A month ago, we reviewed the Thomastik-Infeld Jazz BeBop 12-50 guitar strings, and today, we are reviewing their heavier brother, the Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Swing 13-53 Flat Wound guitar strings — the heaviest gauge guitar string TI makes in that cycle.  As I dip deeper into Jazz, finding the right tone is another ongoing mission, and the TI Jazz Swing flat wounds are uniquely different in three ways than the previously reviewed Jazz BeBops — other than just being all-around thicker.

First, the Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Swing 13-53 strings come with a wound G-string. That means you have four wound bass strings and only two unwound treble strings. I have discovered that I love a wound G. That string, being wound, warms up the residual sound my index finger makes when I pluck a using fingerstyle. Sure, a wound G is harder to bend than a plain G, but you don’t do a lot of bends in Jazz, so I much prefer the meatier string and the reduced harshness of sound while plucking.

Second, these TI Swings are flat wound.  I’ve never used flat wound strings and my feeling is that “flat wound” is what the Nanoweb Condom strings wannabe, but are not, and will never be.  Flat wound strings do not have bumps from string ridges when wrapped around a steel core.  Imagine a broomstick.  You wrap a belt flat around the handle.  That’s what flat wound strings look like wrapped around the steel core of a guitar string.  Now take a round cable television wire and wrap it around the same broomstick.  That’s what a traditional “round wound” string looks like circling a steel core, and all those ridges between the round wrappings make noisy bumps when your fingers slide on them.  You don’t have that sort of finger sound problems with flat wound strings as you run up and down the fretboard.  Guitar Jazz players tend to play clean without any reverb or sound effects and so every little finger noise is transmitted to the amp.  Using flat wound strings diminishes all that finger tsouris.  Some traditional players feel that flat wounds kill your sound by reducing string brightness, but I sort of love that duller, mellower, bassy, tone — especially for playing classic Jazz.

Third, the TI Swing string ends are wrapped in bright red cloth.  Incredibly stylish!  I prefer the red wrap to the green wrap on the TI BeBops.

I moved up a gauge to 13s with the Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Swing 13-53 strings and I don’t really feel they are any more difficult to play than the BeBop 12s.  I did not have to adjust the neck or action.  My fingers are a little more raw on my left hand, but I’m sure that’s because I’ve been installing, and then playing in, these new flat wounds on my Ibanez AF125 and my Les Paul Goldtop and my Les Paul Black Beauty.  All three guitars immediately took to the TI Swing flat wounds and the action feels lower and much faster and the sound is just as luscious as ever.

Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Swing 13-53 strings are not cheap.  They’re imported from Vienna and having a wound G-string ups the price to around $20.00USD per pack of six strings.  I think the additional money is worth it in the unbelievable upgrade in quality and sound from standard American-made strings and, as I understand it, the TI flat wounds have an incredibly long lifespan.  I look forward to finding out just how long and hard I can whack on these Swing strings before they give up, get rusty, and go home out of tune.

7 Comments

  1. David,

    You once wrote an article about how it’s better to buy one eighty dollar pair of shoes than five twenty dollar pairs — this sounds like something similar. Why buy a lot of cheap strings when you can buy fewer more expensive strings that are better in the long run? These sound like they’re a good fit for you.

    1. Ah, yes, Gordon — Affording Cheap Shoes — is yet another great life lesson from Dr. Howard Stein!

      The only painful thing about installing the TI Swings… was cutting off the TI BeBops! The BeBops, after a month of use, were still great, clean and clear sounding. That was money washed down the experiential tar pit — but I am more thrilled with the Swings — so the aesthetic was served even if the savings was not.

  2. Fantastic article.
    I always thought I’m crazy to have 13 gauge flats on my les Paul 1968 RI.
    But that guitar loves it . Sounds incredible , and feels incredible to play .
    Also , try out 10 gauge from Paul Reed Smith,
    available only from their website .
    They feel fantastic too, with my PRS custom Santana signature . Different style though .

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