see err hear flats vs coated vs regular strings.

  • Mixolyd

    I love your playing here: choice of chords, bass notes, playing the changes…the most expressive I’ve heard on a looper like the ‘Rang. This kind of playing makes me want to do it myself: the whole flat wound idea is just a nice bonus on top!

    • joe

      Oh man, that’s one of the nicest things you could have possibly said. Your words are VERY much appreciated. Let us know how your experiments proceed! 🙂

  • Sebastian Enriquez

    Hi Joe,
    In the first minutes of the video there is a guitar really curious; is the second one from right to left, can you tell me what guitar is that?

    BTW, nice video 🙂

  • Oystein

    I just put D’Adario flats on my Squier VM Jazzmaster, and I can definitely see how it could get addictive. The sound is very full and warm, and I bet it would sit beautifully in a band mix. Really looking forward to exploring its potentials.

  • Evil

    Inspired by this post I put some DR flats on my parts-caster that has Rose Mozarts (Jazzmaster style pickups) loaded in it that had never quite come together tonally the way I envisioned – and hey, now it does!

    • joe

      Oh, cool! What sort of music are you playing on it? Are you using distorted sounds at all?

      • Evil

        For lack of any better description I play “rawk”

        Whereas with my (former default) 10-46 roundwounds it was thin and jangly in the “not very useful” way – they just weren’t able to drive any output, going to the 12-52 flats really brought the life out. Part of it is obviously that they’re just heavier strings, but there’s a LOT less pitchiness when I dig in.

        Mostly the guitar is used for clean(ish) stuff, but I’ve also put it through it’s paces through my high gain models. I can see where it would work really well for harmony parts when I get to overdub time since it’s now super punchy and it’s got that SC flavor where most of my other guitars are HB loaded.

        • joe

          Thanks for the answer. I ask ’cause I’m really interested in using flats for trashy/distorted sounds. (We already know they sound great for clean!) I’m getting more and more captivated by these unconventional dirt tones.

          • Evil

            Yeah – there’s definitely a greater focus to the sound that rounds don’t have – and that presents a very different dynamic to the distortions.

            It seems to allow greater distortion character without getting munged up on itself.

  • Now…….I’m addicted too,.,!!!!!

  • mngiza

    Flats are fun. I still have a few sets of “Gibson Hi-Fi” strings – no gauges listed – which I bought more than 30 years ago. Thick but slinky – worked great on the ES-300 I owned then.

    (FYI, Guitarfetish dot com sells flats for 3.29/set. I bought a few, haven’t tried them yet.)

  • Raphael Lasne

    Hey Joe,

    I just discovered flats yesterday !!!
    I mounted it on an Ibanez electro-acoustic Talman and the it it is like if the guitar would have change sex, or something like that… I was wondering if I could mount those same flats on a Godin redline HB but hesitated considering that with the Talman, fuzzy sounds don’t work at all (it’s basically an acoustic).
    You helped me a lot with your demo (very fine melodies and tones).

    Raphael, a new flatwound-addict from Paris.

    • joe

      Oh, cool! I’m glad you found it helpful. Talmans are cool — my old friend Rich Lasner, who now makes the high-end guitars for Vox, came up with those designs at a time when they were quite radical for new-production guitars.

      I love playing fuzz with acoustic and semi-acoustic guitars—but it’s definitely different than fuzzing-out it with a solidbody.

  • stew

    … any word on teh quality of the GuitarFetish flats? Flatwounds are expensive here in Oz!

  • way way cool! What brand gauge(s) are you using?

  • Less overtones = clearer notes. Flat wounds rule!
    I once went on a pedal buying spree.
    Couple Delays, a Reverb Pedal, a Synth Pedal, and 2 Pitch Shifters.
    The clerk asked if I needed anything else?
    I said, "Yeah, I'll take that set of Flatwounds, 12-52."
    He then says, "Wait! What the hell are you playing?"
    = )

    • joe

      I have an alternate ending to that story ….

