Balancing tensions

Choice of classical guitar strings and technical issues connected with their use.
pksmith11
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Joined: Fri Dec 30, 2016 10:01 pm

Balancing tensions

Post by pksmith11 » Sat Dec 31, 2016 2:57 pm

Hey all,

I'm coming to the end of a very long quest for a set of strings that works for my guitar. I'm a somewhat advanced player and realized about a year ago that

1. My guitar is quite sensitive and temperamental, and when there are tension imbalances often certain frequencies stick out on individual strings, especially if the tension is too high.

And

2. My fingers don't like having to adjust to a variety of tensions for each string, especially when playing fast scales and arpeggios. Flabby strings throw me off.

So I'm finally homing in on some brands/diameters that work for each string:

1. Augustine Imperial
2. D'addario carbon HT
3. D'addario carbon HT
4. Pro arte or exp .29 (ht or nt depending on the pack)
5. .35 (nt)
6. .44 or .45 (nt exp, hard or extra hard pro arte)

I know a lot of other folks do this kind of thing and it frankly baffles me that no string manufacturer sells a well balanced set.

This combo gives me 15-16 lbs of pressure per string with maybe a little extra on e1, and feels very comfortable to play. Not too flabby like some nt sets, and not crazy stuff like some ht sets.

Right now the trebles are exactly what I want. But The bass side isn't 100% there. I like to have some harmonic richness in the bass and good sustain. The exps settle a little duller then I'd like, but I corrode the normal pro arte's quite fast, though I love the sound for the first few days. Thinking of trying Corums or cantigas or labellas if I can find singles in the right diameters. Any suggestions on slower-corroding basses would be welcome.

I write all this to say that I really believe there's a reason so many of us cycle through so many different sets of strings. Neither NT or HT ever feel "just right" and every brand has a different tension distribution. Finding the right mix of nt and ht strings is key. This is all complicated by the fact that many brand's documentation of tensions, particularly d'addario, are full of errors and simply can't be trusted, and there's no standard when it comes to scale length. So one is best served by going off of diameters rather than calculated tension.

I welcome any comments, suggestions, similar experiences.

Peace!
Phil

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robin loops
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Re: Balancing tensions

Post by robin loops » Sat Dec 31, 2016 5:52 pm

Hannabach strings have very even tensions across the six strings (more so than any other brand I've tried. If you like them it might solve your problem without having to mix and match.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.
-James-

stevel
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Re: Balancing tensions

Post by stevel » Sun Jan 01, 2017 2:46 am

There are a couple of problems here.

The primary reason we don't have balanced sets has to do with string mass, which is a function of material and diameter. It is why, for example, we use nylon trebles and wound basses.

On Steel String Acoustic guitars you may notice the G is wound - and this was actually true of Electric Guitars in the 60s until rockers started using thinner gauges and putting plains on the 3rd string slot.

In order for a string to operate effectively, it needs to be near or at its breaking tension.

But given the tuning we use - which makes a secondary reason - that tension and string diameter/mass means a certain "mass-to-tension ratio" works best.

Just for example, a plain 3rd string 18 gauge tuned to G does not behave properly compared to a wound 3rd string 18 gauge tuned to G because the mass of the strings is different, and thus a different tension is on each to tune them to the same pitch.

So generally speaking, strings have evolved such that the mass and tension works best for tuning to the notes we tune to (or typically tune to given other possible tunings).

So while a "balanced tension set" seems good in theory, it usually has the side effect of some strings being too "thick" or "thin" feeling under the fingers.

I do know there was someone making Electric strings in a "balanced tension set" but they've not taken over the world.

Of course guitarists (electric or otherwise) tend to like tradition and are slow to adopt new ideas, but I think the issue is one of "feel" with diameters - it just doesn't "feel" right.

Now, I agree - it kind of drives me a little crazy that the B string on my electric is way easier to bend then the high E - I can bend the B a step and a half with no trouble, but the E I can only get a whole step out of it without really killing it. So the B does feel a bit "flimsy" in comparison.

But there are some instances IIRC where if you go up a gauge, the tension increases dramatically so now it's too high for the set.

There used to be an online string tension calculator using the tensions D'Addario put out. It was just an Excel spreadsheet but worked great. You put in the gauge, type, and tuning (I think it even had scale length) and it would tell you what the resulting tensions would be.

I played around with it a bit looking for balanced tension (on electric) and it was something a little odd like 9.5 as the high E. But that was way lower than I wanted to play (I play 11s on electric).

I know Nylons and Silk Wound strings are different, and there are additional ways to increase or decrease mass in a string to alter tension characteristics, but I think for Classical you would basically end up with what is a "mixed bag" of strings.

I have read here that people like Segovia would often play a melody line in a piece on a certain string to give it a certain character, and it almost makes sense that the high E could easily be a "chanterelle" string - something different to make it stand out.

