Deciding on the right set of strings for your mandolin can be a difficult process. There are so many different types available; it can be difficult to know which set is best for you. Learning the basics about different string types available for the mandolin can give you a good general idea of which strings you prefer. As with all things musical, however, ultimately the choice comes down to personal preference.
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Find out the type of strings on your mandolin when you buy it. If possible, knowing the original strings on your mandolin can give you a good idea of what to buy. If you like the sound produced by the original strings, you can buy the same strings to get something you like the sound of without the process of experimentation.
Think about whether you would prefer thicker gauge strings or thinner gauge. A string's gauge basically means its thickness: The higher the gauge, the thicker the string. Thin-gauge strings have a brighter sound, but might be quieter than thicker strings. Higher (or "heavy") gauge strings also hold a note longer, generally referred to as sustain. A thin set of mandolin strings would have gauges of something like 9/9, 12/12, 18w/18w and 26w/26w. A thicker set of strings would have gauges like 12/12, 16/16, 26w/26w and 40w/40w. These are general string sizes, so there might be slight variations from different manufacturers.
Decide which material you want your strings to be made. The material used to make the string has a big effect on the string's sound. Bronze strings are the brightest sounding of the acoustic strings; phosphor bronze is also quite bright but with richer tones. Stainless steel, nickel and silver-plated copper strings are more bass-like in tone, with accentuated low-end sounds. Stainless steel strings are the best choice for durability, because they are much less susceptible to degradation from the oils of your fingers than bronze strings. As a result of this, the brightness achieved by using bronze strings can be lost fairly quickly as the string wears.
Buy some flat-wound strings if your fingers hurt when you play. Mandolin strings, like most instrument strings, are generally made of a metallic core with a coil of material wrapped around it. This round-wound construction accounts for the ridges you can feel in most strings. That, in turn, might be causing a lot of the pain in your fingers. Flat-wound strings have a flat, ribbonlike piece of metal wrapped around them, which give the string a smooth feel and make the strings easier to play.
Note the types of strings you have tried and your thoughts on each. This will help you remember which strings you like and which you don't. After you've tried a few types, you gain a good idea of the sort of strings you like on your mandolin.
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