What are Fender “bullet” strings and can you use them on a Telecaster? Are they just another marketing gimmick from the world’s largest guitar manufacturer? What are the issues arising from ball-end strings that prompted Fender to invent bullet strings?
As one of the world’s leading guitar innovators, it is not surprising that Fender will also delve into strings territory and develop solutions for modern day musicians. With the birth of new guitar technologies, it is almost expected that new problems will immediately arise and Fender’s engineers were aware of this.
In the early 70s, the company observed the tuning problems brought about by the standard ball-end string design, mainly on tremolo-equipped guitars such as the Stratocaster. As a result, Fender came up with the bullet end design to solve any tuning stability issues.
Dubbed “Super Bullets” when it was introduced in 1974, the bullet-end strings were available in pure nickel and nickel-plated steel variants for electric guitar and bronze-wound strings for acoustic. Contrary to popular belief that bullet-end strings were exclusively made for Stratocasters, the Super Bullets can also be used for other guitars including Telecasters and even Gibsons.
For decades, the bullet-end design has remained unmodified, save for minimal rebranding, as well as the introduction of phosphor bronze and stainless steel versions in the 90s.
What are the flaws of traditional ball-end strings?
Whenever a guitar’s tremolo is used, the string tension raises and drops as the bridge moves up and down. This motion causes the ball end of the string to be unstable and may not return to its exact position even when the tremolo is at rest. A small change in the position of the ball can create huge tuning problems for guitar players.
Regular string bending alone can bring some small tuning stability issues. Mix that with spectacular tremolo bar dives and you have a huge tuning problem that needs to be addressed immediately. This is where the bullet-end design comes in.
How do bullet strings work and what are their benefits?
The bullet is actually a precision-machined tiny cylinder of solid steel plated with zinc connected to the end of the string. Unlike ball-end strings, the bullet string is a one-piece construction with no loop and no slack. This design allows the string to return to its exact position after the tremolo is used, by providing more rigid and more uniform contact with the bridge.
The Stratocaster primarily benefits from this new string design since the bullet ends perfectly fit into the tremolo block as well as the string channel. Another advantage of bullet strings is that they are easier to remove when changing strings because the end won’t get stuck in the tremolo block channels the way ball-end strings would often do.
Today, Fender Bullet Strings come in three versions:
- Original Bullets – pure nickel (prefered for its more vintage tone)
- Super Bullets – nickel-plated steel (for great tone and long life)
- Stainless Bullets – stainless steel (provides brighter tone and long life)
Can you use Fender bullet strings on a Telecaster?
Slightly larger than ball-end strings, the bullet strings’ 4.30mm diameter and 8mm height can be difficult to fit into some guitars. Not all guitars can conveniently accommodate a set of bullet strings, so if you are planning to have them on your instrument, it would be better to ask for professional advice first.
Testing them is the most ideal move and it would be a good idea for music shops to have spare samples that customers can use for trial. String tuning stability may be a very important issue, but so is string compatibility. Make sure that your choice of strings will fit your instrument perfectly well before deciding to purchase anything.
According to some experiments, when bullet strings were tried on a Telecaster, the outcome wasn’t as optimal as expected. The bullet wasn’t completely snug and sat on one side of the ferrule instead of staying in the center. This is why ball-end strings are still the more common choice for Fender Telecasters, Jaguars, Jazzmasters and also other guitar brands.
However, there are throngs of guitar players out there who have been using bullet strings on their guitars and they have no qualms about this setup. Telecaster owners have a lot of legitimate reasons why they would want to equip their beloved guitar with bullet strings.
The unique vintage sound of the “Original Bullets” as well as the bright tone of “Stainless Bullets” are among the enticing qualities that have attracted some Tele lovers to bullet-end strings. Moreover, bullet-end strings are durable and there is no risk of snapping at the loop, an occurrence that is fairly common in traditional ball-end strings.
You can definitely use Fender bullet strings on a Telecaster as long as there are no tuning stability issues. What’s more important is that you are happy with your sound and the music that you will be playing on your guitar.