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Thread: GHS Silk & Steel Tension

  1. #1

    Default GHS Silk & Steel Tension

    Does anyone know what the actual tension of GHS S&S strings is? Their site says the tension is lower than other strings, but their site also does not say what the actual tension is. It certainly feels lower under my fingers, but I don't have a way to measure it.

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    Default Re: GHS Silk & Steel Tension

    You would have to use a tension calculator and calculate the tension of the silk and steel and other strings to know. A fair amount of time, but if you are curious. As a side note GHS sells 'silk and bronze' strings which I like a lot more than 'silk and steel'. They sound very good, with less tension for the same gauge of phosphor bronze.
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    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: GHS Silk & Steel Tension

    I've seen it quoted at 18.0 lb/string for the .011 and the .026 strings. Never found numbers for the 15 or 40s.
    (assuming std tuning on a ~14" scale)

    Oops. Correction: those numbers were quoted for the Silk & Bronze. Sorry.
    Phil

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    Default Re: GHS Silk & Steel Tension

    If you have a sample of the GHS silk and steel strings in question, you can compute the tension it will be under for yourself, based on some fairly simple measurements. You just need to know these three things:

    1) The scale length of your instrument. 14" is pretty standard. Or 13-7/8".
    2) The frequency of the note for the string in question. Pick one of these values: a G3 note is 196.0 Hz; a D4 note is 293.7 Hz; an A4 note is 440.0 Hz; and an E5 note is 659.25 Hz.
    3) The mass-per-unit-length of the string. This is also called the linear density of the string.

    This third quantity can be obtained if you have access to a sensitive scale, like the ones found in biology, physics, and chemistry labs at universities, or in schools, that can measure milligrams. Cut off a length of string, preferably a few inches long. Measure the exact length (convert this into meters, to use as your units). Now weigh it on the scale (convert this to value into kilograms as your units). Divide the weight by the length and write down this number. Call it mu, the mass-per-unit-length (in MKS units of kg/m).

    The tension in the string, T, will be given by this formula:

    T = 4*mu*(L^2)*(f^2),

    where L is the scale length (converted into meters, from inches) and f is the note frequency, and T and mu have already been defined above. "^2" means to square the quantity in parentheses, and "*" means multiply.

    The tension value will come out in MKS units of Newtons. To convert the value in Newtons into pounds of force (lbs), multiply the Newton value by 0.224809 (lbs/N). That will be the tension on the string in pounds.

    Incidentally, the way that a silk and steel string can have less tension for the same gauge than a phosphor bronze string, as claimed in post #2 (above), is for the silk and steel string to have less linear density. It does this by having a lighter weight core. But there is a tradeoff, since the vibratory energy stored in the string is proportional to its overall weight (mass). So a lighter string stores less energy, and is therefore inevitably quieter than a heavier one of the same frequency, length, and gauge. Note that this is not a statement about the tone, but about the volume.
    Last edited by sblock; Mar-08-2018 at 3:06pm.

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    Default Re: GHS Silk & Steel Tension

    The easiest way to do this comparison was to just look them up for guitar and compare them to PB strings. Turns out the S&S strings actually have a significantly higher tension than PB strings. The maker describes them as "having a lighter feel" due to the use of silk-like fibers in the winding to make them softer on the fingers, but the physical tension is a bit higher.

    So, that answers that. When my new mandolin, a flat body, arrives, I'll have to get lights for it. I wish S&S lights existed.

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    Default Re: GHS Silk & Steel Tension

    Everything I have ever read says the tension is less. Having the silk with the core makes the core smaller and thus the tension would have to be less. What ever site you looked at I think they were comparing apples to oranges. Tensions must be the same gauge, string length, and note tuned to. GHS says there is less tension with their Silk and Steel, Martin says the same thing, I would tend to believe them.

    According to a Martin tension chart the silk and steel for the same diameter of PB has 11 pounds overall less tension.
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    Default Re: GHS Silk & Steel Tension

    Quote Originally Posted by Cliff Seruntine View Post
    The easiest way to do this comparison was to just look them up for guitar and compare them to PB strings. Turns out the S&S strings actually have a significantly higher tension than PB strings. The maker describes them as "having a lighter feel" due to the use of silk-like fibers in the winding to make them softer on the fingers, but the physical tension is a bit higher.

