The Not-So-Flat Truth About Flatwound Strings & Gretsch

Discussion in 'THE Gretsch Discussion Forum' started by ZackyDog, Dec 27, 2021.

  1. TV the Wired Turtle

    TV the Wired Turtle Gretschified

    Jul 25, 2009
    Sandy Eggo
    That vid kinda all over the place, maybe I missed his intent..

    some truth about flatwounds by Jonathan Stout:

    Pre-History of Strings, part 1: "Steel"

    As best as I can tell, metal musical instrument strings go back hundreds of years. They came to guitar in the middle of the 19th Century. During this time there was no particular standardization. Originally steel strings were oiled to retard oxidation, and other coatings were tried before plating came into the picture. Gauges were not specified, and you basically had the choice of brands.

    For figuring out the timing of advancements and product introductions, the best resource I found was a collection of manufacturer’s catalogs at www.acousticmusic.org, all of which were available for download as PDFs. There were quite a few discussions in various forums asking many the same questions, but this one <http://theunofficialmartinguitarforum.yuku.com/topic/1743#.UV0JXKsjqXQ > from the Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum was especially helpful. The extensive collection of string packages provided some missing information.

    In the 1903 Gibson catalog, the only steel strings were listed as "silver wound." Just judging from the catalog, it is hard to determine whether these were actually silver-plated, or whether they were "silvered" with some other alloy or method. Many of the string packages shown on the martin guitar forum, however, do specifically say "silver-plated", and judging from the packaging art and lettering, these could easily be from the era the teens and 1930's. Thus, I would bet that "silver wound" meant "silver-plated steel."

    The 1930 Martin catalog only lists "wound steel" (with wound B and G), but with no further description of composition. The 1934 Epiphone catalog also offers no clue to composition beyond "steel."

    Monel: The missing link

    Before being my research, I had never heard of a metal called "Monel," let alone did I realize that it was probably the dominant guitar string alloy for a period in the 1930's and perhaps into the 40's. According to wikipedia (I'll do some legit metallurgical research eventually), monel is a nickel-copper alloy is commonly used in applications with highly corrosive environments. Monel guitar strings were produced from the 1920’s up until the 1970’s, and new old stocks had mostly run out years ago. However, Martin recently announced that they are bringing back monel strings for a signature set for bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice. I just ordered a couple sets, and will report back as soon as I can.

    The 1930-1931 Gibson catalog introduces "Mona-Steel" strings, which was Gibson's name for monel. No other steel-string choices are listed.

    The 1934 Gibson catalog, offers only mona-steels, but does offer the option of "hand polishing." There is some conjecture on various bulletin boards that this is a reference to flat-wound strings, or at least an early "ground-wound" string. I do not think that is the case. Rather, I am guessing that the manufacturing standards of the day may have led the strings to be a bit "fuzzy" and perhaps a bit poorly finished. There are pictures of Mapes brand strings from the 30's that came with a "sepam cloth" to polish the strings. Sepam cloth is something like an emery board. The 1944 Epiphone catalog mentions strings can be "hand-polished" to "reduce swish." Reducing finger noise may also have been a concern. However, I would argue that while "hand-polishing" may have rounded off the gullys between round wrappings ever so slightly, they are not "flats" as we think of them. Also, given how much material would have to be removed to make them flat, I doubt that could really be achieved with something like an emery board or by hand.

    In comes Bronze

    So far, the earliest reference to "bronze wound strings" that I've come across is in the 1935 Martin catalog. Both Monel and bronze sets are listed, with bronze being listed as being "heavy gauge" and wound on a hexagonal core, and the monel listed as being "medium gauge" and wound on a "piano core," which I'd assume is a round core. Gibson's 1937 catalog also adds bronze-wound to the line up, along with the mona-steels. It isn't until after the impact of the electric guitar that there is any text describing the qualities of monel vs. bronze.

    Electric vs. Acoustic

    The 1937 Gibson catalog is also very important because it introduces Gibson's electric line of guitars, banjos, mandolins and hawaiian steel guitars. Gibson's first electric guitar pickup, usually known as a "Charlie Christian" pickup, had an issue with the B string being significantly louder than the rest. By 1938 Gibson added a notch in the pickup under the B string to try to equalize the difference. Finally, in 1939 Gibson introduced a CC pickup with individual pole pieces on the ES-250. In 1937, the Gibson catalog simply directs electric guitar users to use a set of monel strings. But consider that, at that time, the first electric jazz guitar solo had yet to be recorded.

    There was a significant amount of experimentation and innovation in those earliest years of the electric guitar. The next two catalogs in the collection show major changes. The 1942 Gibson catalog finally differentiates electric strings from acoustics. Mona-Steel and Bronze are both offered without reference to "acoustic", but the newest addition is Mona-electric strings. The catalog only says that they are specifically selected gauges of mona-steel. Presumably monel was still used for electrics, but the gauges had been altered to deal with the "hot B string" problem.

    There is a particularly telling paragraph in that 1942 catalog:
    "Our Mona-Steel Strings are noted for their non-tarnishing long wearing qualities, and are better suited for electrics. The bronze strings have that clear tone of soft brilliancy, which is preferred by many especially in orchestra work. Light gauges are more responsive and ideal for light, fast picking; while heave gauges are designed for the orchestra players who need volume and solidity."

