It seems like the plain strings are just ignored. Manufacturers brag about their wound strings, make many different varieties. Yet, there's so little info on the steel strings other than they're plain steel in order to be strong enough. Is there anything that can be done to make them more comfortable to play? Polishing? Different alloys? Coatings? Treatments?

  • 2
    I’m not aware of strings being made more comfortable, but definitely different manufacturers make different plain steel strings. The process of drawing the plain steel strings is similar to the process for drawing the cores of the wrapped strings and different equipment and tolerances lead to different results. For example, I find D’Addarios to have slightly better intonation up the neck than say, Ernie Ball, and that is true for the plain strings and the wound ones. Nov 29 '20 at 5:58
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    I know I can feel it when I play D'Addario vs Ernie Ball, I've never felt I could hear the difference, but maybe I'm not that good. I believe I feel it mostly on the plain strings, but with them, beyond polishing, there's not much that you can do with plain strings. I don't even think they put the stuff on unwound Elixirs. That could be wrong, though. Nov 29 '20 at 6:32
  • How are you quantifying or qualifying 'comfortable'? Ease of fretting, slidability, what?
    – Tim
    Nov 29 '20 at 9:12
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    In my experience some strings feel rough and sharp even when new and others at same gauge feel smooth smooth. I have no idea what the underlying reason is. Then there are the brass coated Thomastik plain strings may or may not make difference but are certainly advertised.
    – ojs
    Nov 29 '20 at 16:31
  • Thanks for the great comments. Plated Thomastik treble strings sound interesting, but will I pay the price of a 6-pack of Boomers for one set of Power-Brights?
    – MAXdB
    Nov 30 '20 at 9:03

What's comfortable is subjective. For example, skilled and experienced players with strong hands may prefer thicker, stiffer strings that provide a louder sound and a more precise pitch, while others (including most beginners) will find it easier to deal with thinner (and usually twangier) strings.

On the objective side, all strings are definitely not the same. Just like you said, there are significant differences in materials and processes. Even when it comes to plain, uncoated steel, there are countless different ways to make it, leading to different sound and feel.

Of all instruments, I think, these differences are most in evidence in the sitar. Many sitar strings are thinner than any guitar string, and the thickest almost as a thick guitar string. And they are all plain, not wound, and made of different materials: harmonic steel for the thin ones (which come in long coils which you buy by weight and cut yourself, the best quality of which interestingly is made in Germany) and a variety of materials for the others, including other kinds of steel, copper and bronze.

Bottom line, different materials, alloys, coatings, and manufacturing processes definitely lead to strings that feel and sound different. Some of their qualities may be to some extent objectively measurable (e.g. resistance to oxidation/rust, tension, sound volume) but many other qualities, including feel, playability, timbre, etc. will always be subjective.

  • Thank you for the long reply. Comfort is different for everybody, you're exactly right. I was wondering why the industry isn't competing in the plain strings. ojs made the comment about Thomastik-Infeld which plates their plain strings brass or tin. They don't mention player comfort, but claim the plating grants a boost in the highs. So that was the closest to answering my question, but still don't know why the industry ignores it generally.
    – MAXdB
    Nov 30 '20 at 9:07

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