Wednesday, December 2, 2015

First Impressions: D'addario N6 Alloy Acoustic Strings

D'addario has done it again. 

Some time after their NYXL Electric beta and subsequent release (which by the way is still expanding - we just got word of 3-pack sets of their most popular options being released), D'addario has been hard at work on the NYXL acoustic counterpart, and we've been given the opportunity, again, to take part in the beta test.

Now, to be clear, this counterpart has no direct relation to current D'addario acoustic offerings, other than, on the set we received, an indicator that it is the gauge equivalent of the EJ16 Light Gauge. One might argue that the newer EXP variant, with its usage of NY Steel, might be the acoustic counterpart, and up until this beta test, one might also be correct to say so. Not anymore.

Similar to the NYXL beta test, we received the set in a black "Confidential Beta" string pack. Also included in the package was an insert detailing the goals of the string set, as well as what made these strings different on a technical level, incorporating phosphor bronze, nickel, and NY steel in this new formula. These strings were designed with your tonewoods in mind so they'll go hand in hand with the richest tonewoods. My particular Breedlove has rosewood back (solid) and sides (laminate), and rosewood is a very rich sounding wood on its own, one of the reasons I fell in love with the instrument as it is. So when a string is designed to let the tonewood shine, instead of masking it, I'm all for it conceptually.

Opening up the black Beta pack, revealed the standard gray sealed protection that anyone that uses D'addario strings regularly will recognize, with the printed indication noted above. I found this immediately interesting, because with the specification EJ16, and knowing that this is a popular Phosphor Bronze set, I wondered that if, in the future we might be seeing a different alloy in the same series, featuring components closer to the composition of 80/20 bronze, creating an equivalent to, in this case, the EJ11. I'm no chemist, though, and strictly speaking, I don't know exactly how an alteration of the alloy in that way may respond, so I could just be unrealistically speculating.

So, onto the strings themselves. I pulled the existing strings off my Breedlove, a set of D'addario Flat Top acoustic strings (an interesting set of strings in their own right) in favor of this new set. I unpackaged them and immediately noticed a difference in appearance, which I found very interesting. This particular set, unlike other standard acoustic strings, were nickel colored like an electric set. One initially might think that this may have been a mistake, but with nickel as a large part of this new alloy, there should be little surprise in the difference in appearance.

After the much needed restringing process, the differences in string characteristics between the new set and old were immediately apparent. If you've never played a set of D'addario Flat Tops, for comparison's sake, they are round wound and the ground down to a semi-flat feel. Their purpose is to reduce string noise and improve on overall feel, and they do that admirably. They are on the warmer end of the tone spectrum, coming in between gypsy jazz and standard roundwound phosphor bronze, and side by side it's a moderate difference. The new ones on the other hand couldn't be more different. Upon initial playing, I noticed that these had a standard break-in time comparable to that of any acoustic string on the market, both in tuning stabilization and tonal settling. First impression right off the bat, they were very loud and responsive. I might even go so far as to say they are two parts responsive, and one part thoroughly unforgiving. Acoustic guitar is an unforgiving instrument on its own, as you don't have a lot of third-party tonal alterations that can be made if you're not plugging in. It's just your playing, your tonewoods and construction, and your strings. Well... unless you happen to have a ToneWood amp, then all bets are off. Point being, these strings were initially very bright and to some ears may be considered harsh, but the projection is absolutely unreal. I'll have to hold off for a little bit to pass too much judgement, but these I imagine will be very polarizing. I'm already on the positive side of these strings myself, but time will tell.

12/2 Update
As someone that spends a more than average amount of time in a guitar shop, I get a lot of time with instruments that aren't my own, and to have the experience to play so many different instruments on a daily basis. But as mentioned in my NYXL writeup, this experience often results in my personal guitars getting less love than they deserve. This was a good test, however, to the N6 set's... "idle longevity." A lot of people come to us for strings for guitars that they might not use as often as their "main" instrument. And if you're in the market for that sort of thing, here might be your answer. Despite an extended period of non-regular use (in case, however, so take this with a grain of salt) the N6 set not only did not corrode or blacken due to any air exposure it had before being case kept, it also stayed completely in tune, ready to be played. They still feel like recently broken in new strings, and it seems that the tone has changed for the better - not completely as they still feature great projection but the high response that gave the strings a somewhat harsh quality have mellowed out.

So overall... positive experience. Potentially harsh depending on the guitar its used on, would accentuate a guitar with dark tonewoods very nicely. I'll be keeping these on for a while but your mileage may vary - try them this January and see for yourself.

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