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Flatwound strings better for recording than roundwounds?


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So I've got this song in Open E tuning with lots of fast sliding up and down the neck and odd time signatures:

Does anyone have experience with flatwound strings to reduce finger noise? How effective are they in that regard? How do they play (stiffness and feel), and what do they sound like, compared to, say, high-end roundwounds like OPTIMA Gold Stirngs 1747L?

Here are some pictures of the (semi)flatwounds in question:

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Edited by Leonard McCoy
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Hey Leonard,

String squeak is something I’ve done battle with many times as a session player. Rosewood guitars in particular are very prone to it, which is-in part-why I don’t own any!
 

I have found it can be attenuated with string choice and you don’t necessarily need to go all the way to flats or flat tops to make it bearable. Here are my findings with regard to strings and their effect on finger squeak, from most prone to least prone:

85/15 Bronze - very bright and squeak prone 

80/20 Bronze - still bright and squeak prone but slightly less so

Nickel Bronze/Monel - a thinner tone and less upper mid squeak, but still pronounced

Phosphor Bronze - warmer, less exaggerated squeak but still an issue with Rosewood instruments, to the point of being jarring on a recording

D’Addario XT coated - my current favourite strings, toneful and feel like uncoated strings but last for ages. Less pronounced squeak than anything uncoated, but still a little

Elixir Nanoweb/D’Addario XS - A significant step down in squeak here, but getting into the territory of slippery, coated feel. Good strings, with very little squeak at all, but the feel change is the tradeoff

Elixir Polyweb - The last stop on the line of “normal” acoustic strings in terms of squeak attenuation. These do feel slick and have less top end than other roundwounds, but I used these for years on a rosewood Takamine Nashville Series small jumbo and they transformed it from a guitar with such horrible squeak issues that it was unrecordable, into a lovely instrument that is on four of my albums. 

Flat-Tops - these are good and almost entirely squeak free, but sound very different to roundwounds. They sound “old”, more thunky, less sustain, less juicy overtones, more warm but also more “dead”. Some people love ‘em because they make a Gibson slope sound like the guitar on the first two Dylan albums. Some folks hate ‘em because they make a Gibson slop sound like the guitar on the first two Dylan albums 🤣

Flatwounds - heavy jazz territory here. Big, thick, fat tones which will hunt out any resonant nodes in your guitar and make them stand out like a streaker in Congress. Useful for some jobs but not many unless you’re a jazzer. 
 

PS I had mixed results with Optima strings and found they were somewhat overpriced for what they do/are. I know folks who adore them though so who knows!

 

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Cheers, Jinder, for taking the time! I'll give the flat-tops a try first, since I have always asked myself how Cat achieved that kind of thumpy tone in his 1971 BBC concert (it's not only the guitar), and work my way up from there. 

You should give the OPTIMA another shot. They sound very good, yes they are very pricey, but they also look the part on stage and camera (all-golden strings!).

Edited by Leonard McCoy
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Many years ago I went through a thing where I gave flatwounds a shot on both an electric and a flattop.   Not happening.  Problem is it was so long ago I do not recall what it was about them which did not work for me.  But whatever it was I have never felt the slightest urge to revisit them.  But I do wonder what they sound like on an archtop. 

I also agree with Jinder on the Optima strings.  I ran them up the flagpole during that period when there was no U.S. distributor for Newtones and I was trying to find a replacement.   Down the road though curiosity may get the better of me and I might just give their gold strings a try.

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I have those exact d'addario flats on a small body acoustic and I love them! They are very mellow sounding right out of the package, but I wouldn't say "dead" sounding. They are definitely a distinct sound, maybe not good for everyone or everything. There is definitely no squeak, and they are extremely comfortable to play. Everyone that has played that guitar has complimented the sound, so that's something. I say go for it, worst case scenario you hate them and you're out a couple bucks. One thing to note: they do not bend, or rather if you try to bend them what little they do bend sounds pretty terrible. They're definitely intended for strumming or fingerpicking, not lead work.

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16 hours ago, JohnnyT123 said:

I have those exact d'addario flats on a small body acoustic and I love them! They are very mellow sounding right out of the package, but I wouldn't say "dead" sounding. They are definitely a distinct sound, maybe not good for everyone or everything. There is definitely no squeak, and they are extremely comfortable to play. Everyone that has played that guitar has complimented the sound, so that's something. I say go for it, worst case scenario you hate them and you're out a couple bucks. One thing to note: they do not bend, or rather if you try to bend them what little they do bend sounds pretty terrible. They're definitely intended for strumming or fingerpicking, not lead work.

Wow, great! Thanks for the note on bending also with those strings.

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I've used flat-tops on electrics before. The best results I've gotten is when trying to achieve some less harsh sounding tones. Somewhat jazzier, in nature. Like some old Les Paul(the musician) from the '50's. It's been ages since I've tried them.

As far as in the studio, I do recall the harmonics' squelchy ringing out factor to be less. As one might suspect, the bite through the mix capacity decreased as well. They were beautiful as needed with a Gretsch Electromatic G-5124 I had. You can also do things within a mix to help them pop up. and out. Think Fleetwood Mac Albatross type of pretty. 

You mentioned recording in the thread title. All of that string noise can wreak havoc on a recording due to room, computer, interface, etc. Lots of advancement on that end 3-5 years ago. Isolating audio from the rest of the motherboard, better power supplies, etc. Just like any musical information, it's all much more present in the mid to upper ranges (1.6kHz to 4.2kHz, and strongest say 2.2kHz to 3.5kHz. It makes it stick out like a zit on the tip of your nose. I've had to do less and less to fix it over the years. It was like dealing with layers. Remove one thing and it exposed the next issue. Rather maddening for a while.

 

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2 hours ago, Peter Z said:

Wow Jinder, great summary! You made me curious, I never tried 85/15 strings. Now I wanna know!

D’Addario EZ920 are a great set, 12-54 and labelled “American Bronze”. Well worth a try!!

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