      The clerk asked if I needed anything else.

      I said, “Yeah, I’ll take a set of flatwounds, .012-.015”

      Then he says, “Wait! Are you a drummer?”

      “How did you know?” I replied, puzzled.

      He adjusted his paper hat. “Because this is a KFC!”

  • I play neo-60s psychedelia and I must confess flats are the LSD of strings.

  • Kerry Maxwell

    Way back in the neolithic when I first started playing, I had a set of flatwounds on my Guild Starfire IV. After 9 months it became a running joke at the music store where I worked: “You still have those strings on?”. I think I went two years. They started making some weird ring-mod tones, partly because I used a Min’d agate pick. I haven’t tried them again since (1978?) but I’ve always wanted to try them with my thinline tele.

  • Seb

    Okay, so I bit:

    13-56 stainless flats, stuck on a ’65 es330 tuned to lowered D (DGCFAD), and plugged into a 1990 tweed bassman reissue. Played fingerstyle.

    Oh. My. God.

    Pinched distorted doubles sound H U G E. Almost like each string is on a different guitar and coming through a different amp. It’s hard to explain, but the “peaks” of the distorted signal are much further apart than they are usually. The resulting sonic landscape is vast.

    The flatties are coming along to their first rehearsal tomorrow. Bless…

    • joe

      Oh cool! I don’t happen to use pinch harmonics myself very much — it’s that fingerstyle thing — so it’s interesting to hear that flats rule on that front as well. 🙂

  • Gaylan Adair

    LOVE your demo. Great sound. Is that the siren call of flatwounds I hear?

  • josh

    Hey Joe, love the blog and miss your work at GP ( I remember the “we’ve found our joe” byline) I play fingerstyle acoustic with lots of sliding around on open voiced chords and have been using flats on my larrivee for years and I LOVE ’em. Switched to them to minimize string/finger noise from sliding on the wound strings. Been using D’addario chromes which aren’t too pricey, the 12’s have about the same gauges as a light acoustic set. Haven’t noticed any ill effects to the guitar top.
    Anyone else out there using them on a flat top or am I clazy?

    • joe

      HeyJosh — thanks for the kind words! I’d like to try your stringing method on one of my acoustics. Man, I’m having a hell of a time finding a set of acoustic strings I like, other than my beloved Pearse/Thomastik Rope Cores.

  • Markus

    I like the clarity of roundwounds but hate the string squeaking. Anyone found something that has some of the characteristics of each? Half flat wounds?

    • joe

      Yes, D’Addario makes set exactly like that. My pal Adam Levy uses and recommends them. They sure sound great when Adam plays them, though he’d make anything sound good. 🙂

  • Gary

    I’m still thinking about putting flatwounds on a guitar to try them out. On this Epiphone 175 i have i tried half rounds and liked them. Trouble is i’m not sure what guitar to put them on!!! Do i put them on this 175 or do i put them on my Telecaster? I’m leaning more to the tele but i can’t make my mind up! Then again an archtop with roundwounds just doesn’t seem right somehow, although that’s what i have on it now. I’ll probably still be swithering between the two in 6 months time!

    In our UK prices the flatwounds are about four times as expensive! I then have to think about brand. The best reviews i’ve seen have been for the Thomastik’s.

    • Joe

      I like the Thomastiks and Pyramids — these German/Austria strings sound dramatically better than their US-made rivals to my ear. Even the unwound strings sound dramatically richer, with far deeper fundamentals. The good news is, a flatwound set lasts far longer than a roundwound one, especially if you wipe them down after playing. I can happily use the same set for months.

      • Gary

        I put a set of Thomastiks on this Epiphone 175. It sounds great. I’m gonna play a lot of jazz stuff on it so it’s a no brainer but i’ll also be cranking it as well. I went with 12/50 and it feels about right. The low E string seems really thuddy compared to the rest of them. Don’t know whether that’s normal or just this guitar. But i like them already. I hate the finger noise from roundwounds when i play the 175 acoustically which i do a lot of.

