In the comments stream for my — How to Salvage a $5,000 Gibson Les Paul Custom Black Beauty Guitar with a Radical Truss Rod Adjustment — article, reader Samuel Broom suggested I try the Thomastik-Infeld Jazz BeBop 12 gauge guitar strings.  I decided to take him up on his advice and I am amazed to say these are absolutely the best-made guitar strings I have ever had the pleasure of stringing up.

It was quite bump for me to move up the the heavier gauge Jazz BeBop strings — 12-16-20-28-36-50 — from the DR Tite-Fit strings I was using, 11-14-18-28-38-50, and my fingers are still paying for the pain of the upgrade, but the improvement in sound quality and tonal enhancements are worth the initial finger shredding.  Beware: The Thomastik-Infeld plain G-string is thick as a piece of bailing wire and it keeps its wound shape even after leaving the protecting packaging sleeve.

One big advantage to using thicker strings is that you can really grab on for fretting and for fingerstyle.  Thicker strings are louder, they create greater resonance and they stay in tune much longer.  D’Addario wrote a recent blog post that the buying trend for guitar players is to go with heavier strings, and the Thomastik-Infeld Jazz BeBops certainly fit that bell curve.  I’ll never break another string again!

Thomastik-Infeld are not cheap strings.  They are well-made and imported from Vienna and you pay for the globetrotting and the Austrian manufacturing.  A single set of Jazz BeBops will run you around $18.00USD  Most guitarists pay around $3.00USD for a single set of guitar strings.

Are the Thomastik-Infelds worth FIVE TIMES more than an ordinary strings pack?  The answer is: “UNEQUIVOCALLY, YES!”

Here’s why:

When you first open a package of Jazz BeBops, you notice the ends of the bass strings are wound in green cloth.  That practical and aesthetic touch immediately tells you these strings are unique, well-constructed, and there is a finer purpose here than just stringing up a guitar.

The bass strings are also what I call — “flurpy” — they are wound in  a small gauge nickel that produces a really rich and funky tone and they are much more pliable and forgiving that nickel-plated American-made strings.  Barring an F-chord at the first fret is 85% easier with Thomastik-Infeld strings than any American-made string I’ve tried.

When you unwrap the treble strings you are in for another surprise.  They are all made of steel, but they have a copper coloring.  I don’t understand the why of it and I don’t really care to know the why of it, because the look and the feel of those strings is purely delightful.  They also sound great.  I can see the strings so much better on the fretboard and for plucking because the copper color contrasts with the frets and the other grey/silver/chrome/nickel hardware on the guitar.  Making the treble strings stand out is a great accomplishment that means so much more in the perfection of the practice than it does in the performance of the promotion.

String bends are also quieter with the heavier gauge Jazz BeBops.  There is no more sympathetic harmonic noise and much less feedback while playing.  I also have faster bass string trills, and runs are quieter now even though the strings aren’t flatwound.

The Dunlop Delrin picks work best with the Thomastik-Infeld Jazz BeBops because they make all the strings just a bit brighter.  The DR Tit Fits sound better with Dunlop Ultex picks.

I installed the Jazz BeBops first my on Gretsch 5120 and the voice of the guitar was immediately made richer and deeper.  One strange thing I noticed is that the strings would get tighter on the guitar after the initial stretching and break-in period. The Bizarro World of guitar strings getting tighter after playing didn’t last too long.  After several hard playing sessions across several days, the strings finally “came in” and started behaving properly by losing tension after being used.

I also installed a set of Jazz BeBops on my All Gold Gibson Custom 1956 Shop Les Paul.  The guitar immediately came to life!  There was a lushness and a spritely mellowness that I did not expect.  The bass strings are especially fond of the P90s.  My Les Paul growls now with a voracious accented attack.

On my 1957 Custom VOS Les Paul, the Thomastik-Infeld strings really burst the sound out of that guitar!  The guitar slurped in those strings and the entire personality of the guitar was changed.  I was back in 1957 and my Black Beauty was purring out some cool Jazz in a smoky brackwater bar.  The Jazz BeBops were made to make this guitar!

When I tried the Thomastik-Infeld strings on my Clapton Custom, I was disappointed by the harshness of the sound.  The Stratocaster felt like it was fighting the strings — especially on the treble side with the bridge pickup active.  The guitar was twice as loud with the Jazz BeBops and turning down the volume a bit lost some of that great Clapton tone.  After a day or two, the strings seemed to settle into the guitar a bit better, and some of that mellow neck pickup lushness returned.  Maybe Clapton just needs a few more days to let the new Austrian vibe settle into the wood.

