The guitar is nothing without its strings. The strings on a guitar are everything. The strings determine what the guitar sounds like, how the guitar feels to play, and even how usable the guitar is.
There are several types of guitar strings for different guitars, and each type has its own characteristics. If you find yourself wondering what the differences are between guitar string types, you have come to the right place.
There are different strings for acoustic, electric, classical, and bass guitars. Thicker strings sound richer but are challenging to play. Lighter strings sound thinner but are easier to play. Hard materials such as steel sound bright. Softer materials such as nickel sound clearer and well-rounded.
Every type of guitar needs strings, and there are multiple types of strings for each guitar type.
Let’s take the time to explore the different types of guitar strings to find out what makes them different, what their characteristics are, and to determine which strings may be the best strings for you.
Types Of Guitar Strings
The world of guitar is full of variety. There are different types of guitars; there are different styles of guitars, multiple sizes of guitars, and guitars built specifically for certain genres and types of music.
This wide range of variety carries over to the strings that are used on the guitar. There are multiple different types of strings used for each type of guitar, and each type has its own unique characteristics regarding sound, feel, and playability.
The main differences between each type of guitar string are: the string materials, the thickness of the strings (string gauge), the tension the strings can withstand, and the construction details of the strings.
Understanding the different string types will help you to understand which strings are best for you, which strings will work well on your guitar, and the way each type of string will sound, which will help you determine which are best for the genre that you play as well.
There is a lot to learn about guitar string types, so let’s begin with the different types of guitars and the strings that they use.
Electric guitars, acoustic guitars, classical guitars, and bass guitars all use different types of strings, and this is the ideal place to begin when learning about guitar string types.
Guitar Strings For Electric Guitar
The type of guitar with the most varied string types is the electric guitar.
The strings that are used for electric guitars are typically made from variations of steel and nickel. These strings are constructed with a core string wire and a secondary string wire wrapped around the core to increase the mass of the string.
The thinnest strings on the electric guitar, the high E, the B, and the G strings, do not usually have a string wire wrap, and they are only a single string wire core.
The thicker strings are made from the same core material but are wrapped with a secondary string wire to increase their gauge.
The most common electric guitar string configurations are nickel and steel and all-steel strings. Electric guitar strings that are nickel and steel are typically a steel core with a nickel wrap, and all-steel strings have both a steel core and a steel wrap.
Both string types have advantages and disadvantages, but these are the most common types of electric guitar strings on the market right now.
Electric guitar strings are also made to be different gauges. The gauge of the strings refers to the thickness of the strings, and the thicker the strings are, the more difficult they are to play – but usually the more well-rounded they sound.
Guitar string gauges are measured in thousandths of an inch, and the circumference of each string is referred to as the gauge of the string. The gauge range of a string set is typically set as the thickness of the thinnest string and the thickest string in the set.
For example, a string set that is 0.009 – 0.042 depicts the thickness of the thinnest string as 0.009” thick, and the thickest string is 0.042” inches thick. These strings would be referred to as 9 – 42’s, or 9-gauge.
The thinnest electric guitar strings on the market right now is 0.008 – 0.038 gauge, otherwise referred to as 8’s, and the heaviest standard gauge available is 0.012 – 0.054 gauge.
Most guitar players tend to use string gauges that are a balance of playability and tone, which means that the most common string gauges are 0.009 – 0.042, 0.010 – 0.046, and 0.011 – 0.054 gauge.
The full range of standard electric guitar strings available right now are:
- 0.008 – 0.038 gauge
- 0.009 – 0.042 gauge
- 0.010 – 0.046 gauge
- 0.011 – 0.050 gauge
- 0.012 – 0.054 gauge
There are custom string gauge sets as well, which combine string gauge sets by using lighter gauge strings for the high three strings and heavier gauge strings for the low three strings.
These strings are typically used for guitarists with specific needs or those who use drop-tunings.
