How To Choose Acoustic Guitar Strings?

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Acoustic guitar stringsIs it important to know how to choose acoustic guitar strings? Yes. It influences the sound produced by your guitar and it matches your playing style.

The choice is also based on the type of guitar you own: steel-stringed, classical, electric, etc. Let me first introduce a few basics.

1. Strings name

Before entering any music shop or searching for new strings on the web, let’s see what is the standard tuning:

Guitar String Names

The first string is the bottom one, and the 6th the top one. Note that for 7-stringed guitars, the seventh string is B.

2. Different strings for different guitars

2.1. String material.

You probably already know that but let’s review the different strings available:

  • Classical / Flamenco guitar: nylon strings. They have replaced gut strings overtime and produce a warmer sound than steel.
  • Any other acoustic guitars: steel / metal strings. They usually sound brighter than nylon or gut strings.

2.2. Nylon Strings

Note that nylon and steel strings are subdivided into several types. Let’s start by nylon treble strings:

  • Clear nylon: a classic. It’s usually the type of strings you’ll get if you don’t know what you want. It’s perfectly balanced in terms of warmth, projection and brightness.
  • Black nylon: a great choice for folk players. Is it because of its warmth? Hmm… Maybe.
  • Titanium: brighter than clear nylon but also darker. You’ll feel the melancholy with these strings.
  • Composite: the G string will sound brighter and have a better projection. Ideal for a better balance between bass and treble strings.
classical guitar strings
Never put nylon strings on a steel string guitar or steel strings on a classical guitar. You could either damage the guitar or end up with broken strings.

What about the basses? Round-wound is the most popular type of construction. And for materials:

  • Silver-plated copper: THE most popular type. As for clear nylon, balance is its best asset.
  • 80/20 Bronze (brass): 80 % of copper and 20 % zinc. Good projection for this type of strings, it also offers more brilliance than the silver-plated copper type.

2.3. Steel strings

Brighter than nylon strings, they are also subdivided into several types. Let’s see…

  • 80/20 Bronze (brass): 80 % of copper and 20 % zinc. Good projection for this type of strings, it also offers more brilliance than the silver-plated copper type.
  • Phosphor Bronze: 92 % of copper and 8 % tin. Phosphor helps the strings “live” longer. As the silver-plated copper type of strings, it’s also well-balanced.
  • Silver-plated copper: THE most popular type. Balance is its best asset.

Note that round-wound is also the most popular construction for these strings.

3. Size does matter.

3.1. Steel strings gauge.

The reason size matters is that it matches your style or your level. Light strings are perfect for beginners as it’s easier for strumming and finger-picking. But as regards the music style you play, you have to understand that:

  • If you do a lot of strumming, medium strings are better.
  • If you prefer finger-picking, light strings are better.
  • If you like both: a light-medium set is recommended (medium gauge for the last 3 strings, and light for the others).
guitar strings
Avoiding the string to overlap itself with lengthen its life time

3.2. Nylon strings tension.

Again, the tension chosen is important as regards what you want to play and your level. Are you a beginner? Then preferably go for low tension strings. However, it’s really up to you to chose any tension you like. “Pros” like to play on high tension strings. But there are also a lot of them playing with low tension type.

4. Choose guitar strings you love.

This is probably the best advice I will give on this page. The best I’ve been given. Do you play guitar to please the others? Or yourself? I’m not saying to ignore completely what people say but… Trust me, the way your playing will shine is by first pleasing yourself. So… Try any string you’d like. If you feel they lack something, then try other ones.

Finally, several tips before you go purchasing some:

  • Buying a set of strings will cost you less than separately. Consider this before changing any of them.
  • Try not to choose guitar strings with different gauges or tensions at the same time. It will just create some balancing issues.
  • Listen to the “tone” of a string. If it sounds flat and dull, it’s probably time to change it.
  • Bring your guitar to a shop. Ask them if you can test how a typical string sounds on your guitar. They’re normally here to help. Especially if you buy afterwards.

Also:

  • This page relates a lot of information on acoustic guitar strings.

12 comments

  1. Man this brings back memories of going to guitar lessons in some guys’ basement. I’ve had a guitar since I was about 14 but I never knew all that much about strings and the detail you need to pay attention to. Should I still change my stings if I haven’t really touched by guitar in quite some time? Or do they still get worn out simply because of time? I feel like getting back into it after reading this post. I have a fender electric guitar and it’s always had an extra pair of strings that came with it but they haven’t been touched to this day.

    1. Hi Zahub, welcome back to the guitar world 😉
      Yes strings can get worn as time goes by. However, it also depends on where your guitar is. For example, if the humidity is high, the strings will become rusty and the sound you’ll get from them will be dull. If you keep it in a dry place, the strings will remain in good shape for a lot of years. I hope it helped you out.

  2. So interesting!! I don’t really know anything about guitars, but I love them and have always wanted to learn. This is very useful information. I will be sure to come back and visit again if I do decide to start learning some day!

    Great post!

  3. Very helpful for any beginning guitarist or someone like me who has a guitar in the closet -I am wondering – if the guitar has been sitting for 5 years or so – should I get new strings or just tune up the guitar and see how it goes?

    1. Hi Heather, thanks for the comment. Like I said in a previous comment, it all depends on where you keep your guitar. If the humidity is high, the strings will rust overtime and you’ll have to change the strings. If the air is dry, the strings will last for a few years before getting worn out.

  4. I have been having guitar lessons and i am currently learning to play the guitar. Recently, one of my guitar strings cut and I panicked because now my guitar lessons have to be paused for a while. It is a coincidence that this site gives information on the strings and material needed for a specific guitar type based on preference. I will keep this in mind when buying a new string next week. Thanks for the Info.

    1. Hey Toriola. I must say, I’m happy you found the information you needed on my website. When I just started the guitar and broke my first string, I also didn’t know what to buy and where to go. Good luck in your learning 😉

  5. I have been dabbling in trying to play the guitar off and on for several years but, I am not really that good by any stretch of the imagination.

    I use the Phosphor Bronze strings just because I like the way they sound.

    I also have been wanting to try a classical guitar but I am concerned it might be difficult to string.

    Are you planning any articles on how to string a nylon string guitar?

    1. Hi Forrest, I like the sound of Phosphor Bronze as well. Sorry, I don’t plan on doing an article on how to string a nylon string guitar for now.

      Clear nylon and silver-plated copper (for the lower strings) are recommended for beginners 🙂 But if you like the sound of phosphor bronze, you can also try the brass strings for the low strings.

      I hope it helped you out!

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