Sunday, June 24, 2012

aLaska Fingerpicks & Glass Slides

In March I ordered some fingerpicks to try to improve the clarity of my fingerpicking (since my nails were rather short), and a glass slide.  Specifically, I ordered the aLaska fingerpicks (a mixture of their medium and large for my fingers), and a Dunlop 215 glass slide (20mm inside radius, 69mm length, "Heavy Wall").  I ordered the picks from Eagle Music Shop in the UK, since my local shops didn't have any at the time (currently, however, Hieber-Lindberg stocks some, for anyone living in the Munich area).  As such, I can't really comment on the price, since the exchange rate has fluctuated, and I had to pay shipping.  The slide I had ordered off Thomann for about 5,90€.


To start this review off, I need to mention that I had a stainless steel slide that I bought in Canada at Bud's Music.  As it came with no packaging, I'm not sure what the specifications are, or even what company it was from.  In any case, slides are the sort of thing you need to try on to find the right fit for your hand.  Also, you should decide what finger you'll use it on in advance.  My slide can fit on either my ring finger or my pinky, though the best fit is on my ring finger.  This was intentional (and prompted by Davy Knowles' slide playing).  It allows me to keep my last joint on my ring finger free, giving me a bit of freedom for moving the slide, and keeping it out of the way of my chords.  I'm by no means a slide player, I just tend to dabble.  As such, all my observations on sound are compared directly to the steel slide, in an attempt to reduce the impact of my poor playing on this review.

The steel slide gives you a very tinny, metal-like sound (obviously) when playing.  I think it would be a very pleasing sound when played on a resonator, due to the inherent metal-like sound from those types of guitars.  However, on my jumbo or electric, I couldn't quite warm up to the sound.  The glass slide, however, offers a much warmer sound (to me, at least).  I actually find that the mixture of steel strings/glass slide tends to offer a better approximation of vocal melody than the steel string/steel slide mixture.  For anyone curious for a sound sample, try giving either Derek Trucks a shot (for an SG electric coupled with a glass slide), or Davy Knowles' performance of As The Crow Flies by Rory Gallagher.  Davy has played the song on a PRS acoustic for the Salute Beer Festival, as well as a National Triolian Resonator for the Rory Gallagher Tribute (using the same slide, as far as I can tell).  Definitely something to listen to if you're interested in slide guitar.

aLaska Fingerpicks

The first thing to mention about these is how important it is to get the right size.  In my first order I had to measure and estimate what size I needed, and ended up getting a set of sizes too small.  Sending them back would have cost the same as simply ordering a second batch, so I instead ordered a new set, keeping the first batch as spares.  You could probably adjust and bend them into a better shape/size, but I haven't tried it, so I'm not sure how easy it would be (and how much of an impact it would have on stability/sound).  These fingerpicks sit over your fingernails, and then loop down under the nail in the front, offering a fairly good approximation of playing with your nails.  I find them a lot easier to use than most other fingerpicks I've tried that sit on the pad of your finger.  The sound, as well, is very good for fingerpicks.  Sungha Jung has used these for a number of videos, for anyone looking for a sound sample.  I will note, however, that you do need to have slightly longer nails (not as long as is ideal for playing without picks, but longer than you would usually keep your fretting hand nails).  This is because the picks sit under the tip of the nail, and so you need to have nails for them to sit under.

While these fingerpicks are pretty good for sound, clarity, and the almost natural-feeling to playing "with your nails", I still much prefer playing with my actual nails.  Due to the fact that these fingerpicks require a slightly longer nail than normal anyways, I have simply let the nails grow to the point where it's comfortable to play the guitar with them.  If, however, your nails are too weak for fingerpicking on a steel string, or you simply want to have a set of fingerpicks to use in case your nails get trimmed/broken, I highly recommend these.  The only thing I could recommend doing is getting a normal thumbpick, as opposed to using one of these aLaska fingerpicks on your thumb (it leads to you holding your hand in what I find to be a very uncomfortable position).  Sure, it's the same position you'd hold your hand in to play with your thumbnail, but I tend to play with the side of my thumb (or a thumbpick), instead of that nail.  I find it to be a more natural position.  If you're looking for fingerpicks, definitely give these a shot (and, if you're like me and have a thumbpick, and tend to play with your index, middle, and ring fingers, you'll only need to buy 3).  However, if you play with your pinky too, you'll need a minimum of 4.  I find that these picks are slightly more expensive than normal fingerpicks, so keep that in mind too.

Overall, both of these items (the fingerpicks and the slide) come down to personal preference.  Do you want to play with fingerpicks?  Then definitely look at the aLaska picks.  If you want to have a sound similar to Davy Knowles or Derek Trucks, a glass slide is probably the right choice for you.  However, finding one that fits you (and you can play comfortably with), will be up to you.

