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All about Guitar strings

This lesson is designed to give you all of the basic information that you need to know about different types of acoustic and electric guitar strings. We will talk about string gauges, types of acoustic strings, types of electric strings, coated vs. non coated strings, nylon strings, flatwound vs. roundwound, what strings are made of, differences in tone and much more.  Hopefully you will use this lesson to educate yourself about the different kinds of strings out there and maybe even use some of the different types of strings that you learn about to experiment with your own personal guitar tone.

String Gauges

Overview ‐ The Gauge of a string is simply the thickness of that string. This is usually measured in thousandths of an inch. Typically a set of strings will be named after the thickness of the 1st or thinnest string in the set. You may hear some say that they use “10’s”. That just means that they are using a set of strings where the 1st string is .010 of an inch thick.

Acoustic String Gauges ‐ Acoustic guitar strings usually come in sets anywhere from .010 ‐ .013. The most common gauge is considered to be light or .012 gauge. Anything lighter than .012 is considered to be a custom‐light or an extra‐light. Typically, the heaviest acoustic strings that you will see will be medium or .013 gauge.

Acoustic String Gauge Pros & Cons ‐ Thicker gauge strings sound fuller and louder but they are harder to play. This is great if you like a really thick tone or need a lot of volume out of your acoustic guitar. Using a thinner gauge of strings will make your guitar easier to play but you will sacrifice some tone and volume.

Electric String Gauges ‐ Electric guitar string gauges usually range from .008 ‐ .013. You can find sets thicker than .013 but they are usually flatwound sets or for baritone guitars. Typically you will find .009 or .010 gauge strings on most electric guitars. Jazz guitars will typically have thicker flatwound sets on them.

Electric String Gauge Pros & Cons ‐ Thicker gauge strings sound fuller but they are a bit harder to play, just like on the acoustic. If you are more concerned with having a fat tone than you are with playability you might want to use thicker strings on your electric. Thicker gauge electric strings are also great if you down tune your guitar. Using a thinner gauge of strings will make it easier to play your guitar but you will sacrifice some tone and the strings will be a bit looser feeling.

 

Acoustic Strings: Bronze vs. Phosphor Bronze

Bronze

Bronze acoustic guitar strings are typically pretty bright when compared to phosphor bronze strings. They are also more golden in color while phosphor bronze strings have a bit of a red or copper tint to them. Bronze is made of 90% copper and 10% tin. Typically, bronze guitar strings will be 80% copper and 20% tin. Bronze is softer than steel but it still resists corrosion pretty well, especially around salt‐water or humid climates.

Common Brands D’Addario,

Martin, Ernie Ball, Elixir, Cleartone, John Pearse, GHS, Dean Markley, DR, Fender, Black Diamond.

History and Usage

Discovered around the 4th millennium B.C. Used for tools tiles, boat fittings and Cymbals.

Alloys Typically

90% Copper and 10% Tin.

Sound ‐ A bit brighter than Phosphor Bronze strings.

Cost Non‐

Coated $5 ‐ $10. Coated $10 ‐ $20.

Phosphor Bronze

Phosphor Bronze acoustic guitar strings are a bit warmer and airy than regular bronze strings. A lot of players think that this makes them better for finger picking. They also have a bit more of a red or copper color to them as well. Phosphor bronze is like regular bronze but it has a small amount of phosphor added to it. This helps to keep the metal from oxidizing or corroding as quickly.

Common Brands ‐ D’ddario, Martin, Ernie Ball, Elixir, Cleartone, John

Pearse, GHS, Dean Markley, DR, Fender, Black Diamond.

Other Uses ‐ Ship propellors, springs, bolts.

Alloys ‐ Typically 90% Copper, 10% Tin and a small amount of Phosphor.

Sound ‐ A bit warmer and robust than regular Bronze strings.

Cost ‐ Non‐Coated $5 ‐ $10. Coated $10 ‐ $20.

Electric Strings: Nickel Plated, Pure Nickel & Stainless Steel

Nickel Plated

Nickel‐plated strings are probably the most common type of electric guitar string in use today. The winding on the thicker strings is made of nickel‐plated steel. The steel that the string is made of is great for the magnets in the pickups to “pick up” while the nickel‐plating helps to balance out the bright sound of the steel. The nickel also helps to keep the string smooth and protects it from corrosion. Nickel is a bit softer than steel so nickel or nickel‐plated strings won’ wear your frets out as quickly as stainless steel strings will.

 

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