  • John Leroy

    joe – Sorry to bother you but I’m hoping you can help me out. I’m looking to put flatwounds or halfwounds on a Fender Jaguar Baritone Custom. I was looking for 24 to 84 but can only find one set of baritone flats and they’re 26 to 95 (brand “La Bella”) for $50. I understand that I may have to spend that much but I was hoping to find more options and currently I only know of that one option. Do you know of any other flatwound or halfwound options?
    Thanks for your time!

    • joe

      Hi John!

      Great question — but I don’t think you’ll like the answer. I haven’t checked lately, but the last time I did, I wound up buying the La Bella set. The good news is, they can last for years — I’ve had that set on my Bass VI for a loooong time.

      Another option would be to buy a standard flatwound set, use the high strings for something else, and buy individual flat wound bass strings for the low notes. You string your pretty heavily, though, so I’m not sure you’d save a lot going that route.

      Wish there was a better option!

    • el reclusa

      I just went with the LaBella set on my Squier VI. I like ’em alright, but I also wish there were more options. Lighter flats or half wounds would be amazing. Even a heavier set of regular-assed D’Addario XLs would be cool. Seems like there used to be at least a couple more bari/VI choices just ten or fifteen yeats ago

  • John Leroy

    Thanks for the advice and quick reply. Looking forward to the flats – haven’t played them since I had them on a p-bass in 1999 and the urge just hit me last week for some reason. Glad I found this forum.

  • Brian J

    Great discussion here folks! Thanks 🙂
    I’d been playing guitar for 35 years and never tried flatwounds, when I bought a ’64 Gretsch Tennessean that had flats on it. It became my go to electric guitar. After about 5 years of frequent playing, I changed the strings to roundwounds, and found I wasn’t playing that guitar much anymore. I switched back (onto D’Addario Chromes) and hello, it was back. Since then, one by one, all my Gretsches went Flatwound, my Epiphone Wiltshire reissue, my ’67 Rickey 330-6. My Gibson ES-339 is next (as soon as the Bigsby arrives). I’ve been switching all my electrics over to Flatwounds (Chromes), and every single one of them is being played all the time. The roundwound ones just sit there, waiting. I’m also getting a bit more longevity out of the Chromes by switching out the E and B plain strings, when they start corroding-dragging, to Elixir plains. Pinch my wallet, flatwounds are ahead for my Fender Electric 12, and Jerry Jones electric 12. I’m getting ready to have a heart attack on the to-die-for tone and playability I anticipate hearing from the 12 strings.

    Once again thank you all!
    I’d enter a 12 step program, but I don’t want to quit.

  • John Dickey Jr

    Ahhh, a place I can call home. My name is John and I’m a flatwound addict. Life changed for me when I bought my Hagstrom Impala back in ’66. The dealer took it out of the box and fitted it with a set of Guild flatwounds. End of story…since that day many other guitars have been added including my sweetheart Guild D35 natural top. The sound just can’t be obtained any other way. I have Chromes on both right now but I am tempted from your comments Joe to break down and get a set of Pyramids or Thomasticks. So glad that I’m not the only one that is hooked on flats.

    • joe

      Hee hee. I’m glad you can relate. What sold me forever on the Pyramids and Thomastiks was when I’d break an unwound high string (I rarely do, ’cause I play mostly fingerstyle, though it does happen a couple of times per year.) I figured, “It’s not wound, so I should be able to just replace it with a U.S.-nickel string from a respected manufacturer, right?” Wrong. The tone difference between adjacent unwound strings was astonishing. You had to hear it to believe it.

  • Winky Dee

    Experiment in Terror, Sweet!

    I’m a flatwound junkie too. I put that $hit on everything.

  • Joel

    I put some flatwounds on my HH Tele. Haven’t played with them much yet, but one difference that I really noticed was the sound of chords when using distortion/fuzz. Just a clearer mix of the notes, a cleaner grind.

