DR Pure Blues Sets - Reviewed
By Strings Direct – 29 August, 2023
Whilst DR Strings aren’t always mentioned in the same breathe as the big hitters such as Ernie Ball or D’Addario, they certainly deserve to share some of the attention that the larger string manufacturers tend to garner.
Based in Westwood, New Jersey, DR are a string brand proud to set themselves apart from the others. They have mastered their craft and reputation over a long period of time, with a focus on attention to detail at every step of the manufacturing process. A big part of their attraction is how everything is made by hand. Whilst they admit that this isn’t the most efficient way of manufacturing, they insist that there’s a huge amount of merit in doing things their own way, delivering a far superior sounding string. Their methods require “skill, time and care” which their willing to commit to in order to produce a set of strings that they feel is greater than any machine could achieve!
Their Pure Blues range is a perfect example of this. The way these are made is both ‘slow’ and ‘expensive’ (DR’s words) producing a string “acclaimed for increased sustain, vintage tone and great low tones for playing rhythm and lead.”
This range is a hugely popular seller for us here at Strings Direct and for good reason.
One of the Pure Blues biggest advocates is none other than monster slide maestro Derek Trucks. Derek Trucks uses his own custom gauge 11-46 set (11, 14, 17, 26, 36, 46) and has been using Pure Blues for most of his playing career;
“I haven’t used anything but DR Pure Blues Round Cores for 20 years. It’s part of the make up of what I do. They allow my thoughts to flow… they never get in the way of what I am trying to do.”
That’s as good a review as any as far as we’re concerned, but our very own Professor Twang took the Pure Blues strings for a test drive himself and has given us the lowdown on what makes these strings so special.
“I should start by saying that some of my professional colleagues, especially bass players, have said that DR strings are the only strings they’ll use, so they seem to have a certain cachet.
The Pure Blues sets are described as a ‘vintage style’ string. But what is it that gives these strings their unique character?
Well, first up, these strings have a pure nickel outer wrap wire. Nowadays, the vast majority of electric guitar strings available are wound with nickel plated steel whereas many years ago pure nickel was very much the go-to option. Pure nickel strings are known to be inherently less bright with a softer attack compared to nickel plated steel strings, something often desirable for players looking for a tone that evokes more vintage vibes. On the reverse of the packaging DR say that the Pure Blues strings deliver “a punch that players are surprised to hear from a vintage style string” and I can testify to this as I personally found these strings to be surprisingly bright sounding as pure nickel strings go, something I really enjoyed on my T-style guitar.
I was especially delighted to discover the strings have a wonderfully balanced tone across the whole set. They are far more consistent sounding than other brands that I have tried in this respect: every string, when freshly installed, sounded strong and vibrant, with no rogues or weakness whatsoever.
I often find that there can be a marked difference between the third and fourth strings… notes played on the plain third string pop out (for better or worse) while the note(s) played on the wound 4th string can recede. The “popping” 3rd string, or the relatively subdued 4th string, depending on your perspective, isn’t controllable by dynamic, it’s inherent to the strings’ properties, but these DR Pure Blues sound remarkably consistent in tone and volume across all six strings and such consistency isn’t always present in every set of strings you play.
The second reason the DR Pure Blues strings are seen as ‘vintage’ is down to the outer wrap wire being wound over a central round core. Again, round cores were the norm back in the day however, today, manufacturers often choose to wind their strings over hex cores.
Round core strings typically have a looser, more flexible feel when compared to hex core strings and I found the Pure Blues strings to be an excellent example of this.
The whole set was very playable from the get-go responding very well to all forms of articulation including legato (i.e., hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides and bending), with expressive vibrato really easy to achieve. I found them remarkably comfortable under the fingers when executing common bends, even on the wound strings! Gradual or microtonal bends in the style of Larry Carlton or B. B. King as well as the extreme “overbends” in the style of Albert King or Guthrie Govan felt very fluid indeed.
In fact, I’d go as far to say that if you like the sound of these but often like a little more fight from your strings, you may even wish to consider opting for a slightly higher gauge than you would normally go for.
Again, if you would like a more in depth look at the difference between hex core and round core strings, be sure to check out our blog post here.
As for their longevity, pure nickel strings are known for sounding pretty much the same throughout their useful life. Because of their more mellow tone to start with (in comparison to say nickel plated steel or stainless steel strings), the ‘drop off’ in brightness is less noticeable. For me, the DR’s are a tad brighter than some other brands’ pure nickel offerings, and as a result they became gradually less vibrant and slightly darker (warmer) sounding after five to six days’ use. For me, this isn’t an issue and to be honest it only added to their ‘played in’ appeal with the 6th string even retaining it’s power despite a slight loss in initial vibrance.
It should be noted that these strings come in 3 individual envelopes each containing two strings. To the untrained eye, these yellow envelopes appear to be pretty standard, but these aren't just your everyday envelopes! Oh no! The inner envelopes are treated with vapor corrosion inhibitors (VCIs). These little guys are tiny corrosion preventative molecules that form a thin molecular protective layer on a metal's surface whilst it's sealed in a package... pretty nerdy stuff but a really interesting concept that would otherwise go completely unnoticed.
As you can tell I’m a big fan of these strings and certainly wouldn’t hesitate to use them again in future. Despite being labelled as a ‘vintage style’ string, I certainly wouldn’t pigeon hole them. In fact, I’d go as far to say that these strings would certainly be great for all styles of playing particularly modern blues, rock, pop and country.