SOUND, PLAYABILITY and LONGEVITY are the three things to look for when deciding on a string that’s best for you. Let’s take a look at each.
SOUND: What may be the best sounding string on one guitar may not be the best sounding on a different guitar. There is not one type of string that is best for all guitars. The type of music you play will also be a factor when considering strings.
FOR STEEL STRING ACOUSTICS… There are basically two types of strings in popular use today for acoustic guitars. Bright Bronze and Phosphor Bronze. As a general rule, Bright Bronze strings are more gold in color and have a brighter sound, where Phosphor Bronze is more copper in color and have a warmer or mellower sound. Try these different types on your guitar and see which you prefer.
A couple of other considerations for acoustic guitars are, Silk and Steel, which are a metal wound string with a nylon core. These strings have less tension and thus a softer feel as well as a softer, quieter tone. Best used on guitars that may be old and fragile or for the individual who wants an easier to play string. White Bronze strings are used to give a good acoustic sound for use with magnetic type pickup on acoustic guitars.
CLASSIC GUITARS… Today, for classic guitars, all you will find are strings made of synthetic materials, usually nylon. The three low strings are metal wound on nylon and the three high strings are plain nylon. Nylon strings usually aren’t sold in gauges, but rather in different tensions. Normal tension strings will have a good tone with ease of action. High tension strings will have better tone and volume with a stiffer feel.
NOTE: It does not hurt to put nylon strings on steel string guitars, (they just don’t sound worth a darn) but NEVER, NEVER put steel strings on an instrument built for nylon. Classic guitars are not built or braced for the amount of tension that a full set of steel strings, tuned to pitch has. This will seriously damage the instrument.
FOR ELECTRIC GUITARS and BASSES… When you think about sound on the electric guitar, you often think about the pick-ups and amplifier. But remember that strings do have an affect on how the pick-ups react. There are a few different compounds in popular use today for electric strings. Nickle strings seem to be the all-around favorite. Also available are strings called stainless steel and some that have more Iron in them. Electric strings have to be made of materials that will affect the magnetic field produced by the pick-up. When the string vibrates through this magnetic field, the pick-up creates a voltage that is sent to the amplifier. So, strings like the ones claiming higher iron content will affect the magnetic field differently (since iron is very magnetic). However, because there’s more iron in these strings, they will rust sooner than say the stainless steel strings that resist corrosion, they all have something to offer.
ABOUT FLAT-WOUND STRINGS…Flat wound strings do not sound as “alive” as round wound (regular) strings. Flat wounds coast more and usually go dead quicker than their round wound counterpart. Because of this, few six string electric players use them, but if you feel you need a smooth string give them a try. Because of the large size of the windings on bass strings, bass players find the smoother surface of a flat or “half round” string to be more comfortable to the touch, and less damaging to their fret wires and wooden fingerboards.
PLAYABILITY: The rule of thumb is that the larger the string gauge, the harder it is to play and the lighter the gauge the easier. While the larger has more power (volume) the lighter is faster and more responsive to the touch. Try different gauges of strings to find which best suites your needs for sound and playability! Once you’ve decided on a gauge of strings, you should have your guitar set up for that gauge of strings. If you change gauges later, you should have the instrument set up again for the new gauge. If you are going to follow the set procedure on this web sight, understand that the gauge of string you use doing the set up, has everything to do with how the set up goes, i.e. how the truss rod is adjusted, intonation settings etc, etc…!
LONGEVITY: or “How often should I change strings?” Dirt and moisture are the natural enemies of the string. As you play, your hands sweat and fill the windings with buildup that eventually kills the sound and corrodes the string. Everyone reacts to the strings differently, you may be able to get much more use out of a set than the next person because of your chemistry and how often you play etc., so there is no real answer to how often to change strings.
A WORD ABOUT COATED STRINGS… In almost all the above mentioned strings these days the manufacturers are making what they call “Coated” strings. These are strings that have one form or another of some synthetic material that protects the windings from dirt, sweat and acids from the hand. They are often several dollars more per pack, but give several time the string life of the un-coated string. I like these strings a lot and find them well worth the extra price.