    Any thoughts on using them on a Strat or other guitars with a tremelo bar? That’s my next victim.

    • joe

      Funny you ask! The old ’63 Strat I’ve had since 1980 was the last of my guitars to get flats. I’m not sure why — maybe just because I’d played it so long with roundwounds, especially during my starving musician youth, when it was my only good guitar. But of course it sounds AWESOME with flats. And remember — all the classic Fender guitar/pickup designs were created before anyone used roundwounds. Also, one of the biggest revelations about flats for me is how AMAZO they sound with distortion, something I never realized ’cause like most players, I associated them with hollowbody jazz sounds. The lack of clashing, clanging overtones from the wound low strings creates exactly the effect you describe: WAY more note-to-note/string-to-string differentiation and vastly more harmonic clarity. A trem bar only adds to the fun! Let me know how it goes (’cause you KNOW you’re going to do it, Joel ….). 🙂

  • Joel

    Another set is on the way. Mostly because I broke a .053 trying to be clever installing the first set. You think a set of strings is expensive, buy a single! I got a 2nd set to justify the shipping (somewhat).

  • Kyle Coyote

    I used to play a 12 string Goya (in the 60’s) and flat wounds were recommended for my soft, young fingers. I loved them. Now, 50 years later, I have purchased an Ovation Ultra 1515 12 string. It arrived with roundwounds, of course, and they absolutely clang and chatter. I’d love to do the flats but since the veneer has a long crack, starting at the bridge, that doesn’t appear to have damaged the underlying rosewood, would it be safe to use the flats again? If so, what USA made strings would you recommend? Also, any capo recommendations for that guitar, as my current capo covers the entire board but doesn’t give clarity on the G’s. Any help would be wonderful as I’m excited to actually learn to PLAY this thing.

    • joe

      Cool, Kyle! One of the main guitars I learned on was a Goya as well. Gosh, I’m not a luthier, and I’d hate to recommend anything that might hurt a beloved old guitar. But it feels to my hands as if the tension is actually LOWER with flats. Can anyone more knowledgable verify? Also, while I know we’re talking about an acoustic guitar, it’s worth re-mentioning that on electric 12-string, flatwounds are one of the main keys to getting that Byrds/Beatles sound. Ironically, they sound far jinglier than roundwounds, I think ’cause fewer chaotic overtones from the low strings means less phase cancellation for the high strings.

  • Kyle Coyote

    Thanks. I really know nothing about this Ovation that I just purchased from and since they are a 3rd party source I doubt they can advise. Do you think I could try the D’Addario Chromes? I got the Ovation because I play folk rock…mixed with some standards. When I say ‘play’, I mean that I use the guitar to accompany my singing. I just don’t want the neck to pull inward so I’m thinking the lightest gague might be best. And, I still have tender fingers that cannot seem to keep a callous, so I thought flat may be indicated for that as well. Thanks again from a 68 year old Jonie Mitchell wanna be. (Sent message on FB too, so you can disregard that one.)

  • Kyle Coyote

    Found a luthier at local Guitar Center that is willing to help. Thanks for your quick response to my questions.

  • rob kline

    Ten years ago, I bought a used Epiphone Joe Pass and went to the local Guitar Center to buy some flats. I’d been using Chromes on other guitars for years, but in the “Sale” box out front I found a pack of TI Swing flats marked down to $7.00. Naturally I bought those and put them on the Joe Pass. That guitar was my daily player sitting on a stand in my basement until I sold it in 2015. Still had the TI’s I bought for $7.00. I seldom wiped them down and the guitar only saw its case when I took it to the guy who bought it. They were a little dull but still intonated to the best ability of the mediocre instrument.

