Have you ever wondered why the flagship amps created by Fender, Marshall, and Vox during the 60’s were so dang bright? The reason why is because these circuits were developed around the piano quality nickel alloy strings being used during that decade. When Nixon’s 1971 free trade agreement introduced affordable Chinese steel to string manufacturers, the carbon content of this more affordable material produced a noticeably brighter string with an anemic low end. That’s when guitarists started turning down those presence and cut knobs that were a common feature on every 60’s amp. The only problem is they were also cutting all of the upper frequencies where tube harmonics reside.
Sadly, most guitarists are still making this bright-strings-into-a-dull-amp mistake today. The secret to replicating the tones heard on those legendary recordings from the 50’s and 60’s is to use strings that possess strong low-mids and rolled off treble frequencies into a bright amp adjusted to accentuate the harmonic content it was designed to produce.
Unfortunately not many big string makers see the value in using those “outdated” materials. Even the nickel strings are made from cheap offshore materials and have inconsistent winds. The only guy I know that’s doing it right is Dean Farley of Sonotone. This 40 year veteran in the industry recently began reproducing and improving upon the original string formulas used during the “Golden Era of Tone” at one of the few metal extrusion factories in the world. By starting with blocks of premium metal rather than premade spools of wire (like most factories), Sonotone is able to produce strings with the same mixture of materials used back in the hey day of rock n roll.
If you really want to try something affordable that will make a major difference then experiment with the very thing that generates the base tone everything in your signal chain is designed to accentuate… your strings.