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Best Coated Guitar Strings For Guitarists Too Lazy To Change Them

Coated Guitar Strings

Every guitarist knows that feeling. That abrasive friction you feel when you run your fingers up and down the fretboard. You can feel the gunk under your fingertips. You can taste it when you accidentally lick your fingers a few minutes later. That corrosive, metallic taste makes you screw up your face and you realise it is time. It’s time to change your guitar strings again.

But it can’t be. You only just changed them the other day! Or was it a week ago? Or two weeks ago? Or four? It doesn’t really matter. Because you can’t go on playing these rusty old things.

And changing guitar strings is such a pain. It costs money, it takes up 20 minutes to half an hour and you just wind and wind each string in turn and it’s down right boring.

But maybe there is another way.

Why Use Coated Guitar Strings?

I started using coated guitar strings a long time ago. I don’t really remember when. I just go to the stage where I felt I was constantly changing strings and it got to be a pain in the arse. So I shelled out a few extra dollars and gave coated strings a whirl. I never looked back.

The Advantages of Coated Guitar Strings

There are many purists out there who swear by the original uncoated guitar strings. They say they have better tone, don’t get flayed by a plectrum after a few weeks and don’t put as much of a dent in your pocket.

I say the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

Increased String Lifetime

With a good set of coated strings you increase your string lifetime threefold at least. I used to have to change my strings about once every three weeks. With coated strings I’d say I change them about once every 2 months. This definitely makes up for the 30% price difference because you end up buying strings less regularly. And you can spend less time changing strings, and more time riffing. I’m OK with that!

Longer Lasting Tone

I don’t get the tone thing. Some guitarists claim that coated guitar strings are tonally inferior to their regular counterparts. I am yet to come across a set that lack the tonal quality of regular strings. If anything, they sound like they should from the first moment after a new set has been wound onto the guitar.

Regular strings tend to sound very bright to begin with and dull with age. There is a very small timeframe in which the sound good and stay in tune. From there they tend to begin to dull and lose their tuning very quickly.

I simply find no sonic disadvantage of using coated electric guitar strings over traditional non-coated ones. I believe it’s a belief thing, that purist guitarists think that because there is a plastic coating, the strings must be heavier, behave differently and sound duller. Never in my time as a guitarist have I noticed a detriment in tone by using coated guitar strings.

Smoothness, Feel & Playability

This is the one massive advantage of coated guitar strings over uncoated strings. Once I started playing elixir strings, I got used to the smooth silky feeling under my fingers. Moving around the guitar fretboard or doing slides up and down was just so much easier and really improved my playing experience. Going back to traditional uncoated strings made me realise how abrasive they were on my fingertips and I felt so clumsy, like my fingers we sticking to the strings. I do use a lubrication for slick movement on the fretboard, but with coated strings I tend to use a lot less because they are naturally silky and smooth.

Disadvantages Of Coated Guitar Strings

I can’t really think of that many disadvantages of using coated guitar strings. It is true, after a while they will get flayed around the pickup area where you have been sweeping across the strings with your plectrum. But by that time you will have noticed your guitar isn’t holding tune as well any more and you need to get a new set of strings anyway.

They are more expensive, as I mentioned above, but that tends to be balanced out by having to buy new strings less regularly.

When it comes to acoustic guitar the conversation gets a bit more complex. As I said above. Decking out an electric guitar with coated strings is really a no-brainer for me. Yet acoustic guitars are a different matter.

I do believe that the tonality of good uncoated acoustic guitar strings has yet to be reproduced by brands such as Elixir and co. There is an earthy timbre that is missing when acoustic guitar strings are coated. No matter which technology I tried, I wasn’t able to find a set of coated guitar strings for acoustic guitar that were on par in tonality with a good set of traditional uncoated strings.

That said, the smoothness and playability of the coated strings bring a massive benefit to acoustics, upgrading from the sticky abrasive feel of acoustic strings. Where coated strings lack in warmth, they can make playing quicker styles of music on an acoustic a lot more attractive.

Trying to emulate masters such as Jon Gomm or Andy McKee is so much more rewarding when your strings are helping you cover ground up and down the fretboard quickly. But if you just want those folk chords to ring out with earthy tonality, maybe you should stick to the uncoated variety.