  • Laura Dundas

    I’ve got one for you. I play a flattop (23″ scale), parlor body TENOR GUITAR….tuned GDAE (Octave Mandolin). I use Chromes in a medium to heavy gauge. So far, I’ve never had a problem with too much tension or poor intonation up the neck. I can’t imagine playing it with anything else. Warm, dark, and beautiful tone. Great for jazz and classical. I play finger style, so I have to get the volume out of such a small instrument with pretty hard left hand technique. The bright sound/light gauge/open string sound that a lot of tenor players want doesn’t work for me at all. I also use Chromes on a Plectrum neck (25.5″ scale) 4 string Telecaster, same tuning. Round wounds were a disaster for me, the string squeak and noise was very unpleasant.

  • DJ

    Hi Joe,

    Ever try flats on an Electric Sitar? I am very curious about this and am tempted to try it, but the E. Sitar is such a funny beast to start with that I suspect either flats will make it come to life like they do a Bass VI, or they will totally kill the ‘buzziness’. I could see it going either way. I don’t think real Sitars have round-wound strings, so I imagine flats would be more ‘authentic’, not that that is what you are trying to get with an E. Sitar. But I’d like to get the classic E. Sitar sound of the 60s and 70s and I suspect that maybe Danelectro shipped these puppies with flats? Anyway, I figured I would ask an addict – uh I mean – an expert on using flats first before trying what could be an expensive mistake.

    Thanks in advance for any insight you can lend!


    • joe

      Actually, I’ve never owned an electric sitar. But how could it NOT sound great with flats? The whiny high end of that instrument doesn’t come from bright strings, but the buzzing at the bridge. Plus, when Vinnie Bell started using the Coral electric sitar back in the ’60s, I betcha he used flats. 🙂

      • DJ

        Well, I will need to try it with my new Dano Baby Sitar when it arrives.

        BTW, thanks for the encouragement for trying flats with both my Bass VI and my Dano 12. They really changed the nature of these instruments from something that never really felt right or fit sonically to something that just evokes something really sonically special. Those ‘oddball’ instruments just seem to benefit from the mellowness and percussiveness that flats bring. This is why I suspect that the E. Sitar will also benefit.

        • joe

          Cool! And I’m glad flats work for you. Always remember: guitars from before 1966 or so were conceived with flats in mind. For one thing, the vintage-style stagger of magnets on a Strat pickup makes a fuck of a lot more sense.

  • DJ

    Well, I will need to try it with my new Dano Baby Sitar when it arrives.

    BTW, thanks for the encouragement for trying flats with both my Bass VI and my Dano 12. They really changed the nature of these instruments from something that never really felt right or fit sonically to something that just evokes something really sonically special. Those ‘oddball’ instruments just seem to benefit from the mellowness and percussiveness that flats bring. This is why I suspect that the E. Sitar will also benefit.

  • Justin McKinney

    I’ve been using Thomas Infeld Flatwound solid nickel 11’s on a Songhurst Wilson custom hollowbody electric. Padouk body, Maple neck, and Ebony tailpiece / bridge / fretboard. Duncan 59’s . . .

    Thing is, I’m not really into the dark sound, but I LOVE the way these strings feel!!

    With some complex EQ manipulations . . . LoL!

    I can get these strings to sound, mostly, the way I want them to

    • joe

      Cool — I’m glad you like them. As you’ve probably learned, they aren’t dark necessarily — just different. Just get less blasting treble energy of the bass strings, but tones can be quite bright — even too bright at times. Let me know how it feels after you get accustomed!

  • Joel

    I still don’t have the courage to put them on my strat. The set I have are heavier gauge. Someday…

  • Crashcup

    Excellent playing, Joe, and great discussion here!
    I have a 1976 Fender Strat I recently restrung with TI Flats 12-50 and I love what it’s done for its sound and feel.
    With rounds the guitar was extremely bright and rattle-y. I was playing it through a Vox AC30HW2x (with alnico blues) and it just sounded thin and snarly with no lower-mid presence from the bass strings. Now the Strat is much more balanced and controllable using just playing dynamics to which the Vox is beautifully responsive.

