After we covered all about the types of material most guitar strings are made of in Part I, it is time to move on to the other crucially important characteristics you need to keep in mind to equip your guitar with the best fit of string. These are the gauge of the string, as well as the shape of its core and the way it is coated and wound. Stay ‘till the end to also get a recommendation for some of the best guitar string brands.
This refers to the size of the string in diameter, or we can simply say “gauge” is just a fancy term for thickness. It’s hard to believe, but even a thousandth of an inch can make a huge difference in your guitar’s sound and feel. This characteristic is measured in 1/1000th of an inch. When you look at a pack of guitar strings, the heaviest and lightest gauges will be displayed on the packaging. For example, ‘10-46’ – which means the pack’s lightest string is a 10-gauge string that is 0.010 inches or 0.254mm in diameter, and the thickest string is 46-gauge that is 0.046 inches or 1.17 mm in diameter.
The string core essentially means the shape of the guitar string. There are two key types – the round core and the hex core. The round core strings offer mellower tones that sound fantastic when playing blues or classic rock. Meanwhile, the hex core strings are typically louder and brighter, delivering a very modern sound best suited to more recent rock and metal.
When we talk about winding, we’re referring to the way the wire wrap is wound around the core. The easiest way to tell the difference is to look at the surface of your string. Roundwounds have a textured surface. They have a bright tone and flexible feel, making them a solid choice for rock, metal and fingerstyle. Roundwounds are also the cheapest and most widespread option.
When it comes to flatwounds, as the name suggests, they have a flattened surface. They produce more tension on the fretboard, which means less fret buzz and smoother note transitions. But they’re harder to fret and have a dark, bass-heavy tone, which is why they;re widely used in jazz. Half rounds have a slightly flattened surface. They’re brighter than flatwounds, but stiffer and darker sounding than roundwounds. They’re also the most expensive of the three types and may be hard to find at your local store.
In the late 90s, the brand Elixir revolutionized the industry by launching coated guitar strings. With a plastic polymer around the wire wrap, they keep away sweat, dirt and other grimy build-up and oxidation.
There are two major types of coating, developed by Elixir and copied by other brands:
- Polyweb: with a heavy coating, they have a smoother feel and longer lifespan.
- Nanoweb: with a light coating, they feel and sound more like uncoated types.
- Optiweb: their latest coating – the thinnest of all and meant to last the longest.
Coated strings last at least twice as long as uncoated ones, but they’re also about twice as expensive. Another thing is they aren’t as bright and have less sustain. Let us know if you’d like to learn more about Coating.
String Brand Recommendations
There are a variety of different string brands on the market, and that can make it difficult to know where to start looking. Here are a few recommended brands for each of the three main types of guitar strings.
- Electric Guitar Strings – Elixir – any of theirs really, Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinkies, D’Addario NYXL, Rotosound
- Acoustic Guitar Strings – Elixir Phosphor Bronze w/Nanoweb Coating, Ernie Ball Earthwood Strings, D’Addario, Martin M170 80/20 Bronze (although they tend to wear out in a few days)
- Nylon and Classical Guitar Strings – D’Addario Pro-Arté, Godin Nylon Strings, Martin
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!
How to tune my guitar?
10 Gift Ideas That Every Guitar Player Would Love
What are the different types of acoustic guitars?
Types of Electric Guitar According to Body Shapes (Part I)
Types of Electric Guitar According to Body Shapes (Part II)