Buying the correct set of strings can change the way you play the guitar. The right strings can enhance the sound of your music.
Deciding to buy between electric or acoustic strings is easy, but a lot more factors come in the picture when we already know the anatomy of the guitar for which the strings are going to be used.
When you are searching for a good set of strings in a local music shop or the web, there are enormous options out there. As a beginner, such choice may seem to be overwhelming, but what when terms like “Gauge” & “numbers” kick in the scenario? We have all been there and have faced the same problem.
Fortunately, in this article, I am going to explain the various factors which should be kept in mind while buying your perfect set of strings. By the end of the article, I will also suggest some strings, and you will be ready enough to choose yours.
The first thing, which should be kept in mind while buying a set of strings, is the kind of guitar you are playing, whether it’s an acoustic or an electric guitar. Considering that you are a beginner, I would assume you are planning to buy a set of acoustic guitar strings.
Now when you see a packaged string set, you might notice that there are words splashed all over in the front. I would say if you are following the terms & you are aware of the same, there is no reason that you might go wrong.
This might fell to be visible to start with, but as you grow, you will feel the distinct difference between the strings for different guitars.
The Hurdle for Brands
Searching for the best brands might be the first question to strike your mind when you see such a wide range of options. After all, there are so many of them. However, you can choose any of them as long as you are selecting the correct set.
I would suggest going for the more popular brands such as Ernie Bell, Roto sound, Martin & of course, my personal favourite D’Addario. If you are buying any strings from these guys, you can blindly trust the quality of the product. They are well made, reasonably priced products that shall suit most of the steel-strung guitars.
However, it depends on you to choose which brand you should pick depending on your past experiences, the particular range of string numbers & most importantly, your budget.
What is ‘Gauge’?
As a beginner, if there is one aspect you should pay attention to, it is the gauge of the string set you are planning to buy. It is on your choice of strings that will directly affect how the strings would feel on your hands & how easy it would be for you to play the guitar.
But you might bang your head as to what is the gauge of a string, below is a crash course. Well, at this juncture is everything you should know about string gauge.
How thick the Strings are, determine what is the gauge of the strings. Each string has a numerical value, which represents how thick the string is. It is measured in thousands of an inch.
For example, if a popular high E string, also known as the first string has a measurement of 0.10″ (10 thousand of an inch), a guitarist would refer it as a string of 10 Gauge. Similarly, if a string would be having a measurement of 0.11″, we would be calling the string an 11-gauge string.
Thus, we can conclude that thicker the string more is the numerical value of the string gauge.
Now when one sees the front of the string set packaging, you will often see that the gauges will be given in ranges. It shall be written as 10-47 or 11-52.
These numbers represent the gauge range of the strings in the particular set. For example, if we take the 10-47 range of string set, we shall see that the first string (High E: the thinnest of all) is of 10 gauge & the last string (Low E: the thickest of all) is of 47 gauge. Similarly, if we consider the 11-52 range set, the high E string shall be of 11 gauge & the low E string shall be of 52 gauge.
You may have often heard the term “I use the 10’s” or “I use the 12’s” from professional guitarists. By this statement, they simply mean that they use a string set that has the thinnest string of 10 gauge or 12 gauge. Thus, for example, if you use a string set that begins with an 11-gauge string, you may say that “I am using an11’s”.
Gauge Fit for Beginners
I always recommend beginners to use a light gauge set. My recommendation for a good gauge range would be 10-47 or 11-52. If you feel too heavy using these ranges or you think that it is very hard on your fingers & music tone, there is a piece of good news for you.
Some brands even produce string sets starting with a 9-gauge string set. I have also listed down some favourites of mine at the bottom of this blog.
Which String Set Thrives a Better Sound- Thicker or Thinner?
There is a term in this Guitar world, you would notice mentioned a lot. The magic word is ‘Tone.’ Every grown guitarist strives for a better tone & many guitarists consider that the thicker set of strings produces a better sound.
However, I always recommend the beginners to use a light gauge string set since that would go easy on their fingers, and also the quality of their playing improves, which again keeps a noob motivated.
One of the primary rewards of using a light gauge string set is that the thinner strings require minimal effort to press them down the fretboard. Starting out, a little sore in the fingers is inevitable. It is something we have all gone through during our initial days. Once you start practicing & slowly build up the strength in your fingers, you will notice that the skin around the fingertips, which was once sore, is now hardened.
