How to Buy the Right Strings for Your Guitar

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How to Buy the Right Strings for Your Guitar

The strings are one of the most important, yet most overlooked parts of the guitar. A set of high quality, new, well-tuned strings can make a substandard guitar sound great, while a rusty set of strings can make even the finest quality Gibson guitar sound below par. Strings may be made from either metal or nylon, which eventually affects sound and tonal quality. Buying the right strings for the right instrument and genre is crucial to getting the most out of the guitar.

About Guitar Strings

The strings used in predecessors to the guitar such as lyre, lute, etc. were made of materials like catgut, intestines, and even silk. The first guitar strings were made of metals such as steel and, in rarer cases, brass. Steel is still the most common construction material for guitar strings, although synthetic materials such as nylon are also widely used. By manipulating the thickness and tautness of a string, it is possible to limit the string's vibrating frequency, which ultimately aids in the production of certain musical tones or notes.
Guitar strings are usually sold in sets of six, with different types of strings for acoustic and electric guitars. The thickness of the strings may be altered depending on the requirements of the player. Brands offer light, medium or heavy strings which differ in their thickness, although the tonal quality remains largely the same.

Buying the Right Strings for a Guitar

Different instruments and genres have different string requirements. There are separate strings for acoustic and electric guitars, and certain genres, such as folk or classical, may require strings of a certain variety. Buyers have to select strings by gauge, construction material, wound-type, core-type, and instrument requirements.

Guitar Strings by Instrument

Acoustic, classical and electric guitars have different tonal requirements. Consequently, these three instruments utilise different types of strings:

Type of Guitar

Type of Strings

Description

Acoustic guitar
 

Brass or nylon
 

Acoustic guitars generally use brass strings. The strings tend to be thicker than the ones used in electric guitars. This is because the tonal requirements of the instruments demand greater punch and power, which is only possible with thicker strings. It is possible to fit nylon strings onto an acoustic guitar, which is often used in genres like folk.
 

Electric guitar
 

Nickel or steel
 

Electric guitars utilise nickel or steel strings that offer better pickup response than brass strings. The strings have a thinner gauge than acoustic guitar strings, keeping in line with the requirements of the instrument.
 

Classical guitar
 

Nylon or carbon fibre
 

Classical guitars utilise such strings. These strings produce a softer sound, which is appropriate for flamenco, Spanish, and classical guitar. Instead of gauge or thickness, classical guitar strings are classified by tension.
 

Guitar String Construction Material

As noted above, guitar strings may be made from steel, nickel, brass, or nylon. Traditionally, steel was the most popular material used in making strings, although it has now been replaced by nickel, brass and nylon. A brief rundown of common guitar strings construction material can be seen below.

Construction Material

Description

80/20 Bronze
 

Bronze strings are used with acoustic guitars and have a bright, cheerful sound. The bronze used is generally 80 per cent copper, 20 per cent zinc (hence the name). As a downside, bronze strings are not durable and need to be replaced quite often.

Phosphor Bronze
 

Phosphor bronze has a higher proportion of copper to zinc (92 per cent copper, 8 per cent zinc). This gives the strings a warmer tone with greater durability.

Nickel
 

Nickel strings are used with electric guitars and have a vintage, thick, and warm tone. Pure nickel strings are rarely used nowadays as they suffer from poor pickup response.

Stainless Steel
 

Stainless steel strings give a heavier, more aggressive edge to the guitar sound. These are used in genres like metal and hard rock. As a downside, stainless steel strings wear out quite quickly and can damage the guitar frets.

Nickel Plated
 

Nickel plated strings have a steel core with a coating of nickel. This improves pickup response in electric guitars and gives a warmer, fuzzier edge to the sound.

Nylon
 

Nylon strings are used exclusively with classical guitar. These strings have a rich, soft tone that complements the instrument. Nylon strings have much lower tension than their steel, nickel, or brass counterparts.

