Selecting guitar strings

Glenn Sutton teaches guitar, electric bass, keyboard, theory and improvisation for over 30 years, he specializes in rock, blues, jazz, Latin, Brazilian, classical, country, and folk.

About Glenn Sutton

As a professional guitar teacher with 25 years of experience (see guitarlessonspoway.com).

Selecting Guitar Strings

When it comes to anything pertaining to guitars, being specific is important. This is especially true when you’re dealing with choosing the proper strings for your guitar and for your playing style and personal preference. You can pay $5 for strings or even as much as $35. Guitar strings come in all different thicknesses and materials—so how do you know which ones are right for you? Let’s take a look at what helps to determine the best kind of guitar strings for you.

Guitar Type

The best way to get started narrowing down which strings will be best for you is to look at what kind of guitar you own. If you have an electric guitar, an acoustic, a classical nylon string guitar or even a 12-string instrument you’ll want to get your strings based on what’s appropriate for your particular instrument. Luckily this still leaves plenty of room for options and choosing a favorite type of string.

String Gauge and Thickness

Strings come in a large variety of standard and custom size gauges/thickness. Typically they will vary from extra light, light, medium, heavy all the way to extra heavy. Depending on the thickness you choose you’ll want to consider a few things. Firstly how strong are your fingers and do you have trouble pressing the strings down? If so you’ll want to stay away from heavy gauge strings since these will be tougher to bend and fret.

If you play regularly and wear out your fingers quickly you might want to get a lighter gauge string so you don’t hurt your fingers or get calluses. Another difference between the thicknesses of string is the sound they produce. A heavier string will create a sharper bright tone where a lighter string will be softer sounding and not as sharp. Ultimately the string gauge you choose will depend primarily on your musical preference over other factors like the strength of your fingers.

The Set Up of Your Guitar

When a guitar rolls out of the factory it is manufactured and designed to use the stock strings. Depending on the brand of guitar the strings will typically be medium gauge—not too soft, not too heavy. If you choose to start using lighter or heavier gauge strings you will eventually need to have a professional set it up to use those strings. This is done to make sure the tension in the neck of the instrument doesn’t alter the alignment of the neck.

A good idea is to find strings you like and play them on your guitar for a couple of months. After that take your guitar into a local music shop or guitar shop to have them set the intonation and bridge height correctly. Doing this will give you the best results with your playing and sound. The only exception to this rule is if you are going to make a major change, for example going from a light gauge to a heavy gauge, in which case you’ll want to take the guitar in first for initial adjustments and back again in a few months for final tuning. This is all done to protect the neck of the guitar, which you never want to damage or misalign.

String Materials

The different kinds of guitars like acoustic, electric and classical all use different types of materials for their standard strings. These different materials create different tensions, tones and feeling when being played. Keep this in mind when choosing an appropriate string for your instrument.

Acoustic Strings

These are often made from bronze wound steel. It’s very bright when it’s brand new but will very rapidly lose its color the more they are played. These types of string are the most common on acoustic guitars but there are many other options to choose from. For example you can choose phosphor bronze strings as well which create a warmer tone that can last longer than a bronze tone that wears out quickly. Another option is silk and steel strings but these often have a lighter nylon-like sound but will last much longer than other kinds of strings.

Electric Strings

One of the most common types of electric guitar strings is nickel-plated strings for electric guitars. There are other varieties like pure nickel strings where the wire wraps around the string itself and is constructed of pure nickel instead of just being nickel-plated. This creates a software tone that will produce less output on an electric guitar.

Classical Guitar Strings

Most often these kinds of instruments use nylon strings and should really never have steel or metal strings installed on them. The nylon refers to the core material of the actual string and not just the outside of the string itself. For example the three low strings will be plated in copper or another metal but will still be nylon at the core—the metal is there to just add mass for playability. Just as steel strings shouldn’t be put on a classical guitar nylon strings should never be used on acoustics made for steel strings.

Final Notes

For the overall health and longevity of your instrument it is never a good idea to regularly switch out different gauges of string on your instrument. This will result in varying and unpredictable tension on the neck and overtime it will damage the guitar. If you decide on a set of strings you want you should try to keep using those indefinitely. An exception to this is if you find a gauge made by a different manufacturer or brand you prefer over your current strings then you can swap them out with no real impact on your instrument.

If you have any specific questions you can ask the guitar tech at a local music store and they’ll usually be glad to help out a fellow musician. Always remember the following factors when deciding on the right strings for you and your instrument:

  • Determine whether your instrument requires acoustic bronze, electric nickel or classical nylon strings.
  • Choose which gauge or thickness you personally prefer for sound and playability.
  • Decide how much you are willing to pay and what your budget is.
  • The overall cost of having your guitar set up if you plan to change gauges.

Some strings are better than others depending on what materials they are constructed from. Different brands and manufacturers will last longer and some will be made with sound and overall performance in mind. Ultimately it will all depend on what you want.

If you want to discover more about choosing the right strings or just want to learn more about getting lessons make sure you call Glenn Sutton at 619-306-3664 right now.

Glenn Sutton
Ozzie’s Music
12222 Poway Road,
Suite #27
Poway,
California 92064

Phone 619-306-3664
858-679-6997

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Interview with Glenn Sutton

Introduction to Learning Guitar

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Three different ways to play piano

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Learning to Play the Piano the Easy Way


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