Frequently Asked Questions, Straight Up Strings for Guitar.
Siminoff – REV: October 23, 2015
Q: Are your guitar strings coated?
A: There is a very thin anti-corrosion coating on the wound strings that prevents the strings from tarnishing. The coating also adds slightly to the smooth playing feel.
Q: Can you explain what the “torque load” means?
A: On a fixed-bridge steel-string acoustic guitar, the strings are attached to the bridge itself. (On movable bridge instruments, like the banjo and mandolin, the strings are attached to a tailpiece.) The strings go over the saddle and down to the bridge pins. When the strings are tensioned, they pull at the bridge, and cause it to twist forward and impose a torque load (twisting force) on the bridge that causes it to twist slightly forward. This is what causes the slight hump in the soundboard behind the bridge and the slight hollow or depression in front of the bridge. When the strings are played, the sideway motion greatly impacts the strings’ tension which causes the bridge to rock back and forth. This rocking motion causes the soundboard to twist back and forth, which causes a pumping action that produces sound.
Q: What does that torque load have to do with your strings?
A: The torque load is the twisting force placed on the bridge when the strings are brought up to pitch. As mentioned in the previous question, when the strings are played, the sideway motion of the string greatly impacts the tension of each string which, in turn, drives the bridge and soundboard. Therefore, the precise torque load generated by each of the strings is critical to how the bridge functions. And, to provide balanced tone, sustain, feel, and amplitude, the torque load presented by each of the strings must be compensated relative to each string’s position on the bridge as well as to relative to the torque load of its neighboring strings.
Q: I thought torque and tension were related. Why did you calculate torque for guitar strings?
A: Yes, torque and tension are related, but only if the length of the lever to which the torque is being applied is the same length. So, if you measure a high and low E string, and they both coincidentally have a tension of 21 pounds (for example), then the torque load they apply will be the same, but only if the bridge saddle’s height is the same for both strings. As soon as the saddle is raised for higher action on the low E string, the torque will be greater, while its tension may stay the same. Here the saddle acts like a lever; the taller the lever the greater the torque at the same pull (tension). We found this to be an important issue that has been overlooked in strings for fixed-bridge instruments, and it became a key focus point for the development of Straight Up Strings for guitar.
Q: Why don’t you round up the numbers on some of your strings to be like other gauges on the market?
A: To achieve the required tensions and torque loads for Straight Up Strings for guitar, we specify wire sizes to four decimal places. So, where some string brands specify .016˝, for example, we found that a .0165˝ gauge (very slightly larger) was needed to achieve the compensated torque loads for perfect balance of the entire strings set. And, it is important for us to show the difference between our .0165˝ string and another brand’s .016˝.
Q: Is this a new technology, or have string manufacturers done this before?
A: Yes, this is absolutely a new technology and to the best of our knowledge, no string manufacturer has ever done this before. In the mid 1970s, Roger Siminoff, the developer of Straight Up Strings, was the driving force behind the development of Gibson’s Equa Strings. The technology was along the same basic premise but not executed to the extent that our new Straight Up Strings are, and not using the same compensated-torque technology.
Q: What’s the difference between your .040˝ string and some other brand’s .040˝ string?
A: There is more than one way to prepare a wound string. For example you could prepare a .040˝ with a .020˝ core wire and a .010˝ wrap wire (.010 + .020 + .010 = .040˝). You could also make a .040˝ string with a .022˝ core wire and a .009˝ wrap wire (.009 + .022 + .009 = .040). And there are numerous other practical combinations of core wire gauges and wrap wire gauges to arrive at a .040˝ string. Straight Up Strings features core and wrap wire combinations that are designed to deliver the desired compensated torque loads at the bridge.
Q:How do you plan the gauges in each set?
A: After the torque loads are measured, they are then plotted on a bell-shaped curve with the goal of having greater torque loads in the center of the bridge and lesser loads near the extremities of the bridge. The tonal response is then “shaped” by altering the shape of the curve until a balanced response is heard (by human observation). The amplitudes are then measured with a decibelometer and another adjustment is made to map the loudness curve against ISO-226:2003 (the standard for the human perception of equal loudness). With this information at hand, the torque loads are converted to tensions, from which the gauge for each string is then determined.
Q: Will Straight Up Strings change the sound of my guitar?
A: Straight Up Strings will not alter the general tone color of your instrument. If your guitar typically has a bass response, the bass response will still be there, and so on. However, Straight Up Strings will certainly improve the string-to-string balance of your guitar. In this regard, it will improve the overall tone color of all the notes your guitar produces while at the same time maintaining the instrument’s voice.
The idea of a twisting bridge seems to conflict with the string moving the bridge up and down. Can you explain that?
