The Santa Cruz tagline proclaims “tension means everything,” eschewing the notion of classifying guitar strings by gauge, claiming that the strings are engineered with a focus on balanced tone and volume across the spectrum. They do this by adjusting the diameter of the core and the wrap, which will vary the tension/response of the string without affecting the outer diameter (or “gauge”).
Santa Cruz Parabolic Tension guitar strings have a steel, hexagonal core (nickel- and lead-free), a Phosphor Bronze wrap and are treated with a “micro-coating” to extend the life of the string, but in an unusual way: the core and wrap are treated separately to minimize the feeling of “slickness” typical of most coated strings. The ball ends of the strings are solid brass, which is pretty cool, but that makes it harder to make jewelry from your discarded strings.
The strings are available in either “low tension” or “mid tension,” with the low tension strings recommended for small-bodied guitars (00s, OMs, etc.) and the mid tension strings for larger-bodied guitars (dreadnoughts). Santa Cruz doesn’t mention scale length in their official materials, but they told us that the “mid tension” strings may be more suitable for short-scale (sub-25″) instruments. They also mentioned that they have customers with smaller-bodied guitars who’ve been very happy with the “mid tension” strings on their instruments. Rebels and free-thinkers, no doubt.
The strings are sold through Santa Cruz dealers and via the company’s website ($18/set). They are also available via subscription, which is a neat little twist (subscriptions include free shipping and “each delivery includes a goodie from SCGC”). It’s easy to pick up the vibe that the strings are designed specifically for Santa Cruz guitars, but they sent us a few sets without any accompanying guitars, so we tried ’em out on a couple of handy instruments we have that just happened to be due for a string change (a maple 00 and a Cuban mahogany slope-shouldered dreadnought, both 24.5″ scale, with Engelmann spruce tops).
The fit and finish of these strings was spot on – they are clearly well-designed and well-made. They went on easily, tuned up quickly without much need for stretching, and felt great from a pressure/tension perspective, right from the get-go. They also seemed a bit bright initially, particularly the D and G strings, and seem to have a bit of that coated slickness going on, though not nearly to the degree of other coated strings. After being played a bit and settling in over a couple of days the tone evened out and the promised balance became more evident. They exhibited a consistent tone across both guitars, to the point of being almost indistinguishable, counterbalancing some of the brightness you’d expect from maple and the depth typical of mahogany.
Of course, we’re not the only ones who’ve tried the SCGC strings – they’ve garnered quite a bit of attention since they were revealed at Summer NAMM. For another opinion, we reached out to Eric Skye, figuring a guy with a Santa Cruz signature model has probably had a chance to give them a try, and he has indeed put them on his guitar. “They do have lower overall tension than comparable sets,” he told us. “Overall, I think they have a nice warm, breathy tone.” [Eric’s personal 00-Skye is cocobolo and Italian spruce, and he’s one of the aforementioned free-thinkers who has opted for the “mid tension” set.]
Overall, these are clearly excellent strings. Of course, strings being the one part of being a guitar player where it’s easy to indulge our personal preferences without straining our budgets overly much, no string will ever be the be-all and end-all for everyone. But if your preferences run to extended-life Phosphor Bronze strings, the Santa Cruz Parabolic Tension guitar strings could be just the ticket. -Brian K. Saunders