    So, that answers that. When my new mandolin, a flat body, arrives, I'll have to get lights for it. I wish S&S lights existed.
    Sorry Cliff, but I'm afraid that you got this exactly backwards. Silk and steel strings are LOWER tension than their solid-core counterparts, not higher! The physical reason is given in my earlier post, #4 in this thread. Here is what GHS says about its silk and steel strings:

    "For those that want a classical guitar tone and feel out of an acoustic, this is YOUR string. Silver-plated copper wire is wrapped on a silk and steel core to create a sweet and mellow tone, with a lower tension (boldface mine) under the fingers."

    Pops1 is correct to point out that if you are comparing string tensions, then you must do so for the same scale length, the same tuned note, and the same gauge. This fact follows from the formula I presented in post #4. And that's probably where you went wrong in the calculations for your last post.

    Silk and steel strings were developed for fingerpickers on the guitar, and suchlike. They're also good for lots of sliding. And they are rather popular among folks moving over from classical guitar (with nylon strings), or for use on smaller, parlor guitars. They always deflect more (due to lower tension!), and they respond less well to strumming. (You might have to raise your action). They are definitely quieter than their solid-core counterparts. They also have more damping, due to the soft interiors, so they don't ring as much (which is a problem on a short-scale instrument like a mandolin). They are a bit more prone to breakage, due to the very narrow steel cores that they have underneath the silk.

    These are not especially desirable characteristics in a mandolin string! I would certainly not ever recommend silk and steel strings for use on mandolins. Chances are, they would be awful! If you are having trouble with your picking on medium gauges, just try switching to a lighter gauge mandolin set. You might also prefer flatwound (or flat-top), solid core strings if you slide a lot, or if your fingertips are experiencing issues, or if you seek to reduce playing noise. You might also like their sound better -- many jazz and classical players prefer them.

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    Default Re: GHS Silk & Steel Tension

    I have used the GHS silk and bronze mandolin strings and they sound good, I don't notice any volume decrease, and they seem to last as long as the PB strings I was using.
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    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: GHS Silk & Steel Tension

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    ....
    These are not especially desirable characteristics in a mandolin string! I would certainly not ever recommend silk and steel strings for use on mandolins. Chances are, they would be awful! ....
    Well, it's been probably 7-8 years ago that I tried the GHS S&Steel mandolin strings and thought that they sounded nice and played well. I stopped using them quickly because they wore out where they contact the frets within a very short time. I didn't want to change strings every week. But they sounded pretty good.
    YMMV
    Phil

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    Default Re: GHS Silk & Steel Tension

    Quote Originally Posted by Philphool View Post
    Well, it's been probably 7-8 years ago that I tried the GHS S&Steel mandolin strings and thought that they sounded nice and played well. I stopped using them quickly because they wore out where they contact the frets within a very short time. I didn't want to change strings every week. But they sounded pretty good.
    YMMV
    Ah yes. I forgot to mention earlier that the soft "silk" fibers (plastic, actually) wrapped between the solid steel core and the metal winding in silk-and-steel, or silk-and-bronze, strings has a certain amount of "give" to it, because this layer is highly compressible. That not only leads to more damping. It also means that the winding wire material is able to flex more under constant fretting. This leads to the formation of flat spots or tiny kinks at the fret locations, and this happens more quickly than with conventional metal-core/metal-winding strings. The result? Silk-and-steel (or silk-and-bronze) strings tend to wear out faster than conventional strings. And your experience further confirms this.

    I realize that GHS silk-and-steel and silk-and-bronze strings do have their advocates here on the MC. I even believe that mandolinist Doyle Lawson (Quicksilver) endorsed them at one point, although I am not sure that he uses them anymore. But there are plenty of reasons, in my opinion, to avoid these strings altogether (quieter volume, higher damping, more fragile, floppier, shorter lifetime). These things have not really caught on since they were introduced by GHS, and other string manufacturers (D'Addario, Mapes, Elixir, DR, Thomas-Infeld, etc.) have NOT followed suit by introducing their own versions -- probably, for that reason. Contrast that with the development of coated strings, for example, which have really caught on and are available from multiple suppliers.

    Still, just try 'em and see for yourself, I say. Not everyone cares about getting the maximal volume, and tone is a highly subjective thing. You may never know what types of strings sound best on YOUR mandolin until you try a whole bunch. Nor how long they will last in your playing.

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    Default Re: GHS Silk & Steel Tension

    I can't say whether GHS Silk and Bronze strings have shorter life than PB in the long-term, because I change strings at least once a month, if not sooner (depending on session and gig schedule). I can say that within a month's time, I haven't noticed any difference from PB strings in that respect.

    I play mandolin just about every day, for at leas an hour, and something like 4 pub sessions or house sessions a month, for three hours each. That may be more wear than some put on their mandolins. If I thought the Silk and Bronze strings were unusually fast-wearing, I wouldn't use them.

