…bright, rich, deep, muddy, or flat sound… can be achieved by changing your style of strings!
Try out as many guitar string styles as possible, and you will find what a difference they can make in your overall playing!
If you’re a punk guitar player and you think old and bad strings help, read on!
Unless you are an artist in the noise genre, your string build and age matters. Depending on your genre you may want a bright, rich, deep, muddy, or flat sound… all of which can be achieved by changing your style of strings!
Guitar String Basics
The gauge is the thickness of the string and even the tiniest difference can change the sound. Thinner and lighter gauges are usually easier action to play and pick, but they stand the risk of breaking easier. And if you want thick and heavy gauges make sure they fit the nut of your guitar! Not all gauges will!
Gauges come in super light, light, medium, and heavy (Rotosound produce everything from a .008″ plain string to a .060″ wound string). Check the specs on your guitar to see what the manufacturer recommends if you are not sure where to start. If you are working on beginner guitar songs, you may want to avoid heavy gauges as they are hard on the fingers.
Windings and Coatings
The larger bass strings of the guitar often have more than one material. They have a core and then around that a special winding. Some cores are round, but modern strings, including all Rotosound strings, have replaced that with a hexagon shape, which “grips” the winding better.
Round wound strings have more of a texture to them and often have a bright sound. While flatwound strings have more of a flat surface and a heavier tone. There is also a half round which is like a mix of both flat and wound.
And coatings are used to protect the strings from dirty and sweaty fingers. Generally a coating will make the strings last longer. The Rotosound Nexus strings use a polymer coated winding that protects the string while retaining the feel of an uncoated string.
Common Guitar Strings
Acoustic strings are usually thicker than electric as they require more vibration to be heard. Just be sure not to put too thick of strings on or you may cause damage to the guitar body as the string tension pulls on the bridge.
Original strings were made from animal intestines, you can still find these strings. They sound incredible and rich but are very expensive. They are usually used in classical settings and for those seeking a true vintage tone.
There are a variety of nylon and synthetic strings available for classical guitar players. They too can come with coatings and wraps sometimes with fluorocarbons and other plastic composites. And modern nylon does a pretty good job of sounding similar too but better than true gut. Nylon will not work on western-style acoustic guitars; it will not be loud enough.
80/20 bronze / brass
Brass (sometimes called 80/20 bronze) used to be the main string styles used many years ago. These strings have deep bass and a bright tone but wear out fast.
These strings also have a mix of mostly copper, some zinc, and a little phosphorus added. They are not as bright and loud as brass strings, but they last longer and are more resilient to corrosion. Aluminum is another metal mixed with bronze which some find to have a clearer tone.
Usually electric guitar gauges are going to be on the thinner side as the pickup boosts the signal as opposed to an acoustic body.
Nickel coated steel
This is the most common string for electric guitars and has a balanced tone. It is used in most popular genres and has a lot of sustain although it may not last as long as other materials as the nickel coating will wear out.
Steel was a popular choice for guitar strings back in the 1950s and ’60s. The sound is bright with a lot of sustain.
Nickel is not as bright and has a warmer sound, and it is often used in jazz, fusion, or blues. Nickel strings feel very smooth.
Titanium, chrome, cobalt, and many other metal alloys are making their way into strings. Depending on the metals involved and coatings you may get a warm deep tone, or more of a brighter sound.
Rotosound produce a string with a winding made from Type 52 Alloy called Ultramag. Type 52, a blend of nickel and iron, benefits from the powerful sound of steel strings and the smooth feel and longevity of pure nickel strings.
Installing and Caring for Guitar Strings
So how do we know what string style to install? Well it depends on a lot of factors.
- If it is a new guitar with no setup it likely has cheap strings so get new ones.
- Most guitar builders include guidelines for what suits their model
- Does your guitar require ball ends or tie ends? Be sure to check before buying
- Can your guitar handle the material and gauge?
- What final tone are you going for?
- As always, don’t be too cheap. Strings are so important for the final sound, get a quality material!
- Only change one string at a time to keep the tension even and so you have a sound reference point.
- Use a proper tuner so you know exactly what note and octave you are at.
- Be sure it fits correctly in the nut, and it is wrapped neatly
- If you get fret buzz you may need to adjust it at the nut or try a different gauge
- Keep your strings clean and wipe them down after every use so they last longer.
Your genre and final tone will determine what kind of string is perfect for you. Once you know your guitar specifics try a variety of suitable string styles. Some musicians like to switch regularly to find different tones, while others have one type that they love. Try out as many guitar string styles as possible, and you will find what a difference they can make in your overall playing!
Shawn Leonhardt is a writer for GuitarTricks.com and 30 Day Slinger