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Changing strings: Martin's Tony Rice "Monel" bluegrass strings

I recently picked up three sets of the new Martin Tony Rice Monel strings from Elderly Instruments. My usual strings (at least on D-sized guitars) are Martin 80/20 bronze Marquis strings in medium gauge. The Monels are a nickel alloy, and at similarly gauged (the B, D, and A strings are a shade lighter than the Marquis 80/20s). Interestingly, the Monels have slightly higher string tension (184.9 pounds) than the Marquis (181.1 pounds), although they feel a bit looser/lighter than the the 80/20s. The more important question, of course, is how they sound. Well, they have been on my 1956 D-18 for a few days, and here are my initial impressions.

Generally, my D-18 seems to have lost its mojo with these strings. There's not the same snap, crackle, and pop with them; the sizzle and power in the guitar seems to have disappeared. The Monels sound more jangly to me, and the richness and quality in the tone has melted away. The bass is muted in favor of trebles, and this is a guitar that doesn't need to lean further in that direction. Overall the volume seems lessened and there's a thinner tone. The guitar doesn't sound "bad," but the Monels don't let this special guitar shine.

The reviews and chatter on various discussion boards seem to be about 4-to-1 in favor of Martin's new Monel strings. I still have two sets and I'll try them on some other guitars, but so far I'm in the minority that doesn't love them. The question is whether I leave them on the D-18 and play them until they need to be changed (maybe they'll get better!), or if should pull them off and put my old stand-bys back on.

Of course, your experiences may differ with your guitar, ear, and preferences. And I reserve the right to change my mind as these strings break in and/or the weather (i.e., humidity) changes...

Update: I'm still not too keen on the Monels with the D-18, but I tried a set on a Collings CJ (mahogany with an adirondack top) and they okay, at least to me, on this guitar. Some of what I said before still holds (more jangle, less bass), but that works better on the CJ than the Martin. This isn't to say that they are better than the Marquis on the CJ. Just different, but in an acceptable way. I don't have the urge to immediately go back to Marquis like with my D-18. We'll see how these strings settle in on the CJ...

Update 2: My D-18 is strung back up with medium Marquis, and it has its mojo back...

Reader Comments (1)

Yep, agree 100%...I was hoping these would enhance my playing. I loved the smooth shimmer these produced. If I was playing pop music or back up rhythm I would be overjoyed. The mushy shimmery blended effect is ideal for thick textural back up. But they play differently, vastly different. Makes wish I had another DRS2 to put them on for different songs. Might need to do that.
However, I found the tone response to lack mid range, and thump. They produced nice lows and smooth but not bight highs. Made my martin sound more like a taylor. They were crisp and comfy though. I'm looking for a monel set with gaged the same as a standard .013-.056
The physical response is different. These strings do not pop back at you. Pulloff's are much harder, and especially on the A D &G slightly thinner gaged strings. I put 80/20 phosphor's bak on and while I noticed how much more shrill they are by comparison, my playing bounced back with the strings. Note, Tony's style is very subtle delicate almost. I would say these are commensurate with that technique.

July 24, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjojo

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