Strings are the heart of your guitar. They are what make the sound and you can’t play without them. They can also make a huge difference in your tone. The strings define whether your sound will be soft or loud, mellow or bright.
It’s the vibration of the strings that makes a tone so that makes the strings a crucial element of your tone. However, there are many different brands, materials, and gauges to choose from and it can get a bit confusing sometimes.
So, what strings should you use on your acoustic guitar to achieve best acoustic guitar sound possible?
Type of the guitar
Well, first of all, you need to determine what type of the guitar you have. If you have an acoustic guitar you need to use steel strings. If you have a classical guitar you need nylon strings.
Strings are not interchangeable. It’s not recommended putting steel strings on a classical guitar because it can damage your instrument.
If there aren’t any strings on your guitar you can determine this by looking at the bridge. Usually, steel strings use the ball end while nylon strings need to be tied at the end.
The gauge represents the diameter of the strings or how light or heavy the strings are. This affects the playability and the sound significantly.
Lighter strings are usually much more comfortable to play but they will break much easier. Heavier strings offer a much louder and fuller sound and are much harder to break but it’s also much harder to play on these.
Players tend to refer to the gauge of the strings by the size of the first string (E). So if someone says he plays the 12s, it means that the gauge of the E string is 012. Here are the guitar strings set gauges:
- Extra Light: 010, 014, 023, 030, 039, 047
- Custom Light: 011, 015, 023, 032, 042, 052
- Light: 012, 016, 025, 032, 042, 054
- Medium: 013, 017, 026, 035, 045, 056
- Heavy: 014, 018, 027, 039, 049, 059
So, what gauge should you use? Well, you need to consider a few things before deciding.
First of all, the body size. A small bodied or a parlor guitar sound much better with lighter strings while the guitars with a larger body sound better with medium or heavy strings because that way you take a full advantage of their large sound chamber.
When it comes to tone, heavy strings are more on a bass side of the tonal spectrum while the light strings tend to be more treble-y.
Your playing style also plays a huge role in this decision. Lighter strings are much better for fingerpicking while the heavy strummers usually use heavier strings. If you like to combine both techniques you should try medium strings because they have heavier strings on the bottom and lighter on the top.
Also, if you have an old vintage instrument, be careful with heavier strings. They put more tension on the neck and can damage your old guitar.
There are a few different materials used in the production of the strings. The material from which the strings are made of affects both the tone and the durability of the strings.
- Bronze strings are most commonly used for all styles of playing. They have a bright and clear ringing tone but they do age quite quickly because bronze tends to oxidize very fast.
- Phosphor bronze strings are basically the bronze strings with added phosphor. These also have a bright tone but a bit darker and warmer. Phosphor bronze strings have a bit longer life than standard bronze strings.
- Brass strings have a bright and jangly metallic sound and are most commonly used for country music.
- Silk and steel strings have a mellow and soft tone. These are a lot quieter and less durable than the rest but are much easier to play. They also put a less tension on the neck making them ideal for vintage guitars.
Classic guitar strings
Classical guitar strings are made of rectified or clear nylon and are made in different tensions. There are 3 levels of tension: light or moderate, medium or normal, and high or hard.
Low tension strings are easier to play but they do produce certain buzz while the heavier strings have more consistent tone. You should try a few different sets and decide which one suits you the most.
Treatments and coatings
With technology, progress comes the longer string life. Today you can see many different coated strings that last 3-4 times longer but they do have a bit less sustain and are less bright.
There are also cryogenically frozen strings that seem to have a longer lifespan without any effect on sustain and tone.
You might think that the package has no influence on your strings but you’d be wrong. A proper package should keep the strings rust-free and fresh. This is especially important if you’re buying them in bulk because you are not going to put all of those strings onto your guitar right away.
Guitar strings come in many different price ranges. The bronze strings are usually the cheapest and the coated ones are the most expensive. Average decent strings will cost between 5 and 15 dollars. There are, of course, more expensive ones but that is just way too much money for a set of strings.
Don’t be afraid to try different strings. Experiment with different materials and gauges until you find the most comfortable strings and the tone you are looking for. If the tension is too high for you, try lighter strings or try tuning down your guitar, which might work as well.
Some guitars work better with certain string gauges and materials other don’t. Same goes for players. You’ll never know until you try. Of course, you don’t have to change the type of strings every time you restring your guitar.
Also, we wouldn’t recommend you to get full guitar setup where the bridge, nut, and action are made perfect for your style until you find the strings you are going to stick with.