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DR Rare Acoustic Guitar Strings

By Todd Stuart Phillips

DR Rare phosphor bronze strings are obviously designed to make the electric guitarist feel right at home on an acoustic guitar. But if you are use to traditional acoustic strings you may find this particular variety a pretty loose goose to get a handle on.
I try to adapt to the new ideas. But I just seem out of step when it comes to the latest craze of guitar strings made to have less tension when at the same diameter of traditional string sets. But then I realized it is just that I am first and foremost an acoustic guitar player. I have owned and performed with electric guitars on stage and in the studio, but I was always an acoustic musician moonlighting as something else. This is an important distinction. Most of the guitar-playing population were born and raised well after modern Rock n Roll turned it up to 11 and kicked out the jams. They grew up with Stratocasters or PRS and playing .9 ultra lights while listening to everyone from Jimi to Eddie to Stevie bending strings a step and a half during their wild and wooly solos. Eventually a lot of these same Slowhand emulators wanted to hop on the Unplugged bandwagon only to find themselves trying to get a grip on baseball bat necks with strings that must have felt like tree limbs compared to they beloved Slinkys.
Many manufactures got rich by selling these folks acoustic guitars with necks and action made to appeal to electric guitarists. It was only a matter of time before the guitar string industry caught up and brought the flexible string thing, which started in the electric bass world, into the realm of hootenannies and folk fests. Of all the new acoustic guitar strings out there designed to enhance flexibility and bendability I have found none to be as waggley and pliant as the DR Rares.
I had recently discovered DR brand strings and was knocked out by their quality. The ones I had tried first were their phosphor bronze Sunbeams.  They were everything I had hoped for and more. These round core Sunbeams were also made to be more pliant and bendable than traditional strings, so much so that .12s were bit too wiggly when I needed to go down into a low C tuning or even DADGAD. But they were still quite playable and in standard tuning I loved how they were so easy to manipulate and sounded out the most subtle change in pressure. Because of this I bought a set of hex core Rares to see how they compared.
Since the company's gauges are already lighter than normal it took me some doing to find a store that carried Rares in a medium set, or .12 - .54 - equivalent to most manufacturer's light gauge. Despite the marketing blurbs I was not prepared for how different these would be from the Sunbeams. The packaging said they were made to have a "brighter edge to the sound" and that they certainly did. Since the Sunbeams do not have the typical phosphor bronze sheen or string noise it is fair to say the Rares bring that all back. This will be welcomed by people who prefer the traditional phosphor bronze sound. It also claimed that they were made for "easy bending and great feel." The first part rings true, but how great that feels remains in the hands of the beholder.
When these strings were tuned to concert pitch I felt like my long-scale Martin OM-28V was suddenly converted into a short-scale 000. In fact I got considerable buzzing in and around the 4th, 5th and 6th frets that came and went as the neck tried to come to terms with that new tension, or lack thereof. But I will say in their favor that bending strings has never been easier. It was a lot of fun playing the solos from Sultans of Swing and actually making all the bends without having to move up a half step to compensate for not being on a Strat. And playing in general was super fast. But I felt like there was too much sacrificed to have such electroeglide playing.
The DR website says that their Rare phosphor bronze strings are designed to please "players who want a fatter, louder sound, a deeper bottom". But I found these strings lacked in all three areas. They sounded very pretty when fingerpicked lightly (think Paul Simon's The Boxer). But when I brought any serious attack to bare they just did not respond or give me back the same kind of power and energy I put into them. But then again, I am an acoustic guitar player with a heavy hand who prefers small condenser mikes and the dynamics coming from the guitar rather than the settings on an amp. It is entirely likely that DR Rares will work very well and sound just fine when amplified through a pickup. But when it came to straight acoustic they were not loud, fat or deep enough for my tastes.
I know I am not in line with everyone's opinion about DR Rare phosphor bronze acoustic guitar strings. They are quite popular and sold at many major stores. Personally, I could also see them being ideal for someone who likes the loose and bluesy feel of short-scale acoustics, but does not like how close together the frets are or how short the over all neck feels. Just take a long-scale guitar, slap on a set of Rares and viola! I could also see someone finding the DR Rares perfect if they are going to be playing in a band situation where they need to do a lot of electric style leads on an acoustic. If I was in a band situation these days myself I might consider keeping a guitar set up for Rares for just that very purpose. But otherwise they just did not provide me anything I could make use of when it came to the music I write, perform and record. I might be tempted to try these strings in the .13 medium-heavy gauge someday. But when I liked DR Sunbeams as much as I did I find nothing in the Rares that made me want to switch.
Out of a possible 6 Strings, I give DR Rare phosphor bronze strings a rating of 2 Strings.


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