Here at Freya Guitars, we often get asked “what’s the difference between the different types of acoustic guitar strings, and do I really need to change them that often?”
When was the last time you changed your strings? Well, before you do this time, check out these tips for picking out the perfect strings for you.
Still confused? Email or call us here at Freya Guitars if you’d like one-on-one advice.
What kind of a guitar do you have?
This might seem obvious, but first and foremost, take a look at your guitar and determine which type of strings you need. Acoustic steel, electric, classical nylon? Most of the time these strings are not interchangeable – you can’t use steel strings on a nylon string guitar for example. It could damage your instrument. In fact, NEVER use steel strings on a nylon-string guitar – it will most likely cause structural problems!
Check your bridge and see if your guitar uses ball-end strings or needs strings that tie at the end. Typically all steel string guitars are fitted to use ball-end strings, but nylon string guitars can go either way.
Which gauge do I need?
Here’s where things get tricky. Strings come in a wide variety of different gauge ranges. The gauge is the diameter of the string, or how thick it is. The gauge of your strings can really change how the guitar feels when you play, and the sound, also. Typically, lighter gauge strings are easier to play, but can break more easily. Beefier strings can have a fuller tone, can be louder and are harder to break, so if you like to dig in, consider a heavier set. Here’s a general run down of acoustic string sets:
Extra light: .010 .014 .023 .030 .039 .047
Custom light: .011 .015 .023 .032 .042 .052
Light: .012 .016 .025 .032 .042 .054
Medium: .013 .017 .026 .035 .045 .056
Heavy: .014 .018 .027 .039 .049 .059
Most shops don’t carry the .014-.059 sets, in fact, anybody needing strings of these gauges usually have them made up from single strings.
So how to you know which gauge set will fit you (& your guitar) just right? Here are some general things to think about:
Body size: Are you playing a small bodied guitar or a jumbo? Typically a smaller bodied parlor guitar will sound and feel better with lighter gauge strings. While you might want to try a medium or heavy gauge on a larger body or jumbo to take full advantage of the larger sound chamber.
Tone: Heavier gauge strings tend to emphasize the lower end of the guitar’s tonal spectrum while lighter strings are more trebly and sweet.
Playing style: Are you a fingerpicker, or a strummer? Typically lighter gauge strings are easier on the fingertips for pickers and if you’re a heavy strummer, you’ll want heavier strings. If you do both, try a medium set, that have heavier gauge on the bottom and lighter on the top.
Instrument age: If you have a vintage instrument, be careful about putting heavier gauge strings on it, as they put more tension on the neck and some vintage instruments won’t be able to handle the tension.
You probably think a string is a string. But you’re wrong! There are several different types of materials that strings are made of, and they can affect the string tone, and longevity.
• Bronze: These are typically constructed of 80 percent copper and 20 percent zinc and are used for all styles of playing. With a clear, bright ringing tone, these strings can age quickly due to bronze’s tendency to oxidize.
• Phosphor Bronze: These are bronze strings with phosphor added. Still bright, but warmer and darker than bronze strings. Phosphor extends the life of these strings versus standard bronze strings.
• Brass: A bright, jangly, metallic sounding string.
• Silk and steel strings: These produce a soft, mellow sound. They offer less tension and come in lighter gauges so they are good for vintage guitars that require special strings. They are quieter and less durable but easier to play.
What about nylon string guitars?
Tension: Classic guitar strings are made in different tensions. These typically consist of low tension also referred to as moderate or light, normal or medium tension, and hard or high tension. Low or light tension are easier to play, but you may get some buzz. Normal or medium tension strings are more consistent in tone. Try a few and see what you like.
Materials: Treble nylon guitar strings can be made with clear or rectified nylon. Clear nylon strings are extruded and then calibrated for accuracy. Rectified nylon strings are extruded and then ground to produce a string that will play in tune. They have a very fine roughness of texture. Treble strings are also made of carbon fiber and composite materials. Bass strings are primarily made of bronze wire or silver plated copper wire wound around a core of fine threads.
Coatings and treatments
These days string technology has progressed to offer several additional life-extending options. These can include coated strings, which can sometimes be a bit less bright or have a bit less sustain. But they can last three or four times longer. You can also find strings that have been cryogenically frozen, which seems to lengthen their lifespan without diminishing the tone or sustain.
Changing your strings
So how often should you change your strings? Probably more than you do. I’m always amazed at how gorgeous my guitar sounds with new strings. It always makes me want to change them more often. If you’re playing pretty regularly you might want to change them every week. If you’re an occasional player, try once every two months. If you wipe down your guitar and wash your hands before you play, your string tone may last a bit longer.
Most manufacturers (except for the makers of coated strings) recommend changing strings after every ten hours of playing. Yes, you read that right – TEN HOURS!
Like pretty much anything, strings come in all different price ranges. Usually, bronze strings are the least expensive and coated strings the most. Average strings typically cost between €7 – €20 per set, but you can also get better deals if you purchase in bulk. There are cheaper ones, and more expensive too. Typically if you just opt for a decent set of strings, you’ll be in good shape.
Should I try different strings?
Yes, though it’s comfortable to stick with the same strings, give some alternates a try, especially if you haven’t tried anything new for a while. There are lots of different types available and they all sound a little different.