Ernie Ball Earthwood/Cobalt Strings

In my last batch of updates (back in March), I mentioned that I was waiting for an order of strings (along with other things, which will get their own post).  That order arrived about a week later, but I haven't had time to write my review on them before now.  For the sake of clarity, the strings I ordered:

Ernie Ball Earthwood Acoustic Medium Light (0.12-0.54)
Ernie Ball Cobale Electric Slinky (0.10-0.46)

I used these to replace my Ernie Ball Coated Acoustic Light (0.11-0.52) and Coated Titanium Regular Slinky (0.10-0.46) strings on my acoustic guitar (an Epiphone Artist Series EJ-200), and my electric (and Epiphone Les Paul Tribute '60).

Acoustic (EJ-200)

The first thing I noticed when using these strings for the first time was the strong textured feel of the strings (compared to the coated ones I was using before).  I actually think these are a little "rougher" feeling than other normal strings I've played - which is by no means negative.  Once I got to strumming the strings, I was blown away by the bright sound of the bronze.  Combined with the jumbo size of my acoustic, it led to quite a powerful sound.  Even though the strings (and guitar) can be loud when played forcefully, they keep their definition of tone.  Also, playing softly results in a perfect volume for intimate acoustic performances, or for practicing in a room without bothering anyone else.  I find that the .12's are still very bendable on the jumbo, and I don't think I'll be using any other gauge on this guitar in the future.

I've experimented a little with recording this setup too, and the sound can be picked up extremely well from various positions.  The microphones I was using didn't manage to cope with the low-ends of the jumbo, so I won't post any sound samples, but I highly recommend these strings if you have a jumbo (the smaller gauges will probably have a similar effect on any dreadnought or folk guitar you try them on).

Besides tone, of course, is the question of durability and price.  The coated strings I was using earlier lasted very well, but were about double the price of the Earthwood strings.  I estimate that the coated strings lasted me about 4 months (I admit, I failed to mark the date on the pack, which I usually do).  So far the Earthwoods have been on my acoustic for a little over 2 months, and, while looking a little worn, still sound extremely pleasing to my ear.  I don't think I'll need to swap these strings out for another few weeks, possibly as late as the first week of July.  And yes, I have played the guitar a lot since putting them on.  I tend to play between 1 and 4 hours of guitar a day (depending on factors like other work I need to do).  Also, since my preferred playing style is fingerstyle guitar, the strings have been in contact with fair amounts of corrosive oils from my hands.  The weather has also been rather hot, putting further wear and tear on the strings.  If the muted color of the bronze doesn't bother you, you'll be more than capable of using them for extended periods of time.  The price, at the time of writing, is 6,90€ = £5.57 = $8.67 at

Electric (Tribute '60)

The first thing you notice about these strings, even before you put them on the guitar, is the dark color of the metal.  I actually find that it looks quite nice, though I have to admit that the guy at the guitar shop asked me if I had ever changed the strings since buying the guitar (I had to take it in to get adjusted, since I just wasn't able to find settings I liked).  If that doesn't bother you, then I think you'll be extremely happy with these strings.  Played on clean settings, these strings offer better tone definition (it's hard to describe exactly what I mean with this - I think the best description is that, regardless of what you're playing over, you'll be able to distinguish the notes fairly well).  I also find that the pickups on my guitar tend to have better output (since iron and cobalt are both ferromagnetic materials).  Ferromagnetic materials are simply materials that can form permanent magnets, or refers to metals that are attracted to magnets.  Since cobalt and iron attract the magnets in the pickups more than titanium, steel, or nickel, it results in a more accurate translation of string vibrations into the amp via the pickups. True to the name, the Regular Slinky pack is, well, slinky.  Bends are easy on the fingers, and the higher tensile strength of cobalt reduces string breakage.  As for how they feel.  I don't find they feel any different than any normal strings I've ever played on an electric.  They do, however, feel a lot more like normal strings than coated strings do (even Ernie Ball coated strings, which are the closest facsimile to non-coated strings I've found).

Due to the high corrosion resistance of the cobalt, these strings should last you a fairly long time (also why Ernie Ball doesn't offer them coated).  I'd be hard-pressed to say the strings look any different than when I first put them on the guitar (about 2 months ago).  It's also possible that I can simply not see the difference, due to the darkness of the cobalt itself.  In any case, the strings sound just as good as they did before.  I admit, I don't play my electric nearly as much as my acoustic, but it has still seen a fair amount of use.  As for price: These strings were a bit cheaper than the coated strings I was using, but not by much.  These days, I think they're priced about the same.  In any case, I find the quality of these a little better than the coated strings, so it's a price I'm more than happy to pay.  (at the time of writing, it's 10,90€ = £8.79 = $13.70 from


If you play guitar, and you want a nice and bright acoustic sound, I highly recommend giving the Earthwood strings a shot.  I certainly wasn't disappointed, and these strings sound great when flatpicked or fingerpicked.

Similarly, if you play an electric, especially with coated strings, consider trying a package of cobalt strings.  The price is the same as the coated strings, but I find these a bit better than the coated strings (with hardly any trade-off on durability).