Guitar strings are one of the cheaper experiments you can do to modify the tone of your guitar. That notion held pretty strongly up until about two weeks ago when I bought a set of strings that I certainly wouldn’t describe as inexpensive.
These top shelf strings are the Martin Titanium Core strings, and as I mentioned before, I usually refer to strings as a cheap experiment. These strings were not cheap. These were $40 for the set, and I absolutely had to figure out if they were worth it or not.
I put them on my 1935 Martin 0-17, and I think they sound pretty darned good, but I can’t just leave the review at that. There are two big points, or things that stuck with me regarding these strings. Number one, for the wrapped strings they use a round core wire. So underneath the wound strings (think E, A, D, and G) there’s usually a hex core wire, the base wire. On these strings it’s a round core wire made out of titanium. This round core wire is supposed to improve tone and tuning stability. The second thing that is interesting is that these strings are wrapped in nickel. The wound strings have a nickel wrap on them which is naturally corrosion-resistant and I think it has a really interesting affect on the tone.
I popped these strings open and I thought that they were going to be bright… They were not bright. They were actually caused quite a composed mellow tone that I found to be a really good match for this smaller all-mahogany guitar that I have. I thought this was a great attribute because they’re new strings but they don’t have that ‘ice pick in the forehead’ kind of zing that new strings have. They’re a very composed, mellow string. Composed, meaning the strings don’t mush together tonally. The strings have tonal separation with an inherent warmth.
I think these strings would perform beautifully in the studio. To put these strings through their paces I put them on right before I had a whole weekend full of gigs. One of the big claims of these strings is that they’re corrosion-resistant because of the nickel, because of the titanium, because of the fact that the plain steel strings (the B and the high E) are cryogenically treated they’re supposed to resist corrosion. My gig on Friday was outside and it happened to rain a little bit. Not everything was soaked it was a light rain so there was certainly moisture in the air. That was Friday night, we played for about three hours on that gig. The following night was a private party gig where I just played unplugged with that guitar, and the temperature varied. It started out right around 80 degrees, but as the night went on it dipped to about 60 degrees. The reason I’m sharing the weather details here is because I want you to understand what the strings actually went through. The final afternoon,Sunday afternoon, was a brunch gig outside. The temperature started right around 70 degrees and quickly rose to 90 degrees as the afternoon wore on.
I put the strings through their paces and we’re talking probably, let’s see, six, eight, probably nine hours of playing just at gigs. And then I played them throughout the week at home just to figure out if they were really corrosion-resistant, and I’m pretty impressed at the fact that visually I don’t see any indications that the strings are tarnished at all. So that’s really good. Secondly, I noticed that the tone has been pretty consistent, which I’m excited about as well. Overall, I’m pretty impressed with these strings.
Now there are a couple of questions that I have for the folks at Martin and don’t think I’m not the only one because I can’t find the answer to these questions anywhere. First of all, I want to understand why $40 for the set of strings. I’m assuming that the materials cost more, hence the fact that the strings are $40 per set. The second question I have is why aren’t medium gauge titanium core strings offered? I was dying to try these strings on my Martin HD35 because I was curious of what they would do with a rosewood and spruce guitar. I just was curious if these strings would mellow it out or not, but I usually play mediums on that particular guitar and I cannot find Titanium Core mediums. The last thing that I am extremely curious about is the “unique string anchor.” If you’ve ever seen a set of Fender Bullet strings, these ends look a lot like the end of a Bullet string. It’s definitely not a standard ball end; it’s like this odd little capsule of metal at the end. I would love to know what benefit this has on an acoustic guitar. Martin only refers to it as a “unique string anchor point,” but gives no further explanation so what benefit does this serve guitar geeks?
All in all, I will say this. I’m pretty pleased with these strings. I didn’t really know what to expect. I actually thought they were going to be a little more crisper than they were, but I’m happy that they weren’t because I really like the tone that they elicit, especially out of that 0-17. The Titanium Core strings presented a good balance for that particular guitar because it gave clarity but retained the warmth.
These strings are certainly worth a test, but keep in mind that it is going to be an expensive one.
Martin Titanium Core Strings Links
You questioned why no medium gauge strings. It might have to do with the tensile strength of titanium. I can’t play anything bigger than medium gauge on my Huss and Dalton.
Titanium is not a rare element. Russia has a very large supply. Molybdenum that is used to temper steel is a much rarer element.
The problem with Titanium is that it’s hard to work with. Generally, Aluminum is added to help with the working of it. Titanium’s flash point is close to its welding point(I do a lot of bike riding and a Titanium frame is more sought after than a carbon one, at least those in the know)
Titanium is at the further right of good old Periodic Table which means its fairly inert: won’t react much with other metals or salts from sweaty guitar hands.
The amount of Titanium is great in Russia as I mentioned but they are slow to sell this wonder metal to the West so that the West can build F22 and F35 fighter planes out of it to defeat Russia.
The materials around the Titanium core are the weakest link.
Much cheaper and totally equivalent or better sounding strings are to be had that will last just as long if the player washes their hands before playing and wipes the strings down and the whole guitar after playing.
But it is cool that we live in an age where there are excellent carbon fiber guitars(which I believe will displace nearly ALL guitars but the high end ones, once the economy of scale is achieved to make carbon fiber guitars on the scale that carbon fiber bicycles are made) and we also have Titanium strings!.
What else can a guitarist ask for?!?!.
……just ONE more guitar.