To study guitar string types, we will look into 3 areas:
Guitar strings made from material like nickel, stainless, bronze, phosphor bronze, etc. Acoustic guitar use steel strings and classical use nylon. Electric guitars usually use steel strings too. In this article, we will review steel strings instead of nylon, since they are the most common used.
Guitar strings types could also be classified as wound & unwound strings.
a. Wound Strings: A thinner wire wrap with a steel core (usually bronze, nickel or steel). Wound strings are thick and strong. It normally used for the lower registers.
b. Unwound Strings: Unwound strings (also known as standard strings) are generally used for the upper registers. It’s thinner with a higher pitch.
Different type of string and wrapping metals will affect the sound of the string. Bronze is usually considered to have a ‘bright’ sound, which steel is more mellow & softer, especially when wrapped in nickel.
How the string is wrapped could also impact the sound. Although ‘Rround wound’ strings are loud and vibrant, it can be hard on the neck of your guitar and produce noise when sliding your fingers over them. ‘Flat wound’ strings are not as crisp sounding and are easier on frets and fingers.
Next, we look at the gauge of the string, ie the thickness or diameter. There are 4 main gauges for Acoustic Guitar strings:
- Extra light 10 – 46. Easiest to play and least tension. Good for beginners but prone to producing a thin sound.
- Custom Light Gauge 11 – 52. Ease of playing maintained and produces slightly richer fuller sound.
- Light Gauge 12 – 54. Popular with professional musicians. Higher tuning stability. Not recommended for budget guitar due to higher tension.
- Medium Gauge 13 – 56. One of the highest gauges. Very big, rich tone but difficult to play on some guitars due to high tension.
Thicker strings sound louder, but they are also under more tension to maintain the required pitch. This can make them hard to play, as the pressure required to push the string down behind the fret is considerable.
To avoid buzzing against the frets, thicker strings usually have to be mounted a bit higher off the soundboard than thin strings. This may slow down the “action” of the instrument, making it more difficult to play quickly.
So which brand to choose? That is up to your own preference & budget. Each brand has its own solid characteristics, but what works for one person might not sound right to another. The best thing you can do is buy 2 or 3 packs of strings from different makers. Test it and see which one sounds the best to you.
One thing for sure is, choosing appropriate strings will aid technique, enhance quality and improve confidence of the guitar player.
So by now you had basic understanding on guitar strings types, let’s move on to next article: When Should We Replace Guitar Strings?