Guitar String Gauge

Gauge or thickness is an important consideration when choosing strings. Gauge affects the tone, loudness, and playability of the instrument. As a general rule of the thumb, thicker gauges are more difficult to play but produce a louder, punchier sound. Thin gauge strings, on the other hand, are easy to play but have a tinier sound, making them more popular among beginner players.
Classical guitar strings are classified not by gauge but by tension. This is virtually the same parameter, albeit with a different name. The gauge for different strings is classified as follows:

Type of Guitar

Gauge Name

Thickness

Description

Acoustic guitar

Extra light

0.010-0.047

Low tension means that extra light strings are easier to play, although this affects volume and gives a softer, floppier sound. Extra light strings are popular among beginners and also find use with electro-acoustic guitars.

 

Custom light

0.011-0.056

A more popular gauge that produces richer tone than extra light strings without compromising on volume and projection. These are usually used by rhythm guitarists or for fingerpicking.

 

Light

0.012-0.054

A versatile gauge that combines ease of use with significant volume and projection. Light gauge is popular among both beginner and advanced players.


 

Mediym

0.013-0.056

Medium gauge strings produce a chunkier sound that is perfect for lead guitar. Used mostly with dreadnaught guitars.

Electric Guitar

Extra super light

0.008-0.038

The thinnest gauge, extra super light is effortlessly easy to play, but suffers from floppiness and poor tone.


 

Super light
 

0.009-0.042
 

Thicker than extra super light, this string is easy to play with a richer tone.


 

Regular light

0.010-0.046

A versatile gauge that fits the requirements of lead and rhythm players, regular light offers rich tonal quality without compromising on playability.


 

Medium

0.011-0.048

Medium gauge strings are more difficult to play but have a richer, denser tone. They're usually used by advanced guitar players.

Classical Guitar

Low tension

-

Nylon strings with low tension are very easy to play with a soft tone. On the downside, they do not offer as much volume or punch.


 

Medium tension

-

Middle of the road strings that combine ease of play with moderately high volume.


 

High tension

-

Difficult to play when tuned to pitch, high tension strings nevertheless produce a sound with more punch and depth of tone.


Note: All gauge measurements are in inches. The range describes the thickness of the first and last string.

Guitar String Winding

Typically, the top three or four strings in all guitars are wound, which produces a thicker tone with more bass. Different mechanisms are used for winding the strings. These are:

 

Round

The most common type of winding, as round wound strings are cheap and easy to manufacture. In this string, a round wire is wound around the string's core. Cheap, round wound strings produce squeaking sounds when changing strings and are also prone to wear and tear.

Flat

Flat wound strings look, feel, and play almost like normal strings. They do not produce any squeaking sounds and are less prone to wear and tear. On the downside, they produce a softer, more mellow sound with less punch and volume. They also cost more than round wound strings.

Half

Half wound strings are a cross between flat and round wound strings. As an intermediate solution between two extremes, half wound strings do not squeak as much and also produce a brighter, punchier sound than flat wound strings.
 

Guitar String Cores

Guitar strings may have either a round or a hexagonal core. The type of core affects the quality, strength and flexibility of the string.


Round

Strings with round core are easy to manufacture and have a warm tone. They are also easier to bend.

Hexagonal

Most strings utilise hexagonal cores. Hexagonal core makes it easier for the winding to bind onto the core, which gives the string a brighter, punchier sound.

How to Buy Guitar Strings on eBay

As a small, easily transportable musical accessory, strings can be easily bought on eBay. To buy guitar strings on eBay, head to eBay.co.uk and search for guitar strings under the Guitars category. The extensive search results can be filtered by various criteria, including the kind of guitar strings – acoustic, electric or electro-acoustic. Searches can also be narrowed by manufacturers like D'Addario and Ernie Ball, or by condition (new or used).

Conclusion

Buying the right strings for the right instrument is crucial to getting the most out of a guitar. Guitar strings vary by construction material, core-type, and gauge. Strings of different materials and gauges have different tonal and musical responses. Some strings are easier to play than others and are more suitable for beginners, while others perform better in live and studio settings. Buying guitar strings is often a matter of matching the right string with the right guitar player. More often than not, it comes down to a matter of preference.

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