ERNIE BALL PARADIGM SLINKY ELECTRIC
STRINGS THAT DON’T BREAK? YOU’RE KIDDING. BY STEVE HENDERSON
Last issue, we looked at Ernie Ball’s new Paradigm acoustic strings, which are break and corrosion resistant and have a replacement guarantee (break them within 90 days and they’ll give you a new set). I don’t know how they’ve managed to make them so strong without changing the tone, but they are catching on with professionals and amateurs alike. As much as I’m a traditionalist about my gear (especially strings), I’ve had the Paradigms on my old D-28 for three months now – they’re still going strong and they still sound great. So it was a no-brainer to try the electric version.
IT’S IMPORTANT TO STRETCH
For obvious reasons, I figured they should be tested on something with a whammy, so rather than use a traditional Strat, I fitted them to a custom Strat built around 25 years ago by Alex Mesker of Allambie Heights. Mesker did a fabulous job of putting this instrument together, and it immediately became – and has remained – my number one piece. It features a Tom Anderson birdseye maple neck on a Tom Anderson quilted maple body, EMG SA/SA/89 pickups and, most significantly, a Floyd Rose bridge. This is the most stable instrument I’ve ever played. Even when hammering the Floyd, it stays in tune and completely rock solid. So, if I’m testing strings, any variation in tuning will be immediately obvious on this guitar. From the day Alex finished it to now, I’ve never needed to touch the truss rod.
Now, I know some will say that these strings should be test-driven with some kind of traditional bridge to put some pressure on the ball-end wrap, but firstly, I’ve never had an Ernie Ball string break at that particular spot, and secondly, that’s the first place they’d go to strengthen it. I’m more concerned with the body of the string. So to the Floyd we go, and after enduring the purgatory of a Floyd Rose string change, and then stretching them into tune (and unlocking the clamps, re-tuning, re-locking, more tuning, more stretching, etc... Then realising that they’re tougher, so I didn’t need to be so gentle with the stretching), I dug in for some whammy-fuelled fun.
A BRIGHT STAR
Immediately, just like the acoustic strings, these Paradigm Electrics sound and feel played-in. You know that overly bright sound and overly slick feel you get from a set of brand new strings, and you know how they always sound and feel better after an hour or so of playing? Well, these strings are “right” straight away – they have a bell-like tone, not that “new string” edginess. There’s definitely a snap to the top end, but it’s round and defined; the tone doesn’t thin out after the initial attack. Up around the 12th to 15th frets, the tone retains body and sustain – just like normal Slinkys. In fact, there seems to be no tonal difference between the Paradigms and the regular, stock standard Slinkys. Using the whammy for everything from subtle and atmospheric warbles, to some serious dive bombs and depressed whammy attacks, the strings stayed confidently in tune. Picking up the guitar by grabbing the top E (.009) and jerking the instrument off the bench, the string didn’t snap and still stayed in tune. If only I had some Kryptonite
The clever engineers at Ernie Ball have created a proprietary wire drawing process that increases both the tensile strength (how much punishment it will take right now) and the fatigue strength (how much punishment it will take over time). On their website, you’ll find more technical information on this. But I don’t care how they did it – only that they actually did it, because after six weeks of having these strings on the guitar and playing it every day, they are still in tune right along the fretboard.
And that’s the key: some long-life strings “sound” great, but they become hard to tune over time – just like regular strings after the same period. This is because the string is stretched unevenly along its length, and therefore, the string mass is unevenly distributed. They are hard to tune and keep in tune, and chords play out of tune.
These Paradigms still sound and feel great, too, due to Ernie Ball’s Everlast nano-treatment that reduces the corrosion caused by human and environmental elements. But again, I don’t care how they did it – it seems to work, and that’s what matters most to working musicians. If the price is an issue, spend the same amount on regular strings. Fine. But then you have to restring the guitar three times as often, and changing strings is something that most guitarists would agree is a total headache.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The real issue here is longevity. I keep banging on about tone and feel because, in the end, that’s all that matters. The fact that Ernie Ball has created a product that does this over a (relatively) long period of time is good but people like Cleartone have done that, too. What Ernie Ball has done is made their strings tough enough to withstand some serious stress over that same period. The Ernie Ball Paradigm programme demonstrates an advancement in string technology that hasn’t been seen since D’Addario introduced the hex core all those decades ago. It’s definitely about longevity: strings that feel great for a long time, sound great for a long time, and stay in one piece for a long time. Ernie Ball has created the guitar string trifecta – and everyone wins.