How to Find the Best Guitar Strings for You

                                             

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How to choose guitar strings. They should coordinate with your style of play, picking technique (fingers or plectrum), and if you want to play slow or fast. The type of string will affect tone, resonance, and responsiveness. A lighter gauge will make the strings more bendable and faster but will have duller  tone qualities than a heavier string.

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This may seem unimportant when considering the old Delta blues players would buy used strings and boil old strings to get more life from them. But there is a lot you can add to your playing by finding the strings that are best suited for you.

 

Another thing to consider is your budget.  Acoustic strings are a little more expensive than electric strings. They can run $10 or $12 more or less as opposed to $5 or $6 for electric strings.

 

There are also coated strings that are offered by most brands that cost a little more but supposedly they will last longer. You will lose some tone with coated strings.

 

It is the sweat and oil on the hands that make the strings get old so washing your hands is a good idea.

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I use an extra lite D’Addario for my acoustic guitar. I use lite gauge for my resonator for more tone. I don’t use a medium gauge as it would put more tension on the neck.

 

I did  use Ernie Ball round wound Lite gauge on my electrics. They were under $6 a set.

I switched to D’Addario flat wound because I use a slide and play octaves that include sliding my fingers. The flat wound strings cut down on string noise. They do cost about the same as acoustic strings, a bit more than round wound electric strings.

 

I use Elixirs (a coated brand) on my 12 string because I hate to change all those strings any more often  than I have to. There are more strings and the Elixirs are pricier. They run about $25 a set.

 

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If you ever play guitars in a music shop you will find some guitars have old rusty strings. This is a sure sign they need to be replaced and it is hard to judge a guitar that has strings in that condition. A dead  tone is also a good indication that the strings need replacing. I find that when it is hard to get the strings in tune they need replacing.

When I had one guitar and played long hours every day I changed strings every 2 weeks.

Some change every week. I now play my strings longer as I play all my guitars and don’t play one all the time. The life of the string lasts longer. Please check my “how to properly care for your guitar” page.

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  1. All my acoustics are also amplified but the sound and tone of the string is probably more important because of the acoustic nature of the instrument. Bronze, phosphor bronze, and coated are the most popular strings for acoustic guitar. Each one is more expensive than the previous. Bronze have the brightest tone but have a shorter lifespan. Phosphor bronze has a clear tone but darker. It is still distinct and has a bright high tone quality. With coated strings, you trade tone for life span but they still have a nice warm sound.

 

  1. Heavier strings have more tone but with the amplified acoustics of today a lighter gage still sounds good and is more responsive and less stress on your neck. I was busy “trucking” and not playing guitar as much so I put some medium gauge guitar strings on my acoustic so they would last longer. It caused the neck to pull away from the body. A friend suggested that I switch to a lite gauge and when I did the neck went back into place.

 

  1. The strings on an acoustic are more important to the overall sound and playability than they are on an electric. They should be changed more often. It is always good to wipe the strings off after playing to clean off the sweat and oils from your fingers. I also wipe my guitar body as it helps protect the finish from sweat and dirt.

 

  1. There are those that suggest putting nylon strings on your steel string guitar to ease the soreness of your finger tips. This is mismatching the correct strings. If you practice 10 to 20 minutes a day you will develop calluses in about a week and the pain will go away.

 Come on “bucko” you can suck it up for a week. If not, start with a classical guitar that is built for nylon strings.  Mismatching the strings is bad for your guitar and may warp the neck.     

 

  1. Cleanliness is good for your guitar strings as well as the guitar itself. Your strings will last longer and the finish on your guitar will stay brighter. It will save you money and protect your investment.

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  1. The material that is used to make electric strings is important to be aware of. There is not much flash to stainless steel strings but they do have  a pronounced sound that sustains well.

Vintage tone can be achieved with pure nickel strings for that old school sound. Nickel-plated is brighter and is more responsive to aggressive picking. Jazz and blues players that are looking for warm retro tones would like chrome strings. The coated strings are supposed to last longer but give up tonal qualities. They are more expensive and I would not recommend them for electric guitar. They wear out like any other string and in the process, the coating starts deteriorating.

 

  1. The type of winding of a string affects tone,  string noise, and playability.

Round strings are more responsive, bright, and sustain. Flat wound strings are smoother,  more consistent, with less string noise. They are not so sensitive to different attack levels. Many professional players use them.

 

  1. When players, such as I, that tune down to open D or drop D tuning, a heavier gauge string can be used as there is less tension on the neck by tuning the strings down. A heavier gauge string for slide playing may help eliminate fret noise. The stiffer string will keep the slide from contacting the frets.

 

  1. In the final analysis, it is you yourself that determines what strings are the best fit. It is good to try different strings and brands so that you can find what works best for you. Things to be aware of are tone, sustain, brightness, and how you feel about fretting and bending. When you get lost in the sound and playing you are in the zone and it is working for you. I might suggest taking notes because I will forget if I don’t. I just remember the “zone”!

