Beginners' Guide to Guitar Strings

Which guitar strings do I need?

In my repair shop people are always asking 'what type of strings are the best?' The answer is both simple and complex.


Firstly, lets deal with the basics. The type of guitar you play will determine the type of string you need. An electric guitar needs electric guitar strings, an electric bass guitar needs electric bass guitar strings. An acoustic guitar needs acoustic strings. This is where a lot of beginners make a mistake with sometimes dire consequences for the guitar. You can't put acoustic steel stings on a classical or flamenco guitar. 


Classical or flamenco (for this article we'll stay with classical guitar) guitars need classical guitar strings. These are usually nylon for the 3 high pitched strings (eBG) and silver wire over a fiber core for the bass strings (DAE). If you put any other kind of strings on, you are very likely to cause serious damage to your instrument. I have lost count of the amount a classical guitars I've seen with the bridge lifting away from the body, or the 'top' of the guitar bulging because the owner had fitted the wrong (steel) strings to a classical guitar. These strings vary in price, quality and tension. Low tension strings are easy going on the fingers. <script>document.write('<a target="_self" href="http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/710-53481-19255-0/1?ff3=4&pub=5575386188&toolid=10001&campid=5338474487&customid=&mpre=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ebay.co.uk%2Fsch%2Fi.html%3F_udlo%3D6%26_sop%3D15%26_udhi%3D26%26_from%3DR40%26_sacat%3D0%26_nkw%3Dclassical%2520guitar%2520string%2520set%26rt%3Dnc">http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/710-53481-19255-0/1?ff3=4&pub=5575386188&toolid=10001&campid=5338474487&customid=&mpre=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ebay.co.uk%2Fsch%2Fi.html%3F_udlo%3D6%26_sop%3D15%26_udhi%3D26%26_from%3DR40%26_sacat%3D0%26_nkw%3Dclassical%2520guitar%2520string%2520set%26rt%3Dnc</a><img style="text-decoration:none;border:0;padding:0;margin:0;" src="http://rover.ebay.com/roverimp/1/710-53481-19255-0/1?ff3=4&pub=5575386188&toolid=10001&campid=5338474487&customid=&mpt='+Math.floor(Math.random()*999999999)+'">');</script><noscript><a target="_self" href="http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/710-53481-19255-0/1?ff3=4&pub=5575386188&toolid=10001&campid=5338474487&customid=&mpre=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ebay.co.uk%2Fsch%2Fi.html%3F_udlo%3D6%26_sop%3D15%26_udhi%3D26%26_from%3DR40%26_sacat%3D0%26_nkw%3Dclassical%2520guitar%2520string%2520set%26rt%3Dnc">http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/710-53481-19255-0/1?ff3=4&pub=5575386188&toolid=10001&campid=5338474487&customid=&mpre=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ebay.co.uk%2Fsch%2Fi.html%3F_udlo%3D6%26_sop%3D15%26_udhi%3D26%26_from%3DR40%26_sacat%3D0%26_nkw%3Dclassical%2520guitar%2520string%2520set%26rt%3Dnc</a><img style="text-decoration:none;border:0;padding:0;margin:0;" src="http://rover.ebay.com/roverimp/1/710-53481-19255-0/1?ff3=4&pub=5575386188&toolid=10001&campid=5338474487&customid=&mpt=[CACHEBUSTER]"></noscript>


Steel string acoustic guitars take acoustic guitar strings, with 4 wound strings and 2 plain strings. The 2 plain strings (eB) are steel and the 4 thicker strings are usually bronze over a steel core. The gauge range of these strings is more limited than what you can buy for an electric guitar. This is because they need to be slightly heavier for warmer tone and greater volume. It's usually a good idea to keep strings 'light' or even 'extra light' as they are more forgiving on your fingers and prevent bridge problems on less expensive guitars.  Check: Budget Mid Range Professional


Electric guitar strings are usually steel and nickel with a round or hexagonal steel core. These can vary greatly in gauge depending your preference. The most common sizes are 9-46 and 10-52, commonly called 9s or 10s. But you can go a lot 'lighter' with 7s like Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top or super-heavy with 16s like Dick Dale. As a general rule, the lighter the strings the easier the guitar will be to play. Check: Budget Mid Range Professional


Let's not forget about bass strings. One of the most important things to consider when buying bass strings is the 'scale length' of the instrument. If you try to fit long strings to a short or medium scale bass, you are high likely to snap them at the tuning machine end. Another option for bass players is 'flat wound' or 'round wound' strings. Round wound are the most common and are widely used in rock. Flat wound strings are essential for fretless basses and often preferred by jazz musicians for their softer tone.  


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