The Ultimate Guitar Strings Buyers Guide featured image

Our Guitar String Buyers Guide

The last guitar store that I visited had a wall of strings! I had to do some research and ask some questions before I could even begin to think about which strings to choose for my new guitar.

Guitar strings make a huge difference in the sound and sound quality of your guitar. The standard guitar has six strings but there are four-, seven-, eight-, nine-, ten-, eleven-, twelve-, thirteen-, and even eighteen-stringed guitars out there.

Traditionally, classical and flamenco guitars used gut strings. However, today, they are usually fabricated of nylon or fluorocarbon. Today’s guitar strings are made from metal, polymers or animal or plant products. “Steel” strings may be made of alloys incorporating steel, nickel or phosphor bronze. Bass strings are wound rather than monofilament.

Classical Guitar String Construction

Classical guitar strings are designed for classical guitars and are made of nylon and nylon wound with wire. The sound that they produce is different from that produced by metal strings.

Until World War II, the three treble strings were originally made with sheep or cow intestine (“plain gut”), and the three bass strings were made of silk thread wound around with gut. At that time, war restrictions led Albert Augustine Ltd. to develop nylon strings. They were put into production in 1948. Since then, the three treble strings are made from a single nylon filament while the tree bass strings are made from a core of fine nylon threadlike filaments wound with silver-plated bronze or copper wire.

Rose Augustine, Albert’s wife, tells the story of how he happened upon the nylon idea for strings in an army surplus store in Greenwich Village. The Dupont company did not think that guitarists would accept nylon strings, so Albert staged a blind test with company representatives from Dupont. They chose nylon strings over strings made with guts as having the best “guitar sound.” Hearing is believing, so the nylon strings were first produced in 1948. Andres Segovia, the great Spanish classical guitar virtuoso used them.

Fluorocarbon polymers now have recently become an alternative to nylon treble strings and are preferred by some classical guitarists. They make a smooth transition provided by the G string from treble to bass.

How do you know which strings are best for you?

There are so many choices of strings, and they are all competing for your business. The string choices that Chuck Berry had were simple; just buy strings and play. Not so today. Marketing is what will encourage you to buy guitar strings. Which package do you like best? How are the colors, the claims and the pictures on the front of it and the endorsements on the back?

If you go and ask a store employee what strings they recommend, they will most likely point to or escort you to the string wall and tell you to take a look. You have to choose strings before you can try them out which can be a problem. Different brands will have a different “feel,” and over time you will find brands that you prefer over others.

First of all, for what type of guitar are you wanting strings?

Guitar strings come in various thicknesses. They are packaged in sets of six for the whole guitar and they can be purchased individually.

A set of guitar strings that has a first string (high E) gauge of .009 (nine-thousandths of an inch) is commonly referred to as a set of “nines.” A set that has the first string of .012 is known as a set of “twelves,” etc.

Strings are mostly made of metal, and that makes them subject to the acidity of our bodies. This is different for everyone, but it does have an impact on the longevity of a set of strings. It is interesting to note that the strings that last for a month for one person may last only a week for another.

As a beginner, it is better to use thinner gauge strings because they will minimize some of your finger soreness.

How often you change your guitar’s strings is also different for everyone. Some professional players put on a new set of strings for each show that they play. That may very possibly be a new set every night. If you are just starting to play and will be playing casually, change your strings every 30 days or so.

Questions People Buying Guitar Strings Ask

Following are some commonly asked questions that first-time buyers have about guitar strings. This information will help you to make the right choice for your particular needs.

What brand of guitar strings should I use?

Educate yourself about strings. Read and experiment. Try different brands and discover which ones work best for your desired sound and playing ability. Many of the major retailers recommend a particular brand of strings because they sell them. Don’t get stuck with them but rather do your homework.

How can I keep from breaking strings on my guitar?

Carefully! Be gentle and meticulous when you change strings. Handle them with care and do not let them tangle or kink. A string with a kink or sharp bend will break more easily because the kink or bend creates a stress point in the string.

What makes strings sound “dead” over time?

Many people believe that string corrosion and wear are what makes a string sound dead over its lifetime. At a high level, this may be true. However, at a lower level, this is not entirely the case. Contrary to popular opinion, the loss of elasticity along with the addition of mass, weight, and material density are the factors that make a string sound dead over time.

What is a tapered string?

The overall wrap diameter on a tapered string gradually decreases as it approaches the ball end of the string. This type of string construction is found more commonly in bass string design.

Why are some bass strings tapered?

