Choosing the right type of strings for your guitar is incredibly important. When you know what strings to use it’s a huge asset to your playing and likewise when you get it wrong it can be incredibly detrimental. There are many types of guitar strings, each of which contributes a different sound to the music you play. In this two-part series, we will cover all the basics you need to know in order to equip your guitar with the best fit of strings.
The sound of a guitar string depends on the material and gauge of the string, as well as the shape of its core and the way it is coated or wound. In this first part, we will dive into the types of material.
The most common strings are metal ones that use steel and nickel, metal ones made from brass or bronze, and strings made from nylon. Occasionally, you can find ones made from other metals, like:
- Titanium: long-lasting, with a bright tone.
- Cobalt: has a bright tone and wide range.
- Chrome: has a warm tone, but breaks easily.
Steel and nickel are mainly used to make strings for electric guitars. Usually, an electric guitar string will consist of a steel wire that is plated in nickel, although you can also buy pure steel or pure nickel ones. Steel strings have a long sustain and are best for metal, rock and country. Important to know is that they should never go on a classical guitar. Ever! Classical guitars are lightly braced, with a delicate body. You might accidentally snap its neck by using high-tension steel since you’re likely to double the tension it is designed to be able to handle. On nickel strings, your notes will be warmer, richer and fuller. Because of this, nickel is more popular with rhythm guitarists and is typical in vintage-sounding blues or jazz. Opting for nickel-plated steel strings allows you to find a happy medium between these two sounds.
Brass and bronze strings are a variation of steel strings for steel-string acoustic guitars. Brass is favored by a lot of musicians who want to bring out the “natural” tones of their instrument. It combines a strong bass on the lower strings with a super bright tone on the higher strings. But here is also a warning – brass ages faster than other types. Bronze plated strings deliver a smoother and warmer sound than brass, which is why they are often used for softer music pieces.
Nylon strings are typically used on nylon string guitars or classical guitars. They can have low tension, so you might experience some fret buzz when you play. With the right guitar body, you can master a diversity of styles – from classical, through flamenco and gypsy jazz, to country, with nylons. Do keep in mind though that because they tend to stretch more than steel ones, they require more frequent tuning, especially when newly installed. They are also more sensitive to atmospheric changes caused by humidity and temperature.
Now you know what to expect from the different types of strings based on the material they are made of. In order to match your guitar with the best strings though you need to also be on the lookout for their gauge, string core, coating and winding. We will be covering that in the second part so stay tuned!
If you want some further reading materials on the topic, check out also these articles here and here. For more guides, tips and tricks we invite you to join Neli’s Guitar Family and subscribe to her YouTube channel! If you are ready to dive into the world of guitar (or ukulele) you can sign up for a lesson HERE – the first one is 50% off!
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