The Wide World of Strings
|By Kevin ManieriGeorges Music|
Weve all been there. You walk into the music store, go straight for the strings, and draw a complete blank when looking at the endless options.What did I use last time?What does nickel-plated steel sound like?Why do these strings cost so much more than those?Its a confusing area, but you can use a little knowledge about strings to your advantage you can dial in the exact tone you want every time, or you can get every type of sound out of one instrument. Here's a basic breakdown of the construction of strings for electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and electric bass.Disclaimer: I could
go deep into physics for this discussion. After all, were talking about certain metals vibrating and interacting with a magnetic forcefield. However, Ill keep it simple and provide only whats needed to make an informed decision the next time youre buying strings. You're welcome :-)
Electric Guitar StringsNickel-Plated Steel (NPS) the most common of all strings
. Exactly as its described, you get a piece of steel with nickel wrapped around it. This is a bright, balanced string right out of the package, but its tone will gradually fade depending on how much you play.Pure Nickel vintage and mellow.
These strings can sound fat and bass-heavy on some guitars, with less twang. Very classic-rock. They are already a bit faded to begin with, so some players feel they can leave them on longer than NPS strings.Stainless Steel super bright and punchy.
Some players love stainless steel for its clarity and great snap. However, they feel a bit rougher on the fingers, and take some getting used to. The bright tone will fade, but at a slower pace than with NPS. Because of the pure steel construction, they may actually seem a bit louder than other strings.Flatwounds extra mellow and heavy.
These are the standard for jazz players. As the name indicates, they are very smooth to the touch. Note that these strings come in medium to very heavy gauges, as some jazz cats are always looking for the fattest, beefiest notes. There is some brightness to these strings, but its a much more muted tone than with any roundwound string. They can be played fingerstyle or with a pick.
Acoustic Guitar Strings80/20 Bronze bright and focused.
80/20 is labeled as such because they are sometimes produced with 80% bronze and 20% tin. True combinations vary, but these strings are extra bright and clear out of the box. However, that brightness can fade quickly depending on your playing style and skin type. Some professionals love these strings and change them frequently to keep that big, booming tone fresh.Phosphor Bronze traditional acoustic sounds.
These acoustic strings are bright out of the box, but not quite as punchy as 80/20s. They tend to last a bit longer as well. I often recommend Phosphor for the player who wants a great balanced tone and a relatively long life from their strings.Silk and Steel/Folk mellow for fingerstyle
. These acoustic guitar strings are halfway to a classical string. Its a light-gauge acoustic string wrapped in silk, making it quieter, easier on the fingers, and more mellow. Some fingerstyle, folk, and jazz players love these.
Electric Bass Strings
The same principles apply as with Electric Guitar Strings, but I have a few notes to add.Nickel-Plated Steel
Nearly every new bass comes with these.Pure Nickel
Good for a bluesy or country thump.Stainless Steel
Slappers and pickers love their clarity, punch, and long life. Traditional players may be turned off by their brightness.Flatwounds
These strings are very mellow, and can be used on fretted or fretless basses. They produce a classic Motown-style bottom end. Some players leave these strings on for a very, very long time, enjoying the sweet lows and ignoring the lack of crisp highs.Tapewounds
These odd-looking black strings feel rubbery and produce an upright-like tone. Used frequently on fretless basses.
Odds and EndsCoated Strings
These strings are becoming very popular. Elixir was the first brand to produce them on a large scale, and now Martin, DAddario, Ernie Ball, GHS, DR, and others are making coated strings, for all types of guitars, basses, and other instruments. They literally have a microscopic, plastic-like coating on the string windings. The result is strings that feel smooth and stay fresh-sounding for a very long time. Some players balk at the higher prices associated with this new technology, but others are leaving them on for many moons and still loving the tone. Give them a try!String gauges
This is all up to you and your instrument. With any of the strings mentioned here, you can get light, medium, or heavy strings. Thick strings sound great, but are tougher on the fingers. If youre tuning down, you may want to consider heavier strings for better tension.
Thats the wide world of strings in a nutshell. This information will make it much easier for you to decipher the options on your next trip to George's Music, and hopefully pick strings that fit your playing style. Of course, I highly recommend trying all types, brands, and gauges of strings over time. Mix and match frequently until you determine what youre really drawn to. Not all strings are created equal!
Kevin Manieri spends his time in the Finance department at George's Music and when he's not crunching numbers, can be heard blasting out killer bass riffs throughout southeastern Pennsylvania.