Since acoustic guitars do not use amplifiers, the role of strings in producing the tone is even more significant. Not every string sound will suit your genre and playing style.
The sound produced by the strings varies based on the material, construction, and how well you maintain them.
This article reveals the different kinds of strings available for acoustic guitars and the genres they are best suited for. Furthermore, it explains the nuances involved in maintaining and changing these strings for acoustic guitars.
How to Choose the Best Acoustic Strings?
To choose the best string for your acoustic guitar, first, you need to know the different string materials and how they are constructed.
Acoustic guitar string materials
The 2 most commonly used string materials for acoustic guitars are steel and nylon. Sometimes, alloys of these materials are also used in guitar strings.
Steel strings produce a much brighter and crisper sound which makes them best suited to play rock, bluegrass, and country. The steel strings provide more volume and power. With the steel strings, you don’t have to tune them. Once you fit and tune them once, they are set.
If you are a beginner, you will find it more difficult to pluck steel strings as they are hard and are under high tension. However, once you adjust your guitar, it will become much easier.
Nylon strings are very soft and they produce a mellow tone. The nylon strings are ideally suited for playing classical, jazz, and bossa nova. As these strings are very soft, they are sensitive to temperature and humidity which makes them go out of tune. You need to regularly tune these strings.
The common misconception is that nylon strings are easier to plug for beginners. However, it is equally difficult and you will experience some soreness in the beginning. You need to get your guitar settings adjusted to make the plucking easier.
Other string materials to consider
If you want to deviate away from the conventional string materials to get something a little different, you may consider the following materials.
Nickel strings offer a richer tone which is very pleasing when you play older music genres, especially blues. Sometimes nickel is plated over steel strings to give a low-end response to the tone.
Brass and Bronze
In this, the wires are made of steel and then coated with brass or bronze materials to change the sounds. The brass strings offer a brighter sound than bronze strings. The brass strings are essentially made of 80% copper and 20% zinc. The brass strings give a bright and cutting voice to the tone.
Phosphor bronze strings are soft and have a warmer tone with a high-end response. This makes these strings ideal for folk, finger-style work, or any other mellow genres.
As the name suggests, these strings are made of copper and coated with silver. The coating makes them very soft and easy to pluck using fingers. The copper material produces a warmer tone that is best suited for mellow genres.
Acoustic guitar string construction
The way the guitar strings are constructed is equally important and has a similar impact on a guitar’s tone. There are 4 factors involved in the acoustic guitar string construction.
The thickness of a string is referred to as a gauge. In general, thicker strings produce warmer responses. The volume of the sound delivered by thick strings is also more. However, thicker strings are very stiff and it is difficult to play with them, especially if you are a beginner. It is also difficult to fret the strings when they are thick.
The thickness of strings is denoted by numbers on the package. A thin string is denoted by .9 or lower. On the other hand, thick strings are denoted by .12 or higher. Strings denoted as .10 or .11 are considered to be ‘mediums’.
There are two different types of string cores. Hex core strings produce a louder and brighter sound while the round core strings produce a mellow best suited for classical rock. The hex-core strings are stiffer in comparison to the round core strings.
The acoustic guitars have three types of winding. The round strings have a rough surface and produce a bright tone. The flat-wound strings, as the name suggests, are very flat and produce a dark tone. These strings are very stiff, making them difficult to play.
The half-round strings occupy an in-between space between both these strings. As these strings do not produce a bright tone nor a dark tone, they are not best suited for any specific genre. Hence, they are not commonly preferred.
The modern acoustic guitars are coated with plastic polymers to increase their lifespan. However, strings coated with plastic polymers are very expensive. Furthermore, these strings cut high-end responses.
How to Change Acoustic Guitar Strings
Changing strings in acoustic guitars is relatively easy, even for beginners. You need to be armed with a few equipment that you can easily get in any guitar store. Below is a step by step process to restring acoustic guitars.
Step 1: Gather your equipment in a neat place
You need a few equipment such as a tuning machine, cutters, new strings, and a string winder. Place these equipment in a neat place so that you don’t lose any materials during the restringing process.
Step 2: Loosen each string
Balance the neck of your acoustic guitar and loosen each string by turning the tuning key. Similarly, loosen all the strings.
Step 3: Remove the bridge pins
Remove each pin with the help of a string winder. Once you have removed all the bridge pins, you will be able to remove the strings as well.
Step 4: Keep the string and bridge pin through the 6E bridge hole
Gently push the pin and the string through the hole. Simultaneously, pull the other end of the string.
Step 5: Push the string through the tuning machine
Take your string about 3 inches through the tuning machine and tighten it. Now, pull the string towards the bridge.
Step 6: Wind up the string and tighten it
Turn the tuning machine using the string winder and tighten the string. Similarly, slide all the strings one by one into the holes and tighten them.
Step 7: Tune your acoustic guitar
Once you tightened all the guitars, tune your guitar to get the appropriate tone. If you are a beginner, it is advisable to tune your guitar with the help of a professional.
Step 8: Cut the excess length of the strings
After tuning your guitar, take a wire cutter and cut the excess length of the strings.
When Should I Change My Acoustic Guitar Strings?
Unlike electric guitars, acoustic guitars do not require you to change their strings frequently. Here are a few signs that indicate it is time to change the strings.
- When it becomes very difficult for you to tune your guitar and keep it in tune.
- When your strings show rust or discoloration.
- When strings unwind and expose the core.
- When the tone of the acoustic guitar becomes flat or dead.
- And lastly, you don’t remember when was the last time you changed the strings.
How Often Should Acoustic Guitar Strings be Changed?
Well, we had already said you don’t need to change your acoustic guitar strings frequently. However, in some cases, when you use your guitar aggressively, you might have to change the strings sooner than usual.
Below are some of the factors that will shorten the lifespan of your strings and force you to change them.
- You sweat a lot while playing your guitar. The sweat is acidic and can damage your strings.
- You play the guitar aggressively with a lot of bending.
- You play the guitar frequently.
- You tune the guitar frequently.
- You play the guitar in smoky environments.
Best Practices to Prolong Acoustic Guitar Strings
Proper maintenance of your acoustic guitar will prolong the strings’ lifespan and retain its sound quality. Below are some of the maintenance tips you can follow to get the best out of your strings
- Wash your hands before you start playing your guitar.
- Wipe your strings using a clean, dry cloth after every playing session.
- Get a good string winder to change strings without damaging them.
- Keep note of the dates when you change your strings. Track them to see how long the strings last.
- Buy strings in bulk quantities since bulk orders cost less.
- Always keep an extra set of strings with you. You might never know when you or your bandmate might need it.
There is no specific answer to the best strings for acoustic guitars. It depends on your playing style and the genre you want to play. Furthermore, whichever string you choose for your acoustic guitar, you need to tune it and maintain the guitar to get the best sound quality.
If you are still confused about which strings to choose for your acoustic guitars, let us know using the comments sections, and we will help you out.