    No difference in volume either, between Silk and Bronze and Phosphor Bronze strings. What I hear is just a slightly "warmer" tone, a tiny reduction in the higher frequencies on the wound strings compared to PB, due to that thin silk winding layer. I like it for the music I play.

    I also like the way GHS uses a slightly larger gauge A string pair in medium sets compared to D'Addario (.016 vs. .015). I think that helps tuning stability, and it evens out the string tension relative to the other strings. That's true of all the GHS string sets though, not just the Silk and Bronze.

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    Default Re: GHS Silk & Steel Tension

    A& E string tension un changed, because they are still plain wire, & to reach pitch.. they're the higher tension ..
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    Default Re: GHS Silk & Steel Tension

    So, Friday I called GHS to get the skinny. If you go to the GHS website and look under Products/Acoustics, you will see at the top of the page a link to a pdf of relating formulae and data to calculate string tension based on frequency, length, diameter and unit weight. The link is here: http://www.ghsrep.net/uploads/2/2/2/...ring_guide.pdf

    One thing the document says clearly is: "A common misconception is that the tension of a string is the same as the feel of the string under your fingers.", p2 This is why GHS describes their Silk & Steel strings as feeling lighter under the fingers. They feel lighter, but they aren't lighter.

    However, the Silk & Steel strings actually have .123% greater unit weight as compared to phosphor-bronze strings. The tension listed is 12.2% greater than phosphor bronze at the same scale length. A B40 pb string is listed as 36 lbs of tension at C3 with a 25.4" scale. A S&S string is listed at 41 lbs of tension at C3 with a 25.4" scale.

    The only possible conclusion is S&S string feel lighter under the fingers due to the softness and compressibility of the string fibers but due to their higher unit weight they pull higher tension.

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    Default Re: GHS Silk & Steel Tension

    That's funny Martin on their website showed a difference of around 11 lbs lighter over all tension with silk and steel.

    I just went to GHS website and held my cursor on the silk and steel and silk and bronze mandolin strings and it said "lower tension". I put a question into the experts and will wait to see what they say. Interesting that all ads say lower tension, Martin gives the pounds in total numbers and they are lower tension. considering the way they are made it is hard to believe there is more. These were put on older instruments specifically for their lower tension for decades.
    Last edited by pops1; Mar-11-2018 at 11:40am.
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    Default Re: GHS Silk & Steel Tension

    Interestingly, I just put on a set of D'Addario Silk and Steel guitar strings on my Lowden guitar a couple of days ago. This was because I feel my guitar is actually too loud and would benefit from a slightly softer and more mellow sound - exactly what Silk and Steel claims to do.

    I was chatting to the guitar tech guy I use, and asked him if many people he knew used them. Yes, he said, usually because they have relatively delicate guitars and don't want to put too much tension on them.
    I don't know if he has got it wrong or I misunderstood him, but my clear impression from our conversation, and indeed my own experience from trying them on my guitar (which does indeed give a mellower sound) is that there is certainly less tension.
    Admittedly this was on a guitar rather than a mandolin and was not GHS, but I should think the principle is the same.
    David A. Gordon

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    Default Re: GHS Silk & Steel Tension

    Yes, of course the principle is the same.

    There should not be any dispute about this, because the physics is completely straightforward, and the numbers don't lie! First off, the solid strings (A and E) are going to be exactly the same tension, because they are exactly the same strings (same gauges, same material, same everything)! Duh. Second, the wound strings of a silk-and-steel set are going to be at a lower tension (for the same note and gauge, that is) because the tension is proportional to the linear density (the mass per unit length). See post #4. A silk-and-steel string of the same gauge (that is, the same diameter) as a conventional metal-wound string has a layer of "silk" (plastic fibers) wrapped around its steel core and under the outer winding. This plastic is less dense than the metal winding. So, the linear density of a silk-and-steel string is always going to be LOWER than a conventional wound string of the same gauge. That means that the tension will be less in order to tune it to the same note.

    This is not a matter of anyone's opinion, purported experience, or a matter of reading the right words on some manufacturer's web page. It is a matter of basic physics. You cannot make a string that's lighter (less density), but yet has the same thickness (gauge), and tune it to the same note, without reducing the tension.

    On the guitar side, silk-and-steel sets tend to be popular for smaller parlor guitars, for 12-strings, and for fingerpicking precisely because the tension is lower.
    Last edited by sblock; Mar-11-2018 at 3:00pm.

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