Which are better, tapered or non-tapered strings? There are two ways to think about  this. The first suggests that having too much mass at the fulcrum point (the bridge saddle) of the string affects its performance, mainly stability and clarity. In theory, tapering eliminates the problem. The second suggests that tuning performance can be improved by eliminating the windings from seating on the saddle. In theory, this also eliminates the problem. So, is one better than the other? Who knows! You will have to judge this for yourself.

How often should I change my strings?

This will, of course, depend on your playing, your tone quality goals and your desires for reliability. Strings go through a lifecycle curve. Whatever your preference in tone, you will find yourself somewhere on the curve.

Do some strings work better with certain pick-ups?

Yes, but how do you define “better”? If you are talking about the basic function of a pick-up detecting string vibrations, then yes, certain strings will only work with certain kinds of pick-ups. Nylon strings will never work with electromagnetic pick-ups, for example. This is because nylon strings do not exhibit any ferrous properties. Consequently, this string combo won’t work at all. Should we use steel strings with an electromagnetic pick-up, then those strings would work “better.” For more information on this and, actually any of these matters, check out Professor String’s articles on the internet.

How should the excess string be trimmed?

Be careful! Use caution when trimming excess string. You should use a pair of side cutters. Always hold the section of the string that will be discarded when you cut the excess string.  The portion being cut can be sharp, and it can cut you, so handle it with care.

Do vacuum packaged strings last longer?

They do have a longer shelf life, and that is the purpose of vacuum packing. Vacuum packing delays the string’s metal corrosion cycle until they are taken out of the package and installed on your guitar. Adding in the shelf life to the overall life cycle of a guitar string will give you more time of service.

How does humidity affect string life?

Humidity can affect a string’s metal by causing it to oxidize and form micro-pits. This will ultimately harm the tone of a string.

Does temperature affect string life?

Humidity is worse for your guitar strings than is temperature. Strings can handle temperature extremes better than the actual guitar, so it is wise to keep the entire instrument in a climate-controlled environment.

Will a kinked string break quicker?

Sometimes a string will have a kink that may have occurred during installation; This is a sharp bend that makes a stress point that exceeds the string’s natural stretching range. The string might be weaker, or it might not be. However, it has gone beyond its original fabrication specs.

Do string lubricants prolong or shorten string life?

The answer to this question in double-edged. While a lubricant can improve the life of the strings, it can also shorten it. How so? The lubricant can protect the string from the effects of moisture, but it can also be a dust magnet for micro dust particles within the string’s wiring. This will dull the brightness produced by the string. Bottom line, while the lubricant can prolong the life of the string, it may shorten the time that the brightness of its tone will remain.

Do changing strings wear out a guitar?

Changing strings should not wear out anything on your guitar so don’t be afraid of this.

Do some strings wear out a guitar faster?

Some strings, particularly round wound ones are known to cause fret damage over time.

Does the ball-end affect tone?

Not usually, but there are exceptions. The ball end can indirectly affect the tone of the strings via resonance through the soundboard.

Does poor grounding affect string life?

Of course, if a residual electrical current exists on an exposed conductor, it will accelerate oxidation depending on the atmosphere of the room where it is located. The electrical current when combined with moisture, salt and iron is a perfect storm for rusting guitar strings.

Do all metal strings rust and oxidize?

Every medal has its own associated oxide. An oxide is formed when an oxygen atom bonds on a molecular level to a corresponding metal. In steel, oxygen combines with the iron molecule creating iron oxide, commonly known as rust. If the bond is to occur, energy is needed. In some metals, like iron, the amount of chemical energy necessary to form an oxide is low. In other metals, like gold, higher chemical energy is necessary to form an oxide.

a guitar string wrapped around a tuning pegConclusion:

The proper strings for your guitar are very important, but you need to research and try various brands before you settle on the best ones for your particular needs.

First, consider what type of guitar you play.

  • Acoustic guitars typically use bronze wound strings.
  • Electric guitars use nickel wound strings.
  • Classical guitars use nylon strings.

Don’t be persuaded by sales associates who take you to the string wall and try to hype only the brands that they like. The choice is subjective, and only you can make that decision for yourself.

Also, be aware of the marketing ploys that try to decide for you. They use cleverly designed covers to grab your attention and exciting words to convince you to buy them.  It is also helpful to find out what strings your favorite guitarists use. If you like their sound, their choice of strings could be the determining factor

With research and study, as well as trial and error, you will find the brand(s) of guitar strings that you like best. Enjoy the journey!

Duke Taber

Duke Taber has been a Senior Pastor of various churches since 1988. Prior to that, he was involved in the Christian rock scene opening for such notables as Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Rez Band, and once played briefly with Darrel Mansfield. Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center.