But that sort of plays off the natural character of the "normal" 3+3 set.

You're almost there it seems - roughly the same basses, the same B and G, and then a different high E - could be your "melody" string if you wanted that sound for anything on that string.

I'd say though, if it works for you, go for it.

I think a lot of players get used to the gradation of thicker to thinner in 2 sets of 3, and the G-B-E set feel roughly like a "repeat" of the the lower 3 (on acoustics and electrics it tends to feel like a continual decrease).

So for them, the feel of a suddenly thicker or thinner string "out of order" maybe throws them far more than than the tension differences.

I have often wondered about tension differences on the structural integrity of the guitar, but given they've been made for decades or centuries this way, seems to be of no major concern.

But, if balanced tension sets could be had with the right diameters for "feel" and then the right mass-to-tension ratio for tuning, I don't know if there would be any observable improvement other than as you say - a "flabby" string (would be a bigger deal for bending styles).

Still probably a hard sell unless they sold them at lower prices...and that probably wouldn't happen!

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Contreras
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Re: Balancing tensions

Post by Contreras » Sun Jan 01, 2017 3:27 am

Santa Cruz has had a go at dealing with this problem, for the acoustic guitar at least, with their new parabolic tension strings ...
Mine have arrived in the mail, but I haven't fitted them yet so I can't say more.
Doesn't help for CG though :mrgreen:
Put down the bagpipes ...
... and no one gets hurt.

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jdart3000
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Location: North Florida, USA

Re: Balancing tensions

Post by jdart3000 » Sun Jan 01, 2017 10:20 pm

pksmith11 wrote:Hey all,

I'm coming to the end of a very long quest for a set of strings that works for my guitar. I'm a somewhat advanced player and realized about a year ago that

1. My guitar is quite sensitive and temperamental, and when there are tension imbalances often certain frequencies stick out on individual strings, especially if the tension is too high.

And

2. My fingers don't like having to adjust to a variety of tensions for each string, especially when playing fast scales and arpeggios. Flabby strings throw me off.

So I'm finally homing in on some brands/diameters that work for each string:

1. Augustine Imperial
2. D'addario carbon HT
3. D'addario carbon HT
4. Pro arte or exp .29 (ht or nt depending on the pack)
5. .35 (nt)
6. .44 or .45 (nt exp, hard or extra hard pro arte)

I know a lot of other folks do this kind of thing and it frankly baffles me that no string manufacturer sells a well balanced set.

This combo gives me 15-16 lbs of pressure per string with maybe a little extra on e1, and feels very comfortable to play. Not too flabby like some nt sets, and not crazy stuff like some ht sets.

Right now the trebles are exactly what I want. But The bass side isn't 100% there. I like to have some harmonic richness in the bass and good sustain. The exps settle a little duller then I'd like, but I corrode the normal pro arte's quite fast, though I love the sound for the first few days. Thinking of trying Corums or cantigas or labellas if I can find singles in the right diameters. Any suggestions on slower-corroding basses would be welcome.

I write all this to say that I really believe there's a reason so many of us cycle through so many different sets of strings. Neither NT or HT ever feel "just right" and every brand has a different tension distribution. Finding the right mix of nt and ht strings is key. This is all complicated by the fact that many brand's documentation of tensions, particularly d'addario, are full of errors and simply can't be trusted, and there's no standard when it comes to scale length. So one is best served by going off of diameters rather than calculated tension.

I welcome any comments, suggestions, similar experiences.

Peace!
Phil
Hi Phil -

You might want to give the new Pepe Romero (PEPESR) strings. Strings By Mail has them. I tried them on my spruce Rubio and they just brought it to life. The first thing I noticed was how evenly balanced they felt. They've lasted longer than my normal D'Addarios, so that evens out the extra cost.

Good luck with your search,
John
"Art is not something which you can take or leave. It is a necessity of human life" -- Oscar Wilde

2012 German Vazquez Rubio Estudio - Spruce
1979 Sakurai Kohno No. 10 - Cedar
2006 Alhambra 4P - Spruce

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Oleo
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Re: Balancing tensions

Post by Oleo » Sun Jan 08, 2017 8:47 pm

robin loops wrote:Hannabach strings have very even tensions across the six strings (more so than any other brand I've tried. If you like them it might solve your problem without having to mix and match.
True. Excellent strings.

Greetings,

stevel
Posts: 562
Joined: Thu Jan 06, 2011 2:15 pm

Re: Balancing tensions

Post by stevel » Sun Jan 08, 2017 11:05 pm

Contreras wrote:parabolic tension strings ...
Interesting term.

My guess is that means the tension goes up from it's lowest number (on the low E maybe) to its highest number (high E) in a parabolic function.

There were some electric companies that did this in a linear fashion - something like "ascending tension" or some such. So it wasn't balanced, but it increased from the low point at an even rate, so if the low E was 11 ppsi, then the A was 10, the D was 9 (or fractional numbers, etc.)