Which Brand Has The Best Coated Guitar Strings?

Elixir

Elixir were the first to bring coated strings to the market and I do believe they still have the best strings available today.

Elixir Polyweb

Elixir Strings entered the market with their Polyweb strings and turned the industry on it’s head. They immediately offered a great improvement on string lifespan but weren’t met with applause from all guitarists. In comparison with the newer versions, the Polyweb strings have a slightly thicker coating, which tend to fray after a few weeks around the plectrum area. The Polywebs are described by Elixir as “warm, slick and fast”. The description “warm” could be deciphered as dull, a critique of coated strings from their inception many years ago.

Elixir Nanoweb

For a long time I stringed my guitar with the Nanoweb strings and was very happy with the clear tone and silky feel as mentioned above. The sound is described as “bright and smooth”. They tend to fray after a while, but long after the time traditional strings would have needed replacing.

Elixir Optiweb

The newer Optiweb strings have only been around a few years and in my opinion have ben an excellent upgrade. Elixir describes them as “crisp and natural”. They have the same durability and smoothness, excellent tone which lasts for weeks and weeks, and also do not fray around the pickup area. These are my go-to strings for electric guitar. It is just such an all round improvement over traditional uncoated strings, and unless Elixir really change their recipe, I will never go back!

Ernie Ball

Ernie Ball is one of the most prominent string manufacturers and were for a long time the go-to company for electric guitar strings. When Elixir came along with their coated strings, solving a problem that plagued guitarists around the world, the traditional string companies were blindsided by the paradigm shift that took place.

Ernie Ball Paradigm

Ernie Ball’s choice of name for their line of coated strings is therefore all the more ironic. The Paradigm strings are actually not technically coated like Elixir’s strings, but treated in a process they call plasma enhancement. Instead of adding a coating, they chose to address corrosion chemically with a patented “Everlast technology”. The paradigm strings are also supposedly more durable than regular strings and more resistant to breakages.

I haven’t yet had the chance (or need!) to try the Paradigm series strings but going on the reviews I have read, they don’t seem to quite deliver the promises they have been marketing with. Guitarists have lamented the feel and lack of tone after a few weeks playing. Their durability has been praised, which is a definite improvement for guitarists regularly plagued with string breakages. While they seem to have better longevity than regular strings, the Paradigms don’t seem to quite cut it when compared with Elixir Optiwebs when it comes to holding their tuning over a long period of time. One set of Paradigm strings tend to cost around 4 Euros more than Elixir strings which could put some guitarists off.

D’addario

Daddario make quality guitar strings. There is no doubt about that. I use their regular phosphor bronze strings for my acoustic as I haven’t been convinced by the offerings of Elixir. But the coated EXP110 series that were available for electric guitars left a sour taste in my mouth. And no, I didn’t lick my guitar…

D’addario EXP

I only came into contact with the EXP110s because my trusty Elixirs were sold out that day at the guitar shop. Not wanting to wait and eager to try a new set, I bought the Daddario coated strings. Turns out you should stick with what you know. Or don’t change a running system. I was spoilt with the Elixir Optiwebs and the EXP110s didn’t cut it for me. They felt wrong, lacking the smoothness and playability on the fretboard that the Elixirs offered. They definitely didn’t last as long, my usage was reduced by at least 3-4 weeks compared to my usual coated strings.

D’addario XT

The newer XT series are apparently an upgrade to the EXP110s but I have the feeling that my favourite brand have already established themselves as winner of the coated guitar string war.

Conclusion

Elixir Optiwebs Are The Clear Winner

I can only recommend you try each set yourself and make your own decision. I am definitely sold on the Elixir Optiwebs and have been very happy with them on my electric guitars for a number of years now.

Let me know your thoughts on the strings I’ve mentioned. Or maybe I have missed a good brand worth discussing. If I ever give a different set of coated strings a whirl I will be back to give this post an update with my impressions!

About The Author

Nick Braren is an audio engineer and musician with over 15 years experience in the studio, on stage, back stage and front of house. He is the owner and operator of Upaya Sound, guitarist and vocalist of Vandemonian, father of 2 and husband of 1. When he’s not in the studio or in the band room he’s either travelling in his van or at the beach – or both.

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