Albion Phosphor Bronze 'Light' Gauge Acoustic Strings 011-049
Albion Music Strings are a most unusual set-up. Based in Derby, they operate on a deliberate 'cottage industry' basis, turning on its head today's typical mass production, centralised manufacturing, sales and distribution methods. Established by Ernest Whitty (a wire drawing and forming specialist) in 1979, Albion began their operation by supplying specialist strings to several top players, very much on a custom-made basis. After three years' research, Ernest established a training workshop where interested potential string makers could go to learn the art. As a result, franchised local workshops were established (run by self-employed stringmakers), all relating back to the central Derby workshop. From there, product quality is monitored alongside backup support on technology, marketing etc., and although at present all the individual Albion workshops are located in the Midlands, a London workshop is planned, as are further owner-managed workshops in New Zealand and North America. Obviously, the background to this unique enterprise deserves greater attention than mere review space allows us, and IN TUNE plans to be looking at Albion's unique approach at a later date. However, having been encouraged to try some of their strings by several leading British guitar makers who are now fitting Albions as standard (JayDee, Wilkes, Brynn Hiscox and others), we fitted a set of their Phosphor Bronze acoustic strings to our test Manson Sandpiper acoustic to see how they fared.
The current range of strings offered by Albion includes sets for acoustic and electric guitars, acoustic and electric basses, plus bouzouki, cittern, banjo, mandolin, mandola, Appalachian dulcimer, etc. Recent additions have included Steinberger double ball end sets. The strings we tested first (we plan to look at other sets in future issues) comprised an acoustic set of phosphor Bronze wound 'Light Gauge' measuring 011-049". According to our pet acoustic guitar expert Katy 88, who was guinea-pig for this test, the strings went onto her Manson without any difficulties, although, she reported, they did take a little longer to settle down than some other strings she's used. Having done so, however, the sound they wrought from the Manson was both remarkable and unexpected. In terms of their ability to hold tuning, Katy felt that they were particularly impressive. Even when consistently re-tuned (using DADGAD and CGCGCD) they went straight to the intended pitch and stayed there, even when subjected to some fairly hefty playing sessions, tuning and re-tuning. From the point of view of 'feel', Katy and the other players who tried the Albions said (and this was a unanimous opinion) these strings felt nicely flexible - a very good par for the course among premium quality Phosphor Bronze types in this respect.
Soundwise, the Albions were unusual. Probably because Katy normally uses Superwound's Country Golds (which have the lowest three strings at 030, 042 and 052") the Albions (where the equivalents are 029, 039, 049") seemed less bassy than she was used to. In her opinion, this made the Albions perhaps less balanced on the Mahogany bodied and therefore brighter sounding Manson than the Superwounds, but listeners to the guitar at a typical distance didn't complain about this - so maybe it's a matter of the projected sound against the sound a player hears?
In their favour, however, both players and listeners commented on the exceptional clarity of tone which this guitar produced when fitted with the Albions. It's hard to put a sound into words, but we all felt that there was indeed something 'extra' in the Albions' sound which we wouldn't have expected from a traditionally formed string. Compared with American produced Phosphor Bronze types which have previously been fitted to this same guitar, the Albions sounded head and shoulders clearer and more resonant. In the view of the IT testers who both tried and listened to these new strings, the general opinion was that they definitely had 'something different' about them - perhaps best described as a clarity and ringing response which improved noticeably on typical Phosphor Bronze imported strings by a considerable margin.
Based on the Albion strings we fitted to Katy's Manson, our feeling is that players who prefer a conventional string to Superwound's innovative 'piano string' over the bridge Country Golds would find these a considerable improvement on most of the best US-produced Phosphor Bronze types in terms of 'ring', response and tuning stability. Some players will undoubtedly prefer the Superwound approach with its distinctive sound (Katy felt that she did), but those who prefer a conventional wound string will, we feel, find these Albions a very major improvement over conventionally produced and wound strings. Either way, we'd definitely recommend a set as a 'try them and see' alternative to the major brands of acoustic strings.
More info on Albion stockists and their custom ranges from Albion Music Strings (UK) Ltd., (Contact Details).