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Author Topic: String Choices f/Bluebird, other ladder-braced guitars  (Read 4807 times)

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Offline littledog

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String Choices f/Bluebird, other ladder-braced guitars
« on: February 20, 2007, 08:05:31 PM »
As far as sound goes ...at the moment I've got it strung with John Pearse nylon(all wound) as I didn't want to put too much stress on anything with steel. Bass notes with the Pearses give a surprisingly rich sound but anything on say the G,Band E is a little bit dead. I have a feeling that a set of steel strings will give a better tone. It's a lovely little guitar for having a gentle finger-pick.
The neck is very comfortable with a slight 'v' shape rather than a rounded back.
Thanks for the feedback.
littledog

Offline Parlor Picker

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String Choices f/Bluebird, other ladder-braced guitars
« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2007, 01:18:26 AM »
You could give Newtone strings a try if you are worried about tension.  They get up to pitch with less tension.  However, I find they can be a bit too slack on guitars with a short scale length.  This is a shame as they are superb strings with an excellent tone.  I had a set of Newtone lights on my Lyon & Healy Columbus parlour guitar, but changed them for D'Addarios to get a bit more tension.  I consider the Newtones better strings, but they were not ideal for that particular instrument.
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
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Offline waxwing

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String Choices f/Bluebird, other ladder-braced guitars
« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2007, 11:19:15 AM »
When I first got my little Stella from Neil Harpe I thought it was so fragile looking I didn't think I could play it. I started out with extra light strings. After a while I was more confident in it and moved up to lights (with a plain third). I play pretty strong delta material on it and eventually felt fine tuning up to Spanish at A and Vastapol at E. There is some change in the top when I retune. It has quite a ladder bracing "belly" and when I tune up, due to the geometry of the tipped bridge, the action actually lowers just a bit. And I have to retune, up just a smidge, the strings that remain on the same pitch. But no seperation issues anywhere, and it sounds great at that tension.

I would suggest you try extra lights and play for a while. I think you'll be surprised at how sturdy and stable these old guitars are in spite of how light they are. Also, wait for a while and see where you end up in terms of string gauge before you have any intonation issues dealt with. I had mine refretted right away and also had the saddle slot filled and recut to intonate with extra lights. When I changed to lights we filed the saddle back so that the edge is at the back of the saddle (incorrect, and I'll have it corrected with the next refret, soon), and even there the intonation is a bit off.

All part of the learning process.

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
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bighollowtwang

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String Choices f/Bluebird, other ladder-braced guitars
« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2007, 11:58:19 AM »
I agree, these instruments were designed for steel strings and that's what they should be strung with to get the most out of 'em. These guitars will be quite loud with .11s at standard pitch (or open E or A) if you're worried about putting anything heavier on them, although .12s shouldn't be a problem, but you might want to try the lower (G and D) open tunings with those strings (perhaps with a .13 or .14 for the high string if standard tuning isn't what you intend to use most of the time).

I think guitars with birch tops need a heavier string to get the best tone than guitars with spruce tops, but that's a matter of taste. I also find that guitars with conventional pin bridges respond better to light strings (and bare-fingers picking, for that matter) than tailpiece/floating bridge guitars. To my ears tailpiece guitars sound best with slightly heavier strings and fingerpicks, and sound better for slide than guitars with pin bridges.

One thing I would recommend is to use nickel strings.
Bronze strings weren't around in those days, so if you're after an "old time" sound, use nickel strings - that's what most closely resembles acoustic guitar strings from the 20s and 30s ("silver plated steel").
I've always found that bronze strings sound unflattering on ladder-braced guitars, particularly those with tailpiece/flating bridge setups.
Come to think of it I don't like bronze strings, period.

Offline waxwing

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String Choices f/Bluebird, other ladder-braced guitars
« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2007, 12:16:57 PM »
Right, my little Stella is a pin bridge, so not an exact comparison.

I've been hearing you talk about Nickel strings, Zak, and the next time I run out (I buy by the dozen) I'm gonna try some. Altho' the sound of my little Stella with the three bass strings wrapped in 80/20 bronze is anything but unflattering I really want to hear what the Nickels will sound like. Do you just buy electrtic strings?

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

http://www.youtube.com/user/WaxwingJohn
https://www.facebook.com/WaxwingJohn

bighollowtwang

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String Choices f/Bluebird, other ladder-braced guitars
« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2007, 06:57:06 PM »
Yes, I usually buy whichever brand of nickel string is cheapest at the local Canukistan equivalent of Guitar Center ("Steve's Music" - staffed with clueless "Duuuude" salespeople), but recently I bought some John Pearse strings to see what the hype was all about and I think they're really good.

Offline waxwing

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String Choices f/Bluebird, other ladder-braced guitars
« Reply #6 on: February 21, 2007, 07:51:38 PM »
Actually I use John Pearse and get them pretty cheap online. I've been thinking of lightening up a bit, maybe their electric "Straights" (.011-.050) might do the trick. Wouldn't have to buy a separate plain third to swap in. Thanks, Zak, you've given me something to think about. Nothing like a little experimentation.