    The guitar sounds sweet through my Vibrolux Reverb now, too. The VR is a bright amp that can sound icepick-y. I was considering changing the speakers out to thicken/darken it up, but I didn’t want to lose its sparkling Fender clarity. Now I have both full, clear warmth and articulation using these strings.

    I agree with what’s been said that the flats’ reduction of trebly overtones is their secret to making everything sound more balanced and distinct. Amazingly they still provide plenty of chime and sustain. I can understand why they’d work well on a 12-string electric guitar.

    Based on what they’ve done for my Strat I’m ready to put some on my Telecaster. I’m pondering going down to an 11-48 set of TIs for easier left-hand playability (even though I am now almost totally adjusted to the 12s). I do love the 12s’ feel of meaty resistance for right hand picking, finger plucking and strumming, so I’m concerned I may lose some of that going to the lighter gauge. I’d appreciate hearing anyone’s experience switching between these two gauges of TI Flats.

    Cheers, and count me among the addicted.

    • joe

      Hi CC! Sorry for taking a couple of days to approve your post. I’m glad you’re finding my stuff useful. As I point out incessantly, your current Strat setup is a lot closer to what the Fender team was referencing when the Strat was created. It was meant to sound that way. (Which isn’t to say that countless roundwound players haven’t taken the Start in other great directions.)

      It’s sometimes hard to make direct comparisons between flatwound and roundwound gauges because the tension differs. For just playing notes and chords, I bet you could play just fine on a flatwound .013 set. On the other hand, if you’re bending strings, it’s going to be damned hard on the 3rd string with any flatwound set, even .011s. It’s not much an an answer, but try a set and see what you think. (Pyramid also makes a nice .010 flatwound set. They’re a bit to low-tension for me, but it might be good for you. It’s easier to bend the 3rd string, but still a chore.)

      I pretty much gave up playing traditional 3rd-string bends when I switched to flats, and I’ve had no regrets. On the other hand, if, say, you’re playing in a cover band, and you must replicate lots of parts with 3rd-string bends, that might be a deal breaker.

      Lemme know what you discover! 🙂

  • Balthazar

    I just got a set of flatwound strings yesterday, D’Addario Chromes 10-48. I haven’t been able to put down the guitar after that, playing fingerstyle it’s just amazing the control I have, and it sounds really great for complex chords as well.

    There’s just one problem I have. Currently I just kept my old strings on the top three positions (.010, .013, .017), and put on the chromes for the bottom three. I notice it’s difficult to get a tone I like for both the bottom and top strings. I have a bright sounding semi hollowbody (Ibanez AS-103) with P90 pickups I’ve added myself. I tend to use the bridge pickup more with the chromes to get the grimey sound I like, but then the top strings get too shrill for, say, a solo.

    Sometimes I use that for great effect, it’s almost like having two instruments… but it can also be limiting. I see that apart from the wound G-string, the top strings are almost the same gauges for the set I bought, as the ones on my guitar. So replacing the top three strings would only make a difference for the G-string, not the top two. Have you tried to deal with the problem, or do you just turn it to your advantage in your playing? Is this the same issue for other string sets, like the Pyramid or Thomastik that everybody talk about?

    • joe

      I hear you on all of those issues, Balthazar! I’m not sure there’s a perfect answer. When I switched to flats, there were definitely some compromises, especially in terms of string-bending. You might have to try a few options in search of your ideal recipe.

      I’m not sure whether this will help, but I’ll share a few observations. You might think there would be no difference between the unwound strings in a flatwound set and a roundwounds one. But when I’ve tried replacing 1st and 2nd strings from an expensive Thomastik set with name-brand American strings, the difference was simply astounding — the tone was less focused, with less sustain and body. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not experienced it myself. The differences were not subtle!

