Guitar strings explained

Posted: 16 November 2020

At first glance you’d assume that strings were the most straight-forward part of a guitar, unfortunately you can be quickly overwhelmed with the choices available. String type is a very personal preference, so here we go through some of the materials, sizes and other properties to help you find your perfect string set.

Materials

There’s a few varieties when it comes to string materials, these are the most common properties found in the modern guitar world.

Pure Nickel - The most common property in strings, Nickel provides great body and warmth. This makes it ideal for jazz, blues and vintage rock tone. Nickel strings are usually very versatile strings and work in a variety of situations. On the other hand, nickel is more susceptible to corrosion and breakage compared to steel.

Stainless Steel - Bright, punchy and strong. These strings will last longer but can sometimes be a little too brittle and sharp.

Nickel-Plated Steel - The best of both worlds, these strings offer vintage warmth from nickel with the top end clarity and durability of steel.

Construction - string core

The thicker, wound strings (such as your bottom E string) have a ‘core’ inside of the string, with an outer wrap around that core. Historically all strings had round cores, but when D’Addario started using hex cores the industry quickly followed suit. Hex cores provide stronger grip providing more accurate machine winding and durability and are most commonly used, however round core strings provide less attack and a warmer, vintage tone.

Strings can also be coated in Polymer; this coating is almost completely unnoticeable and increases string life.

Gauges

An important consideration when choosing strings is the gauge, this determines the thickness of the strings on your guitar and different gauges hold different key features.

Thinner strings are more commonly used for blues guitar as the thin strings cause a lot less tension. This allows more string bends and slinky licks. Thicker strings on the other hand are durable and are much less prone to breakage, making them ideal for heavy riffs.

Tonally speaking, thinner strings usually have a more bright, pronounced sound and thicker strings are warmer with much lower sonic response.

When deciding on a string gauge you’ll have to consider your playing style and the tone you’re trying to achieve. String gauges are measured by 1/1000th of an inch and commonly referred to by their high E string (9’s, 10’s, 11’s etc..) You can also get hybrid packs which will have heavier top strings for big, heavy power-chords and thinner strings for bends and solos.

When to change your strings

Some people swear by using the same strings forever, but most people should aim to change their strings every 3-4 weeks. This of course depends on the amount you play. A gigging musician who sweats profusely and plays every night is going to run through a pack of strings a lot more quickly than a casual player who only picks up their instrument every now and again. You’ll be able to feel the strings under your hand and how fresh and new they feel. An old set of strings will lose their clarity and top end as they get older.

What we suggest

Overall, the best thing to do is to try a variety of strings available and find what feels best in your hand. Find a comfortable gauge then stick with them. The longer you use them, the more accustomed to them you will become and the harder it’ll be to play anything else!

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