    The difference becomes codified

    The 1942 Gibson catalog mentions that heavy-gauge bronze strings are standard equipment on Super 400's and L-5's. By the 1944 Epiphone Catalog the split between electric strings and acoustic strings appears to have solidified. It offers "special bronze wire covered" strings as well as now specifically electric "Electar" strings of "magnetic materials."

    After this my resources dried up. I can't find any catalogs until 1950, when Gibson was offering both generically "Guitar" (presumably monel) and "Bronze Guitar Strings", as well as specifically electric strings. Again, there is a lapse in the resources until 1959, when the Fender Catalog describes their electric guitar strings (as they only made electric instruments then) as "pure nickel-wound."
     
  2. Byron

    Byron Country Gent

    Sep 4, 2009
    uk
    Hmm, I argue a lot with folks who stick with the...flats came first in the 59s, then they invented roundwound strings in the 69s. Flats are just for old jazzers.....non of which is true of course.
     
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  3. Byron

    Byron Country Gent

    Sep 4, 2009
    uk
    So, what was John and George using on the roof for Get Back? Just enjoyed watching the gig from the movie.
     
  4. ZackyDog

    ZackyDog Friend of Fred

    Age:
    57
    Feb 6, 2015
    In the USA
    I hear pure nickel flatwounds.


    These pure nickel, round core flatwounds sound a lot like roundwounds to my ears.

    upload_2021-12-27_9-37-12.png
     
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  5. emitex

    emitex Synchromatic

    856
    Aug 21, 2014
    NYC
    That was an interesting read, thanks. I recently purchased a set of Rotosound "Monel" flats that I really like, to try on my bass. Before reading your post, I had no idea what they meant by monel. Didn't even occur to me it was the metal being used. Thought it was some kind of secret winding process or coating or something... LOL.
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2021
  6. swivel

    swivel Country Gent

    May 13, 2018
    PNW
    I assume, just like nickel today, that when they referenced "monel" for electric guitars in the 30's, they were steel and monel wrapped on the wound strings.... monel is non magnetic....

    Monel used to be used in a number of boats parts, prop shafts, fittings, tanks etc. Great stuff. But too expensive for most now days.
     
    emitex likes this.
  7. radd

    radd Country Gent

    Dec 27, 2017
    Santa Cruz
    My string of choice on my Gretsch hollowbody
     
    ZackyDog likes this.
  8. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    I’ve tried various flatwounds and, frankly, some of them were terrible. I won’t cast any stones with regard to brand names, but I recall one set which started out as painfully harsh and overly bright, then became dead a week later. I will state both LaBella and Thomastik strings have treated me well and the Thomastiks, likewise, sound a lot like roundwounds to my ear.
     
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  9. ZackyDog

    ZackyDog Friend of Fred

    Age:
    57
    Feb 6, 2015
    In the USA
    Re: La Bella; which one(s) do you like?

    upload_2021-12-27_15-3-4.png
     
  10. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    I use their Bass. VI set. They sound great and the quality is top notch.
     
  11. afire

    afire Country Gent

    It doesn't make any sense, and I don't hear that claim as often as I used to, but yes, there are some who instist that this is the case.

    I know exactly which brand you're describing.
     
  12. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    It’s amazing, isn’t it.
     
  13. CBHScott

    CBHScott Electromatic

    75
    Feb 13, 2015
    Central OH
    I watched this last week, and my one big question was “why did he do this video and not do a comparison, let alone not at least play anything besides a few seconds of fuzzy dirt to give me an idea of how that guitar sounds with flats?”.
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2021
  14. dlew919

    dlew919 Country Gent

    Jul 18, 2016
    Sydney, Australia
    I use Daddario Sam Bush mandolin strings on my mandolins. He was with Gibson fir a long time but they changed the formula and the strings weren’t great. He moved to dad Dario and they are back. Monel lasts as long as elixirs. Snd done right it sounds terrific.
     
  15. TV the Wired Turtle

    TV the Wired Turtle Gretschified

    Jul 25, 2009
    Sandy Eggo
    There is a reason to love Thomastik and thats because they are "roundcore" flats, gash damn they feel wonderful. ( daddario chrome flats are hex core, horrible for bends) I just need an unwound G and one gauge higher in the unwound high E. But... the Pyramid Gold "roundcore" flatwounds are just as good for a few quid less. I've been using them on my strat in 11g.
     
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  16. ZackyDog

    ZackyDog Friend of Fred

    Age:
    57
    Feb 6, 2015
    In the USA
    I've been using round core (Thomastik, DR, Pyramid) flats and rounds for years.
     
  17. Byron

    Byron Country Gent

    Sep 4, 2009
    uk
    I went for Thomastik Jazz Swing 10-44 (not worried about getting sand kicked in my face) I can bend the wound G a half tone. That's ok for a bit of 40s swing as full bends didn't happen then.
    I avoided ditching the wound G also cos it'd mean I'm actually spending a lot of money to buy three strings....the top three would be same spec as the other guitars strung with rounds
     
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  18. Cyclebilly

    Cyclebilly Electromatic

    51
    Sep 3, 2019
    Bristol, UK
    I once saw a Jim Heath interview where he claimed a lot of early rock’n’roll guitarists used flat wounds and that made the Bigsbys work better too.

    But never saw corroborating evidence.
     
  19. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    You can buy individual Thomastiks for the same price as buying per set. I routinely buy the lower three in flats and then buy the upper three in plain.
     
    MrWookiee and All Thumbs like this.
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