Guitar Strings – Generally
If you are just starting out learning to play guitar, the first time you change your strings can be a bit intimidating. There are numerous choices of brands, styles, materials and gauges. It can certainly be confusing to the beginning guitar player. Since the type of strings you use can change the way your guitar plays and sounds, where do you start?
There are two basic types of guitar strings - plain and wound. A plain string is constructed of a single material such as steel, nylon or gut. A wound string is constructed by tightly winding one material around a core material.
Strings for acoustic guitars are primarily responsible for the guitar’s volume and tone. Acoustic guitars use two basic types of strings: steel and nylon (gut).
Acoustic guitars, other than classical models, use steel strings. These strings are plain or have a steel core with a winding of bronze, copper or an alloy of these materials. Classical guitars traditionally used gut strings but now primarily use nylon strings, which may be plain or wound with bronze, copper or an alloy.
Acoustic guitar strings wound with bronze produce a bright crisp sound, but the bright quality soon fades. (Many guitarists like the faded in sound.) Acoustic guitar strings using a “phosphor bronze” wrap produce a warmer and darker sound and retain their original tone over a longer period of use.
For the most part, electric guitars rely upon pick-ups, amplifiers and effects to shape volume and tone. However, strings will affect volume and tone. Electric guitars use steel strings: plain or wound with nickel or stainless steel.
Nickel plated strings provide a bright sound with longer sustain. Pure nickel strings have a smoother, warmer sound than nickel plated strings, but do not put out as much volume. Stainless Steel strings are very hard, resist corrosion from sweat and oils, and produce a very bright sound and long sustain. Due to hardness of stainless steel, these types of strings increase fret wear.
There are two basic types of wound strings: round wound and flat wound. Round wound strings have very small ridges caused by the wrapping of the “round” outer material around the core. Round wound strings are the most popular, have the brightest and clearest sound, and provide good sustain. However, round wound strings can produce “squeaks” from finger noise. A flat wound string has a wrapping material that is flat, rather than round, and there are no ridges caused by the wrapping. Flat wound strings have smooth surface and reduce finger noise.
In recent years, string manufacturers have developed strings with extremely thin coatings. These strings reduce the corrosive effects of sweat and oils and have a longer playing life.
Strings are manufactured different gauges. The gauge is the diameter of the string. This is normally measured in thousands of an inch. The six strings provided in a set will each have a different diameter. The set of strings are usually be labeled: Extra Light, Light, Light-Medium, Light-Heavy, Medium, etc. Also, the gauge of the 1st and 6th strings will be listed as part of the ‘model number. As examples: 9-42, 10-46, 11-52, 12-54.
Lighter gauge strings are easier to play because they have lighter tension. Most sets labeled Extra Light or Light are in this category. They require less pressure to fret a note or chord and to bend them. However, lighter gauge strings produce less volume and have less sustain.
Heavier gauge strings may be more difficult to play, especially for beginning players, because they have higher tension. Most sets labeled Medium or Heavy are in this category. More pressure is required to fret a note or chord or to bend them. Heavier gauge strings do produce more volume and clearer tone.
Most guitars come from the manufacturer with light or medium light gauge strings. The guitars are set-up for these string gauges. You can certainly change to different gauge strings, but your guitar may need to be adjusted to play correctly. Changing the gauge of strings changes the tension between the bridge (on the top of the guitar) and the nut (at the neck up by the tuners). Also, the “grooves” in the bridge and nut may be too small for the strings to seat correctly. If after putting on the new gauge strings you have string “buzzing” or the strings are too high off the fingerboard, then the guitar needs be set-up for the new strings.
Avalon Music has a terrific selection of strings for your guitar and we can help you select guitar strings that will fit your guitar and playing style.