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3 Tips to Pick Guitar Strings

Like guitar picks, guitar strings come in many different sizes, materials, and are suitable for different uses. If you're just starting out, all the different choices out there can be overwhelming. So here are 3 tips to get you started.

1. Match the right string to the right guitar.

Steel string acoustic, classical, and electric guitars all need different strings and it's best to purchase strings that are made for your instrument.

Steel String

Steel string acoustic strings are typically wound in bronze or a bronze alloy, but have a thin metal core. This means that they're great at producing a bright, loud, woody sound from instrument. Unfortunately, they also have high tension and can damage a classical guitar. They often are too thick around to be used on an electric guitar.

Classical Strings

Classical guitar strings are typically made of metal wrapped around a nylon chord on the bass strings (EAD) and clear or solid color nylon on the treble strings (GBE). They do not have enough tension to be used on a steel string acoustic, and they lack metal cores, so are useless on an electric guitar in most cases.

Electric Guitar

Electric guitar strings are designed to work with the electronics on an electric guitar. Electric guitars use sensors called "pickups" that sense the movement of the metal in the strings. That means they can be much thinner than a steel string acoustic guitar. You can string up a steel string acoustic with electric strings, but it will sound tinny and not put out much volume.

2. Match the string to the player

Individual strings come in different "gauges," which is the diameter of the string. Heavier gauges require more tension to reach the correct pitch, so typically thicker strings are more difficult to push down than thinner strings.

When buying strings for a new steel string acoustic or electric guitar, you should start by seeing what the manufacturer suggests for that instrument. However, most of the time, a light set of strings is the best way to go for a beginner. For kids that have trouble pushing down strings, many string-makers do make "ultra light" sets of strings that are thinner and easier to push down. The downside to this is that you may have to have a professional set up your guitar for you if the strings rattle or buzz on the frets.

Many adults have trouble with pushing down too hard causing the note to "bend" or change pitch. If you have that issue, it may be helpful to go up to heavier set of strings.

For a classical guitar, strings come in "high" and "low" tension strings. If you have purchased a beginner classical guitar, it's best to stick to the low tensions strings. Inexpensive classical guitars may not be able to handle a high tensions set and the top can be damaged over time.

3. Pick the string that meets your needs.

Paying more doesn't always mean the best value when picking out strings. I personally play guitar 2-3 hours a day, and I will typically go through a set of strings once a month. For me, the Martin Marquis light set is perfect for my Eastman steel string acoustic. They sound great and are an excellent value from Amazon.

For my electric guitar, I use the Ernie Ball "heavy top, skinny bottom" set that has "light" gauge strings on the bass strings, and "medium" gauge on the treble strings. I like this set because it keeps the strings from feeling "floppy" and loose on my short scale Fender Duo Sonic.

If you're a beginner, you may want to spend a little bit more money and look at a string that has a protective coating. These often are a little easier on the fingers and they last for much longer than a standard set of strings. If you don't want to bother with changing strings often, this set from Elixir is a great choice. These strings are available for acoustic or electric guitars through this link.

For a classical guitar, I really like the ball end nylon strings. Classical guitars typically will have the string tied to the bridge, and some purists will advise against using the strings I like, but for beginners, there is nothing wrong with starting out with these:

That's it, and always please shoot me a message if I can be of any help!

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I help people to tell their stories through engaging content such as presentation decks, photos, videos, and music.  Give me a shout if I can help you tell your story.  


Hi, I'm Brent.  I'm a musician, photographer, video maker, and designer in Edmond, OK.

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