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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Which Strings For My Classical Guitar?

The choice of classical guitar strings is not necessarily a straightforward one. It’s not as simple as saying use Brand X or Brand Y, all the rest are rubbish (although I’m sure there are some that would say something along those lines). It’s actually a matter of a little experimentation, understanding your playing style, understanding what sound/s you want to produce and understanding your guitar and which strings produce the best sounds from it. Take it from me one particular brand of strings can sound excellent on one guitar, but then can sound quite flat and lifeless on another guitar.

So don’t be afraid to experiment a little. The string technologies are changing all the time too, so it pays to explore around sometimes. We now have all sorts of different materials – copperwound, titanium wound carbon filament basses, carbon trebles. We have flat wound low noise strings. And of course there are the different tensions of strings to play around with too.

Soundhole B&W

 

Too much choice!

In spite of what I’ve just said above, if you’re a beginner to intermediate guitarist you may not want to fluff around too much with strings (and you may not have the ear yet to discern the differences too much anyway). The important thing will be too have a set of reliable strings that produce a decent tone, hold their tuning and keep their sound for a few months before you need to change them.

As a beginner I used to use the Augustine strings. I figured that if they were good enough for  Andres Segovia then they were good enough for me! They were also pretty cheap and cheerful. The top E string did used to have a tendency to go “ping” and snap from time to time (although that may have been related to my playing style at the time!).

As I progressed as a guitarist I then moved onto the d’Addario Pro Arte strings, first favouring the medium tension strings and then moving onto the high tension (EJ46s). And these are still my “go-to” strings – I know I can rely on them to produce a decent tone, hold their tuning and the basses last for a reasonable length of time before sounding dull (it’s your basses that will tend to die before the trebles due to the metal coating). There are also others that I like to use from time to time, such as the d’Addario EXP46 Hards and Hannahbach Silver Special medium tension strings.

 

String tension

In terms of string tension, medium tension strings, particularly for those just starting out, can be a little more forgiving on the hands as you’re building up strength and dexterity. For myself, however, I found once I moved over to the higher tension strings I was able to produce a much bigger, bolder and richer sound. Again, the development in playing technique would have a significant part to play in this.

Which is probably a key point to make – no one set of strings is probably going to be the set of strings you use for the rest of your guitar-playing life. You will change and how you play will change and so you may want to continue your experimentation with strings for your sound. And, of course, if you purchase a new or pre-loved guitar you’ll want to find the best strings you can as the guitar opens up for that instrument.

It’s important to be aware also that there isn’t a universal set of numbers for what constitutes a low, medium or high tension set of strings. Medium tension Hannabach strings, for example, have a higher tension than d’Addario Pro Arte high tension strings. They sound fabulous though and so don’t be afraid to try some things out.

 

My top tips?

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. Perhaps every other set of string changes try something different.
  • You don’t have to use all of one type or make of strings on your guitar – try mixing and matching.
  • If you’ve found something you really like stick with it for a while.
  • Find a “go-to” string that you know you can rely on, that will always feel good for you to play with (my preference: d’Addarion Pro Arte High Tension).
  • My own other favourite strings: d’Addario EXP446 (hard tension) and Hannabach Silver Special medium tension.
  • Remember that medium tension in one string type could be equal in pressure to high string tension in another make.
  • When trying new strings assess their immediate sound, how long that lovely “new string” sound lasts, comfort of playing, how long they take to bed in and hold tuning, and how they hold their tuning/ intonation in the longer term.