Until this happens, the lighter gauge strings will help you ease the soreness during the early phase. Also, playing the guitar requires you to use the muscle of hands & arms, which you have never used before. Using a lighter gauge string will help you avoid unnecessary soring & strain in your muscles.
Moreover, using a lighter set of strings will allow you to concentrate on improving your techniques. Struggling to press down the string could ultimately lead to developing many bad habits, which shall prove to be a significant problem shortly.
I would always say, as a beginner, playing the guitar & learning the correct techniques would contribute a lot more to your tone than a heavier set of strings.
What Else Other Than Numbers
As we are done with the numbers, there is another piece of advice that a beginner should keep in mind while buying a string set.
With time, as you start exploring different sets of acoustic guitar strings, you will realize that many manufactures use terms like “Light,” “Extra Light,” “Medium,” etc., along with the numbers on them.
While these terms are used to describe a gauge range of a string set, they can prove to be very confusing for the beginners. In fact, it creates more confusion when you are going through different sets of different brands. This is because not all manufacturers or brands use the same term as the other. Some brands may consider the 12-53-gauge range set as a “Light” set. Some others may term the same as “Medium-light,” while some may also term it as the “Medium” set. This can, indeed, be very confusing.
However, the fact that they all are of the gauge range 12-53, they will be of the same exact thickness as the other, irrespective of what the brands name them.
Therefore, it is all about numbers.
Pro Tip: Whenever you plan on changing your string set, don’t forget to keep the outer packaging of the string set. It will help you to select the exact same gauge range when you are buying your next set of strings.
The Material of the Wrap
Another aspect of the guitar string, which should be kept in mind while buying a guitar, is the wrapping material of the String set.
If you already own a guitar, or if you would have touched a guitar before, you might have noticed that there is coiling over the solid steel strings for 4 out of 6 strings, starting from the 3rd string (G string). The material of this coil is known as the wrapping material.
The majority of the brands produce acoustic guitar strings made from “Phosphor Bronze”, and “80/20Bronze” & most brands offer both varieties.
In short, phosphor bronze gives a warmer, well-balanced tone while the 80/20 bronze strings provide a more distinct bright tone. These strings generally give that ‘zingy’ effect to your sound.
Both of them are equally good & neither of them is better than the other. It all depends on the tone you want to create. I would suggest using both at least once so that you can choose what’s best for you.
Personally, I find the 20/80 Bronze strings more appealing due to the ‘zingy’ effect on acoustic guitars.
Silk and Steel
When we are discussing the string material, there is another type of acoustic string set, which is really good for the beginners, known as the “Silk & Steel” strings. These strings contain a silk filament underneath the outer coiling, which helps to give a mellower tone.
Also, these strings have minimal tension, which means they shall be softer to press down. They would have less impact on your fingers & prevent them from unwanted sores. They would help you to develop better techniques fast & also make you enjoy your noob phase with minimal pain on your fingers.
Coated or Uncoated
As we come near to the end of the blog & I hope you are ready to select your set of strings, there is one last thing I want to mention before you buy your strings.
Though this is not that important initially. However, it will have a crucial impact on your guitar learning journey.
Recently, manufacturers have started selling ‘Coated’ & ‘Uncoated strings.’. Now, I would suggest going for an uncoated string set. Strings are given a thin polymer coating to prevent the string surface from unwanted sweats & weathering. The layer acts as a barrier against these & give them a longer life span.
Though I personally love coated strings. However, the longer life would mean that you will get minimal opportunities to change your guitar strings. Practicing to change your guitar string is always crucial as a beginner. As you thrive through your journey of Guitar playing, you will come across embarrassing situations, where your string breaks. This is entirely inevitable. Even the greatest of all have come across similar circumstances. Learning to change your strings quickly will prove to be a wholly different skill, which shall uplift your guitar playing & help you to become a well-rounded guitarist.
I really hope that this blog proves to be helpful to you. I know that all these pieces of information can be a bit confusing as a beginner & therefore, I have compiled a shortlist of my suggestions. Buy from any of these & I am pretty sure that you will land on solid ground.