Updated: Oct 19, 2021
Mining For Strings
Understanding The World of Guitar Strings
In this article we will navigate our way through: The difference in string gauges / size, The different materials used in commonly found strings and what changes they incur, coated vs. non-coated strings, and finally the winding of the string itself. All in hopes of educating you so that you can navigate your way through the local music store to match your guitar playing to the strings that will best benefit you!
1 ⏌ Gauges - String Thickness
Guitar Strings are measured by the gauge / thickness of the strings themselves. Since the guitar has (6) strings, there are (6) separate gauges for each string. We distinguish sizing based on the gauge of the thinnest string (high E). We will start off looking at Electric Guitar String Gauges (scroll to the very bottom for Acoustic Strings):
For the average guitar player, you will be looking at (3) different string gauges: 09 - 10 - 11. You will see one of these numbers listed as the first set of numbers on the string packaging.
09 Gauge Strings - I highly recommend them for players just starting out, players focusing on single note playing, and players who use lots of bends for their playing.
These strings are thinner so they are easier on the fingers, and make maneuverability much easier.
It is easier to play these strings out of tune, but there is a much clearer guitar tone when playing with 09’s
10 Gauge Strings - Are a great blend! These are great for guitar players switching between chords and solo lines.
Being slightly thicker, these strings give a bolder/fuller sound when playing chords while still making it easy to navigate across the neck for soloistic runs.
11 Gauge Strings - Rather bulky, these are great for Rhythm Guitar Players, and those more practiced musicians who already have their fingers callused.
While bends may be significantly more challenging, the guitar will have a much more blocky and powerful presence with a slight relinquishment in tone.
*Notice how the first numbers we see here are “10”
telling us that these are 10 Gauge Strings*
2 ⏌ Material - Nickel Wound / Cobalt / M-Steel Strings
Bright Tone - Helps the guitar cut through the mix
Very balanced EQ overall
Higher Output - More responsive, these strings will provide a higher output / higher volume from your guitar. Great if your guitar needs that little extra “oomf.”
Less mid and bass range as opposed to Nickel Wound
These strings have a longer life-span than their rivals, take less time to break in, and overall don’t stretch as much.
For more heavy-handed players, these may be a better alternative if you find yourself popping strings constantly.
3 ⏌ Coated vs. Non-Coated Strings
While Elixir’s were leading the market with their innovative strings that provide longer string-life due to their coating, they are no longer the only ones. Now, Martin and D’Addario have issued their own line of Coated Strings.
For players that are practicing and performing continuously, they either run through strings within a matter of 1-2 weeks, or can opt in for Coated strings. I personally resented coated strings because there was a serious decline in output, and the texture of the coating made it feel as though I could not navigate across the neck as smoothly as with non-coated strings.
However, with how oily my hands are, I may get 14 days out of a set if I’m lucky!
I have found that I prefer the D’Addario XT’s. They last twice as long and I do not get the same resistance as I find with Elixir.
**I recommend these coated strings for the guitarists practicing daily, those with a similar hand condition as me, or if the guitar is going to be sitting out on a stand frequently (they don’t oxidize / rust as quickly)**
4 ⏌ Winding - Flat Wound vs. Round Wound
Approximately 80% - 90% of the strings you will be looking at will be Round Wound Strings. These will produce a brighter guitar tone and will make the presence of the guitar itself really stand out.
For those wanting a warmer / darker sound to produce more of an atmospheric presence, Flat Wound Strings are the way to go. While being much more comfortable on the fingers, these strings are incredibly common in Jazz, Indie, and Lo-Fi / Jazz Hop genres.
*Regardless of the strings you pick out, take a picture on your phone and keep the empty packet in your guitar case. Whether you hate them or love them, at least you will remember!! Like with a bottle of wine, if you can recall whether you remember them due to it being really good or really bad, it will make your shopping trip much less stressful*
5 ⏌ Acoustic Guitar Strings
Gauge or Sizing - 11 / 12 / 13
The same logic listed above for Electric Guitar is the same for Acoustic Guitar
Material - Phosphor Bronze / 80-20 Bronze
Phosphor Bronze contains more Copper and produces a more Natural and Earthy sounding guitar tone.
80/20 Bronze Strings have a brighter sound, age quicker, and may be affected more by the sweat in your hands.
*For Beginners or Returning Guitar Players, I highly recommend the Martin “Silk & Steel” strings. These are a lighter gauge string with a coating that lessens the finger fatigude and blisters that may arise when coming back to the guitar.*