There are so many string varieties available, making a decision on which kind of acoustic guitar string to purchase can be a little daunting when looking at the rack of strings at your local guitar shop. Personally, I usually like to find out what strings are put on the guitar by the manufacturer at the time I purchase the guitar and stick with that. After all, those are the strings that were on the guitar when I made the decision that this is something I wanted to purchase and the sound that drew me to the guitar.
That being said, sometimes it can be fun to experiment with different types of strings and gauges to find what suits your style. Just by changing the type of string you use you can make an average guitar sound better and easier to play if you choose wisely.
What gauge is best for you?
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top has his story on string gauges. As the story goes, he was of the old school thought rule blues-men used a heavier gauge to produce a thicker and richer tone on their solos. Billy followed this concept on his guitars. Backstage at one of his gigs, he happened to let another well-known artist play his guitar who immediately commented: “Why are you working so hard?”
As a general rule if you are prone to heavy strumming, you like flat picking, or play in a bluegrass band where you need volume without amplification, medium or even heavy strings may work best for you.
If you prefer a fingerpicking style, strum lightly or bend notes frequently, your preference will likely be light or extra light strings.
The guitar string notes or string names are E, A, D, G, B, and E. Here is a table of the gauges for some comment brands of strings by guitar string order:
String diameter comparison by brand
|Ernie Ball Earthwood||Extra Light||.050||.040||.028||.020||.014||.010|
Things to keep in mind when changing the gauge of your strings:
- While most guitars today can support the medium gauged strings that heavy gauged strings can put a tremendous amount of stress on the guitar top and bridge if it wasn’t made for a heavier setup.
- Going from medium gauge a lighter gauge or vise-versa, may require you to adjust your truss rod to get the appropriate action due to the change in tension on the neck.
- You should never put steel strings on a nylon string guitar, as most of them don’t have a truss rod. Over time you could warp the neck due to the higher tension.
Phospher or not to Phospher?
There are many different materials but the two most common that you’ll see available in the store are Phosphor Bronze and Bronze 80/20. The differences are subtle and the one you should cho0se just depends on what you are looking for in a sound. In general, the Phosphor Bronze strings are louder and hold their brightness for a longer period of time. The 80/20 Bronze is bright at first but quickly lose that over the first couple of days so after they’ve played in they have a little less volume. There is no good or bad in this case its really up to you as the player on which works within your style of play.
As a side note, Martin has come out with a titanium core string wrapped in nickel. While these strings are very pricey, they are built to last and you should be able to go months without having to change your strings.
Should I used coated strings?
Elixr put coated strings on the acoustic guitar string map. Now many other manufacturers have followed suit and long life strings are commonplace in the market. The principle behind them is they put a think coating on the strings that keep dirt out of the space between windings and inhibits corrosion on the string since they are not exposed to hand sweat, moisture in the air etc. It also has an added benefit of reducing string squeaking as your fingers slide into position on chords and notes.
The only downside is the strings do lose a little bit of their brightness and volume. Also, the cost is more for a coated string. For those that have issues with strings going bad because they sweat excessively on their hands or if you’re strings are frequently exposed to the elements this is a small price to pay for the added string life. Check out our full review where we give our top picks for acoustic guitar strings.
Ever wonder how strings were made? Check out this video: