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Acoustic Guitar Strings

Because acoustic guitars don’t normally employ devices like amplifiers and effects to substantially change their tone, the strings are especially important to their sound. Thus, choosing the right acoustic guitar string to match a player’s style and desired tonal quality is critical.

The two factors most important in acoustic guitar strings are gauge and construction (or materials). Balancing these will result in the right strings for anyone’s guitar.

Acoustic String Gauges

As a general rule, lighter string gauges are easier to play. Due to the reduced tension they put on the neck of the guitar, they aren’t as hard on the instrument as heavier gauge strings. However, they have disadvantages as well. They produce less overall volume when compared to heavier gauge strings and they can be more prone to fret buzzing, particularly on guitars where the action (distance between the strings and the fretboard) is low.

Heavier gauge strings, on the other hand, will deliver a stronger, more robust tone. This is balanced by the fact that heavier gauge guitar strings will be harder to play and thus are not recommended for the novice player. They also apply more tension to the neck of the guitar which is something to consider in the case of older guitars.

Acoustic String Materials

Steel Guitar Strings
Pure bronze, phosphor bronze, aluminum bronze, and brass strings all produce a clear sound with a crisp, ringing overtone. Brass strings are the brightest while phosphor bronze are the darkest, but all share the characteristic of a relatively brilliant tone. Bronze strings are the type with the shortest life as they age fairly rapidly because of the tendency of bronze to oxidize.

For a warmer, smoother tone, polymer-coated silk and steel strings are available. Silk and steel strings have a steel core that is wrapped in copper, nylon, or silk wire for a softer touch and lighter tone. These are particularly prized by fingerstyle guitar players.

Nylon Guitar Strings
While classical guitar strings were originally made with cow or sheep intestines, contemporary strings can be composed of nylon, flourocarbon, or a variety of synthetic materials. The treble strings (High E, B, and G) are made of a single material, while the bass strings (D, A, and Low E) are often wrapped with nylon or metal materials.

NOTE: As shown above, standard guitar string order -- E, A, D, G, B, E, from lowest to highest pitch -- is usually divided into the “low” or “bass” strings (E, A, D), and the “high” or “treble” strings (G, B, E). Due to the thickness necessary for the lower pitched strings, the lower three are often reinforced or “wrapped,” for both strength and tone.

Acoustic Electric Guitar Strings

Any acoustic guitar strings can be used on any acoustic electric guitar except nylon strings on a guitar with a magnetic pickup system. Those strings will not get picked up by the electronics, which rely on metal strings affecting a magnetic field.

Additional Resources

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