Gear Review: d’Addario Pro-Arté Carbon Strings

You may or may not be aware, dear reader, that my usual “go to” strings, for both my cedar and my spruce top guitars, is a good, ol’ trusty set of d’Addario Pro Arté high tension strings. These strings, as I’ve said before on the blog, I find to be very reliable in terms of their tuning and sound quality sticks around for a loooong time too.

Well, the nice people over at d’Addario heard that I was a bit of a fan, so they sent me a new set of strings to try out – Pro-Arté Carbon strings. Yup, carbon. Not nylon.

I’d heard about carbon strings a while ago, a couple of years ago in fact, but not gotten around to trying them yet. Well, here was my chance! And so I’m sharing my thoughts and feeling on the strings for your benefits too folks.

d’Addario Pro-Arté Carbon

Stringing up

The first things I noticed whilst stringing the instrument (and I chose my main concert instrument, my John Price cedar top, to test the strings out by the way) was the thinness of the treble strings as compared to the nylon EJ46s. Given that carbon is a much tougher material than nylon it figures that d’Addario are able to manufacture the strings using much less material. Environmentally sustainable at least which is definitely a plus in my book!

Settling in

After having re-strung my guitar with the EJ46FF carbons I was interested to know how long the strings would take to settle into their initial tuning and how they held that.

Well, to be honest, I was a little disappointed. The nylon Pro-Arté EJ46s I’ve always found to settle into their tuning very quickly and holding that tuning well within the space of 24 hours. Unfortunately I didn’t experience that with the Pro-Arté EJ46FF Carbons – the initial tuning took, I’d estimate, around 50% longer to achieve than I’d normally get with the nylons and holding the tuning took longer as well, around 2 to 3 days as compared to around a day for the nylon.

Playability 

I was intrigued to how the slightly thinner treble strings were going to feel to play, especially the G string which is considerably thinner in the carbon format. It did take a couple of minutes just to recalibrate my fingers to the marginally changed sensation of fingertip on string.

But once I’d gotten around that I didn’t look back! The thinner trebles actually make for easier left hand slurring I’ve found. Similarly with the right hand, slightly less energy input is required through the thinner strings to produce a similar volume in the nylons. The EJ46FFs are an eminently playable set of strings.

Tone quality

The EJ46FF Carbons are great tonally. Quite different to the tones I’ve been experiencing with the nylons, but a good different. The trebles are particularly bright – possibly a little too bright in initial couple of plays for my taste (almost steel string like). This is unsurprising however given that d’Addario rate them as pretty much their brightest set of strings in their classical range. However, they soon mellowed out a touch after a bit of playing in and became more rounded.

Their tonal range sitting on the John Price is pretty good, with a nice spread and choice of colours from the dolce tasto playing area to muted trumpet bright ponticello playing. This is still improving even after around 8 weeks of playing in.

Projection

My initial reaction when playing the guitar with the Pro-Arté Carbons on whilst playing with the guitar orchestra I’m a member of was “flipping heck, this is loud!”. I really felt like I had to turn down the volume on my usual playing and level of energy in to the strings to ensure appropriate balance with the rest of the group. And that’s a good thing, as it means I’m using less energy to achieve the same level of dynamic as previously.

I’ve found them to be a very responsive string too. As well as producing a crystal clear and full fortes, in the trebles and basses, the EJ46FFs also produce equally crystal clear and delicate pianos.

Overall

At the time of writing I’ve had the Pro-Arté Carbon EJ46FF on my guitar for around 8 weeks, and have played them in a variety of conditions, including a cool practice room, and a stinking hot concert hall. Given that I believe these strings are still coming into their own after 8 weeks (say 4 weeks under “normal” conditions, given that I’ve been travelling around the country here, there and everywhere recently), these are strings with some serious longevity.

