Changing guitar strings is a lot like shaving; it’s fun and challenging at first, but do it a few thousand times, the less fun it becomes. Upgrading from a Bic shaver to three-blade cost me a little more, but it made the task easier and I got a better shave that lasted longer. When it came to making strings last, I boiled them, or cleaned them with Windex to stretch a set for a few more days. So, any string that promised a longer useful life, I’d try out a set, even when they cost more than my normal nickel/steel brand.
Coated strings aren’t new, they began making inroads to the string market in the late Nineties. Early iterations of coated strings had a very different feel, and sometimes deteriorated into a shredded mess on the string and fretboard. I experienced those same results and went back to an uncoated set. In the intervening years, huge advancements in the coating technology finally prompted me to take another look at them.
The new Elixir Optiwebs’ string coating not only coats the top of the string, it fills the gaps between the winds, protecting the inside core and prevents debris from clogging in between the winds. That causes the ‘dead’ sound you hear when your wound strings go south. It’s applied in a manner that you don’t even notice the coating, the feel is just like a normal string, especially on the unwound strings.
After stringing up, and a couple of pulls on each string at the tenth fret to settle the winds on the post, the Optiwebs tuned up easily. The settle-in time is brief and they remained stable after repeated playing sessions. The Optiwebs were especially rock solid on the SG, and showed great flexibility on the vintage-style tremolo Stratocaster, even with some whammy bar activity. They have a taught but comfortable feel at standard pitch on both Fender and Gibson scale lengths. The tension is stable, and bends are easy all along the fretboard. The .010s set felt and sounded great dropped a half step, with enough tension and brightness to keep the unwound strings ringing with heavy overdrive. I never changed my normal amp or guitar tone knobs to adjust for them, either. They cleaned up easily and did not rust or pit.
During several of weeks of regular playing, the Optiwebs kept their smooth, balanced feel and retained plenty of brightness. The wound strings have a consistent bright, yet warm ring. Through both overdriven Marshalls and a variety of smaller, clean-sounding amps, they rang with plenty of upper end ping, on the Strat especially. The SG’s PAF-style bridge had no lack of bite, either. The set also kept their shine through numerous overdrive pedals, modulators and delays, too. Considering their lifespan in regular playing scenarios, I strung up another seldom-used guitar to see how long the set would last in a storage/low use situation. After three months, they’re still fresh as a daisy.
This review took a long time to write because it took quite a while to finally admit the strings were winding down their mortal coil. But they stood up to extensive playing during practice, rehearsals and a long set opening for another band. I neglected to wipe them down afterwards, then cased and stowed the guitar for a week. So, I did them in myself. My hands kill regular strings rather quickly, and the Optiwebs lasted about twice as long as my normal nickel/steel set. When I changed them (to another set of Optiwebs) on the test guitars, there was no undue wear or any hint of displaced coating on the test sets or fretboards.
The Optiwebs definitely lasted longer than a similar set of uncoated strings, so there’s a savings in time and money, from a practical standpoint. They feel just like an uncoated string, so that’s a tactile advantage in not sacrificing a comfortable feel for practical reasons. Their price point falls in among other premium string sets, which makes them competitive for a test run, at least. Whether you’re a working guitarist regularly changing strings on multiple guitars, or a sofa-bound strummer, these Optiwebs may be a perfect fit. Is it a better shave overall? That’s something you and your hands will decide. Next time you’re out on a razor refill run, pick up a pack or two, and see how they work for you.