First Impressions: D’Addario XT Strings For Electric Guitar

Every now and then, I like to try some different strings. Just because I’m happy with my current choices, that doesn’t mean that other strings won’t be great too. I always preach about having options, and sometimes that can just be from how a different set of strings changes a guitar.

I grabbed a set of D’Addario XT 9s and a set of XT 10s (both for electric), and put them onto a couple of guitars to try for the very first time. How did I get on? Read on to find out.

Why Do I Like NYXLs So Much?

To put these First Impressions in context, it’ll help if I talk about D’Addario NXYL strings first. Which means that I need to talk about their XL strings first.

Like many people my age, I used D’Addario XL strings for decades. They’re a classic set of strings, and you can still get them today. The important thing about them is that they’re pretty bright at first, and as you play them, they gradually get duller and duller, until eventually you need to change them for a fresh set.

For me, there’s a sweet spot tone-wise about 1-2 months in, where they’re nicely played in without sounding too dull.

I switched to NYXLs not long after they were launched in 2014, because right out of the packet, they sound like a played-in set of XLs. Not only do I get to skip the too-bright phase, NYXLs don’t go dull anywhere near as quickly as XLs do – or as much, either.

I really like being able to pickup my guitar from week to week, and know it’s going to sound pretty similar to how it sounded last week. Even when I change to a fresh set of NYXLs, my guitar doesn’t suddenly before far brighter. Love it.

Tuning stability is pretty good too. They don’t seem to need stretching in like XLs do (and rival products of that era). When I first switched to NYXLs, it didn’t seem like a big difference, but boy do I notice it whenever I’m using other strings.

I don’t use them everywhere. I absolutely love them on Les Pauls and comparable guitars. On single-coil guitars – like Stratocasters and Telecasters – I prefer the tone of Ernie Ball Slinky strings. And on PRS, I wish that I could get the strings that PRS use in the factory, because they seem to suit those guitars really well.

What Guitars Did I Restring?

I restrung Ragnar (my PRS Custom 24) and Ghost (my Gibson Les Paul Custom). I’ve been using NYXL 10s on both of these for years, and I’ve been delighted with the results.

I put the 9s on Ragnar, and the 10s on Ghost.

How Did The Sound Change?

Any set of new strings is going to sound brighter – even if I’d put fresh sets of NYXLs on. Guitar strings dull over time, and I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve restrung either of these guitars this calendar year.

Even so, to my ears, these strings are much brighter than NYXLs. They’re at least as bright as the set of D’Addario XLs that recently came on a new arrival – if not brighter still. To check, I grabbed another guitar that’s been freshly strung with NYXLs, and yep – definitely much brighter.

And, because they’re coated, in theory they’ll stay this bright for longer.

Did They Suit Both Guitars?

I’m not sure they’re a definite improvement for either guitar.

Ragnar’s a stock PRS Custom 24 with a rosewood board. It’s not a Les Paul, but it is quite a mid-focused guitar, with pickups that are hotter than a Les Paul has. With the XTs, I’m hearing a lot of top-end mush that’s a bit fatiguing. Crispy, is the word I used. I’ve had to roll the tone control down to about 4 to tame it.

Ghost, on the other hand, does seems to like the XTs a bit more. It’s a more laid-back guitar, and the XTs seem to give it a bit more punch. In the middle pickup switch position, the extra top-end just needs a slight roll-off of the bridge tone pot to keep it under control. On the bridge pickup alone, it’s a bit stabby for my tastes.

Both guitars have quite a bit more attack than before. I’m trying them out through my Synergy BMan, and the difference is quite stark there. I should run them through a Marshall to hear just how aggressive they can be with these XT strings.

How Is The String Definition?

(String definition is how clearly you can make out individual notes in a chord, especially when using overdrive or distortion.)

It’s a mixed bag.

On Ragnar, I’m borderline not happy with it. One important caveat – it’s not really a rhythm guitar kind of workhorse. I feel that notes are disappearing in chords to the point where I’m not sure I’ve even picked them half the time.

On Ghost, the notes aren’t disappearing. They’re not really standing out either. Best way I can describe it is that the XTs seem to be putting out a bit more of a wall of sound. The overdrive I’m using sounds a bit more smeared than I’m used to – and that I’m aiming for.

I thought it was really noticeable when I grabbed another guitar strung up with NXYLs. All my notes returned, and the note attack softened substantially.

I think a set of XT strings could be a great choice if you play melodic lines and lead guitar a lot.

How Do They Feel?

Under my fingers, I’m not really noticing the coating. It’s not something I normally feel either way, to be honest.

The main difference for me is that the XTs feel stiffer to bend. NYXLs are well-regarded for how buttery smooth they are to bend. Even though I’ve gone down a gauge on Ragnar, bends don’t feel as easy as before. It’s not a tension thing; there’s no problem with fretting notes or anything.

I need to do a bit more testing, because this might actually have a benefit. Ragnar’s got a floating tremolo bridge, and with NYXLs, string bends would detune the other strings a bit while the bend was happening. I’m not hearing the same amount of detuning using the XTs.

If that’s real, that’s a great benefit.

What Else Did I Notice?

Oh, hello fresh strings with your initial tuning instability. How I haven’t missed you. It’s no worse than any strings not called NYXL. I mostly noticed it because these guitars have only ever had NYXLs on them, so the difference stood out a bit.

I also had some noticeable string noise on both guitars. Moving my left hand between notes, sometimes I could hear tones in the upper-mids, presumably from sliding my fingers along the strings.

Looking at the VU meters on my audio interface, bother guitars seem to have a little bit more output than with the NYXLs. Huh. Maybe I’m imagining that one?

Final Thoughts

D’Addario’s own website seems to market these as coated NYXLs that sound like XLs. It’s their product, they’re the authority on it. My own experience is a little different.

For me, they sound (and act) more like XLs than NYXLs. They’re bright, they’re stiff, and I’m not getting quite the same tuning stability at first.

Compared to NYXLs, I noticed increased note attack, reduced string definition, and increased output too. These are punchy strings, and I reckon they could be a good choice if you play melodic lines and lead guitar a lot.

I’ve tried strings from other manufacturers that didn’t last a day. These XTs are much better than that. I want to give them a good month or two to hear how the brightness does (or doesn’t) soften in time.

Will I go back to NYXLs on these two guitars? On Ghost, probably. Ragnar’s mostly for lead guitar duty anyway, so that’s a harder decision.

Tell you what, though: I reckon these would be great on heavy rock / metal guitars. I’m going to get another set, and stick them onto my old super-Strat. All that extra brightness, attack and output might just be what I’m looking for.

I’ll post a follow-up once I’ve tried that.

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