What Are Acoustic Guitar Strings?

The strings of an acoustic guitar are the filaments that run from the bridge to the tuning pegs across the body, over the sound hole and are plucked or strummed to create sound. Most guitars have 6 strings consisting of 3 lighter strings called treble strings, and 3 heavier strings called bass strings. Aside from the body of your acoustic guitar, strings are the second most important factor in determining the sound quality of your music and should be carefully considered.

What Different Types of Guitar Strings Are Out There?

  • Steel and Silk-Wrapped Strings

Steel strings are typically used in larger acoustic guitars with heavier necks and top bracings.  Made from metals, these strings produce a substantial tension when tightened and played. We recommend using a pick to play steel stringed acoustic guitars.

Types of steel string are:

~ Brass - jangling, metallic character.

~ Polymer-coated – their warm tones last less than uncoated steel string notes but the strings are corrosion-resistant and have can be colored.

~ Bronze – has a clear, ringing tone. Ages quickly due to bronze’s tendency to oxidize.

~ Phosphor Bronze - warmer tone than bronze and crisp with a longer playing life.

~ Aluminum Bronze has distinct clarity in the string tones.

~ Silk and Steel – silk copper or nylon wrapped on the outside, steel in the middle. More pleasurable for finger-picking than a plain metal string, these strings produce more delicate notes.

  • Nylon or Gut Strings

Gut strings are made from catgut, no, not a cat’s guts but yes, intestines of animals.  Normally the lining of the intestines of sheep or goats, but also cattle, pigs, horses and donkeys are used. The highest three strings are made from plain catgut while the three low strings have a silk thread wound with a catgut threading.

~ Used to play flamenco, classical, and folk music primarily

~ Mellower tone and responsive to light touch

~ Easier on fingertips

~ Come out of tune quicker than steel strings due to their ability to stretch

~ Sensitive to humidity

Nylon comes in a wide variety:

~  The most popular is clear nylon which is a mono (single) filament type of string known for its clarity.

~ Rectified Nylon is clear nylon that is precision-ground to a specific diameter and have a more mellow tone than regular clear nylon.

~ Black Nylon is a folk acoustic guitarist’s go-to. It is a different type of nylon composition that creates warmer, clean sound with more treble overtones.

~ Titanium is a much brighter composite than traditional nylon with a smooth feel.

~ Regular Composite is a multi-filament mix that has strong projection. Used primarily for G strings because they offer a smooth transition between bass and treble strings.

Plain clear nylon, fluorocarbon, or other synthetic monofilaments are used on the three highest strings while multi-filament nylon cores wrapped with metal or nylon windings are used on the three lower strings.

What Different Thicknesses of Acoustic Guitar Strings Are Out There?

And How Do They Play?

In addition to the type of string you need to consider the thickness of an acoustic guitar string. The thickness of a guitar string is called its gauge. The gauge of a string is measured in thousandths of an inch.

The heaviest (deepest sound) is a .059 and the lightest strings (highest sounding) are normally .010. Next to the body and make of the guitar, the string type and gauge has the biggest impact on overall sound.

Something to keep in mind is most string makers label their acoustic string sets as heavy, light, medium, etc. Light gauge strings bend easier but also break easier. Light strings create less sound volume and can cause buzzing. They are good for softer ballads and recommended for antique and classical guitars because they create less tension on the guitar neck. They are also the best if you play by finger-picking. Think: Light body equals light strings.

Heavy gauge strings require more pressure to bend but produce a lot more volume. They do create extra tension on the guitar neck and are not always a safe choice for vintage guitars. Heavy sets are great for large bodied acoustic guitars to make full use of their sound chambers and are good for strumming hard with a pick.

When Should You Change the Strings on an Acoustic Guitar?

~ You break a string

~ Staying in tune seems to be shorter time spans

~ You see a different color or rust on the strings

~ Wraps unwind on the string

~ Sound tone seems flat or dull

How Do You String An Acoustic Guitar?

Nothing can seem more nerve wracking to a new acoustic player than changing a popped string. Will you tighten it too much and have it pop? Did you put the wrong string on?  We are here to walk you through what is actually a fairly easy process of putting new strings on an acoustic guitar.

  1. Do You Have Everything You Need?

~ While you can change strings without a lot of equipment, we highly recommend having a pair of wire cutters (metal snips, dykes), a peg winder and a small pair of pliers and the appropriate strings meant for your acoustic guitar.

~ The first thing in selecting your strings is to remember not all strings are equal.  If you use steel strings on a guitar built for nylon strings you can harm it badly. You can damage the bridge and saddle, and the neck and top bracing of some classical guitars are not able to handle the tension of by steel strings.

  1. Broken String or Strings Still in Guitar? Read This! If Not, Skip to #3

~ Put your guitar on a flat, firm surface with the strings facing upwards.

~ Use the pliers to unwind the broken string at the neck end of the guitar on the tuning peg.

~ Discard of the string, be especially careful if it is metal because it is sharp.

~ Use the pliers to carefully pull out the peg on the bridge end of the guitar that has the other half of the string remaining and pull the string out from the bottom. You can only pull this string out one direction because it has a stopper, ball or ring on the end to keep it from pulling through.

  1. Put in Your New Acoustic Guitar Strings

Where Does Each String Go?

~ Strings are different diameters, or thicknesses. The strings go on in order from biggest to smallest in size order on a guitar. If you are unsure about which size you should use to replace a single string, there should be a guide on the back of your string package to help out.  Packages typically come with six different sizes of strings.

  1. Put The Stopper End of String In

~ Place the ring or ball end of the string 1 – 1.5 inches into the hole where the peg on the bridge side of the guitar was.

~ Line up the peg so that the string notch fits over the string and put the peg back into the hole.

  1. Put The Free End of String Into The Tuning Peg

~ Take the loose end of the string and pull it to the tuning peg that lines up with the bridge peg.

~ Check which way your peg winds and thread your string through the tuning peg opening.

~Keep the string as straight as possible.

~ Give yourself 6 inches of wiggle room in the string and then bend the tip of the string in a 90 degree angle.

  1. Tighten It Up!

~Holding the bridge end of the string with your hand for tension, use the tuning key (or your hand) to turn the tuning peg so that the string loops once over the tip of the string protruding from the turning peg, and all of the other loops fall under the string tip.

~Tip: Make sure your string is one note lower than the thicker string after it as a check to keep from over-tightening!

~ Use your wire cutters and cut off the extra string sticking out from the tuning peg as close to the peg as you can.

~ Use your pliers to bend the tip of the wire down so no sharp edges stick out.

~ Using a pitch pipe or other tuner you can tune the strings and begin to play your acoustic guitar.

~ Note: New strings stretch as they get played! We recommend re-tuning one or two more times after playing.

Where Can You Buy Acoustic Guitar Strings?

We recommend visiting your local music store, guitar in hand if you are unsure of the best type and gauge for your acoustic guitar so you can get face to face help with a professional. In addition to the advice you will be able to hear how different types of strings sound on demo guitars in the shop.

If you are undecided about what type to purchase, check out popular guitar forums on the web for the opinion of other experienced acoustic guitar players for their insight before making a final purchase.

If you know what type of strings you prefer and your gauge preference, we suggest shopping around for the best price both locally and online. Local shops may offer seasonal sales and online stores often sell in bulk to save you money.

About the Author Joe

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