DR Sunbeam Strings - reviewed by Tony Phillips
(Sun)Beam Me Up
I'll admit I'm a little lazy when it comes to trying out different string brands. I've been happy with Martin SP Phosphor Bronze's for several years now. I like their tone and longevity, the slightly metallic edge they offer on the attack, and their rich and warm sustain. I had heard of DR Strings, and tried out a set of DR's Sunbeam Phosphor Bronze (a little redundant - the Sunbeams only come in Phosophor Bronze) to see what they might offer.
My first realization was that all mediums are not created equal - Sunbeam mediums run from .012 to .054, which corresponds with most manufacturers' light gauge. No big deal - Sunbeams also come in medium-heavy, which run from .013 to .056. I noticed when changing strings that the Sunbeam mediums seemed very flexible, even when compared with other makers' light gauge strings. The Sunbeams feature a round core, which gives them more flexibility than comparable hex-core strings.
I'm in love with the ringing quality of a fresh set of strings, especially in Phosphor Bronze. I decided to string up my Martin D-18CW (Adirondack over quilted mahogany), which is one of my fingerstyle favorites. At first, I was a little disappointed with the Sunbeams - they didn't really have that new string "edge" or ring I usually get from a fresh set of SP's. They stretched out and tuned up just fine, in spite of their added flexibility, and after about 15 minutes of being under tension, they started to get their act together. In another 10 minutes, I was very impressed. The strings had acclimated, and were sounding just like a lightly broken-in set of SP's, with possibly a little more warmth and a little less edge.
My fingerstyle playing is done with bare fingers (no picks, short fingernails), and I like a little edginess from my strings since I use the fleshy part of my finger next to the nail. I thought the lack of an "edgy" quality would be a liability and make things sound muddy. I was surprised to find the Sunbeams offered a lot of clarity and crispness, and a rich and full sustain. I heard the sound of a mahogany and Adirondack guitar, rather than hearing the tone of the strings. Volume was comparable to light gauge SP Phosphors with both bare fingers and a flatpick. Flatpicking really showcased how well the Sunbeams let my guitar do the talking. They offered a nice pop when hit with a pick, and their sustain was impressive.
Even though the Sunbeams are not coated, they have lasted for quite a long time on my D-18CW. After more than a month of regular play (3 or 4 days a week at least) they haven't really lost much in tone, clarity, or volume. DR's web page describes the Sunbeam's tone as not falling off until the strings are really gone. I'll be very interested to see what happens when they really do "die", since I'm not there yet. One other little detail was that older phosphor bronze strings can usually produce some noise from my fretting hand moving up and down the strings. The Sunbeams were much quieter under my left hand, which was a nice bonus.