Whether you’re buying your first set of strings or you’re looking for a different sound or feel, learning about guitar string types is a must. Choosing which guitar strings are best for you depends on the type of guitar you play, the genres of music you play and your playing style. The types of guitar strings are manufactured specifically for use on electric, acoustic, or classical guitars. They differ and they shouldn’t be interchanged.
The most important factors to consider when selecting guitar string types are the gauge, metal alloy composition, tone, playability and, oddly enough, corrosion resistance. Guitar strings are susceptible to finger sweat and oils, dirt and humidity – all of which result in corrosion and oxidation. Your body chemistry may actually determine the life of the strings! In fact, several companies such as Elixir offer polymer coated guitar strings to reduce corrosion. All types of guitar strings will lose their luster, brilliance and tone quality over a period of use, and you should change them frequently.
Arguably, the gauge is the most important consideration. Guitar string gauges represent the diameter measurements of the strings in thousandths of an inch. For example, the gauge sizes included in a set of extra-light, electric guitar strings are .009, .011, .016, .024, .032, and .042 (from top to bottom). Dropping the decimal points and zeros, a package of light gauge strings includes gauges 10, 13, 17, 26, 36, and 46. These two electric guitar string types are ideal for beginners and advanced players alike and, since the strings are lighter, they are easier to fret and bend. They’re an excellent choice for playing blues, pop, classic rock, or 80’s metal, and they work equally well for the modern drop-D tunings.
Heavier electric guitar string types, although stiffer and harder to fret, provide more volume and enhanced tone quality. Jazz guitarists typically use heavy gauge string sets for the tone and to maintain the tighter string tension required for hollow-body and arch-top guitars. Using heavy gauge strings is absolutely mandatory if you’re playing today’s metal in lower drop tunings such as drop Db, C, B, and A. Hybrid guitar string types (10, 13, 17, 30, 42, and 52) are great choices for metal players,
because they maintain upper string flexibility for soloing while providing deep, resonant low tones. Be careful if you’re switching to a heavier string setup, though, because doing so may necessitate modifications to your guitar’s bridge, nut, and truss rod. Again, greater string tension is required to compensate for the lower tunings.
As magnetic pickups reproduce the electric guitar string vibrations, the electric guitar string types are made of high-carbon steel alloys and are electroplated with tin and nickel to provide magnetic properties and corrosion resistance. Nickel-plated steel windings produce higher output than pure nickel (more of a retro sound), but both sound great!
Acoustic guitar string types are not magnetic, and they feature bronze alloys for winding over the central steel core. Although a bit stiffer, the phosphor bronze products (92% copper, 8% tin) are the most popular. They provide rich, crisp tone and they’re more corrosion resistant than the 80/20 bronze (80% copper, 20% tin) guitar string types. The brighter tone and softer feel of the latter, make 80/20’s a popular choice as well, but they deteriorate quicker. A set of extra-light (10, 14, 23, 30, 39, and 47) or light gauge (12, 16, 25, 32, 42, and 54) acoustic guitar strings will maintain proper string tension, and they are the easiest to play.
Considering all guitar string types, classical guitar string types offer the fewest options. Having no truss rod for neck support, there is only one standard gauge available (28, 32, 40, 30, 35, and 43). The upper three strings are nylon and the lower three have a bronze winding over a multi-fiber nylon core. You may select either plain end classical guitar strings or ball end strings. The former requires tying the bridge knot. You can string the latter like an electric guitar.
All guitar string types are inexpensive with a price range of $4 to $10. You’ve already invested a lot of hard-earned money to buy the guitar, so why not spend a few extra bucks to make your instrument sound as good as it did the day you brought it home? For the price of a fast food lunch, you’ll have new guitar strings!