Blues Guitar Institute

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My biggest mistake buying resonator guitar strings

Lesson ID: TB438

I’m a big fan of experimenting with different strings.

A new set usually doesn’t cost a lot but it can have a big impact on sound and playability. Plus, there are tons of sets to choose from which can be confusing at times. I found myself a little confused recently when buying resonator strings to test. Actually, I made a big mistake.

I’ll share the mistake with you so you don’t make it too. Plus, I’ll share my thoughts on sound and playability of four sets that I tested on my Gretsch Honey Dipper.

Let’s dig in.

The Four Sets of Strings I Compared

I wondered if strings specifically labeled for resonators would sound or feel different than regular acoustic strings. So there are two sets of regular acoustic strings and two sets of resonator strings.

  • D’Addario EJ17 Phosphor Bronze
  • Ernie Ball Earthwood Aluminum Bronze
  • John Pearse 790NR Spanish Neck Resophonic
  • GHS Americana Resonator Strings

Watch the video for the sound comparison but I’ll summarize my thoughts on each below.

D’Addario EJ17 Phosphor Bronze

The D’Addario’s are made from phosphor bronze and are slightly heavier than the EJ16’s I’ve used for years on my acoustics.

D’Addario Slide Example

D’Addario Picking Example

They have a bright, defined tone and are very familiar to me. It’s clear, even in the bass but a little brassy sounding.

They felt familiar to me and very comfortable to play. These are a solid all-around set of strings, especially for the price.

Ernie Ball Earthwood Aluminum Bronze

These strings sounded warmer and smoother compared to the phosphor bronze D’Addarios.

Ernie Ball Slide Example

Ernie Ball Picking Example

I loved the feel – they are easy on the fingers when fretting. I felt the tone was well balanced across the frequencies. I did have one issue that might be a showstopper on my Honey Dipper.

The wrap at the end of the 2nd string was too large to fit through the bridge hole on the Honey Dipper. I didn’t notice this while tuning up which led to a broken string.

So, full disclosure I had to put the 2nd string on from John Pearse set. I don’t think that makes a huge difference in tone or playability on the unwrapped strings.

Overall, these quickly became a favorite but I’ll have to drop down a gauge if I go with these.

John Pearse 790NR

The John Pearse strings are specifically labeled for resonator guitars like mine.

John Pearse Slide Example

John Pearse Picking Example

I’ve used them for years and they deliver a nice bright, brassy tone. The gauges and feel are similar to the D’Addario phosphor bronze. A good match for my reso guitar though not as warm sounding as the Ernie Balls.

GHS Americana Resonator Strings

This was my “mistake” set.

These strings were way too heavy for my guitar. The package said resonator strings which led me to buy them. But I should have flipped the package over because these are clearly meant for a different type of resonator.

They are for square-neck dobros – the kind with a thick neck and high action that you play in your lap. The tuning on the package is GBDGBD which would have tipped me off if I only looked.

High Open G tuning, not Spanish Open G used in blues.

GHS Americana Slide Example

GHS Americana Picking Example

My mistake. But since I had them on the guitar, I recorded a slide and picking test. They sound good but the tension made them a bit uncomfortable to fret. Not the strings fault, mine for putting these on in the first place!

Lesson learned.

I learned to dig deeper into gauges and tuning specs when choosing new strings.

Before I share my final thoughts, I want to be clear: these are fine strings. There’s nothing wrong with them, they just aren’t for my resonator.

If you play a square-neck, they’re probably great.

Summary

This guitar string test drive taught me to pay better attention when buying strings.

Strings seem like a small thing, but we attach them to a big thing – the guitar. So they matter.

I enjoyed playing the three sets that worked on the Honey Dipper but the Ernie Ball’s might just stay on for a while. I loved the warmer tone and they felt so good under my fingers.

What did you think?

Pop over to YouTube and leave a comment on the video and let me know what set you liked the best.

Or did it even matter?

I’d love to hear from you.

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