What are guitar strings? (the simple answer)
Wound and/or unwound steel strings used for electric and acoustic guitars.
Guitar strings refer to strings used by either electric or acoustic guitars, which are usually made of nickel-plated steel and wound with bronze or phosphor bronze. When these strings are picked, their vibrations make the sound you hear from a guitar.
Guitar strings refers to any steel string made for use on an electric guitar, acoustic guitar, or even a bass guitar. These strings are used because when the steel string vibrates, it creates the sound you hear resonating from the guitar. Pickups on an electric guitar, and the sound hole on an acoustic guitar are designed to carry these vibrations and make them louder.
String Materials and Winding
Depending on the type of string and the manufacturer, guitar strings can be made of any of the following materials:
- Phosphor Bronze
- Cobalt (less commonly)
The most common is a steel core that's plated (wrapped) with nickel.
Most of the time, guitar strings come in packs of six, where the three lowest strings are the ones wound with nickel to make them thicker and heavier, since they're tuned lower than the other strings.
In most cases, the G, B, and E strings (the three thinnest) will be unwound.
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String Gauges (sizing)
String gauge refers to the thickness or diameter of the string. Each string has a different gauge, going from the thickest to the thinnest. For example, it might run from .010 to .046, usually measured in millimeters.
The numbers listed on the left side of this pack of strings in descending order, indicate the gauges of each string.
More Detail on String Gauge
If you want more of the details on string gauges, we've added a fuller explanation here.
Coated strings have an additional layer of coating, which is a concept spearheaded by Elixir Strings with their Nanoweb, Polyweb, and Optiweb coated strings. Their acoustic strings use soft copper and zinc, and have a particularly long lifespan and smooth tone.
- 80 percent soft copper
- 20 percent zinc
They make electric guitar strings as well with the same coating and extended lifespan. However, for electric guitar strings they go back to nickel-plated steel.
Coated strings are typically more expensive, but they're worth it, in our opinion.
Since Elixir became well-known, several other companies have released their own version of a coated string.
There are a lot of different string brands, sizes, and styles, but here are some basics (and I emphasize basics) that you can keep in mind when picking them out.
- Lead guitar styles: Generally better off with lighter gauges
- Rhythm guitar styles: Generally better off with heavier gauges
- Heavy rock and modern metal: Heavier gauges are usually better
- Acoustic guitar strings: Usually a bit heavier and more difficult to play
- Electric guitar strings: Usually lighter and easier to play
Wind it Up
There are a lot of different brands and types to consider when buying guitar strings, and it can be kind of overwhelming. But start with a basic set, maybe a gauge around .044 or .046, depending on whether you're playing acoustic or electric guitar.
From there, you'll develop your own style over time and find strings that suit that style better.
If you have questions about guitar strings, drop them in the comments section below.
We'll see you there.