If you've ever wondered if the ridiculously cheap Elixir strings sold by China-based suppliers from Aliexpress / Taobao / DHgate can pass off as the real thing, then wonder no more and read on.
Many customers have asked us about the differences between real and fake strings and whether the ones we carry are genuine. Further fueled by a friendly debate with a stranger on Carousell who insisted that these China strings actually rival the real ones in terms of playability on the guitar, we decided to pull the trigger and get ourselves a pack of fake Elixir strings from Aliexpress to resolve this long-standing mystery the old-fashioned way -- classic A/B tests!
This article will focus mainly on whether the fake strings are anything like the real Elixirs in terms of quality, tonality and feel on the acoustic guitar.
I do urge you to refer to this quick video made by JustMe6904 if you wish to know how to visually tell real and fakes apart. He has done a marvelous job at compiling the differences between real and fake Elixirs using the old packaging.
DISCLAIMER: We at Echoinox give only our truest and unbiased opinions. This is NOT a sponsored post and if something sucks, we'll tell you it sucks without hesitation. Same goes for things that rock.
Even before the rise of counterfeit strings, Elixir already had a bit of history with China. About a decade ago, there was an uproar when their strings were believed to be made in the U.S, but packaged in China. In those days, anything "China" was immediately associated with being 'cheap' or 'fake' and mostly scorned by the public. This hurt their branding and caused many loyal fans to feel cheated.
Elixir promptly reacted by publicly announcing that "All Elixir Strings are made and packaged in the USA". I can't say for the past, but I'm confident that they are all handled in the USA today. Below is one such example posted more recently in 2013 on Facebook.
Counterfeit strings have existed since the beginning of time. Alongside other popular brands such as D'Addario and Ernie Ball, guitar string makers' profitability had always been threatened by China replicates aimed to catch uninformed consumers. This was also why Ernie Ball switched their original paper packaging to the metallic ones today, and we are more than relieved to know that Elixir changed their packaging earlier this year.
Hand Me 'em Goods
The official Elixir website lists all of their dealers/distributors HERE. If you don't see your country's retailer listed there, drop them an email and one of their friendly staffs will refer you to your local dealer/distributor.
In Singapore, the distributorship of Elixir Strings belong to Sinamex. As far as I know, they are the sole distributor of this brand locally and yes, we get our stock directly from them. We work closely with Sinamex to always bring you high quality strings fresh from the factory, so you can rest assured when purchasing Elixirs from us.
A simple search for 'Elixir Strings' on Aliexpress led me to these results. After confirming that NONE of these sellers on the first page were official dealers/distributors of Elixir strings, it didn't matter which seller I bought the fake strings from.
I picked one of the $5 acoustic packs and after 2 weeks it finally arrived. (Had to censor my address as I used my personal one for this)
Telling em' Apart
Putting them side by side,
While most counterfeit producers have yet to catch up to the new packaging, I'm sure they will in time to come. The texture of the two packs felt DRASTICALLY different. The fake Elixir's got a glossy look and feels squeaky to the touch, whereas the real Elixir felt extremely smooth from the matte finish and looks really sleek. Another difference is the shade of the purple. Real thing's got a darker shade of purple while the fake's got a brighter and plasticky purple.
But above all else, the most amusing difference that I found was none other than
To be honest I was really hoping for some kind of spelling error (China products are famous for that). This simply made my day. #CheapThrills
Stringing em' Up
As you can see from the photo below, the fake strings looked no different from real ones. Same shade of gold, same shade of silver. Almost impossible to differentiate unless you look closely at details like the ball ends and coatings.
My Yamaha acoustic guitar hasn't been restrung for close to a year since I last put -authentic- Elixirs on it. There is now some rust at the fret intervals, but the strings remain very playable. Sliding still feels buttery but nevertheless, I proceeded to replace the current strings with the fake ones.
In doing so, I immediately noticed a stark difference between the real and fake strings --The fakes were wayyy stiffer than original Elixirs. This made the restringing process a PITA and I also highly suspect that these strings are giving my guitar's nut and saddle quite a lot of pressure.
Testing em' Tones
The fake Elixirs are nothing like the real Elixirs at all.
To be frank, the fake strings sounded fine on their own. These fake Elixirs were not much different from typical bright-ish phosphor bronze acoustic guitar strings. Chords rang fat and robust, with the mids and highs being more dominant in the EQ.
However, playability wise was another story altogether.
The fake Elixirs were definitely uncoated as they felt way too roughto do anything clean on the fretboard. Sliding between frets unleashed awful squeaks. Percussive playing was impossible as the muted notes sounded hoarse and scratchy. The strings felt stiffer than real Elixirs, as mentioned above, thus more painful on the fingers despite both being the same gauge. Overall, it was a terrible experience playing the fake strings and I couldn't wait to put the guitar down each time I picked it up.
Elixir's patented strings (full patent report here) are coated and smooth to the touch. They play like butter and keep squeaks to a minimum. As such, it is not difficult to tell the two strings apart just from the feel alone.
Tonality wise, there is indeed a noticeable difference if you A/B the real and fake strings one after another. Real Elixirs have more clarity in the notes, more high end and more shimmer.
If I were a casual player on a tight budget and didn't mind the long delivery time, annoying squeaks and rough strings, I wouldn't mind using fake Elixirs since they sound like normal acoustic guitar strings at a really affordable price.
Unfortunately I am none of the above (except the "casual player on a tight budget" part), thus I would be sticking with my genuine Elixir strings.
Forums suggest that these counterfeit strings last between 2 to 4 weeks before they rust. For $5, I'd say it sounds about right. I'm in the midst of testing its string life (today's day 3) and will report back at a later date. However I must emphasize that fake Elixirs are nothing like the real Elixirs, so you'll need to tweak your mindset and not carry any expectations.
Nevertheless, my advice is that if you want reliable, quality and freshly coated strings in every pack purchased, authorised dealers (such as ourselves) are the safest way to go! A guitar's playability contributes heavily to keeping yourself motivated, and therefore string quality must never be compromised. Moreover Elixirs generally last 3 months at least, so if you do the math you'll find yourself saving more time and money in the long run.
At Echoinox, we make sure to keep a reasonable inventory of Elixir strings so that we can periodically replenish with those fresh from the factory. Selling at the most competitive prices islandwide paired with our rewards programme Echo Tokens, you won't find a better deal elsewhere.