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SurfGuitar101 Forums » Gear »

Permalink Dick Dale string tension... revised

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I was just exploring the functionality of D'Addario's string tension calculator for use with a baritone project and thought I'd see just how Dick Dale's panoply numbers out.

For reference, a typical set of 11's on a 25.5" scale tuned conventionally weighs in at 121.86 lbs. of tension with each string falling right around 20 lbs.

Dick Dale set:

image

His total tension comes in at 193.23 lbs. and is very unbalanced from one string to the next. Not to sound critical of his wicked sound but you can see why there aren't a lot of high E bends going on in his music, for instance..

I set about trying to equalize tensions across the board as closely as possible and came up with this set:

image

I shot for 30 lbs. as the target value per string (a manly 150% of 11's) and ended up with a total tension slightly under Dick's at 181.01 lbs. and much better balanced. I'm curious to see how this would feel in play. I haven't had the Dick Dale set on a guitar in years but I do recall that upper E being a real beast (Oh hey, I think we're onto something there..)

Here's the link to the online utility:

String Tension Calculator

Those images got cut down to nearly illegible size so here are some adjusted images.

Dick Dale:

image

Revised Surf Set:

image

His strings are definitely unbalanced, but I think it makes sense given the way he plays.

I also tried the 16-60 set once, and it didn't work too well for most other styles of music. But the obnoxiously heavy high E lends well to really wailing on that string like DD seems to, while the other strings are light enough to get an occasional bend in. It was also really nice for playing slide, as you don't have to be careful about the slide fretting out when playing the high E.

Still, this set looks like it'd be more versatile, and easier to get used to. Thanks for sharing!

Thanks - that tool is kind of interesting. Looking at a couple sets of 11's I use (on the JM & Strat), and then comparing with 12's on 24" scale can't wait (even more) to get my Jag.
Cool

Wes
SoCal ex-pat with a snow shovel

DISCLAIMER: The above is opinion/suggestion only & should not be used for mission planning/navigation, tweaking of instruments, beer selection, or choice of stage wardrobe.

I have compared string tensions across different types of strings within brands and cross compared to other brands. I had to do this in order to maintain some uniformity if I went to different types,brands of strings on my Strat because I have it set up to be floating.
The D'Addario calculator does not relect the tensions of other companies. Chrome half-rounds vs NYXL vs regular rounds vs something like TI flats all of the same gauge, say 12-52, for example will yield different aggregate string tensions. I was surprised at the variance! D'Addario publishes their indiividual string tensions across their string types as well as other companies like TI.

Mai Tai Surf on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/HangTenHangmen/
'Destination Saturn' EP (Feb 2016 release) on iTunes
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/thehangtenhangmen1

Fender Strat/CP Jazzmaster & Jaguar/Surfy Bear Reverb/'63 Fender RI Reverb/'68 Custom Vibrolux Reverb/Strymon El Capistan & Flint/Xotic EP Booster

Last edited: Mar 18, 2017 20:09:08

Badger wrote:

Thanks - that tool is kind of interesting. Looking at a couple sets of 11's I use (on the JM & Strat), and then comparing with 12's on 24" scale can't wait (even more) to get my Jag.
Cool

You need a Jag with .11s, a Jag with .12s, a Jag with flat .11s, a Jag with flat .12s, and then an extra to gig with as a backup with your preferred string.

But saying what has been said earlier... Different core types, different material types, etc all contribute to string tension.

You hear a lot about string balancing as well, but to counter that I would add that use each string to do something slightly differently. We pummel our low Es, we bend our plain strings, etc... I would be more concerned with balancing volume, which has nothing to do with tension.

JakeDobner wrote:

You need a Jag with .11s, a Jag with .12s, a Jag with flat .11s, a Jag with flat .12s, and then an extra to gig with as a backup with your preferred string.

Am in no way surprised by this approach. Big Grin

Wes
SoCal ex-pat with a snow shovel

DISCLAIMER: The above is opinion/suggestion only & should not be used for mission planning/navigation, tweaking of instruments, beer selection, or choice of stage wardrobe.

Jake, I had a feeling you would comment on this and was hoping so because I wanted to hear what people may know about the characteristics of the strings that are independent of the tension. From what I've read of your posts, I figured you would have something to say. Frankly, I've never paid any kind of attention to the strings I put on my guitars so I have no idea what the differences are or what I may like best.

But I do understand that different types of construction yield different results and, for instance, a wound string at a given tension may act differently than a plain string at the same tension. Volume, as you mentioned, would be a primary concern when it comes to that.

As far as the feel of inconsistent tensions goes, it seems to me like surf music would benefit the most from having them uniform. I mean I feel like I do tremolo picking across all of them so having a consistent feel seems desirable. And the same goes for chording.

Tangentially, I recently bought my first set of flatwounds and they're 12s on my Mustang and while they're great for playing on--like silk sheets--I just don't dig the way they sound. Too dull! It doesn't help that a Mustang, with its big ass cigar thing, forces you to play way up between the pickups away from the bridge.

Redfeather wrote:

Tangentially, I recently bought my first set of flatwounds and they're 12s on my Mustang and while they're great for playing on--like silk sheets--I just don't dig the way they sound. Too dull!...

I have to say that after 30 yrs of playing rounds, putting 12 flats on my Jag and Jazzmaster for surf was a revelation. Smooth glissandos, nice and rich midrange punch and less top-end zing that is already prominent if using a reverb unit and a older style Fender amp. I don't find them dull at all. I use TI flats and they are quite articulate. I also find that this "thud" and less sparkle is more prominent when playing unplugged. Once I plug in, I really dig the tone. D'Addario chromes are not exactly at the top of my list for half-rounds or flats. Last resort, actually, as far as flats are concerned.

