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Dean Markley Blackhawk Coated Guitar Strings
Are these new coated strings all they're wrapped up to be?


by Phil O'Keefe



This is a review that took me a lot longer to write than I originally thought it would. I can hear some of you now - yeah, but it's a review about guitar strings, how much is there to say? And that's true enough - there's only so much to talk about when it comes to guitar strings, but in order to fully and fairly evaluate any new strings, you have to put a couple of sets on your guitars and then play them. A lot. And therein lies the issue, as you'll see as you continue reading this review...






What You Need To Know

  • Blackhawk strings are the first coated strings from Dean Markley. They have a micro-thin coating that you really can't see or even feel, but that helps prevent tone-killing rust and corrosion.

  • Dean Markley Blackhawk coated strings use a high-carbon nickel-plated steel wire core.

  • Blackhawk strings are designed to be break-resistant as well as corrosion resistant. Dean Markley claims they will last up to four times longer than uncoated strings.

  • I tried the regular Blackhawk electric guitar strings, gauges .010-.046, (.010 / .013/ .017 / .026 / .036 / .046) on my Telecaster and SG, but other gauges are also available, from .009-.042 lights to .011-.052 mediums, including custom light and light top / heavy bottom variations.

  • Dean Markley also manufacturers Blackhawk strings in both 80/20 Bronze and Phosphor Bronze acoustic varieties as well, with each being available in a selection of gauges, from Extra Light (XL .010 - .047) to Medium (.013 - .056). 




  • In addition to the electric strings that I auditioned, I also installed a set of medium gauge (.013-.056) Blackhawk 80/20 Bronze strings on my Taylor GS Mini acoustic to test for this review. The acoustic and electric sets performed similarly in my tests.

  • I put these strings on towards the end of the Southern California desert summer. Embarrassing admission time - I sweat quite a bit - especially in the summer. My personal body chemistry is really hard on strings - I rust them out and kill their tone pretty quickly. In spite of the heat and aggressive daily playing, over a month later they're still going strong, and still sound fresh and lively. That's impressive longevity - an uncoated set of strings would be lucky to last a week under similar conditions.

  • The "feel" of these strings is quite good, without the thick plastic-coated feel that turned many players off on some of the earlier coated strings.  Many people probably wouldn't even notice they were coated with anything if you didn't tell them.
  • Don't forget - while they may be a bit more expensive, the economy is still there - since they last up to four times longer, you won't have to replace them nearly as often as less expensive strings. Not only will they save you money, they'll also save you time - you can spend more time enjoying playing your guitar and less time restringing it.



Limitations

I am not really crazy about the way they wrap and package the strings. The strings are all in a single sealed bag, which is placed inside a cardboard outer packet. So far, so good - it's light on excess packaging materials, so it's relatively environmentally friendly, which I think we can all agree is a good thing. What I was less knocked out by is the way they wrap them together in pairs, with only two color codes used for the ends - red and nickel/silver. It's pretty clever, and certainly easy enough to tell which string is which this way (at least as long as you unwrap and install them one pair at a time), and it reduces the number of different colored ball ends they need to keep on hand, but untangling the string pairs can be a bit tricky - especially compared to individually wrapped strings. It's not hard, just a minor annoyance.



Conclusions

Like many guitarists, I've had previous experience with Dean Markley's well-regarded strings, and as good as those generally are, these are by far the longest-lasting sets of Dean Markley strings I've ever used. In fact, they hold up as well as any strings I've ever tried, regardless of manufacturer. Considering how torturous my personal body chemistry is to string life, that's no small accomplishment. These are excellent strings with great tone that lasts and lasts due to their corrosion, rust and break resistance.


We're nearly twenty years into the new millennium folks, and there's no need to play the same old strings anymore.  Today we have something much more modern and long-lasting. If you were turned off by the thick poly prophylactic feel of some early coated strings, or have never experienced the extra life you can get with coated and break resistant strings, you owe it to yourself to try a great modern set of strings like the Dean Markley Blackhawk coated strings. You'll be amazed by how good they sound, how familiar they feel, and how long the tone lasts. -HC-


Want to discuss the Dean Markley Blackhawk strings or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Electric Guitar forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!



Resources

Dean Markley Blackhawk strings  ($11.99 - $14.88 "street", depending on type)

Dean Markley's product web pages    

Blackhawk Strings

Blackhawk Electric 

Blackhawk Acoustic Phosphor Bronze 

Blackhawk Acoustic 80/20 Bronze 


You can purchase Dean Markley Blackhawk strings from:

 

Strings And Beyond

Amazon (Electric)

Amazon (Phosphor Bronze)

Reverb (Electric)     

Reverb (80/20 Bronze)    





__________________________________________________

 




Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician, and Guitar Player magazines.  

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