The right guitar strings – what can be more fundamental to your sound? But what makes the good acoustic guitar string for your instrument and your style of music? Can you buy strings safely in bulk? What are the qualities you might look for in a beginner guitarist’s strings or those used by a professional? This page will tell you what to look out for and what the pitfalls can be.
Whether you are looking for acoustic guitar strings, electric guitar strings, bass guitar strings or simply wondering what makes all these brands so different, please read on. I have a few trade secrets to tell!
What type of Guitar do you play?
This might seem like a silly thing to say, but people can and do buy the wrong guitar strings for themselves and for their guitars. The results can be disastrous for fingers and for instruments. So, first of all, what is your guitar like?
If your guitar is a plain wooden guitar with half nylon and half wound strings, you will need classical guitar strings – you must not use steel strings as this will break the instrument over time!
If you play an acoustic guitar ( click here to find out best acoustic guitar under 500 for beginners) you can choose between phosphor bronze and nickel steel sets. The acoustic “steel strung” guitar usually sounds better with phosphor bronze sets, but electric guitar sets will substitute in a crisis.
Phosphor bronze strings don’t work so well with pickups though, so stick to electric guitar strings for electric guitars!
If you have a bass guitar, check whether you need 4, 5 or even 6 strings. Most beginner basses are set up for 4 strings, but 5 strings are becoming more and more popular and many pros ( like Abe Laboriel) will use 6 string basses.
Getting a Good Acoustic Sounds
Actually, the term acoustic guitar is a pet hate. All musical instruments and guitars are acoustic! However the term usually means folk or country style guitar with metal strings. These are usually referred to as “steel strung” but usually only the two thinnest strings are actually steel. The others will be either copper brass or phosphor bronze wound strings.
What determines the sound quality is the string gauge. Heavier gauge strings have more metal mass to vibrate and give a bigger warmer sound but they are much harder to play and more suitable for the experienced guitarist. Many acoustic players compromise by using heavy strings, downtuning and using a capo. This lowers the action and the string tension, but gives the heavier mass for that deeper sound.
Never Cripple your Classical Guitar with steel strings!
I have seen it so many times in my career, advised about it so often, seen this advice ignored by boys (usually) who know best and then blame the instrument when it warps. Classical guitars are built for lightness and resonance, not strength. the woods used give them a naturally warm and full sound that some guys just don’t like. They are built for a wide range of sounds, effects, and solo playing. Folk guitars are massively reinforced. For that reason they don’t resonate as much but do produce that lovely jangly, tinkly sound that is so good for accompanying songs. They have a very small dynamic range which can be enhanced only with amplification and graphic equalisers. The pull of steel strings will bow the neck and body of a classical guitar quickly and permanently and make it unplayable.
If you want a tinkling acoustic, buy a folk guitar!
Bulk Buying Guitar Strings – Is it a risk or a necessity?
Most session players change their strings whenever they have a recording. It keep the sound bright and clean. It used to be that strings would rust in the packet if you kept them too long, but these days most good quality strings are packaged airtight and bulk buying should be fine. Obviously it saves money, but unless you go through a lot of strings it might be wiser just to buy a few spares in case of breakages. I usually keep a few D strings on hand for the classical guitar as they wear quickly. On the electric, I might keep a few spare 009s and 010s, but as I rarely break a string they mostly go to students. If you are breaking a lot of strings it is usually down to poor tuning, poor plectrum grip or poor string cleaning. It is worth checking all of these.