But it could simply be that you don't get along with flats and there is nothing wrong with that. Horses for courses. BTW, I still use standard rounds on my Strat and Les Paul.

Mai Tai Surf on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/HangTenHangmen/
'Destination Saturn' EP (Feb 2016 release) on iTunes
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/thehangtenhangmen1

Fender Strat/CP Jazzmaster & Jaguar/Surfy Bear Reverb/'63 Fender RI Reverb/'68 Custom Vibrolux Reverb/Strymon El Capistan & Flint/Xotic EP Booster

Last edited: Mar 19, 2017 01:16:24

Redfeather wrote:

Jake, I had a feeling you would comment on this and was hoping so because I wanted to hear what people may know about the characteristics of the strings that are independent of the tension. From what I've read of your posts, I figured you would have something to say. Frankly, I've never paid any kind of attention to the strings I put on my guitars so I have no idea what the differences are or what I may like best.

But I do understand that different types of construction yield different results and, for instance, a wound string at a given tension may act differently than a plain string at the same tension. Volume, as you mentioned, would be a primary concern when it comes to that.

As far as the feel of inconsistent tensions goes, it seems to me like surf music would benefit the most from having them uniform. I mean I feel like I do tremolo picking across all of them so having a consistent feel seems desirable. And the same goes for chording.

Tangentially, I recently bought my first set of flatwounds and they're 12s on my Mustang and while they're great for playing on--like silk sheets--I just don't dig the way they sound. Too dull! It doesn't help that a Mustang, with its big ass cigar thing, forces you to play way up between the pickups away from the bridge.

Not every guitar pairs well with flats, nor is every flat a good brand. As mentioned above Chrome's are a string I have no passion for. I love the Thomastik-Infeld flats and the Pyramid. The Nickel flats with round cores, not the stainless steel hex core varieties like Chrome's. And for example, if you polled Strat surf players maybe 5% might have flats on, but 60% of Jag/Jazz players will have flats. Jag/Jazz have that shallow break angle over the bridge and lots of length between the tailpiece and bridge. The Strat has zero. The Mustang, exactly the same. Perhaps that is a contributing factor. Or it could be pickups...

So, back to balanced tension. Your brain is going to automatically compensate for tension differences. Keep in mind as well that it is already compensating for the difference in location and angle you need to pick at. And even if the tension is the same, the string diameter would still make double picking each string a different experience.

As for chording, I don't want my high e at a higher tension just to be balanced, a stiffer string causes more pressure to chord and hammer on or off. A low e, on the other end, is no problem to fret due to its size and different e strings don't play a lot differently. An high e, you notice the difference greatly from .10, to .11, and .12, let alone .09-.014. for the high e, you could substitute my low e for something thicker and lighter and I'm not going to argue too much.

For your Mustang I recommend DR Pure Blues. A great Pure Nickel round core string. They are on most of my guitars. For the price, nothing compares. I'm also a huge fan of GTS strings. Again, pure nickel with a round core, but they are about $15 versus $5. Thomastik's Bebops, their round core round wound string is the best their is. But $25, so fuck that! Those behave out of this world, very low tension. Sound amazing, don't last too long either. (Coming from a guy who leaves strings on forever).

A critique I have of the surf community is that we make double/tremolo picking harder than it needs to be. This site is full of suggestions on strings/picks/technique/how to set your guitar up/etc... Practice is the answer, and playing in time. I used cables for strings back in the day as I could really dig in and double pick. Turns out I just sucked and I covered up the sucking with thick shitty strings that ate my frets. You just can't just wail your wrist, is my point. A balanced set would help if that was the technique. But have a nice efficient and compact double picking where you play in time is the key and will allow one to be more dynamic and accurate.

Redfeather wrote:

Those images got cut down to nearly illegible size so here are some adjusted images.

Dick Dale:

image

Revised Surf Set:

image

You have to bare in mind that DD's guitar is strung backwards as well, which also affects balance.

I switched to D'Addario EXL115BT Balanced Tension 11-50 some time ago and really like this set. It wasn't a day / night difference, but I definitely noticed a more consistent feel between strings (YMMV).

METEOR IV on reverbnation

I've played a LOT of different brands and gauges of strings, and it's certainly worth slogging through a variety of different cores, materials, and gauges until you land on something that responds and sounds the way you'd like them to.

D'addario's were my standard brand, and on a 57 AVRI strat I have gone through the motions with a DD set that I built (16 18 20 38 48 58), a set of Pure Nickel 13-56, and 11-48 with a plain G.

The DD gauges were idea for fast picking and VERY little string wobble, and the "light" G by comparison was just light enough to get a bit of bend out of it. Overall, when set up properly, the string volume balance is good with staggered pole pieces, and the strings are so stiff that they almost feel like a pedal steel. I blocked and decked the trem for this size.

The lighter 11-48 pure nickels felt great on the fretting hand, but the unwound G sounds "tubby" and sharp (as mentioned by Dave Wronski) and the G and B strings are quite loud. Fast picking takes some TLC with the picking hand.

I landed on the 13-56 pure nickels if I want readily available roundwounds for surf. They feel just as stiff and rigid as the huge DD strings, but more comfortable on the fretting hand for chording and hammer-ons. They also don't test the upper limits of my truss, or of my tuners. Tonally they're absolutely identical to the DD strings as well. Some of those huge 16-58 strings really felt like they were gonna pop a few screws loose on my guitar!

One more comment concerning D'addario strings. I once had 13-56 pure nickel on my strat (floating trem), and replaced them with 13-56 nickel WOUND. The nickel wounds in the same exact gauge are several lbs lighter in tension than pure nickel, and my floating trem is what tipped me off. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending upon when you're after.

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