Choosing the Best Guitar Strings
For your instrument and your style of playing choosing the right set of strings might not seem like the biggest deal. After all, years ago there were not so many strings to choose from and people seemed to get the sound they wanted. The proliferation of brands on the market can now be overwhelming leaving a guitar player with his head spinning.
The fact is, the qualities of different strings have an effect on your guitar’s resonance and tone, on the quality and responsiveness of your attack as a finger picker or pick player, impact your speed and other important factors. Also budget may be a key component in picking out the correct set for you. Some coated strings list at nearly $20, while a good basic set of electric guitar strings can be bought for an average of $5.
So let’s consider some tips for electric and acoustic players in choosing the right strings for your sound and playability.
- All Around: Consider the sonic characteristics of the various materials used in making electric strings. Stainless steel strings are the least glamorous, but offer plenty of bright bite and sustain. Pure nickel has a warm old-school sound for vintage tones. Nickel-plated steel is a bit brighter than classic nickel and responds more adroitly to picking attack. Chrome guitar strings are typically the province of jazz players or blues artists who are looking for the kind of warm retro tones chiseled into history. Then there are coated strings – the most expensive but also the longest lasting.
- Wound Up: String windings directly affect tone and playability. Round wound strings have more “zing” – sustain, responsiveness and bite. Flat wound strings have a smoother and more consistent tone regardless of attack, which makes them a favorite of jazz players, like the great Gibson ES-350 legend Barney Kessel. Blues guitar kingpin Jimmie Vaughan also uses flat wounds for his vintage tone. And they offer less resistance than round wound strings, so they can be beneficial for rapid, even toned performance and squeak less.
- Fast Fingers: If speed’s the goal, most shred-heads prefer light gauge strings. They’re easy to bend and promote fast playing by offering less resistance to the fretting and picking hands. Since guitar strings are measured in thousandths of an inch, the typical recommended gauge for players planning to burn in standard tuning are .009s. There are many brands that will carry an extra light gauge so experiment to see which of those will fit your style and feel good under your fingers.
- Middle of the Road: For a good feel without sacrificing too much would be .010’s. This gauge seems to have some qualities of both light 9’s and heavier 11’s. Usually for a good versatile style .010’s are a great string. They will have a tone closer to the thicker .11s and not be as thin sounding as a .009. Also the 10’s will bend easy but not as easy as a .009. This is a string set that may be for some players but not all.
- Going Low: For low hanging alternate tunings like open D or dropped D, consider a heavy string gauge – at least .11s, although Stevie Ray Vaughan, tuned down just a half-step, employed a set gauged .13 to .58. Many players feel thicker strings make for better slide playing, too, since the strings resist going slack under the pressure of the slide. The thickness adds to the overall tone of the guitar and gives players a nice rich sound.
- The Sound: Acoustic guitar playing is the most purest form of guitar playing. String composition [which affects how a string responds to being struck and the retention of tonal qualities] is particularly important for acoustic guitars. Bronze, phosphor bronze and coated strings tend to be the preferred varieties. Bronze strings start out the brightest, but lose their high voices relatively quickly. Phosphor bronze offers a darker tone, but still with a clear, ringing top and the phosphor allows the strings to produce their optimum sound longer. On acoustic guitars, coated strings trade a longer life for less brightness, but offer good warmth and presence.
- The Feel: Typically, heavier strings project a natural sound when struck. As with electric guitars the gauge will be chosen by the player to get the sound they want. Some acoustic player may even use a .10 because they want that electric feel. They will sacrifice tone for playability.
- String Changes: Since the strings on acoustic guitars play a much more important role in projecting volume and clarity than strings on an amplified electric guitar, considering changing acoustic guitar strings often to keep an instrument sounding its best. Remember to wipe down the strings after playing and check for string damaging fret wear. Both can prematurely end a guitar string’s life.
- Nylon or Steel: Remember to never put Nylon strings on a regular steel string acoustic guitar. They will cause your guitar to not sound at its peak and bridge damage along with other issues may occur. Likewise, steel strings on a nylon string classical guitar will warp the neck and ruin your Nylon guitar.
- Clean Strings: Always keep acoustic and electric guitar string clean. It’s a good rule to wash one’s hands thoroughly before playing. Dirt can become caught in wound metal strings, dulling their sound and promoting corrosion, but nothing corrodes quite like human sweat. You can also use products like Fast Fret or Finger Ease to keep your strings tip top shape.
If you need any help deciding on how to go forward with your setup contact us at 1-877-778-7845 and one of our Guitar professionals will help you.