Guitar Strings Guide

All about the different types of guitar string

You know what guitar strings are, they are the bits metal or plastic that you strum away at to make sound. But there is more to strings than that. There are many different types of string, made of different materials for different purposes.

Strings come either as solid threads of material (metal, plastic, silk, gut) or as threads with another wire wound tightly around it to get the required thickness.

Every guitar player knows that the smallest strings on a guitar are smooth, without windings. These strings are called plain strings.

Plain strings for electrics are the same as plain strings for acoustics. When you are restringing your guitar, either one will stab you in the end of your left hand's index finger without a second thought. The only difference in the E and B strings of an acoustic and electric set is the size, or gauge, of the string. Most electric sets use a plain string for the G string where acoustic sets require a wound string.

Since the same material is used for both acoustic and electric, it must do double duty. The plain acoustic string must have strong resonant qualities. The plain electric string must have strong magnetic properties. Virtually all plain strings are made from an alloy called Swedish steel which excels in both qualities needed

However, the wound strings vary very much: here is an overview of the different materials used for wound strings...

Acoustic Guitar Strings

Acoustic guitar strings have a pretty tough job in comparison to other strings because they not only have to sound nice, wear well and look good, but they also have to be loud.

Acoustic strings come in a wide variety of materials - heres an overview of each material:

Bronze Wound Acoustic Guitar Strings

In guitar strings, bronze is alloy which is actually a mixture of copper and tin or copper and zinc. An 80/20 bronze string is made of an alloy comprised of 80% copper and 20% tin or 20% zinc. These alloys are sometimes called brass.

Bronze strings produce a very brilliant, crisp sound when new but begin to lose their new sound after only a few hours of playing. Performers who change strings a lot typically love them. And many players like the "played in" sound that bronze strings provide as the brightness begins to fade.

Phosphor Bronze Wound Acoustic Guitar Strings

Phosphor bronze (P/B) is second in popularity to the 80/20 bronze strings for acoustic guitar. They produce a bright, but slightly warmer and darker sound than bronze stirngs. The small amount of phosphorous in the alloy helps them retain their new sound longer than bronze.

The P/B string was introduced to stringmaking by D'Addario in 1974. Most American made acoustic guitars are factory strung with Phosphor Bronze strings.

Electric Guitar Strings

Electric guitar strings are different to acoustic strings because they don't have to be acoustically loud, instead they create their signal through magnetism. This requires totally different materials to get the best performance.

Pure Nickel Wound Strings

Most strings of the 50's were wound with an alloy called Pure Nickel. It wasn't really "pure" but that's what we call it. Pure Nickel strings have a soft feel and produce that warm, vintage tone.

Examples are the Fender 3150 Original Bullets

Nickel Plated Steel

Nickel plated steel is the alloy most widely used in string making today. Commonly known as NPS, it is a steel winding with a nickel plating applied. The nickel plating enhances the feel and reduces finger noise and fret wear. They are hotter and provide greater sustain and a brighter sound than pure nickel.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel strings are hotter, brighter, and provide more sustain than either pure nickel or NPS. They are more resistant to oils, acids, and sweat and are, hands down, the longest lasting strings. Stainless is a harder material so it feels a little different and can cause more fret wear. Most flat-wound sets and pedal steel guitar sets are made of stainless. Examples are the Fender 3350 Stainless Bullets.
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