For all the beauty and accuracy of the great reissue-style guitars available today, I occasionally encounter a guitarist who’s frustrated by their inability to make their rig sound like that of a particular guitar hero of 30 or 40 years ago playing the same equipment. “Do you think they’re using different magnets in the pickups?” they’ll often wonder, or, “Maybe they haven’t used the original species of mahogany?” To any of these, my first rejoinder is usually: “What kind of strings have you got on there?”

A lot of things happen virtually simultaneously to generate your tone when you pluck a string on an electric guitar—including the response of the bridge and nut, the resonance of the wood in the body and neck, the electrical reaction of the pickups—but whatever contribution these components make to the sound that finally comes out of your amplifier there’s one undeniable consistent with every guitar you play: the note starts with the string. Pick a string, it vibrates, and the pickups on your guitar generate a signal that’s transferred to your amplifier. Meanwhile, the wood and hardware used in the guitar you’re playing also help to form the character of the vibration, and therefore the resultant tone, but the string gets the whole party shaking, and the character of its vibration is one of the single most influential factors in the brew.

In producing the most accurate reissue-style guitars ever available, such as the 1959 Les Paul Standard VOS, the Custom Shop SG Special, and others, Gibson recognized the importance of creating a string of similarly exacting vintage specs and standards, to match the rigorous originality of the guitars. What’s the difference? As long as a string is a quality round-wound of the desired gauge, that’s pretty much all there is to it… right? Wrong, by a long shot. Since the early 1970s the most common electric guitar strings have been those with nickel-plated plain-steel wraps, while other “bright” types with chromed wraps have also been available. But back in the 1950s and ’60s when so many classic jazz, country, rock and roll, and heavy rock recordings where made—the era, it so happens, from which the greatest vintage guitar designs originated—the wound strings were made with solid pure-nickel wraps. While this might seem a subtle difference that only a metallurgist would give two frets about, it can make all the difference in your efforts to achieve an authentic vintage tone. Enter Gibson’s Vintage Reissue strings, made with the finest pure nickel wire slowly wrapped over high-quality Swedish steel “hex” core, and standard issue on Gibson’s authentic reissue-style guitars.

Nickel-plated and chromed strings gained some popularity on the backs of claims that the harder metals used to manufacture them produced a brighter sound and a little more volume, but plenty of players have come to realize that the warmth, smoothness, and richness of pure nickel can be a beautiful thing. And if you want that 1959 ES-335 Dot Reissue or 1965 Firebird V to sound anything close to the way it sounded back in the day, plated strings just aren’t going to get you there.While pure-nickel strings might be a little smoother and softer in output, because their lower steel content offers less interaction with your pickups’ magnets, often that change is exactly what is called for to nail an accurate vintage tone (and hey, that’s what your amp’s volume control is there for!). Although they might sound a little duller at first when compared head-to-head with plated strings, pure-nickel strings will usually retain their original tone for longer, avoiding the rapid dulling down of plated strings during their break-in period. In addition to any tone issues, pure-nickel strings are also a little easier on your frets, and therefore Vintage Reissue strings will usually contribute to a little more longevity in that department, while simultaneously feeling a little easier on your fingertips too. (For jazz purists, Gibson’s L-5 strings offer heavier round-wound gauges with a wound G, while Les Paul sets provide a slightly more contemporary take on a pure-nickel wrapped string.)

Of course, some players and some instruments really do benefit from the brightness and added power of modern string types. For them, Gibson offers other great string sets. Bright Wires and Powerlines  are the finest nickel-plated strings for the contemporary rock and downtuned player respectively, while Gibson’s Humbucker strings utilize a special composite core wire and a specially formulated wrap wire that are optimized for the humbucking pickup. Think strings, choose the wires that are right for you, and remember: your tone starts here.