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STRING TIPS #002:   Plain string Sets - Standard or “Soft

Welcome to our second String Tips newsletter. This letter is about the differences in plain string material. While we divide our sets into "standard" and "Soft" sets, what we'll talk about in this letter applies to plain string material everywhere, whether it's in all plain sets, plain strings that are mixed with wound material, and even material from other companies. It's somewhat of a generalization, but the main element in the differing sounds between one plain string material and another is in their density. So let's see how this works, and how it might affect your choice of strings. An exaggerated comparison of densities would be to look at the differences between a wound string and a plain string. If you have two strings - one plain and one wound - that tune to the same pitch at the same tension, the wound string will be the thinner of the two. It's simply because metal has a greater density, so it takes less of it to produce the mass necessary to produce that tension and pitch. The same thing happens with differing types of plain strings. You may have noticed that some sets have a thicker, "beefier" feel to them, while others - used for the same notes - tend to be much thinner. As with the wound / plain comparison, the difference is density. Those thinner plain strings are made of denser material. The reasons this matters are not just that one gives a different feel than the other. There is also generally a noticeable difference in tone. Just as wound strings are brighter than plain strings, plain strings of denser material are brighter sounding than plain strings of less dense or "softer" material. Now, however, throw one more variable into the mix. Thinner strings of any material are brighter than thicker strings of that same material. At this point we can begin to see how all this affects your string choices. First, in our sets, we use these properties to our advantage with our "mixed material" concept. Other companies have put their toes in this water, but none have come close to tapping the full potential. We are unique in that regard, and somewhat proud of it. In an Ukulele reentrant set, we use denser material for the lower note "inside" strings - the 2nd & 3rd - and less dense for the higher note outside strings - the 1st and 4th. As we mentioned, thicker material is not as bright to begin with, so by doing this we improve a sets performance in two ways. First the tone is more uniform - the inside strings are not so dead relative to the outside strings. Second, these sets are more playable - with the inside strings being of denser material, they are not as thick, relative to the outside strings. The end result is a set that is more even in tone, more even in feel, and usually also more even in tension. In other words better balance overall. O.K., so we think we're on to something there, but now how do you choose between our standard and "Soft" formula sets. Both types are of mixed materials, denser on the inside, less dense outside, but with our standard sets that range of densities is "harder", than the range in our "Soft" sets. Thus a "Soft" set has the beefier feel and "softer", "warmer" sound, but a sound without the dead inside notes typical of other company's soft material sets. One would think that it would be a fairly straightforward choice - standard sets for a bright crisp sound, "Soft" sets for a heavier feel and warmer sound. But now I'll throw you two final variables. First, the thicker "Soft" sets tend to have slightly more volume. That doesn't mean that the standard sets are quiet. Sometimes having a brighter sound means that sound projects better. Second, and more importantly, remember that thinner material is brighter than thicker with any density. We will have standard and "Soft" sets all the way from our new "Extra Light" gauges through our "Medium" gauges. But since all thin strings tend to be bright, the difference in sound is much less in an Extra Light set than in a Medium set. Thus, if feel is important, and you like a little bit of beef, then consider that more with the lighter gauges - the sound won't be dramatically different. As you move up toward the Medium Gauge, the difference in sound is much more noticeable - the difference in feel is relatively less. You can let your choice be determined either by feel, by sound or some sort of combination of those properties. Only you, with the knowledge of your instruments and your preferences in feel can set those priorities. We don't offer "Soft" material sets once we go above Medium Gauge. Neither the new "Heavy Mediums" nor the Heavy Gauge sets will have that option. Again, this is because as strings get heavier, they get "warmer" in sound all on their own. There's no need for a "soft" formula in the heavier gauges. Indeed, this is where you begin to consider even denser material. You begin to consider wound strings. But that will be the subject of our next letter.
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