How to choose guitar strings

You brought your first instrument home, but it refuses to sound like a “firm” instrument. The guitar builds, the line does not float, but there is no expressiveness in the sound. It’s the guitar strings – it’s an expendable material that needs to be replaced regularly. Your new love may have spent more than a month at the store, and it may still have a factory set on it. In fact, plenty of potential buyers may have looked closely at this instrument and tried playing it.

After each of them, dirt and grease from their fingers are left on the strings and it affects the sound. You are going to solve the problem by buying a new set, come to the nearest music store, and fall into a stupor. There are different brands and thicknesses, different materials and prices in front of you – it’s hard to find something you like. Especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Let’s try to understand.

Tension

Strings come in different thicknesses. Depending on the length of the scale (the distance from the bridge to the top scale) and the scale in which you play, their tension will be different. The thicker they are, the more voluminous and dense their sound will be. There is a downside to this, they will be harder to play (for example, to make tuck-bands), they give fewer overtones (ghosts), and the sound comes out duller. The standard length of the bore is 25.5″, there are shorter (for example “wood floors” and short string guitars) and longer (baritone, bass, etc.). However, the caliber of strings is usually pronounced in integers (10-50,11-52), but denoted by thousandths (0,010-0,050) is the diameter of the first and the last in a set, measured in inches. Below will be the most common thicknesses, but there are also intermediate thicknesses.

What are the guitar strings?

Thin

The sets 8-38, 9-42, 10-46 are considered “thin”. The most popular is the thickness 10-46, it is suitable for most standard strings without a strong lowering.

Why thin strings and who are they good for?

1. they are easier to press against the guitar fingerboard, so they are better suited for beginners.

2. Thin strings are easier to bend, and bluesmen and solo players usually choose them for that reason.

3. For fingerpicking, they have the advantage of a bigger spacing on the fingerboard. That’s important when playing with your fingers.

Thick

An intermediate option between thin and thick strings is gauge 11-52 (medium). Thicker is considered sets 12-54 (medium heavy), the third in them, most often, has a braid, as well as the three basses (the thickest). One of the thickest options is the 12-56 (heavy). There are even more “large-caliber” kits, as well as, hybrid, they are selected for a particular guitar formation, the desired tension, and sound of the guitar. To put particularly thick gauges, you might need to re-brill the bridge (saddles), the top rocker, or the guitar’s tuning knobs. Also, whether you need this kind of adventure, we’ll figure it out next.

Why put thick strings?

1. If you play with a strong attack, they will hold the line better.

2. If you’re using a slide, thick strings are optimal for that.

3. they are better suited for acoustic guitar because they are louder when played without an amplifier

Guitar strings for beginners

The first time you choose new strings, try to understand how you feel. Try playing the factory strings that are already on your guitar when you buy them. If you feel the tension is too high and the guitar is uncomfortable to play, use a thinner gauge. If the tension is too weak and the strings feel “like macaroni,” try a thicker set. Also, the standard factory set of strings for an electric guitar is 9-42, for acoustic – 11-52, for bass guitar 45-105. Keep in mind that at first the guitar will be hard to play and your fingers will hurt, no matter what strings and guitar you’d choose. But everything is learned, by comparison, don’t be afraid to experiment. The standard for most guitarists is a string with a hexagonal (hexagonal) core and around winding.

How do I find strings to match my guitar’s tuning?

E (Standart E)

For beginner musicians, the 9-42 set is the best choice. It’s easy to press against the frets of your guitar. If you want a fuller sound, strings 10-46 are great. Sets 11-48 (11-49; 11-50) will give a better opportunity to “pump up” your guitar wood and “give a little dough” – these strings are loved by bluesmen and fans of light rock. The 12-50 gauge will give very high tension and is good for semi-acoustic guitars and jazz performances. However, one of the most popular options is the Ernie Ball 2221 Regular Slinky.

Drop D

The classic setting for this string is 9-46, in which the last string is slightly thicker to give optimal tension and excellent sustain. 10-52 (or rarer 10-50) – set a little bit thicker, it gives a good balance between sound density and ease of playing the guitar. For fans of heavier genres, there is a set of 10-60 with a thicker sixth string, which gives more tension and density of attack. The 11-54 and 11-56 sets are suitable for those who are looking for a voluminous and deep sound but do not doubt the strength of their fingers.