- Read More: How to Tune Your Guitar Down a Half Step
All-steel electric guitar strings sound much brighter and sometimes harsher than other strings, but they last for a long time, and they are typically preferred by guitarists who play heavier genres of music.
Steel and nickel strings sound more well-rounded and less intense, but they are well-known for their clarity and richness. These strings do not last as long as all-steel, but most guitarists prefer the tone of these strings.
You can read up on how often to change your guitar strings – because that’s a whole other related topic!
Guitar Strings For Acoustic Guitar
Now that we know a little more about guitar strings and electric guitar strings, in particular, it is time to discuss another very widely used string type in the guitar world – acoustic guitar strings.
Acoustic guitar strings are designed specifically for this type of guitar.
While electric guitar strings are made to be highly magnetic so that they can be received by pickups easily, acoustic guitar strings are designed for even resonation and clarity of tone, as they are designed for use on an acoustic instrument.
Acoustic guitars generate their tone when the top of the guitar’s body resonates with the strings, amplifying the tone of the sound of the strings and generating the tone of the instrument. Check out this guide on acoustic guitar anatomy if you need a refresher!
This means that the strings used on acoustic guitars are typically thicker than electric guitar strings, and they are made to last longer and resonate more clearly as well.
Acoustic guitar strings have the same basic composition as electric guitar strings, as they are also made from a string core with a string winding wrapped around it, but the string materials used are different.
These strings often have steel cores as well, but the string wire wrapped around the core is often made from much softer metals such as bronze.
Steel and bronze strings and steel and nickel strings are the most popular choice for acoustic guitarists around the world.
Acoustic guitar strings are usually a heavier gauge than electric guitar strings, with the lightest gauge being typically 0.010 – 0.046 gauge. That said, most acoustic guitarists prefer the richer tone that comes with 0.011 – 0.050 or 0.012 – 0.056 gauge strings.
Acoustic guitar strings are available in very heavy gauges, much heavier than other types of guitars. The lightest string gauge for acoustic guitar is typically 0.010 – 0.046, but the heaviest is usually 0.014 – 0.059.
There are custom string gauges for acoustic guitars as well that have a thicker high string, at 0.016 gauge, but the rest of the set is the same as a regular 0.014 gauge set.
The thickness of the strings makes a bigger difference on acoustic guitars than any others. The thicker gauge strings for acoustic guitars have a sweeter, richer, more well-rounded tone.
Very thin strings tend to sound very thin and empty on acoustic guitars simply because they do not have the material mass to resonate clearly.
Acoustic guitar strings are also made to withstand higher tensions than other types of guitar strings, as they are made to be held at the right tensions that cause the body of the instrument to resonate with the strings.
This is why acoustic guitars sound so loud and clear compared to other guitar types.
Guitar Strings For Classical Guitar
Now that we have learned about the other types of guitar strings, we cannot forget about classical acoustic guitar strings, as these are completely different from both electric and acoustic guitar strings.
Classical guitar strings are made for classical guitars, and these instruments are made in a completely different way from other instruments.
These guitars have different tuning mechanisms, the strings attach in a unique way, and these guitars are made to be much lighter and less rigid than other guitar types.
The delicate nature of classical acoustic guitars means that they need strings that will hold at tensions high enough to play clearly, but that will not damage the guitar by applying too much tension to the hardware.
You can’t/shouldn’t just slap steel strings on a classical guitar for this reason. This necessity has resulted in the modern classical guitar string – which is made from nylon rather than steel.
The high three strings in a set of classical strings are made from nylon only, and the thicker three strings in the set are made from nylon fiber wrapped in a soft metal such as nickel or even silver.
Nylon strings sound very sweet and gentle, and they are typically much quieter than other types of guitar strings, but they provide the perfect amount of tension for classical guitars to operate well.
Classical guitar strings are not typically measured in gauges in the same way that other guitar strings are, but they are simply classified as light, medium, or heavy strings.
- Read More: Light Versus Medium Strings Explained
The light strings have the lowest tension, and the heavy strings have the highest tension, but the string gauges are very similar to one another.