I purchased my Thomastik-Infeld Jazz BeBop 12s from JustStrings.com.  JustStrings.com is just that — a web store that exclusively sells only any sort of string for every stringed instrument.  The JustStrings.com selection of guitar strings is wide and deep and they carry the full Thomastik-Infeld line.  Their prices are good.

My only small complaint is that JustStrings.com doesn’t allow you to use UPS or FedEx for Overnight Delivery.  If you want your strings fast, you’re forced to use the Postal Service and you’re going to wait two-four days for them to process your order before shipping.  JustStrings.com included a quality microfiber logo cloth for wiping down my strings after playing and some promotional guitar picks with the website URL printed on them.

I absolutely recommend the Thomastik-Infeld Jazz BeBop 12s for any guitar you own.  I can play Blues, Jazz, Rock and Country with these strings.  There is zero compromise in playability if you step up a gauge or two to use these beauties — after you break in your fingers a bit.  It’s a fine delight to finally invest in quality strings and not be dismayed by the outcome.

17 Comments

  1. Great articles! I read both this article and the one about the truss rod adjustment. I agree on all fronts, however I have a question for you, Samuel Bloom, and/or other readers.

    Is it not true that “heavier” gauge strings are capable of creating more stress on a neck? It seems like common sense to me but I wonder if a heavier gauge really means more stress? It seems counter intuitive to place heavier gauge strings on a guitar with “neck issues”.

    Anything you, Samuel, or other readers can provide would be greatly appreciated. I too take great care of my instruments but fear making such a transition to these strings without knowing if it will somehow damage my guitar.

    Thanks to you all.

    1. Hey, John! Great to see you here in Boles Blues!

      Yes, heavier strings will put more stress on the neck, but that’s okay if your neck is straight and not warped or bowed in a terrible way. You make a slight truss rod adjustment and you’re fine. Remember, these guitars were invented in the ’50s and players used 13s and 14s as standard string gauges. Stevie Ray Vaughn routinely used 13s on his Strat.

      Any modern guitar neck should be able to easily sustain around 200 pounds of pulling pressing from the strings and not have any trouble. The Thomastik-Infeld website tells you how many pounds of pressure each string puts on the neck. The total pull pressure for the Jazz Bebop 12-50s I’m using now is 137.9 pounds — well within spec. The TI Jazz Bebop 14-55s pull 173.6 pounds of pressure, and that’s still way under the 200 pound limit.

      The Gibson L-5 I’m lusting after uses these string gauges: 012, .016, .025, .034, .044, .056. Gibson even sells those special strings sets for the L-5, called, “The L-5.” Most people I know use the TI 13s — round or flat –on their L-5s.

      One thing you might need to check, when you move up in gauge strength, is the nut on your guitar. All mine nuts were originally cut for 10s, and in all my strings experiments, I’ve never needed to touch the nuts at all. Everything plays really great.

      When I was using 9 and 10 gauge strings, the neck was fine. When I moved up to 11s and now 12s, I’ve had to tighten the neck about an average of a quarter-turn on each guitar to lower the string play. Some of the Fenders make adjusting the truss rod more difficult because you have to remove the pickguard first. Luckily, my clapton is truss rod adjustable right from the top of the neck.

      What guitars do you have and what style of music do you play?

  2. Glad to hear you like the Thomastiks, you really went wild trying them on everything! I appreciate the credit, but it’s Samuel Broom, haha.

    Anyway, I would definitely not recommend them for Strats, they’re geared more towards hollowbodies and hefty mahogany bodies. As you noticed with the presumably alder bodied Strat, it’s just too much for them. That also has to do with the fact that since you switched to thicker strings, the greater mass of steel was picked up a lot more by your pickups. Try dropping them down a bit. Experiment with string to string and full bar chords while adjusting the pickups to find that nice sweet spot. If you get that kind of flubby attack followed by a weird, uneven sustain, your pickups are most likely too high. Single coils are more prone to this as they have stronger magnets than humbuckers.

    You pretty much hit the nail on the head about the string gauges. Back in the day anything lighter than 12’s was pretty unheard of, you can thank the shredders for 9’s and 10’s. 12’s would never fly on an Wizard neck with a Floyd, but anything else you should be just fine. You still might need the nut slots touched up a bit, listen for light “pings” and sudden jumps in tuning, that would mean the slots are binding on the string and will give you tuning issues while playing. Factory nuts are usually pretty loose in tolerance anyway, but it never hurts to check.

