I suppose there is no need to say that anyone who has ever gone fond of Blues Music became a great fan of two great legends (among so many others) – Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. More so, whoever gone fond of Blues Guitar had at least once attempted to imitate the sound of either of them and researched the components needed. One of such components was a set of loud, really fat strings. Usually, the music that influenced these greats is associated with much fatter strings, but if you are just starting out or considering where to go, a good point of no return would be to try out the hybrids reviewed here – heavy bottom, skinny top strings. These can help your fingers get used to a bit more punishment and set you on a path to imitating the sound of legends. Take a pause to listen to Eric Clapton.
Now that we got that out of the way… When I first roughly understood the string diameter needed to attempt my own Hendrix experience, I turned to a long time friend – Ernie Ball. These guys are my go to when it comes to my acoustic blues and thus I figured they will not disappoint if used on my Strat. I was right, the strings are great, sounded great, lasted for a long time and made me feel epic. Until…
String gauge is measured in millimeters and usually looks something like .08 -.42 or .10-.46 with different gauges in between. The fatter the string, the more growling, rich and powerful the sound is and in this case the strings were .10-.52.
On top of that, the fatter strings seem to produce much more output so it would be worth considering if space or neighbors are an issue.
At first it may seem as a small difference or insignificant numbers but then you pick up a guitar, fret your fingers, make a bend and realize that there is absolutely nothing insignificant in diameter difference of Ernie Ball Heavy Bottom guitar strings. Heavier strings require more tension for the same pitch and are, as a consequence, harder to press down to the fingerboard. I decided that I wanted to get the best of both worlds by getting that growl from the top and melodic tenderness from the bottom strings with ease of bends and less pain. For these reasons, after a long research of “fat” strings I went with the hybrid.
The gauges are:
Review by Feel
The “until” element was the realization that I was no longer able to whack at my guitar for six straight hours. Had to take longer breaks for my fingers to come to their senses and ultimately wasn’t fully happy with the gauge (for .052 to fit in the string socket some cutting had to be done on the Stratocaster nut and I did not feel up to it). Heavy bottom strings would do that to you, and while it’s not a show of poor quality, it was a personal preference for me to put less effort into bonding with strings. Slinky top, light everything might be better for those in need of less pain.
On a personal note, however, the pain is only temporary and I don’t think that it can’t be avoided. Keeping your hands on an instrument will make your calluses grow and very soon, you won’t care whether the strings you played were Ernie Ball slinky top heavy bottom, D’Addario’s EXL140 Light Top/Heavy Bottom, 10-52 alternative, or a wire that you found in your attic.
My heart had changes but it returned to fatter strings and stuck to .011-.048. Yes, it requires keeping hands on the fretboard more but you should play your guitar whenever you have a free minute anyway. Ernie Ball Skinny Top Heavy Bottom helps you work harder at it for when the rest will struggle – you will be ready.
Thicker strings mean harder work and while I encourage you to try everything out and figure out what is your sound, be aware and do not be surprised that your fingers will be hurting extra for a while, you will have to adjust the setup on your guitar (which can take a while, and should be done with care) and will probably feel at some point that it might not be worth it.
Well, it is! The sound of Ernie Ball Skinny Top Heavy Bottom is definitely rewarding, these particular strings are great and, as with everything else, hard work is always worth it. It will get you that much further in your search for Blues Guitar.
As always though, don’t listen to me – go out and find your own tone. Try everything made by everyone until you are at home with your own sound.
Share your experience on fat guitar strings in the comments below.