A: Actually, the point of greatest amplitude (greatest movement) of strings on a guitar is in the center of the string. Here is where the string makes it greatest excursion. There is very little “up and down” movement of the strings at either end of the string. In 1984 Roger Siminoff did a test report for FRETS Magazine in which he showed how the guitar’s bridge was driven by a twisting movement and not by an up and down one. For this test he built a fixture in which the guitar was anchored to the fixture with a lever attached to the bridge. The lever allowed the bridge constrained in two directions: 1) up and down, thus inhibiting the up and down motion of the bridge and only permitting the rocking motion, and 2) forwards and backwards, thus inhibiting the rocking motion of the bridge and only permitting the up and down motion. The test proved that when the rocking motion was constrained, the guitar’s sound was immediately deadened, and when the up and down motion was constrained – but the twisting mode still enabled – the guitar still functioned adequately. The conclusion was clear that the soundboard of a fixed-bridge guitar is driven by the rocking motion of the bridge.
Q: Will your strings work on an archtop jazz guitar?
A: Straight Up Strings will “work” on a movable bridge guitar, but the result will be less effective than using them on a fixed-bridge instrument for which they are designed. The essence of these guitar strings is to efficiently manage the torque load at the bridge. The soundboard on a jazz guitar is driven by the down pressure of the strings on the bridge. (Our Straight Up Strings for banjo and mandolin were designed to compensate for the down pressure of each string on movable-bridge instruments.)
Q: How do tensions and torque loads relate to each other?
A: There is a direct relationship between the tension of each string and the torque load it presents (to a bridge of a specific height). So, yes, they are related. Tension is a pulling force; torque is a turning or twisting force. In the case of a guitar, the tension of a string pulling at the top of a bridge saddle generates a torque or twisting force to the axis of the bridge (and, therefore, to the soundboard to which the bridge is attached).
Q: Your Straight Up Strings for mandolin work on compensating the down pressure. Why don’t you use the same technology for your guitar strings?
A: The mandolin features a movable bridge, and the strings on the guitar are anchored to a tailpiece. Straight Up Strings for mandolin compensate for the down pressure that each string presents to the bridge. Down pressures – and the gauges needed to create these down pressures – are then considered based on whether strings sit over feet or arches (banjo bridge) or near posts or in the middle of the saddle (mandolin bridge). On a fixed-bridge guitar the strings are anchored to the bridge and they impose a twisting force. Further, the bridge on the guitar is fully fitted to the soundboard; there are no feet or spaces between the bridge and the soundboard as on the banjo and mandolin. Finally, on a banjo or mandolin, it is the strings’ down pressure that that creates the energy when strings are played, but it is a torque load that drives the soundboard on a fixed-bridge guitar. Therefore, a similar thought process but different technology was needed for Straight Up Strings for guitar.
Q: Any pointers on how to choose between light, medium, and heavy gauges?
A: While there are several considerations for selecting either light, medium, or heavy gauge strings, the two most prominent ones are balancing the gauge of the strings to the construction of the guitar, and matching the gauge of the strings to the power and playing style of the guitarist. Heavily braced guitars need higher tension strings to drive the heavier soundboard and acoustical system. Lightly braced guitars need lighter gauge strings. Guitarists with a light touch need relatively light gauge strings, and guitars with a heavier hand need heavier gauge strings. The trick is finding the sweet spot and getting the ideal balance for both the guitarist and the guitar. To this end, Straight Up Strings for guitar were developed in three different weights (based on their torque loads) which we equate to the conventional terms of “light,” “medium,” and “heavy.”
Q: I do some fingerpicking on my guitar. Are Straight Up Strings okay for fingerpicking?
A: Yes, they are great for fingerpicking. And as implied in the previous question, you would probably do well with either our “light” or “medium” gauge strings.
Q: How do your gauges relate to other gauges on the market?
A: Since our gauges are predicated on torque and tensions, we had to assign names like “light,” “medium,” and “heavy” to our three sets. Generally speaking, our “light” set is very slightly heavier than most conventional “light” gauges, and our “heavy” set is very slightly lighter than most conventional “heavy gauges.”
Q: Can I just reference your gauges to the .012˝ to .054˝ set I’m now using to find which ones are right for me?
A: Gauges alone really don’t tell the whole story. As pointed out in an earlier question there are several ways to make a .040˝ (or other wound) string. Having said that, you can generally assume that your .012˝ to .054˝ set will be similar to our “medium” set but the mapping of our gauges and torque loads will most likely be different from what you are used to. Just knowing the lightest and heaviest string doesn’t tell the whole story. The best way to find out is to try them.
Q: Do you use electronics or musical instruments to test your strings?
A: We use electronic and mechanical systems for measuring gauges, tensions, amplitudes (loudness) and torque loads, but the real litmus test was done with recognized professional guitarists on tour and in the studio who did numerous beta tests on their guitars for us.
Q: You claim to have a balanced sound. What do you mean by that and how did you do that?
A: All string musicians seek an even transition in tone, sustain, and amplitude from their lowest to their highest note. Achieving this requires a delicate relationship between each string as well as between wound and plain strings. By carefully compensating the torque loads, we believe that we have accomplished this goal.
Q: Are your Straight Up Strings round or hex core?
A: The plain strings (E & B) are plain nickel-steel, and the four wound strings (G, D, A, and E) have a nickel-steel hex core wire (wound with a phosphor bronze wrap wire).
Q: Wouldn’t it be better if all of the strings had the same torque load?
