DR Sunbeam Strings
By Todd Stuart Phillips
Handmade DR Sunbeams phosphor bronze strings are among the best acoustic guitar strings produced for sale in the USA. If you have yet to try them you should do so with all speed.
Typically, I am not a fan of phosphor bronze strings. I find them great for making bad guitars sound good because they emit a lot of pizzazz, which can masquerade as character in budget models or in expensive guitars overly built, or otherwise sub par. But when it comes to good guitars, that flashy dressing can act as sonic glare, whiting out woodier textures and the subtler complexity in the voice of the actual instrument. DR Sunbeams avoid this entirely. They do not overtly color the voice of the guitar, but rather provide a pure note for the tonewoods to reflect or alter as they will. Simply put, Sunbeams impart excellent tone for a prolonged period of heavy use.
My test guitar was a 1990s Martin OM-28V with a serious Sitka spruce top. I found the Sunbeams' unwound treble strings ring clear as a mountain stream and with great substance; never too cold or thin. The wound strings practically glowed in how they brought out the lush warmth inherent in the guitar. I can imagine they will perform as well on a wide variety of guitars. They react to the slightest fluctuation, influencing each quaver of the guitar's voice while avoiding the distractions present in most phosphor bronze strings. They also lack the typical, scraping phosphor bronze string noise, a nuisance for a self-taught hack like me who has anything but proper form when it comes to navigating the fretboard. DR Sunbeams manage to keep that to a minimum without resorting to any of the tone-killing coatings currently in vogue. In other words they are not dull or thuddy sounding, but clear, open and ringing.
I liked them from the moment I put them on. They have the vitality of brand new strings without the brashness that is normally present in even the best varieties. In fact, I have always felt strings were at their best for recording when they have had a good week or ten days of playing to burn off that brass band effect. These DR Sunbeams are there right out of the box. Whereas traditional strings find that perfect balance of string ring and body tone for a scant matter of days, Sunbeams start nearer that optimal balance and stay that way for weeks on end. They do mellow a bit over time but without sacrificing sustain or clarity. Actually, they ring for an astonishingly long time and that ring only seems to grow richer and deeper as the they age.
DRs are hand-wound in a small factory in Emerson, NJ and have long been the favorite of touring electric guitarists and bass players. Their acoustic guitar strings also appeal to electric guitarists, as they are offered in lighter gauges than one usually finds. The .12s I put on are officially medium gauge and even then they bend and manipulate more easily than traditional strings of the same diameter. Their "lite" gauge strings are .10 - . 44 ! This is a trend in acoustic guitar strings that I am not particularly happy to see. As much as the new, stretchy strings can enhance lead guitar solos, playing in alternate tunings becomes a problem. I perform in everything from DADGAD to Open C, so the last thing I want is a string without enough tension. These Sunbeams did get a bit wiggly when detuned but remained within acceptable limits. I expect to try the Medium-Heavy gauge soon (.13 - .56) and custom sets may be ordered through any DR dealer.
The Sunbeams may not be the first choice of people who like their strings really bright and brassy. That shiny, metallic, new string sound is simply not there. So you may prefer any of the other varieties offered under the DR brand. But I suspect most players will love how the woody nature of a good guitar comes through on a set of DR Sunbeams, from the moment they put them on. The strings start out that way and only get better.
Out of a possible 8 Notes on the T Spoon Scale of Guitaracity, I rate DR phosphor bronze Sunbeams 6 Notes.
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