Whatever type of guitar you have, it's important you have the right strings to suit your needs and playing style. Too heavy and you might struggle to play it. Too light and they might snap or just sound tinny. Here we've put together a guide outlining some of the things to look for in guitar strings.
Buying Guitar Strings
Electric, Acoustic, or Classical?
When a customer walks in and says, “I need guitar strings” It’s basically a game of 20 questions. We start with general questions, and filter it down to the most specific. The first question that I will ask 100% of the time is, “are these for an Electric, Acoustic, or Classical Guitar?” Seems easy enough, but just to be sure…
Its easy enough to tell if your guitar is acoustic or not. Also called a “steel string” acoustic, if your strings 3rd-6th strings are a gold or brown and the top two are steel, you’ve likely got an acoustic guitar on your hands, however if you’re not entirely sure, and think you might have a classical guitar, take it into us, and we'll help you identify it.
A “steel string” acoustic guitar will use either a phosphor bronze or 80/20 bronze strings. Other options do exist, but these two types are the most common.
I’ll often ask the customer if they prefer a brighter sound that works well with finger picking, country, bluegrass, or if the specific tone that they are looking for is brighter and more vibrant. These are your 80/20 bronze strings. These are lighter in color than their phosphor bronze counterparts (a golden wheat color), and also sound much brighter, and more alive. 80/20 bronze strings will normally be cheaper or the same price as phosphor bronze, and are produced by nearly any string manufacturer.
Darker color (darker golden honey) and a darker tone, phosphor bronze strings produce a dark, warm, rich, projecting tone, and although they come in the same gauges as 80/20’s they will often excerpt more pressure on the guitar, therefore creating a more projecting tone.
Electric guitars are the easiest to identify, but there are a few factors that will be important in selecting strings. Does your guitar have a tremolo system of some sort? Do your strings pass through the body or through a tailpiece? What size of strings are you currently playing with? All of these questions will be important later when we discuss electric guitar strings in greater depth.
Electric guitar strings are made in a multitude of ways, different alloys, different winding techniques, and perhaps the biggest difference is the wide varieties of sizes. How do you choose just one?
First thing we look at is size.
The string sizes are often referred to by the diameter of the smallest string, or in some cases the smallest string and the thickest string. (9’s, or “10-52”)
8’s- 8’s are extremely light, and for most players don’t create enough tone and sustain. The most noticeable advantage to 8 gauge strings is the light feel, and the smooth, easy bending.
9’s- 9’s are the most common strings. Fender guitars, guitars with a Floyd Rose tremolo system, and many others come out of the factory sporting 9 gauge strings. Any player looking for a light feeling string that is easy to bend should look into a set of 9’s.
10’s- most guitars with a tailpiece, strings that go through the body, and many others will use 10 gauge strings. Slightly heavier than the 9’s, but the sacrifice in playability is made up in tone and sustain.
11’s, 12’s, 13’s and more- Heavier gauges serve a multitude of purposes, the most common being either creating more tone and sustain for players like blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughn, and making up for the tension that is lost in drop tuning found commonly in rock, grunge, and metal. If you’re thinking about making the change to a heavier string, let us know.
When you change string gauges, or tuning, most often times your guitar will need some adjustments to keep it in optimal playing condition.
Flat wound, half round, pure nickel, nickel-plated steel, stainless steel, and others?
Electric Guitar strings come in a multitude of materials, but the easiest way to understand how each of them will affect your tone is with a simple warm to bright spectrum. The string gauges are arranged as:
Flat wound, half round, pure nickel, nickel-plated steel, stainless steel
Ranging from darkest (flat wound) to brightest (stainless steel)
The most common strings are the nickel-plated steel. Many companies also add other materials to the mix such as Cobalt, Titanium, and others. Research the choice, or just try them out, and see if any of these work for you.
Coated Vs. Uncoated
Both electric and acoustic strings can be “coated” or “uncoated” (plain). Coated strings are covered in some sort of corrosion resistant material.
A coated string will normally last you longer, and are great options for players lthat have sweaty hands, and play often.
Many of the coated strings will sound somewhat “dead” out of the package, but will maintain a more consistent sound over a longer period of time.
Final tips for buying guitar strings
Ask questions!! We work with these strings daily, we get feedback from other customers, and we get the whole sales pitch from the company. Ask as many questions as you need to find the perfect string for your playing and musical style.
If you don’t know how to put your strings on, ask for help! We offer stringing services, and are happy to give you some tips.
Also, see our blog on changing strings here
Keep the box in your case with the receipt.. Don’t you hate it when you can’t remember what you put on there last time? Keep the box in the case so if you hated the strings you don’t make that mistake again, and if you loved them, you know what to get next time. Then, keep the receipt in the case so that you know when they were purchased, or write on the box what day you put them on. This will help you track how long those strings lasted.