Guitar Strings Guide

Guide To Guitar Strings

Guitar StringsFor people who are new to guitars, choosing guitar strings can be a fairly difficult task. There are loads of different brands and types to choose from, so learning a bit about guitar strings is important.
Here’s a short guide to the many different types of guitar strings..

Electric Guitar Strings

Electric guitar strings are almost always nickel plated steel. Nickel plating lengthens string life, and adds brightness of tone to the string. The most important factor to consider is string gauge, which determines the string’s thickness. 

Lighter gauge strings are much easier to play than heavier gauge strings, and are perfectly suited to most styles of guitar playing. Extra or ultra-light string sets are offered by most manufactures, and are generally designated by the gauge of the first, or high “E” string. .008 gauge sets are ultra-light, .009 string sets are extra-light, and .010 sets are light. This may vary slightly from brand to brand, and your music store salesperson will be happy to guide you.
Most beginners will be quite pleased with easy playing .008 or .009 string sets, which are also used by many professional players. A quick note: Flat-wound strings are specially wound strings suited for jazz or specialty music players looking for a muted tone. Although these strings are not common, they may be encountered. Round-wound guitar strings are usually offered in heavier gauges than are suitable for beginners, and should be avoided.

Acoustic Guitar Steel Strings

Steel strings for acoustic guitars are actually made of copper and tin alloy. Usually bronze plated to protect the string and add brighter tone, you may see two different types: Phosphor bronze, and 80/20 bronze. Phosphor bronze strings use standard allow and bronze coating, while 80/20 bronze use a higher tin content for even brighter tone. The choice of either type is up to the player.
Acoustic strings are also packaged in gauged sets, but are usually not sold in extra or ultra-light sizes. Since acoustic guitars are designed to project sound from the strings, extra and ultra-light sets do not provide enough string tension for proper sound. Acoustic strings use slightly different designations for sets, with .010 a typical extra-light set, and .011 a typical medium set. Beginners should choose the .010 extra-light set for easier playing strings that will still produce a nice acoustic sound.

Nylon Acoustic Guitar Strings

Nylon strings, are for use on nylon string guitars. They are also called classical strings, as nylon string guitars are actually classical guitars. Many beginners find that nylon strings are easier on the fingers, because they produce much less tension than steel strings, and the strings are a bit “softer” and more forgiving. Nylon string sets use plain nylon for the top three strings, and metal wound nylon cores for the bottom three bass strings.
Nylon strings don’t come in gauged sets, but some manufacturers offer medium and high tension sets. Nylon strings are usually sold without the typical “ball-end” found on steel strings, and must be knotted during installation, but several brands do offer ball-end nylon strings, making them much easier to install. Beginners should choose medium tension, ball end strings, if the choice is available. If not, standard nylon sets will do just fine.

Coated Guitar Strings

A number of manufactures offer “coated” steel guitar strings in all gauges and types for acoustic and electric instruments, (coated nylon strings are not offered). This special coating is said to improve string life, and sets can cost two to three times more than standard strings. Choosing coated strings is a matter of trying them to see if they are right for you.
Bear in mind that coated strings do not prevent string breakage, only prolong sound by keeping out dirt and oils. Since most strings tend to break before extreme sound degradation takes place, particularly on electric guitars because of metal bridge saddles, the player should weigh the added cost vs. actual string life-taking breakage into account.

Guitar String Care

No matter what kind of strings you choose, you can prolong the life and sound of your strings by following a few simple rules:
  • Wash and dry hands before playing, and clean strings after every playing session by wiping them with a clean, dry cotton or micro-fiber cloth.
  • Learn to install strings properly, or have them installed at a repair shop or music store. Strings that are not properly installed can go out of tune easily, and can sometimes break.
  • Learn to tune your guitar properly and keep the guitar tuned up. High tuning is probably the single most common cause of string breakage. Proper tuning also keeps constant tension on the strings and guitar, which is important to keep your guitar strings from slipping, and the guitar neck from warping or bowing.