Re (Standart D)

For harmonious sounding lead parts and light bends, the 10-46 gauge is good, while the 11-50 will give more, but not too strong tension. The 12-54 is fine for blues in this formation. A 13-56 set has good readability and a “fat” tone, but string tension will not be strong.

Drop C

A set with thick low strings 10-60 will give a deep tone and good string tension on the guitar. A set of 11-54 is considered a classic for this scale.

C-sharp (Standart C#)

Set 12-54 is ideal, for a fatter and deeper sounding guitar you can try 12-56.

Drop B

We recommend a 12-60 kit with a thicker bottom and top strings so you don’t have to artificially clean up your attack. A 12-68 set will give the guitar more density on rhythm parts in this formation.

C (Standart B)

The classic string set for this low formation is 13-62, so the strings don’t hang around the guitar and give a crisp and powerful tone. A 13-65 will give even more tension and a tighter-sounding rhythm part.

Drop A

A 12-68 set will give the optimal balance for this scale. If you’re playing something experimentally heavy, try 13-72.

La (Standart A)

Thicker kits (like 12-60 and 13-72, etc.) are better to put on guitars with an extended bore of 26” (baritones), which are ideal for this formation.

Table of typical gauges of strings for electric guitars:

Name of set123456
Extra Light0.0080,0100.0150.0220,0320,039
Super Light0,0090,0110,0170,0240,0320,042
Light0,0100,0130,0170,0260,0360,046
Medium0,0110,0140,0180,0280,0380,049
Medium Heavy0,0120,0160,0240,0320,0420,052
Heavy0,0130,0170,0260,0360,0460,056

What material to choose strings and how the string material affects the sound

Nylon strings

Nylon is a synthetic material. These strings are usually inexpensive and are suitable for playing melodic arrangements and classical pieces. Nylon strings come in medium, strong, and very strong tension. However, for the performance of rebellion and lightweight compositions fit the first type, for more energetic compositions – the latter two. It all depends on the dynamics of the playing.

As for the thin strings made of rectified nylon, their cores are often made of composite materials and carbon fiber. Nylon and carbon strings are mostly used in classical guitars.

Bronze guitar strings

Bronze strings are suitable for acoustic Western guitars, they give a well-readable bright sound. For electric guitars such a set is not suitable, the problem is its magnetic properties.

Phosphorus bronze

Phosphorus bronze is similar in composition, but phosphorus is used in the alloy for these strings. Strings made of this material give a warmer and softer sound. Also, many guitarists say that phosphor bronze sets open up when playing overdubbing. They are used for acoustic guitar.

Nickel-plated guitar strings

Nickel-plated strings with a steel core are less likely to rub the frets and feel smoother. They are protected against corrosion and their sound is considered balanced. In fact, the core of these strings is made of steel and it has the right magnetic properties for the electric guitar. Also, at the moment, these are the most common strings for electric guitars. Pure nickel strings have a softer and warmer sound.

Steel guitar strings

Steel strings have the brightest, most resonant, and rich tones. They are made of a material that is resistant to corrosion, so they last a long time. Also, steel is a hard material that will “eat away” the frets faster than a nickel. They are best suited for installation on a bass guitar.

Brass guitar strings

Brass kits have a bright and expressive timbre. They are used on electric guitars for playing in heavy directions but are considered less durable than steel ones.

Silver-plated

Silver-plated (silver-plated) strings have long been considered the best for acoustic guitars. In fact, they sound muffled and have an average lifespan, but they don’t cost very much either.

Type of Winding

Strings can be wrapped in different shapes, usually, the three thickest strings have it, and in “big-caliber” kits, the third one from the bottom. However, the winding gives a denser and more expressive sound with more overtones.

Round Winding

A round winding is considered to be the most balanced and reference. Strings with it give a familiar sound to the ear. Such kits are used by most guitarists. Besides, the disadvantages include noisy movement on the string when changing the fingering, but often it does not only not interfere with the performance, but also adds beauty to the work.

