Choosing Acoustic Guitar Strings
(MattG | Posted 2010-02-13)
So you have made the tough decision of which acoustic guitar to buy, and you thought the decisions stopped there. Now you have to decide which strings to put on it. You could just go with what came on it and restring it with the same brand and gauge, but you should consider your other options. Most brands have a deal with a certain string company, or in the case of Martin Guitars, they make their own strings. There are obvious reasons why they string guitars from the factory with a certain set of strings and it is not usually what makes the guitar sound bestÖ it was what makes the most money. And hey, they are in business to make money. This article is to provide you with information to explore some other options that may bring out some characteristics in your guitar you havenít heard.
To start out, there are so many different brands of strings out there that the possibilities are endless. There are a few different things to consider when deciding on a set of strings. The first is material the strings are made of. They can be made of Bronze, Phosphor Bronze, Nickel, Stainless Steel, and few other alloys. Each produces a different tone. The second thing to consider is the gauge of the string. This is one that is often overlooked; the gauge you play with has a significant impact on volume and frequency response. The third thing to consider is whether or not you want a coated string. Coated strings provide a longer lasting string but also usually come with a heftier price tag.
When considering what material to buy, you first need to know the sound you are wanting to achieve from your guitar. Are you looking to record and want something very bright? Are you looking for a warmer tone? Or do you just want the best sounding string that will last the longest? If you are looking for a bright sounding guitar, then Bronze is the string of choice. Bronze provides very bright characteristics and can help bring out frequencies that the guitar lacks. The only problem with Bronze strings is that they are notorious for loosing there brightness very quickly. If you are looking to record and are planning to use a bronze string, it is recommended to change the strings just before your recording session. This can provide tuning problems so donít change them at the studio, give yourself an hour or two to play and get the strings stretched so they stay in tune.
If you are looking for a little bit warmer tone, Phosphor Bronze is the material you want. Phosphor Bronze provides a bright sound as well but not as bright as a regular Bronze string. It also gives a boomier bass response, and snappy midrange. Adding the Phosphor to the bronze helps the string to keep the initial tone longer than Bronze alone. I think phosphor bronze is a good choice for most high end guitars because they bring out frequencies that higher end instruments are capable of producing. They are very good choice for maple guitars that tend to be overly bright when strung with Bronze strings.
There are few companies who make acoustic strings with stainless steel. These strings are usually not wound. They provide a much darker tone than Bronze or Phosphor Bronze. They limit volume considerably and donít have the sustain of a Bronze type string either. Most people who use Stainless Steel strings are wanting to achieve a classical guitar type tone without using nylon strings. In my experience with this type of string they break easier, and donít every really have the new guitar string sound. However, they do provide a very unique sound that canít be achieved with a Bronze string.
The next thing to consider is the gauge you want to play with. Most guitars come from the factory with light or sometimes extra light gauge strings. The lighter the string gauge, the easier the guitar plays. On the other hand, the lighter the string, the less the volume and frequency response. The best thing to do is to find the gauge you are most comfortable playing that yields the best volume. Something very important to consider is that it is possible to put too heavy a gauge string on. Dreadnoughts can usually handle the tension of a heavy set of strings, but most other body styles should not be strung with anything heavier than a medium guage.
There is not much to say about coated strings, you either like them or you donít. They have a plastic like coating on them which makes them last longer. They are usually almost twice as much as a non coated string. They also seem to make the string more slippery which can take some getting used to. This comes down to personal preference. If you like the feel and the tone they produce, a coated string is for you.
The most important thing is to make sure you try different materials and gauges. Find the one that sounds and feels best to you.
About Matt Griffith
Matt Griffith, born and raised in Western Colorado, made the leap to move to Nashville 5 months ago to pursue a career in music along with the thousands of other hopefuls that call Music City home. Matt is an acoustic singer/songwriter at heart but is currently playing lead guitar for the band Brookline who is in the beginning stages of recording a 3 original song EPK. To check out some of Mattís acoustic work, visit www.garageband.com/mattgriffith