April 09, 2015
Choosing Acoustic Guitar Strings
Did you know the strings on your acoustic steel string or classical guitar have a major impact on its sound and playability? If you’re serious about producing the best sound with your acoustic guitar, it’s vital that you choose the best strings. If you’ve taken a look at Music & Arts selection of acoustic guitar strings, you’ve probably realized there are a lot of criteria to consider when searching for the perfect acoustic guitar strings. From gauge to string materials, here are the top things to pay attention to when purchasing your next set of acoustic guitar strings.
Before you can choose a string material, it’s important that you understand the difference between steel and nylon strings. Typically, classical guitars use nylon strings, while steel strings are used on traditional acoustic guitars. (Please note: if you use strings meant for an acoustic guitar on a classical guitar, the difference in tension could break or damage the neck. This article will cover steel strings for acoustic guitars.) Although there are a variety of string materials available on the market, the two most popular varieties are Bronze and Phosphor Bronze. Bronze strings have a bright, lively voice, while Phosphor Bronze have a more distinctive tone, full of warmth and sparkle. Many acoustic guitar players prefer 80/20 Phosphor Bronze, such as these strings from Musician’s Gear, as the phosphor in the alloy helps extend the life of the strings. Other materials include brass, polymer-coated, silk, and steel, each with their own set of pros and cons.
Choose a Gauge
The gauge of the strings is how thick they are; heavy strings produce a warm and articulate sound, while lighter strings sound bright and soft. In most cases, it’s best to match the gauge to your playing style. If you prefer to fingerpick, a light gauge is recommended as heavier strings tend to be difficult to fingerpick. If the majority of your playing involves strumming, a medium-to-heavy gauge is recommended. And, if you mix fingerpicking with strumming, a light-to-medium string set may be a good choice. If you haven’t played the acoustic guitar long enough to have a preferred “style” a general rule of thumb is to purchase lighter strings for smaller-bodied acoustics. If you play a vintage guitar, steer clear of heavier strings as the tension can cause necks to bow. If you’re unsure about how safe a gauge is for your guitar, contact the manufacturer or talk to a trusted guitar tech about which type of gauge they’d recommend for your guitar.
Coating vs. No Coating
Once guitar strings start sounding flat, they’ll need to be replaced with a brand new pair, which makes coated guitar strings well worth the initial cost. Although coated strings cost more than their uncoated alternatives, coated strings will last longer and and help create a smoother texture. Since the strings are covered with a polymer coating, they’ll resist rust longer. If you’re interested in personalizing your acoustic guitar, coated strings can often be purchased in red, blue, black, and other colors. When it comes to coating, it’s important to remember that not all coatings are the same. Some brands coat only the outer string surface, while others, like strings manufactured by Elixir, coat the string surface and the space between the windings. Since coating type is essentially a personal preference and some players prefer no coating at all, try a variety of uncoated and coated strings before settling on a preferred guitar string.
Check the Price
Since strings are switched out relatively often, it’s important to only buy guitar strings you can afford. Contrary to popular belief, acoustic guitar strings don’t need to be super expensive to produce a great sound. A set of cheap strings can cost a few dollars, premium strings may cost upwards of $50, and average strings cost about $15. Instead of automatically reaching for the most expensive acoustic guitar strings on the market, spend some time experimenting with the different brands and price ranges. You may find that a cheaper string produces a sound that you prefer. If you prefer to shop online, researching strings on a review site or chatting online with an expert in the industry may help you determine the best acoustic strings for you. In some cases, certain brands make their strings available as singles- meaning you won’t have to buy an entire pack at a time.
It may be time for a string change if:
- getting in tune or staying in tune is more challenging than usual,
- your tone sounds especially flat,
- you’re noticing rust, discoloration, or unwinding of your strings,
- you can’t remember the last time you changed your strings.
When it comes to acoustic guitar strings, some individuals may need to replace their strings more often than others. Here’s some factors that can shorten the life of your strings:
- you sweat a lot while playing,
- you play aggressively with a lot of hard picking,
- you play frequently and/or change tunings frequently,
- you smoke or play in smoky environments, such as bars or clubs.
If you’re new to the world of acoustic guitar strings, here are some general string care and maintenance tips:
- keep a clean cloth handy and wipe down your strings after each use,
- wash your hands before playing,
- invest in a string winder,
- note the date you changed strings on the package,
- keep an extra set or a few single strings handy in case of an emergency.
In the market for an acoustic guitar, too? Check out or Acoustic Guitar Buyer’s Guide.