How To Select Strings For An Acoustic Guitar

Picking a new set of strings for an acoustic guitar can be a daunting task. This article gives some tips on what to look for when selecting new strings.

Most acoustic guitarists like to change their strings rather frequently. A new set of strings provides a brightness, richness, and resonance that can add dimension and depth to your playing, so making sure that you have a fresh set at all times is important if you want to be in top form. But what kind of strings should you buy? The wall of strings at the music shop can be daunting - dozens of manufactures, different alloys, different gauges - where to begin? Don't worry, with a few simple tips about selecting strings, your next trip to the music store will be a snap.

The first factor to consider in buying acoustic guitar strings is what gauge you want - that is, how heavy do you want your strings to be. Different gauges have their own advantages and disadvantages, so you have to decide what it is important to you. Heavier gauge strings are preferred by guitarists who like to have a louder guitar sound. These strings, due to their thickness, also tend to "hold their note" better and longer, and the guitar tends to stay in tune longer because the strings are more difficult to bend while playing. Although this sounds appealing, one disadvantage to heavier gauge strings is that they can cause a lot of stress on the neck and body of the guitar, especially older, more fragile instruments. In fact, some guitar stores will not even sell heavier gauge strings because of this potential danger.

Light gauge strings are preferred by guitarists who like to alternate their tunings and bend their notes while playing. Because the strings are lighter, they place much less stress on the neck of the guitar and reduce the threat of damage when tuning up or down or bending a note during a solo. They are also easier to form chords with, as you don't have to press as hard on the strings to make contact with the fretboard. However, these strings will not be as loud as heavier strings, can break more easily, and frequently fall out of tune due to their lack of body, which some guitarists find annoying.



Medium gauge strings are a good mix of the two and along with light-gauge are probably the most popular types of strings. They are heavy enough to provide volume while playing, but light enough so that they provide minimal stress on the guitar and are easy to manipulate while playing.

The second consideration when buying strings is the type of alloy used in the string. Most acoustic strings are made with a bronze alloy, although nickel and steel are occasionally used. For most guitarists, though, bronze is the way to go. It sounds better and lasts longer. There are two major types of bronze alloys: phosphor, and 80/20. Phosphor bronze strings are mostly copper with a little bit of tin. The chemical mix is not as important as knowing that they are a slightly longer lasting type of string, and while not as bright as the 80/20 alloy, are considered to have a richer sound. The second alloy, 80/20, means that the string is made up of about 80 percent copper and 20 percent zinc. These strings are probably the most popular for guitarists who change their strings frequently, as they retain their brightness for less time than the phosphor strings, but have a much brighter tone while new.

There are a host of specialty strings out there, as nearly ever manufacturer has come out with their own designs aimed at improving the sound, playability, and endurance of their strings. Most of these strings are coated in some kind of chemical bond which protect the alloy and extend the life and sound of the strings themselves. Some guitarists swear by these strings, but others are more traditionalists, and balk at the high prices.

In the end, the best thing to do is experiment with different manufacturers, gauges, and alloys to see what works best for you and your particular instrument. Strings are not too expensive, so try a new type every time you change your strings until you find the perfect set for you.

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