Smooth guitar strings

The advantages of smooth and flat wound strings are that your movements on the string will be less audible and your fret will retain its shape better. Also, smooth strings are more comfortable to play on your guitar. The disadvantage of winding is that kits with it sound muffled and less bright than strings in a round winding.

Half-circle winding

This type of winding is a hybrid of the previous two. Also, it wears the frets a little less, but the sound is muffled and not as expressive.

Popular Brands of guitar strings

1. Ernie Ball

Ernie Ball strings are recommended by many guitar teachers and guitar bloggers, but the brand offers a small variety of gauges and is not affordable. The quality of the strings and their durability is not inferior to most competitors. The most popular products from this brand come under the Slinky series. Also, a good choice is the Coated series, which gives the strings additional protection against oxidation. By the way, not so long ago – in 2019 – Ernie Ball expanded the line of its guitar strings, mainly electric guitars: about 10 new calibers they added to the range.

2. Elixir

Elixir is known for its durability and strength. Strings of this brand are covered with a polymer film that helps protect them from dirt and corrosion. Musicians note that Elixirs feel fresh and tinkling for a long time, but they also have a corresponding price, you have to pay more for durability. The Nanoweb strings are characterized as the most wear and corrosion-resistant. The Optiweb series replaced them recently. They give a more natural tactile sensation when playing the guitar.

3. D’Addario

D’Addario strings are very popular among guitarists and you can buy them in almost any music store. The brand makes kits in different calibers, materials, and for different instruments, but guitar strings are the most common. Most of all, guitarists who use these strings are attracted by the affordable cost. The most common series of the brand D’Addario is Nickel Wound (EXL).

4. The Dunlop

The Dunlop brand is better known for its guitar pickups and accessories, but its guitar strings are also noteworthy. They are just as good as other brands in the same price segment in terms of durability and quality.

5. Thomastik

The company Thomastik appeared in 1919 and became famous for the production of strings for violins and pianos. Nowadays, the Austrians also supply kits for guitars. Besides, the brand produces sets of different materials for classical guitars, acoustic guitars, and electric guitars. Also Viktor Smolsky use Thomastik strings.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Guitar strings for acoustic guitar

– Metal or synthetic strings for a classical guitar?
You can’t put metal strings on a classical guitar, because their tension is much higher than nylon and carbon strings, and they might break your neck or float off the fretboard. Even if the guitar doesn’t crack and the fingerboard stays in place, the fingerboard will bend a lot and make the guitar virtually unplayable. This is because classical guitars don’t have a metal rod to adjust the bowing of the neck – an anchor. So we recommend that you look for synthetic strings with the optimal tension for your playing.

– What are the best strings for an acoustic guitar?
For acoustic, it is better to choose metal strings made of bronze or phosphor bronze. The former has a brighter tone, the latter will last longer and also give your guitar a more velvety and rounded tone.

– What are the best strings for a classical guitar?
For a classical guitar, either nylon or carbon fiber kits are suitable. The latter are harder to find, they cost more, but their sound is considered closer to the reference. If you got the idea to put metal strings on a classical guitar, see the first question, there we explained in detail why you shouldn’t do it.

Guitar strings for electric guitar

– What are the best strings for an electric guitar?
Steel, pure nickel, nickel-plated steel, or brass strings will work for an electric guitar. The difference will be the tone, the wearability of the frets, and the durability of the strings themselves.

– What are the best strings for a bass guitar?
For bass guitars, steel or nickel strings are fine. The rest of the characteristics depend on your sound and tone needs, as well as the instrument you play. Steel strings give more clang, which will not hurt when playing heavy music.

– What strings do famous guitarists recommend?
As many guitarists as there are opinions, but Zakk Wilde’s favorite gauge for his guitar is the 10-60 because of its powerful attack, Yngwie Malmsten considers the thin Dean Markley 8-48, 8-46 for micro bends on the guitar the best, James Hetfield of Metallica uses an Ernie Ball 10-46 on his guitars, Marty Friedman plays D’Addario Steels 10-52, Paul Gilbert puts an Ernie Ball 9-42 on his guitar to play signature blues bends.

– Tip. For a quick winding of the strings on your guitar, you should use a tuning machine.

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