For many years I have been more than satisfied with the D’Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze strings that came standard on most of my steel-string guitars. They’re inexpensive, good-sounding, and consistent, and I have always appreciated the commitment to waste reduction that is apparent in their packaging.
But not long ago, I received D’Addario’s XS strings (from $17.99), an innovative new set that combines hyper-thin coating (one-tenth the thickness of a human hair) with NY Steel cores and Fusion Twist technology on the plain strings. Designed for longevity as well as pitch stability and resistance to breaking, the XSs are available in phosphor bronze for six- and 12-string guitars and mandolins, in all of the common gauges (10–47, 11–52, 12–53, and 13–56 for six-string and 10–47 for 12-string).
My 2018 Waterloo WL-S was sounding a bit sleepy—could it have had something to do with the fact that I had never changed the original strings?—so I was curious to restring the guitar with a set I wouldn’t necessarily have thought to try, as I hadn’t broken a string in years and do not seem to have corrosive sweat.
As with all D’Addario strings, the XS set has smart packaging, all six enclosed in a single sealed package. Unlike the EJ16s I’m used to, with their rainbow-colored ball ends, those on the XSs are silver, black, or brass. The new strings (12–53 as reviewed) settled into pitch nicely, and the Waterloo felt reinvigorated, subtly punchier than it had when the previous strings were new. The XSs felt great, too; I might not have known they were coated had I not read the packaging.
A month after I first tried D’Addario’s XS coated strings, they still sounded brilliant. Though they cost about 2.5 times the price of the EJ16s, their longevity, natural feel, and great tone are clearly worth the premium.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.