Difference Between Nylon, Coated, Acoustic, and Electric Guitar Strings

guitar strings

No matter how much you may love your instrument, almost every guitar player eventually complains about tone and playability. If you’re guilty of this, don’t hock your ax just yet—the solution may be as simple as trying new strings. New strings can do wonders for tone and playability, but finding the right set is like discovering the right cheese to go with your wine. The construction of the string—its tonality and playability—should enhance the guitar’s inherent characteristics, as well as your playing style.

There are many types of guitar strings with widely varying construction techniques and materials. Roundwound strings are the most common—they consist of a steel wire core that is wrapped with a round wire alloy. They are least expensive, however they can be excessively squeaky and also may hasten fret wear due to an uneven string surface scraping on the frets.

Flatwound strings, a favorite among jazz guitarists, use a flat wire wrap. These strings are soft on the fingers, easy to slide, and don’t wear frets as fast. Tonally, however, they aren’t as loud or bright as roundwound strings, and while the smooth, dark tone lends itself to jazz, guitarists who play more aggressive styles of music may find they don’t provide enough punch. In hexwound strings a hex-shaped wire core is used. As the string windings are wound around the core, the corners of the hex wire grip the alloy windings, resulting in a string that is easier to play and richer in tone.

Another crucial factor for tone and playability is the material that the string is made of. Electric guitar strings are typically steel, nickel, and chromium alloys because of their magnetic properties. Acoustic guitar strings are made of more acoustically resonant alloys like bronze and brass. Nylon strings are in a class of their own, compatible with guitars built specifically for them. Also, never put steel strings on a nylon string guitar.

In addition to alloys and string construction, experiment with diameter (or gauge). Larger gauge strings have more vibrating mass, and therefore produce a loud, thick tone. However, they require more tension to be brought up to pitch, making them more difficult to press down on the fingerboard. Experiment with gauge until you find a good balance between tone and playability.

No one string is the best for every circumstance. Finding the right string depends greatly on your guitar’s construction, as well as your playing style and skill. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Keep in mind that, as you change string gauges and materials, you might need to slightly alter the set up on your guitar due to differing string tension. With all of the available string options, you’re likely to find a set that fits your needs.

Nylon Strings

D'Addario Pro Arte
D’Addario Pro Arte (click image for website)

Acoustic guitars typically use bronze alloys, which produce a bright, crisp tone. Phosphor bronze is slightly warmer, and brass is an exceptionally bright material. Because they need to project, acoustic guitar strings tend to come in thicker gauges than electric strings.

Electric Guitar Strings

GHS Boomers (click picture for website)
GHS Boomers (click picture for website)

For electric guitars, several alloys are common. Nickel-plated steel provides a bright, warm sound with excellent magnetic properties. Stainless steel provides a bright sound, while offering oxidation resistance. Chrome has a dark sound favored by jazz musicians and is commonly used in flatwound strings.

Acoustic Guitar Strings

Martin 80/20 Bronze (click image for website)
Martin 80/20 Bronze (click image for website)

Acoustic guitars typically use bronze alloys, which produce a bright, crisp tone. Phosphor bronze is slightly warmer, and brass is an exceptionally bright material. Because they need to project, acoustic guitar strings tend to come in thicker gauges than electric strings.

Coated Strings

Elixir NanoWeb Strings (click image for website)
Elixir NanoWeb Strings (click image for website)

Over time, strings naturally deteriorate due to oxidation. Also, dirt works its way into the windings, to further inhibit tone and shorten string life. Coated strings have a thin coating to help preserve tone and playability. They are available for both acoustic and electric guitars.

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Instead of being dedicated to one instrument, young musicians, or professionals, MakingMusicMag.com is a lifestyle resource for all music makers, regardless of age, instrument, or ability. We focus on providing educational articles teaching people how to play an instrument, but we also favor travel pieces, music related health articles, interesting news stories, and plenty more.

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