    BTW, the color just has to due with the steel alloy Thomastik-Infeld uses, not sure what their composition is but I’m guessing there’s a bit of bronze in there. Have you tried the Spectrum Bronze for your acoustics? They’ve really got an interesting character, not your typical shimmery acoustic sound.

    1. Yikes! A hundred apologies, Samuel! I typo’d your name! I just fixed it in the article and your mention in John’s comment.

      Yes, the TI’s don’t like the Strat much and I will certainly try to lower the pickups a bit. The sound is very loud and harsh — much like the Dean Markley Blue Steels I tried for half a day and then ripped off the axe. I don’t have any nut pings yet — though I have in the past with cheaper strings — and creating a barre chord works so far on the Clapton Strat.

      I’m sort of amazed that I don’t have to fiddle more with the guitars when I change strings. The champ is my 2008 Les Paul Standard. I’ve had 9s and 12s on it and I haven’t had to touch anything on that beast — not the neck or bridge or intonation or anything. It all stays the same. The action and intonation never changes. That guitar handles everything within a day of settling. I wonder if it’s the asymmetrical neck and the long tenon that’s making it an indestructible guitar? SMILE!

      I’m glad to see people are starting to come back to their senses and trying the heavier strings. You can’t beat heavy for that hardy “guitar sound” we all chase. Sure, 9s are easier to play at the beginning, but once your fingers toughen up, there’s no reason not to move up to 12s to get the richer tones and better tuning. My TI G-string hasn’t moved on any of my guitars in three days!

      I wonder if the color on the TI treble strings is because the strings are unpolished? American treble strings are shiny while the TIs are a bit duller, and I think, easier to play because they grab you back when you pluck them with your fingers. I know the Jazz BeBops also come with a tin coating on the steel strings, but I don’t have that version, so I’m not seeing tin. I really like the look and the heft of the TI copperish strings because I can get great sound out of them using my fingertip flesh and not my fingernails.

      I don’t currently have an acoustic. Here’s the story of what happened:

      http://urbansemiotic.com/2009/06/19/2008-les-paul-standard-review/

      I’m currently humping for an L-5. On Friday, Musician’s Friend expected one on the 22nd of this month with a price of $9,000.00USD. Today, the expected date changed to mid-August with an updated price of $9,999.00! A thousand dollar jump in two days! Gah! Misery! I’m out.

      So… I may be in for an ES-175 instead. More fiscally responsible than an L-5 — and while not as brilliant or as hefty, a 175 might acoustically behave better in the long run — so it should do. I’ve also heard good things about the Harmony Sweet 16 and the Sadowsky Jim Hall model. I’m looking for a good Jazz box that I can string up with TI flatwounds. If you have other guitar or strings suggestions for me, holla! SMILE!

      I was previously thinking of getting a Martin HD-28 or a Gibson J-45 next — but Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass and Tal Farlow are in my ear and I can’t get that sound out of my head!

  3. Haha, no worries about the typo, Bloom sounds more interesting anyway. Actually that’s the name of the jazz school down the street from the shop, interesting coincidence.

    That’s a bummer about the Martin though, I’d starve before selling my Strat or V! Anyway, Les Pauls are pretty beefy instruments (I’m sure your back could attest to that). The tension change might not make too much of a difference on a fatter neck, buy since guitars are made of wood they’re all different.

    That brings me to my next point about buying your next guitar. Try lots and lots of them with little prejudice before you decide which one you want. They all feel different, and the name on the headstock is certainly no guarantee of quality. Hardware, electronics, and nuts can be changed but that overall feel is what truly matters. My first guitar, a squier affinity strat, is one of the best feeling guitars I’ve ever played, so it warranted the fretwork, rewire, lollar dirty blackface set, and mammoth ivory nut I’m putting into it. That’s not to deter you from what you’re lusting after, just to make sure you get the best one you can find. Besides, it’s good to support your local shop, musician’s friend and guitar center certainly don’t need the business.

    1. Yes, after all these years I’m still super bummed about giving up my Martin. It wasn’t worth the short-term gain for the long term heartache.

      I appreciate your “play them all” advice. I try not to buy from big box stores — but sites like Musician’s Friend can be a great help in determining a base price for a guitar or other gear because they have almost everything in stock.

      I like it how your Squire still tends your talent. That is great advice. Just upgrading to the TI strings brought a whole new voice — and throat! — to my lesser-played ignored Gretsch 5120 and I’m not thumping on it daily again. Thanks again for the great advice to move up to TI Jazz BeBops on that box!

  4. I like the sound of these strings so much. Glad you finally tried them. I think the “flurp” you mention is due to the wound strings being all nickel, right?