Features: Powerful, responsive and reliable. Ernie Ball's patent-pending M-Steel strings are distinctively different through and through. They've managed to create a louder, tougher string that feels as natural and plays as easily as its Regular Slinky strings. M-Steel Slinky strings are robust and bold sounding across the entire sonic spectrum. // 10
Sound: Whoa! The M-Steels were surely louder, had more pop, more bite, and more sizzle - especially on the thicker strings - than the Regular Slinky set. The harmonic slaps really popped out. When I dug into some single-note lines using a Dunlop Jazz II pick, I noticed more zest. The M-Steels made me want to hold notes as well because the sustain lingered nice and long. I was compelled to hang onto a note for a while and then bend the pitch up and down without re-picking.
The M-Steels really did affect my playing in a musical way. From a purely tonal standpoint I wouldn't say the difference was radical - simply more low-end sizzle, high-end ping, and overall clarity. Most of all I wanted to keep playing, period. Nothing against the Regular Slinky set, but I had no great desire to switch back. Actually, I realized I had probably put them on the wrong guitar. The dual-humbucker Gibson ES-339 has hotter pickups than the Godin Montreal Premiere or the Fender Strat I have in my gig arsenal. It would make sense to put the louder strings on guitars with lower pickup output in order to strike a better balance. I'm going to need more sets of these powerful new strings. // 10
Reliability & Durability: These strings feel like they could hold up the Golden Gate Bridge! I could immediately tell something unique was in play.
Ernie Ball M-Steels are made from a defense-grade alloy known as Maraging Steel, an alloy known for exceptional strength and durability while still maintaining malleability. The word "Maraging" is a combination of "Martensite," a type of alloy named after turn-of-the-last-century metallurgist Adolf Martens, who studied the crystalline structures of the hardest steels, and "aging," a heat-treatment process that forms "hardening precipitates" for even more super-powered durability.
Ernie Ball says their patent-pending production process increases strength and durability compared to traditional guitar-string wire, and amounts to the first true innovation in guitar strings since the 1800s. M-Steel wound strings consist of a cobalt alloy wrapped around a Maraging Steel hex core wire. The plain strings feature a black enameled steel winding around the ball end designed to help the string stay put, stay in tact, and stay in tune better than conventional plain strings.
I put the M-Steels through all the tests I could conjure during the week when I conducted this review. First, I stretched them as far as I could multiple times. Next, I abused used them in rehearsal. Finally, I played them hard on a high-profile gig with A Spirit Hustler at San Francisco's Brick and Mortar Music Hall, where I trusted them enough to go from standard tuning to open G on the fly. My trust was rewarded. They held each tuning well, even on a song called "The California Hustle" where I repeatedly bent the second and third strings significantly upward at the 7th fret and again at the 19th fret in order to emulate a train sound. I also did some serious slapping and popping for a funky kind of chicken picking effect. No strings broke. // 10
Ease of Use: Even though they feel heartier than a set of Ernie Ball Regular Slinky strings, M-Steel Slinky strings are just as easy to put on and to play. The overall feel was a bit like playing a heavier gauge set; it wasn't harder to play, but there was a meatier feel on the frets. Interestingly, playing freehand didn't feel any harsher. In an odd way, it was almost smoother. The M-Steels felt somewhat grittier, but in a smooth way - like fine sandpaper. All of my tricky freehand techniques felt fine - slapping and popping, flamenco-style flourishes, and harmonic slapping using my thumb an octave above the fretted chord. // 10
Overall Impression: To get a baseline, the first thing I did was put a set of .010-.046 gauged Ernie Ball Regular Slinky strings on a Gibson ES-339. I played it for a while to soak in the sound and feel. Next, I changed only the thickest two strings. When I took the E string out and held it in my hand, it clearly felt heartier and grittier than any string I'd ever encountered. I would have sworn it was a 50-gauge string. Once the E and A were secure, I played for a while to see how they felt compared to the Regular Slinky strings. With the D string, the difference was especially obvious. The M-Steels had more overall moxie, and they definitely had more pronounced sound. A slight color difference was apparent too. The M-Steels were a bit darker with a hint of blue in their otherwise grey color.
As I fed the G string through the whole in the tuning peg I noticed a powdery substance flaking off onto the headstock. I rubbed the string back and forth a bit through the hole and, sure enough, more flaked off. There was less of it on each successively thin string. I surmised the powder was the aforementioned "hardening precipitates." I simply blew it off. The moment of truth came when I played the whole set. // 10
- Jimmy Leslie (c) 2014