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

http://www.youtube.com/user/WaxwingJohn
https://www.facebook.com/WaxwingJohn

Offline Rivers

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String Choices f/Bluebird, other ladder-braced guitars
« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2007, 08:02:42 PM »
I've tried nickel string sets a couple of times. Each time I've found them to be seriously gutless, toneless and generally horrible on a flattop acoustic!  ;) IMHO, YMMV etc., but don't get your hopes up...

bighollowtwang

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String Choices f/Bluebird, other ladder-braced guitars
« Reply #8 on: February 21, 2007, 08:32:41 PM »
Nickel strings may not be the ideal choice for an x-braced flattop, but I really prefer them on ladder-braced guitars where bronze strings sometimes create some pretty strange dissonances, and I am specifically recommending them for that type of instrument. I suspect that anyone playing an old ladder-braced guitar in the first place is after a specific "old" sound, and nickel strings seem to bring it out more, at the expense of certain frequencies which aren't that strong in ladder-braced guitars to begin with.

I also find nickel strings don't go dead as quickly as bronze strings, but like any string they sound kind of ugly until they've had a few hours of play on them.

In any case, experimenting with strings is inexpensive, if you don't like 'em you can always go back to your brand of choice.

Also, this might seem painfully obvious, but if you're used to ordering "light" acoustic strings, "light" electric strings are much lighter, so it is best to ask for them by gauge. In the world of acoustic guitars .12s are "light" and .13s are "medium" but if you simply ask for "light" electric strings you might get handed a set of .9s or .10s, which will indeed sound gutless and toneless on an acoustic.

If anyone is interested, I have some short demonstration videos of some old ladder-braced guitars, all strung with nickel strings (.11s with the exception of the Harmony which was strung with .12s). Unfortunately due to the way youtube compresses .avi files, they're quite out-of-sync, but you should get an idea of how things sound with nickel strings. I'm sure better players can coax much more impressive sounds out of these instruments but I don't think anyone has ever told me my guitars sound "gutless" or "toneless" (though I'm sure that more than one listener has called me "tone deaf" under their breath).  :P

Lyon & Healy Jupiter
in standard tuning
in open G with slide

Columbia
in standard tuning
in open E tuning with slide

B&J Serenader


30s birch Harmony





« Last Edit: February 21, 2007, 08:41:10 PM by bighollowtwang »

Offline Coyote Slim

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Re: String Choices f/Bluebird, other ladder-braced guitars
« Reply #9 on: February 22, 2007, 03:25:08 PM »


In any case, experimenting with strings is inexpensive...


Not if you're on my budget.   :D

I've been using D'addario bronze on my Stella and this weird one with the fret numbers on it   (and no, Zak, I haven't recorded anything with it yet)  I might have to give nickel strings a shot.  On my arch-top Kay and my Chinese-made electric resonator I use flat-wound jazz strings.
Puttin' on my Carrhartts, I gotta work out in the field.

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Muddyroads

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Re: String Choices f/Bluebird, other ladder-braced guitars
« Reply #10 on: February 23, 2007, 04:55:07 AM »
I've been hearing you talk about Nickel strings, Zak, and the next time I run out (I buy by the dozen) I'm gonna try some.  Do you just buy electrtic strings?
John C.

John,

I use Ernie Ball Custom lights on my '49 0018 and get a great tone (not ladder braced I realize).  The little known thing about nickel is that it lasts a lot longer than phosphor bronze and way longer than 80/20.  I had a set of DR nickel strings on a small body guitar for over a year and they still have elasticity and clarity of tone.  Now I don't play that guitar much but just the oxidation on a bronze alloy string in that amount of time would have rendered it fairly unplayable by now with the humidity levels we experience in the South.

Mud

rpg51

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Re: String Choices f/Bluebird, other ladder-braced guitars
« Reply #11 on: February 25, 2007, 09:55:58 AM »
Nice playing Zak.  I have a new to me circa 25 Grand Concert that I have been experimenting with as far as string guage and type.  One other suggestion as you are getting to know a vintage instrument is to begin by tuning down a whole step, keep a close eye on things, and then gradually bring it up in guage and in tuning very slowly over a period of weeks and back off at the first sign of trouble.  I use mine for slide mostly so I tend to beef up the high e a bit but go with lights otherwise. 

I think I will give those electric strings a try.  Sound pretty good.  I like having an unwound G anyway.  I have a Greven L-00v and I might even give them a roll on that guitar - x braced.

But I am definately looking for that old tone. That is what it is all about as far as I am concerned.


Offline littledog

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Re: String Choices f/Bluebird, other ladder-braced guitars
« Reply #12 on: March 15, 2007, 08:55:28 PM »
See my reply in "Bluebird Guitar" subject box
littledog

Offline Coyote Slim

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Re: String Choices f/Bluebird, other ladder-braced guitars
« Reply #13 on: March 23, 2007, 06:37:51 PM »
I just switched my 1930s parlor guitar and my late '50s/early '60s Harmony Stella to nickel strings ("I've got twelve gauge strings, don't mess with me!").  They're Dean Markley "JZ 12-54"s. Both of 'em sound great.  Right now the old parlor is tuned to Spanish, pitched at G#, and the Stella in Vestapol around D (but I've been playing it in Standard, mainly).
Puttin' on my Carrhartts, I gotta work out in the field.

Coyote Slim's Youtube Channel

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