    Amazon’s best selling acoustic guitar strings

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Happy Pickin,           

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12 thoughts on “How to Find the Best Guitar Strings for You

  • June 21, 2017 at 8:38 am
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    Thank You

    Quite an educational post on choosing the best guitar strings for your type of playing, I always thought all guitar strings gave you the same sounds and the more expensive strings were just supposed to last longer.

    I never realized you get a different sound from different types of strings, I will have to share this with my son who plays the guitar too

    Reply
    • June 21, 2017 at 9:41 pm
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      Hi Jeffery,
      I am glad you found my article on guitar strings informative. Tonewoods are also something that can pertain to certain styles of play. Especially with acoustic guitars. Here is a link if you want to check it out. Thanks for your comment. If you or your son have any questions please let me know. https://martstervt.com/guitar-
      Cheers,
      Marty

  • June 21, 2017 at 8:29 am
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    Thank You

    I enjoyed your article very much on choosing guitar strings, in my time playing the guitar there were not many different types of strings to choose. Maybe I just was not aware of the different types in those days, this has opened my eyes to choosing guitar strings.

    Jeff

    Reply
    • July 4, 2017 at 8:52 pm
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      Hi Jeff,
      thanks for your comment. There are many things that can affect the sound of your guitar, both acoustic and electric. Effects pedals, amps, and digital effects. I am still learning how to mix effects. Learning guitar is an ongoing adventure.

      Regards,
      Marty

  • October 27, 2016 at 10:44 pm
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    I practically only play with an acoustic guitar these days. And I go for lighter strings. Basically because like you say, they are easier, smoother to the touch.

    But one thing that I found interesting is that you mentioning round strings vs flat strings for electric guitars. That’s one thing I didn’t know even after so many years of playing it. It’s one thing I’m gonna have to look for.

    Reply
    • October 28, 2016 at 12:13 am
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      Hi Guy,
      thanks for your comment. One thing that I really need to work at is limiting string noise. Although you give up some tone with a flat wound string it is easier to use a slide and slide your fingers without so much string noise.
      I use a slide and also slide two notes in octaves. (Wes Montgomery style-jazz) I am told that many jazz and blues players like flat wound strings. They cost a little more but I am happy with the overall performance.
      DeAdario is my brand of choice. Thanks again,

      Marty

  • September 20, 2016 at 3:50 am
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    Hi Marty,

    I am just a beginner in guitar playing. I think I need to buy a good set of strings to replace my current ones.

    They are already dead. I couldn’t tune them at all (or my tuning ability is not that good).

    But again, in Indonesia, good guitar strings can hold you back of a week food. I think I need to save first before buying.

    Reply
    • September 20, 2016 at 9:22 am
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      Thank you for your comment. Good guitar strings are important for good guitar playing but you can only use the strings you have until you can afford new ones. The old blues players used to boil old strings to give them more life.Boiling would remove the dirt and grease from your fingers.
      I save most of my old strings because you never know when you may not be able to get new strings.
      They also are available if you break a string.
      You can buy singles for spares or carry an old set so you don’t have to break up a new set when a string breaks

      .

  • September 15, 2016 at 10:01 pm
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    Hey Marty,
    Wow $5 – $10 for strings in your country is quite affordable! Here in Malaysia its around RM20 – RM30 for strings. Our salaries are just about the same in both our currencies so imagine how that wold affect you with the same numbers in USD lol.

    I have a question though, should I go for anti-rust strings? I saw them the other day but as sweet as the seller made it sound like, I still have doubts that there might be a catch to it because it seems so perfect.

    Reply
    • September 15, 2016 at 10:40 pm
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      Hi Riaz,
      We are blessed to have affordable strings here in the USA. If by anti rust strings you mean coated strings I am familiar with them. I use coated strings on my 12 string because I don’t like changing all those strings.

      If it is some other kind of treatment I am not familiar with it. My strings wear out way before they rust as I often play my guitars. The only way they would rust is by sitting or possibly the salt sea air. I would probably not recommend the extra expense for anti-rust strings. This would depend on how much more the price is and how long it would make them last. Thank you for checking out my webpage.

  • September 15, 2016 at 2:05 am
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    Hey I’ve always wanted to learn to play an instrument as a kid, but more like the piano or drum. I thought rockin out with a guitar would be cool but it just seems so hard to learn at a glance. I like how you break it down in the how to learn to play video. How long have you been playing?

    Reply
    • September 15, 2016 at 9:53 am
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      Hi Glenn, I have been playing guitar for 45 years but I did take some time off to support my family by driving an auto transport for 30 years. I would play off and on to keep my “picking chops” and the fire never left. I took a job with a pension so I could eventually get back to music. During the last few years I bought an inexpensive guitar to carry in the truck and start playing regular again. Please check my how to play guitar,easy fun way to play guitar as I tell how to get started in a fun easy way. Thanks for your comment and we are here to help if you have any questions or suggestions.

      http://martstervt.com/fun-learning-guitar

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