All of these seem to be attempts to get it to "feel" like the tension is the same, or at least consistently increasing or decreasing in a "comfortable" way.

ben etow
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Re: Balancing tensions

Post by ben etow » Tue Jan 10, 2017 12:49 pm

pksmith11 wrote:
Right now the trebles are exactly what I want. But The bass side isn't 100% there. I like to have some harmonic richness in the bass and good sustain. The exps settle a little duller then I'd like, but I corrode the normal pro arte's quite fast, though I love the sound for the first few days. Thinking of trying Corums or cantigas or labellas if I can find singles in the right diameters. Any suggestions on slower-corroding basses would be welcome.
Hi Phil,

Did you try the NT Galli Genius basses? Maybe too Augustinely-sounding for you, but who knows?
Corums are good for sustain and harmonic richness to some extent, but the set is uneven tensionwise and they won't last long (don't even bother to try the NT 4th). A nice replacement for them with more choice as to tension/diameter is Pyramid double silver - their D's and As are one of my favorites.
Cantigas will sound harsher than your D'add's.
Did you try the Knobloch double silver?

ben etow
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Location: Brussels

Re: Balancing tensions

Post by ben etow » Tue Jan 10, 2017 12:50 pm

pksmith11 wrote: So one is best served by going off of diameters rather than calculated tension.
The problem is the tension not only depends on the diameter, but also the type of material used...

ben etow
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Re: Balancing tensions

Post by ben etow » Tue Jan 10, 2017 12:54 pm

robin loops wrote:Hannabach strings have very even tensions across the six strings (more so than any other brand I've tried. If you like them it might solve your problem without having to mix and match.
No so even in the nylon trebles... But overall, yes.
Knobloch double silver with carbon trebles too.

I've been mixing brands and types for more 15 years now and will never stop doing so. Much better and less expensive.

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robin loops
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Re: Balancing tensions

Post by robin loops » Tue Jan 10, 2017 6:38 pm

ben etow wrote:
pksmith11 wrote: So one is best served by going off of diameters rather than calculated tension.
The problem is the tension not only depends on the diameter, but also the type of material used...
It's a balancing act between actual tension, diameter, actual feel, and tone. I personally ignore diameter for the most part. Calculated tension is a good starting point but the feel and tone are what I make (made) my final determination on.

That being said, I decided long ago that finding the perfect compromise between tension, diameter, feel, and tone was a never-ending quest (aka obsession) and is best left to string manufacturers that have the time and resources to make sets that are the best balance of (all) these factors (not just tension alone) and that (in my case) the quest for perfect strings was just a distraction from the quest for perfect technique and tone (which I find can be obtained with any 'good' string) and that nails and technique have more impact on tone than the strings and technique has more impact on feel than they (strings) do.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.
-James-

robert e
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Joined: Fri Dec 11, 2015 6:49 pm

Re: Balancing tensions

Post by robert e » Tue Jan 10, 2017 9:36 pm

D'Addario's string tension calculator is now a slick web app, stringtensionpro, with its own URL ( http://stringtensionpro.com/ ) and it handles different string materials (though of course using D'Addario data).

No one's mentioned yet how string mass and tension affects the guitar top. There's going to be an optimum range, and distribution across strings, for any particular guitar, which may differ for best volume vs best tone, and which may not coincide with one's preferred feel.

Also, setup can have a significant effect on feel and tone, which is something to weigh against string properties. You can, for example, tighten up feel by increasing break angle via string beads or a higher saddle.

Guitarhancock
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Re: Balancing tensions

Post by Guitarhancock » Wed Jan 11, 2017 1:31 am

Went through many of the same issues. Best balanced set are the new Pepe Romeros. I am done looking . Just playing the music.

ben etow
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Re: Balancing tensions

Post by ben etow » Wed Jan 11, 2017 11:40 am

robin loops wrote:That being said, I decided long ago that finding the perfect compromise between tension, diameter, feel, and tone was a never-ending quest (aka obsession) and is best left to string manufacturers that have the time and resources to make sets that are the best balance of (all) these factors.
The problem is the manufacturer doesn't know neither the feel nor the tone I want (partly because of my own technique and specific ears), even less so for each string!

ben etow
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Re: Balancing tensions

Post by ben etow » Wed Jan 11, 2017 11:49 am

robin loops wrote:[nails and technique have more impact on tone than the strings and technique has more impact on feel than they (strings) do.
IMO, the guitar, the strings and the strings+string height influence equally the final result (music interpretation). Any of those three element can ruin the result as they can all cause tone inconsistencies as to sustain, dynamics, colour.

I think most delcampers (I include myself) will agree a D'addario pro arte 1st is a good (enough) string, but I can't help being distracted by their poor feel under my nail/flesh and even forgetting about that, I won't get the best result I want from my favorite e-string.

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