      You might also try experimenting with nickel flatwounds rather than chrome. No question, D’Addario makes fine strings. But that Chrome set you used just doesn’t work for me. My advice, if you can afford it, is to get one set of high-end German/Austrian flatwounds (i.e. Thomastik-Infeld, Pyramid, or Optima) and see if it merits the expense. (Pyramid even makes a .010 flatwound set, should the higher flatwound gauges be an issue for you.)

      This is just a matter of personal taste, but it drives me crazy when I can’t get a consistent sound across strings. Sometimes I can barely stand to play 12-string because of the tonal disparity between the octave and unison string pairs. At this point I hear roundwounds the same way — practically two different instruments! Though I can see how for some players, that might be more of a benefit than a disadvantage.

      This too is subjective: I think those German and Austrian companies simply make better strings than any U.S.-made strings I’ve tried. I wish it weren’t so, but switching back to domestic strings always disappoints me. The high-quality strings cost several times their American equivalents. They’re a little more expensive to begin with, and the import duties make them really expensive. But a single set lasts me through months of heavy playing, especially if you clean the strings regularly. I was always super lazy about that, but now I’ve got string cleaners in all my cases and in all my practice spaces.

      • Balthazar

        Thanks for your help, Joe! I live in Norway, and I see that over here, both Pyramid and Thomastik are cheaper than D’Addario… 🙂

        I will try the different sets, and see what works best.

        • Joe Gore

          Lucky you! The way things are in this country, I can only look at Scandinavia with envy. I love Norway and I’ve had a great time whenever I’ve visited on tour. (Plus my wife is Norwegian-American.)

          Just curious: Do European strings cost more in Norway than in EU countries?

          • Balthazar

            Thank you… yes Norway is a nice country to live in. I don’t know if European strings cost more here, but the prices for the Pyramid and Thomastik strings I just ordered were very reasonable anyway.

            In the meantime, I found a nice solution for the sonic issues. I installed the wound G from the Chromes set I had, and went up a few gauges on the two plain strings, from .010 and .013, to .011 and .015. This made the plain strings sound more similar to the wound strings.

            I have only two issues with heavier gauges. The first one is that I assume the compromises you do with flatwounds are probably stronger with heavier gauges. I’m thinking of softer attack and mellower sound. But I do get a really nice gritty sound now, with my bridge P90 pickup. And after all it is the deeper sound that makes the flatwounds so cool. And I get a nice, and very controllable, attack as well with the right techniques. What does heavier gauges do with the attack? Makes it softer or stronger?

            The second issue is that I’d probably need to set up my guitar properly for the higher tension. It’s just lazyness from my side… 🙂

  • Hi Joe,
    I am very interested in the history of string technology and find it very frustrating that it is quite difficult to find accurate information on string technology and history. I think you have said in various posts something along the lines of “in the early days of the electric guitar flat wound strings were all that were available” or maybe it was “all that anyone used”. Do you have any reference sources for that information? Round wound strings are, as far as I know, an earlier and cheaper technology than flat winding, although I suspect flat winding was developed for instruments in the viol family, so non-metal flat winding may go back quite a way.
    I can understand why flat wounds may have been used on jazz guitars from the early days of electrification. According to one source, Pyramid were the first string company to introduce pure nickel round wounds in 1954. Fender used to promote pure nickel round wound strings as the “original sound of rock and roll” although almost all of their wound strings now seem to be nickel plated steel. Nickel has always been problematic as a raw material in terms of price and availability. Particularly in the US.
    As far as the quality of steel music wire is concerned, historically string makers used to buy their raw wire from third party wire mills that specialize in this type of wire. As far as I know there are only a handful of music wire mills in operation worldwide. This means that many string makers must be using raw materials from the same sources. According to D’Addario, up until 1970 National Standard Wire of Worcester, MA was one of the only reliable suppliers of high carbon steel specialty wires (in the USA). That company relocated and apparently their quality declined. In 2008 D’Addario bought Renaissance Wire, a company they had already had an interest in, becoming, as far as I know, the only string maker to own a music wire mill.
    As far as the Thomastik-Infeld plains are concerned I would assume that they use a European wire mill as the source of their wire, Possibly Roslau in Germany.
    I see that they offer brass plated plains as well as tin plated (which in the old days was known as ‘silvered’ wire). The plating material and the thickness of plating may explain the tonal differences you hear. I remember trying a set of Martin SP acoustic strings, which have bronze plated plains (the core wires of the wound strings are also bronze plated), and being struck by their strange ‘hollow’ tone.
    Flat wounds may last longer because, being less abrasive, they don’t collect as much dirt and the more seamless nature of the winding does not allow dirt and moisture to penetrate to the core, so there is less internal electrochemical corrosion.