Guitar Strings For Bass Guitar
Before we move on, we must do a quick overview of electric bass guitar strings, as these strings do fall under the guitar string category. However, they are very different from other types of guitar strings.
Bass guitar strings are far heavier than other guitar strings, and they are made from different materials as well.
- The lightest bass string gauge is 0.030 – 0.095, which is significantly heavier than even the heaviest guitar strings.
- The heaviest bass string gauge is 0.035 – 0.115. These strings are exceedingly heavy and significantly thicker than any other type of guitar strings.
These gauges are for standard four-string bass guitars. Five-string and six-string bass guitars have even thicker strings than four-string basses do!
Bass guitar strings are also made from different materials compared to other guitars, but they are made in the same way as electric guitar strings, only thicker.
These strings are available in steel core with nickel winding, steel core with steel winding, steel core with copper winding, nickel core with nickel winding, and all stainless steel strings as well.
Bass strings come in two main varieties: round-wound and flat-wound strings. Round-wound strings are round and made in the same way as electric guitar strings, but flat-wound strings have a square-shaped string winding, making the strings flat on the surface.
Round-wound strings are more versatile and sound brighter, while flat-wound strings are far warmer, more muted overall, and ideal for genres such as jazz.
Guitar String Considerations
If you are exploring the world of guitar strings, regardless of which type of guitar you play, it is important to find the strings that suit you best, and there are some important considerations to make along the way.
We’ve mentioned many of these above – but to sum up:
Guitar String Materials
The first consideration is the material that the strings are made from. Most strings that are made for electric, acoustic, and bass guitars have a steel core, but if the plating on the strings is a harder metal such as steel, it will sound very bright and can sound thin.
If the strings are plated with a softer metal such as nickel or copper, they will sound much warmer and less harsh and tend to sound clearer as well.
Heavy guitar strings are more challenging to play, and they make techniques such as bending or hammer-ons more difficult. However, but the tone that comes along with them is far richer and more predictable than the tone of thinner strings.
Coated Guitar Strings
Another important guitar string consideration is whether or not the strings are coated. Every variety of string has a coated option that has been covered in a polymer that makes the strings smoother and last far longer.
Coated strings are typically much higher quality than other strings, and they tend to last significantly longer than other strings as well.
This is because they are not exposed to sweat and moisture as much, which prevents corrosion and keeps the strings sounding fresh for far longer. We’ve got a whole article on how to keep strings from rusting which dives into this in detail!
Guitar String Gauges
As you explore the world of guitar strings, be sure to try multiple different types of string and string gauges until you find the strings that you prefer.
We’ve already covered string gauges in-depth above – but it’s re-mentioning that the thickness of the string can greatly impact both playability and the sound/tone of the guitar.
Guitar String Brands
Explore the different string brands as well, as every manufacturer has their own unique string construction processes and uses different techniques to give the strings different qualities.
There are loads of great, reliable string manufacturers out there like Ernie Ball, GHS Strings, D’Addario (the Phosphor Bronze are a personal favorite of Eric’s for his acoustic), Jimmy Dunlop, Elixir, and many, many more.
Guitar strings are important business. Here are some other helpful articles that build off this string-related knowledge:
- Can Your Reuse Guitar Strings?
- How to Cut Guitar Strings (Detailed Steps)
- Can You Slap Nylon Strings on a Steel-Stringed Guitar?
There is a type of string out there that will feel the best in your hands, so put in the effort to find it, and you will have a much better playing experience than with strings that do not feel comfortable under your fingers.
Every type of guitar requires its own type of guitar strings. You cannot use strings for a guitar that they are not designed for.
Always use the strings that are made for your guitar, and do your best to find the best strings that you can to get the most out of your instrument. More expensive strings are usually always worthwhile, regardless of the guitar that you play.
If you buy good strings that suit your playing style, then you will never struggle with tone or comfort when playing, so be sure to find the strings that work best for you!
As always, Happy Playing,