A comparison of acoustic guitar strings

Written by matt mckay
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A comparison of acoustic guitar strings
Comparison of acoustic guitar strings (Guitar 2 image by Chad Perry from Fotolia.com)

Acoustic guitar stings come in a variety of types that can sometimes be a bit confusing to the beginner. By comparing the composition and use of acoustic strings, you will get a better idea of what to look for based on your sound preference and type of guitar. Electric guitar strings are primarily made of nickel-plated steel, noted for its magnetic properties when used with electric guitar pickups. But acoustic guitar strings use materials designed to enhance the volume and tone of the instrument's natural acoustic sound.

Bronze Strings

Bronze strings are a popular acoustic guitar string noted for their bright sound. They are also noted for losing some of the brightness after several hours of playing, which is preferred by some guitarists. Usually marketed as "80/20 Bronze" the strings are actually of steel core, with windings plated with 80 per cent bronze and 20 per cent tin. Bronze strings are used by both professionals and beginners who prefer a "darker" or "warmer" sounding string.

Phosphor Bronze Strings

Phosphor bronze acoustic strings are similar to bronze strings, but retain their brightness of tone much longer from the phosphorus added to the bronze. Phosphor bronze are good all-around strings, used by professionals and beginners alike who prefer the string's bright tone.

Brass Strings

Brass strings offer a "middle ground" of tone, falling between the warm bronze and bright phosphor bronze tones. Although brass strings are not as common, and are not offered by all manufacturers, they are used by guitarists of all playing levels and are worth trying on your own instrument.

Silk and Steel Strings

Silk and steel strings are a sort of hybrid string, and are a cross between standard strings and nylon strings. The two top plain strings are steel, like any other string set, but the four bottom wound strings use a core of nylon fibres encased in a hollow steel core. The steel core is then wound in silver-plated brass windings. The tone is somewhere between brass strings and the softer-sounding nylon strings discussed below. Silk and steel strings are more forgiving on the fingers, as they produce less string tension, but will produce less volume than steel-core bronze, phosphor or brass strings.

Nylon Strings

Nylon strings, also called "classical" guitar strings, are for use on nylon-stringed classical guitars. The first three strings are made of smooth nylon material, with the last three strings made of stranded nylon core wrapped in silver-plated copper, brass or bronze. Nylon strings produce a deep, muted, bell-like tone and are used by professional and beginner folk, rock, classical, jazz and flamenco guitar players. Nylon strings are a favourite of beginners, as they do not produce as much tension and are easier to finger than steel strings.

Comparing String Types

Mixing and matching string types for purposes of comparison and determining which string sounds best on your guitar is encouraged, with one exception. Nylon-string classical guitars are internally designed differently than steel-stringed acoustic guitars, in order to enhance the volume and tone from quieter nylon strings. Placing steel strings on a nylon string guitar will case the guitar's internal bracing to eventually fail, ruining the guitar. Conversely, putting steel strings on a nylon string guitar will not harm the instrument, but due to the internal bracing and acoustic properties of steel string guitars, the volume and tone will be severely limited.

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