I’d not pop them on my instrument within a week of a concert performance as the initial brightness is a little too much for my tastes. The time to settle in is perhaps slightly longer than I’m used to, and that’s probably my one criticism of them. I personally would not use that as a reason to avoid these strings. Quite the opposite in fact. I do think I’m convert to these carbon strings now (so I’ll just have to adjust my re-stringing habits accordingly).

All in all, crystal clear strings that pack a serious punch, require less energy input from you as a players as compared to nylon and great value for money in terms of their lifespan.

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Changing Guitar Strings

I’m not going to tell or show you exactly how to change strings on your guitar today. There are plenty of video guides out there to help you with that (see below). Instead I’m talking about the ‘why’ and ‘when’ side of things.

Why do I need to change my strings? They’re not broken!

All guitar strings, regardless of their make and model, are subject to aging. That is to say they get over-stretched through constantly being under tension, through the process of tuning and through use. Acids, grot and grime from the left hand, and the action of being pressed against the frets will wear the strings at one end, and the action of nails on the guitar and other right hand techniques will wear the strings at the other. So as the strings get older they will be harder to keep in tune.

They will also lose their original tone qualities and responsiveness in terms of the different tones you can extract from them when playing. The bass strings in particular, the ones that are typically wound with a metal, will quickly lose their out-of-the packet “zing” and brightness. Typically the newer the better with the bass strings.

With the treble strings these typically take a few days to a week of playing in and tension running through them to get them really sounding at their best.Over time, however, the treble strings too will fade in their responsiveness and tonal quality. I’ve pieced together a diagram here – Nicole’s string awesomeness scale – to show for you how strings tend to fade over time (with 5 being most awesome and 1 being least awesome). This is, of course, based completely unscientifically on my own experiences, playing style and the types of string I tend to use

Broken guitar strings
Photo credit: Wikipedia

How often should I change the strings?

Just how quick all this happens depends on a number of things, including:

• The type of strings you have on

• How often you play

• How much detuning you do

• How clean your hands are before you play (and how sweaty they are when playing, not to put too fine a point on it!)

So in answer to the above question, the answer is you do need to change your strings somewhat regularly to ensure your guitar and your playing sounds its best. Not to mention it will be easier to keep in tune, and be that bit extra bit easier to play, not having to squeeze the life out of the guitar to get some nice sounding notes out!

For the person that’s playing a few times a week, say half an hour to an hour at a time, most days, I’d say changing your strings about 3-4 times per year is probably about right for you. Again this is very much dependent on those dot points listed above, as well as financial considerations of course of replacing strings.

If you’re performing, you have a recital, a concert or an exam, I would definitely recommend putting a nice fresh set of strings on about a week or so before your performance. This gives the strings time to settle in, whilst also retaining that awesome out-of-the-box sounds quality.

Any other tips for me?

Ooh yes definitely.

  • It’s really not as difficult, fiddly or time-consuming as you think it might be to change your guitar’s strings. Ok, it may take a bit of getting used to for the first couple, but you’ll soon get into the swing of it. Taking it to your local guitar shop for them to restring is really money for old rope (or should that be old strings?). And what happens when the shop is closed or you’re not near to a shop when it happens?
  • Ask your teacher to show you how to do it. Any teacher worth their salt will gladly show how to carry out this essential piece of maintenance.
  • If you don’t have a teacher, there are HEAPS of videos on YouTube that give some excellent guidance on restringing your guitar. Here are a couple of good examples:
  • Avoid taking off all the strings at the same time. Whilst doing that can aid in the cleaning of the fingerboard or soundboard, the sudden change in tension can be detrimental to the neck and soundboard of your guitar. Change them one-for-one. That also minimises the risk of putting the wrong string in the wrong place.
  • When you have a string off the guitar, give the space under the fingerboard a quick wipe with a clean, lint free cloth, and the same on the soundboard. This just removes any grime build up and dust, and keeps your guitar looking as schmicko as you make it sound!

If anyone wants any tips on the types of strings to use, feel free to ask in the comment box below or contact me directly and I’ll be happy to chat further.