One of the first things a guitar musician learns is that the strings on the instrument can be a very important factor in the sound of the guitar. The guitar may be made of the best construction in the body, but using poor quality strings will definitely reduce the resonance of the tone.
Types Of Guitar Strings
The string on an instrument is the vibrating part that makes the sound. Strings are made of flexible material in lengths held in tension which allows them to vibrate freely. The material used for “plain” strings varies and can consist of the material being either steel or nylon. Other strings are wound with a core of one material and an outside of another material. This construction gives the string the ability to produce a specific pitch.
Wound Guitar Strings
There are three popular types of wound strings with each having a unique characteristic.
The roundwound strings are the simplest construction and involve having a round wire wrapped around a core of either round or hexagon material. This type of string usually has a rough surface that causes friction with the player’s fingers and may contribute to a squeaking in the sound.
The flatwound strings are much less bumpy when wound around either a round or hexagon core which greatly reduces the squeaky sound from fingers. This type of string generally has a longer life because of the smaller grooves which decrease the wear.
The halfwound strings are again wound around a round or hexagon core but this string is polished, ground or pressed so that the exterior part is minimally bumpy being mostly flat. There is negligible squeaky sound.
Gauges For Guitar Strings
Strings on a guitar have different gauges which is the diameter of the string. A combination of plain strings and wound strings can be on one instrument. The gauges are in terms of thousandths of an inch and will be in sets with the first and last strings sizes establishing gauge reference. An acoustic guitar with six strings in the set and medium gauge may range from .013 - .056 inch for the six strings.
Steel strings are most prevalent in guitars especially the electric and bass guitars. They are used for the plain string as well as the core of the wound strings and the tone from steel is considered best for a strong quality.
The nylon string is used for a more mellow guitar tone such as that used in classical and folk music. Because the tension of nylon is much less, it is used in older guitars.
There are many things to consider when deciding on the appropriate string for a guitar and, in most cases, the player will have to experiment to determine what works best for their instrument.