  • Paul Kellner

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for all the music!! Your playing is always inspiring!
    It looks like this is contagious!!
    I was in Sam Ash and took the plunge. I shelled out 15.00 for a set of D’Addario flats. Now I’ve been playing 9’s on my tele and 10’s on my les paul so it was a bit of a jump for the 11’s with a wound third.
    That said, I’ve got the fever. My p90 les paul sounds great and looks mean with those flats on. Put them on gave a little twist to the truss rod to accommodate the change in tension and I was in la la land.
    Will try to find 10’s (at least) as I like to bend occasionally lol.
    Tele’s next.

    Hi, My names Paul and I have a flatwound addiction.

  • daniel O'Connell

    nice sound, great playing and style you have…. I’m a flatwound myself Strat Tele LP and Rick 12.. PBass too… it’s the only way to fly and…

    you don’t hacksaw your frets with flat wounds

    the only thing I miss is the pick slide down the strings on Highway to Hell…. but you can’t have it all y’know

    thanks for the video, appreciated


  • Craig

    I am just about to buy my first set of thomastik jazz flatwounds 13s.
    I play a Gibson Es-330
    I read on some forums that for thick strings I would have to change the nut, adjust the trusted, tune a step down…
    I was just going to put them on, but now I’m confused

    Did you make any adjustments for playing thick flatwounds?

    • joe

      Hi, Craig! There’s a good chance you won’t have to make any changes at all, though of course, that depends on several independent factors. Have you tried them yet? What were your impressions?

  • Geka

    Hello. After your videos I puted 11 46 dogal flatwounds in my es 335 with TV Jones pups. They are very nice.
    I think to put 10 40 dogal in my tele to take an all around playability with flatwound pros.
    What is your opinion? Thank you

    • joe

      Hi Geka! I confess this is the first time I’ve heard of Dogal strings — I need to investigate! I just checked, and they are in fact available in the US. I notice they’re made in Italy, and Italian strings are fairly rare here, with the exception of Aquila strings, which I LOVE for classical guitar, ukulele, and bass ukulele. I’ve never tried an American-made flatwound set that I love, so I use the German and Austrian brands. But I’ll try Dogal too! Thanks for the tip.

  • James Douglas

    Great Video and article Joe, Sounds great! Thank you. I use Clifford Essex 14-58FW (25w G)on my Lee Rit L5. I just bought a Epiphone LP express 3/4 22′ scale. Going to replace the 9-42RW factory set and try the 14-58FW!After a while I found the heavy flats the easiest to play and are the most stable.They also feel closest to the hand. I would love an(archtop)guitar with the staple Alnico’s and go heavy flat. Nice sound.

  • Forp

    Hi joe, i just putted a set of vintage gibson hi fi flatwound on my gretsch , i think they sound more open than pyramids or daddario chromes.Have you tried them ? If not you may be helpfull to find if labella or thomasik infield have this particularity. So the outher layer is a thin flat ribbon that does separate on place like the bridge , its not as tight as on pyramids, under it there is a roundwound layer and tne core is a plain string , i wound say 18 or 17 the total is a 50 gauge string. Thank you

    • joe

      I’ve never tried those strings! Are you saying outer layer separates on the Gibson set, or on one of the others? I don’t particularly like Chromes. (Tu es français? Tu peux répondre en français si tu préferes.)

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