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Everything you need to know about guitar strings

If you’re a guitar player, you know the strings are pretty much one of the most important parts of your instrument. It is the vibrating of the strings that produce the tones you hear. However, despite the importance of guitar strings to the music, many beginner musicians don’t know enough about them, or are bewildered by the wide array of choices for strings. Here are the important things to know when buying new strings.

Why do I need new strings?

New guitar strings can have a big impact on your playing. The more you play and practise, the more dull and unresponsive your strings can become. Older strings lose some of their tone, while new strings sound brighter, cleaner and the notes have more sustain. A new set of strings will greatly improve your sound and playing.

When do I need to replace the strings?

If they sound good to you, there is probably no need to change your strings. If they sound somewhat muddy, dull or flat it is probably a good idea to change them. Also, if the strings feel slick and clean, you can get down to playing. If your strings feel really dry, dirty or rusty it is definitely time to change them. Finally, take a look at your strings. If they are shiny and clean, then away you go. However, if they are dull or tarnished looking, then maybe it’s time to change things up.

What type of string does my guitar need?

The type of guitar you have will determine what type of guitar string you will ultimately need. Typically, classical and flamenco-style guitars use nylon strings. Although nylon strings are the standard for classical guitars these days, gut was the original material from which they were made. Nylon strings offer a clarity of tone with a bright attack that offsets the mellow overall tone of the classical guitar.

Regular acoustic guitars (sometimes called dreadnaught style) use steel strings. And, the two are definitely not interchangeable. Nylon strings on a guitar that requires steel strings is going to sound awful. And if you put steel strings on a guitar that requires nylon strings you will likely damage the instrument due to the extra tension put on the neck and pegs by the steel strings.

Steel strings also come in a variety of materials, such as bronze and phosphor bronze. The material your guitar strings are made of can also affect the tone of the instrument. Bronze strings have more of a bright sound without being over the top and they provide plenty of sustain. If you like a clear, crisp tone then bronze strings will do the job. Phosphor Bronze acoustic guitar strings are a bit warmer and airy than regular bronze strings. A lot of players think that this makes them better for finger picking.

What gauge guitar strings do I need?

The gauge of your guitar strings refers to their thickness, with larger gauges called “heavy” and the smaller sizes called “light.” The thicker gauge strings produce a fuller and louder sound, but they are a little more difficult to play. Thicker strings are also more resistant to breaking, so if you’re a hard player with lots of energetic strumming then higher gauge strings are for you. Thinner gauge strings will make your guitar easier to play, but you will sacrifice a little bit of tone and volume. Bottom line is the size of the string is hands down the most important factor that impacts playability and tone.

Round or flat wound?

The lower strings on your guitar are made with a wrapping around a core. Round wound is the standard guitar string, you can buy flat wound strings that offer a much smoother playing experience and vastly reduced finger-squeak noises. Flat wounds are generally used for jazz and sometimes blues music.

Keep your guitar strings clean

You may not realize it, but the oil and sweat from your fingers causes corrosion and dirt to build up on your strings, affecting the sound and longevity of your strings. Make sure to wipe down your strings with a clean, dry cloth after each playing session, and wash your hands before playing. Get into the habit and it will serve you well and increase the lifespan of your strings.