Choosing the right strings for your electric guitar is often overlooked, but it is more important that you may think. Using the correct strings can further enhance your overall sound, and aid your tone and responsiveness. It is no lie that for a beginner, trying to work out what to buy can be a daunting task due to the wide array of brands, styles and types. Working out what to buy can depend on what style of guitar you play, which sound you are going for and how advanced your playing is. It is frequently assumed that all guitar strings are generic and that careful selection is not needed. This is not the case.
When to Change Your Guitar Strings
For most, the reason that we need to change our strings is that we have accidentally broken one whilst playing. Although nearly everyone is guilty of this, there are other times when you may consider giving them a change. Often this it is a case of preference as opposed to necessity as different guitarists prefer a different style and feel. Here are some of the main reasons someone might consider purchasing new ones:
1. Cleanliness. As a person plays, over time dirt and oil can build up, if they are rusty or discolored this may be the case. Usually when they get particularly dirty, it is likely one may break soon, and changing them as a precaution is a good idea. However, poor cleanliness can also have a negative impact on the sound quality - although in most cases this is very minor.
2. Sometimes if a guitar sufferers tuning problems, it can be due to old strings. When they are used a lot and worn out they become more stretched and it is easier for them to go out of tune. However, it is important to realize that there is a variety of other reasons that may cause a guitar to go out of tune. It might not always be the strings.
3. If you think the sound is beginning to feel dull, a new set of things will brighten up your tone and make your playing feel more lively and vibrant.
Whilst these are all perfected valid reasons, it may be that you have just broken one whilst playing and do not know what to buy to replace it - which is also perfectly fine!
The string gauge is a measurement of the thickness of the diameter of a string. Whilst every string will have a slightly different gauge, as high strings are thinner and low strings are thicker, the value of the high-e string will determine the gauge for a set of strings. The string diameter is usually measured in thousandths of an inch, so for example, a string with a gauge of 9 is 0.009 inches thick. The standard size for a set of strings is 10 and is what most guitars will be strung with. This table shows in more detail how the gauges work:
It is worth noting that the gauge values are not universal and will vary depending on the brand and material, although this a realistic overview. So now hopefully you understand gauges, but which ones do you choose?
Most beginners prefer to use a light string. This is because they are easier to press down on the fretboard and strum. Lighter strings are more likely to break more than others strings and do not provide the same tone and quality of some thicker strings, but thicker ones are harder to use and play, which is why they are usually not recommended for a beginner. Someone playing lots of fast solos may prefer lighter strings because they can make gentle fast movements. They are also favored if you want to incorporate lots of dramatic bends into your playing. However if they are too light, it will be too easy to bend and the player may not achieve the desired sound. Thicker strings can provide more warmth and are more popular in blues and jazz guitar playing.
The material used to create the string unsurprisingly has a big impact on the tone and feel. Whilst the core is almost always steel, different materials are used for the windings. The major will be either : nickel plated steel, stainless steel, or pure nickel.
Nickel Plated Steel
These are the most common and the D, A and low-E are made from a nickel plate which surrounds a steel core. The G, B and high-E and made from just stainless steel. Nickel plated steel strings are resistant to corrosion and typically last longer.
Stainless steel strings are rough and produce a "pure rock" sound. They are very durable although they can wear down frets more, which is why they may not be a popular are nickel plated steel.
Pure nickel strings offer a warm, sweet and vintage sound. They are warm in tone and more dynamic and responsive to changes. Pure nickel is usually used by Jazz or Blues players.
The string winding is a reference to how the metal is wound around the lower strings. Different windings will effect your comfort while playing and different windings are suited better to certain styles.
The simplest winding is roundwound, round wire wrapped around a round or hexagon core. Such strings are usually simple to manufacture and the least expensive. However these are bumpy and produce the most friction. In addition, they are the least comfortable to play.
Flatwound strings are similar to roundwound as they have a round or hexagon core. But the string that is wrapped around the core is slightly flattened making it more comfortable to play. They also have smaller grooves which means less dirt and oil builds up, giving them a longer life expectancy.
Halfwound is a mix between roundwound and flatwound. A round wire is wrapped around a core and then ground down until it is practically flat. These are the most expensive and usually a thicker gauge, however they the most comfortable.
Choosing a string winding is dependent on your own comfort level and is down to preference.
In conclusion, different strings suit different people and serve different roles. When purchasing a new set the gauge and material is probably the main thing you want to be concerned with. For beginners a light weighted strings will be easier to play and is more targeted for a pure rock sound. Heavier pure nickle strings would be more suited to a jazz guitarist as they offer a warm and vibrant sound. It is also based on your own personal preference, like many guitarists you many discover that a certain material or thickness works really well for your own playing and style.