photo by mjecker
One of the things that most folks tackle after deciding to learn guitar is the issue of strings. Strings will need to be changed regularly, every two to three weeks on average if you are playing at least half an hour a day. Some folks will have to change theirs more often, as some people seem to wear out strings faster than others. I have seen some beginners leave the same set of strings on for six months or a year. You want to change them regularly, fresh strings will have a better tone and stay in tune better. If you dont know how to change your strings there are a ton of good tutorials out on the Web.
I’ll talk about the two main types of acoustic guitar strings out there, then we’ll look at them more a bit more closely.
Guitar strings fall into either the coated or uncoated category. Coated strings are where the wound strings(usually the 6th, 5th, 4th, and 3rd) are coated with some sort of protective material to help them maintain that bright new sound longer. This is because with the coating dirt, skin oils, and other stuff cannot build up in between the string windings, which is what deadens the string. Different companies coat their strings differently, Elixer being the first company to come out with such a product. These kinds of strings usually run about $13-$15, so while they cost more than a regular pack of strings they last alot longer.
Coated strings generally feel slicker out of the box than regular strings, which some folks don’t like. They do tend to minimize string squeaks though. Elixers seem to have a thicker coating than other strings, and to me that seems to give them a more mellow, fat tone when compared to the bright and crispness of regular strings. Its not good or bad, just something different.
Uncoated guitar strings fall into alot of different categories. Lets check em out.
Phosphor Bronze – Probably the most common type of acoustic guitar string, they were introduced by the Diadarrio Company in 1974. They have a bright, warm, and balanced.
80/20 Bronze – The original steel guitar string. So called because they are made up of 80% copper and 20% tin. Some folks think 80/20′s to be brighter initially.
Silk and Steel – These combine a copper wrap with silk for a mellow tone and easier fretting with the left hand due to the silk. They are not near as loud as all metal strings, and may work well for smaller body guitars that have a more intimate sound.
Nylon – Nylon strings are for classical guitars. They have much less tension at full pitch, and a nice warm round tone. They are only really appropriate on classical guitars, so if you are not sure what kind of guitar you have, take it into a guitar store and ask.
Flatwound Strings – On flatwound strings the outer wire wrapping is square instead of round, so once wrapped the surface of the string is much smoother. This allows less dirt and gunk to build up, which makes the string last longer. I have not played on them much myself, but folks seem to say that flatwound strings have a different tone than regular round wound strings.
So now that you have a different idea of the various types of strings go try some of them out. I would say the majority of acoustic guitars use Phosphoer Bronze, 80/20′s, or one of the many coated strings out there. Different guitars may sound better with different strings. In the past i mostly used coated strings, either Elixers or Diadarrio EXP’s. However, on my present guitar it seems to sound best with regular phosphor bronze strings.
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