Are Rotosound strings fret wreckers?
I had heard for a long while that Rotosound strings were fret wreckers, as in strings that wear down frets fast.
Well, before I answer that, bear in mind that whether you get the strings with the lion on the package as shown above or the silhouette dude with the Strat-like guitar on the package, they're both the same thing. Same R9 strings, same free extra 1-string (a nice touch), same everything, slightly different package.
For those of you that prefer 10 gauge, that's Roto Yellows. If you like 11 gauge, that's Roto Reds. If you like 12 gauge, that's Roto Purples. If you like insanely thick 13 gauge, that's Roto Greys. Or if you want to completely swing that around and go with insanely thin 8-gauge, that's Roto Greens.
And to answer The Big Question: Do Rotosound strings wreck frets?
Over time, yeah they will.
Before I get into why that is, know that Rotosound does not make bad strings. In fact, the strings are really good, and the Roto Pinks I put on my Jazzmaster sound great. The Rotos have a very nice, balanced attack and very good response when picked or plucked with fingers.
If you asked me what I think are truly bad strings, my answer to that if it has a hexagonal core (like D'Addario and Ernie Ball uses), I won't like it and will snap those strings easily. Hex-core results in a stiffer overall string tension when tuned to pitch, meaning more pressure is exerted on the string when you do string bends. I greatly prefer strings that either use round-core or have a proprietary core-to-wrap ratio that allows bends without the super-stiff crapola that you typically get with hex-core.
Rotosound, like Dunlop, does not state what type of core is used, nor do they state what their core-to-wrap ratio is. I couldn't even tell you whether Rotos use round-core or hex-core, but from playing them, my guess is that it's round-core.
Do I want to know the core type or core-to-wrap ratio? No, because Roto (and again, like Dunlop) considers that a manufacturing trade secret. I'm content to live with the mystery there.
Why do RotoSound strings wreck frets?
This is something I'm going to have to be very detailed about in my explanation, so here goes.
When I say "coarse steel", that does not mean the string feels bad. Not at all. The string feels smooth and proper, sounds correct and plays correct. But on the unwound strings, you can plainly see that the steel is coarse, particularly on the 3-string G. When I look closely at it, the steel has minor inconsistencies and isn't perfectly smooth, hence why I say it's coarse.
The coarse nature of Rotos does contribute to its tonal character, no question about it. But it's also the reason that Rotos are fret wreckers.
When you bend strings a lot, such as I do, those minor steel inconsistencies will wear down frets faster compared to other brands.
For the Dunlop strings I ordinarily use, those are computer engineered and you can easily see with the naked eye how smooth the steel is on the final product.
Rotosound as far as I know does not use computer engineering in their string manufacturing processes, and purposely uses "Old World" style construction, hence the reason the strings are a bit on the coarse side. Rotos are very well made, no question, but coarse.
Is it possible I just got a set that suffered from metal decay?
No. While true that Rotos do rust easily since they don't include any silica packs in their string sets (Dunlop does use silica packs, by the way), I didn't get a been-on-the-shelf-too-long Roto set. Rotos are just coarse by nature due to the way they're made.
Should Rotosound change the way they make strings and smooth them out more?
Absolutely not. Players who love their Rotos wouldn't change a thing about them, and if Rotosound changed the way they manufactured strings, that would result in a different tonal character that players probably wouldn't like.
Rotos can be fret wreckers, and while I really do like the sound of them, I'll be going back to my Dunlops.