A: This is a very interesting question and the answer could be “yes” if the bridge were designed differently. However, most fixed-bridge steel-string guitars utilize the convention Martin-style belly bridge and this design demands a carefully engineered set of strings with their torque compensated for where the strings sit on the bridge, as well as the torque load being compensated for the torque load of neighboring strings. Additionally, even with only the equal loudness curve principles applied, the torque load would have to be at least slightly modified.
Q: I thought that gauges and tensions were totally related to each other. If that’s true, then how can you make strings of the same gauge as someone else’s strings that have different tensions?
A: As mentioned in a previous answer, there are several combinations of core and wrap wire to arrive at the same overall gauge for a given wound string, of which there are four on a steel string guitar, as you know. For the same target note, as the core wire gets larger the tension increases. So tension changes as the size of the core wire changes.
Q: Your string package says that you tested the torque loads at a 7/16” saddle height above the soundboard? My saddle is about 3/8” high. Will your strings still work?
A: Yes, the strings will work equally well on a bridge that is 3/8˝ high as it will on a bridge that is 1/2˝ high. In each case, the gauges and torque loads will still be relative to each other. The 7/16˝ on our package merely indicates what the measured torque loads are at that specific saddle height. The taller the saddle, the greater the torque.
Q: Your gauge selection is pretty unusual. How did you do the testing and come up with the gauges you have?
A: Straight Up Strings are designed to compensate for the individual torque loads of each string based on where they sit on the bridge and the torque load of each of its neighboring strings. Our goal was to balance the response from each string by measuring the torque load (twisting) force at the bridge, and then determine the gauges as a result of that outcome. So, a more precise answer is that ultimately, we didn’t consider gauges at all, but focused instead on balancing the torque loads, determining what tensions created those torque loads, and what gauges were needed to develop those tensions. The gauges were simply the result of the tests.
Q: Do you make these strings yourself?
A: Straight Up Strings are made to our specifications in the United States by a prominent musical string manufacturer.
Q: Do your Straight Up Strings have longer life?
A: Our strings are made of a semi-elastic carbon-steel that stretches something like, but not as easily as a rubber band. You may notice that as you put new strings on your guitar, you keep tightening the knob to bring the strings up to pitch. By doing so, you are not just tightening the string, but stretching it as well (proven by the fact that the string post is turning and winding on additional string as the string stretches). (It may surprise you to know that a plain .010˝ E string on a guitar stretches about 3/16˝ when brought up to pitch.) The elasticity gives the string brightness and richness. Over time, and with usage and tuning, the wire’s elastic qualities diminish and the string loses its warmth and richness. Our “mandolin wire” is the same material found in leading brands, and it life cycle is virtually the same as other brands. That said, we frequently receive feedback, especially from touring musicians, that our strings seem to last a long time.
Q: Do Straight Up Strings improve the tonal difference between the plain B string and the wound G string?
A: Based on feedback of our testers (and our ears), the radical step in gauges between the plain B string and the core wire used for the G string of most other brands is what creates the change in both feel and tone that most guitarists notice. Since Straight Up Strings are predicated on compensated torque, there is a better relationship between string torque loads, which equates to compensated tensions, which further equates to improved tone and feel between these strings. We’ll need to hear from a lot of guitarists before we can make a qualified response to this question, but we believe that we’ve made a major step.
Q: Will Straight Up Strings work on lightly constructed guitars?
A: As long as the guitar is fitted with a one-piece fixed bridge, whether a “belly” bridge, “pyramid” bridge, or straight sided bridge, the basic premise of delivering compensated torque loads to the bridge holds true. Straight Up Strings will improve the tone, balance, sustain, and amplitude on light-bodied as well as heavier guitars, from triple-OOOs to jumbos.
Q:Martin recommends “light” strings for my guitar (CEO-7). Which Straight Up Strings can I use?
A: The tension of our light gauge Straight Up Strings is lighter than the Martin lights, and the tension of our medium gauge Straight Up Strings is about the same as Martin lights. This is not because we’ve gauged and described our strings more lightly, but instead that many other string manufacturers have gauged their strings more heavily. So, our Straight Up String mediums will be great (and safe) on your CEO-7.
Q: I read that Roger Siminoff worked on strings for Santa Cruz Guitars. How are Straight Up Strings different?
A: Roger has been working on musical strings for over 40 years, including, but not limited to working as a consultant for Gibson’s string division in Elgin, Illinois, and Fender’s string division in Chula Vista, California, as well as providing technical support to a few other private label brands along the way. Aside from the fact that he has a time-honored relationship for decades working with Santa Cruz Guitars as a consultant, the process was similar to what he has done in the past. For Santa Cruz Guitars, he addressed the tensions, and developed string gauges from that criteria. For Straight Up Strings we went a step further and focused on the torque loads at the bridge. And, for Straight Up Strings, we had to consider a broad range of guitar body styles and makes, for both vintage and current-production instruments.
Q: Is there somewhere I can go to learn more about how your strings were developed?
A: Yes, we have prepared a white paper that goes into great detail about how strings work and how we developed Straight Up Strings for guitar. We also have a 5-minute video that demonstrates some of the technologies.