Get the lowdown on guitar strings
If you didn’t already know, the type of electric guitar strings you use is kind of a big deal. Here’s what you need to know…
Even though you take really good care of your electric guitar, eventually your strings will lose their pizzazz or one or more of them will break. You might think, “Oh, great! Now I have to get new strings for my guitar!” Well, don’t fret. One of the best things you can do to help your guitar sound awesome is to know which strings you like the best. So let’s go over a few things.
First off, the most popular type of string used on electric guitars is roundwound strings (i.e. a round shaped wire wrapped around a core string). There are other types of strings available (ex. flatwound, ground wound, hexcore, etc.) but here we’re just talking about roundwound strings. In a pack of six strings, you will usually have three plain strings and three bumpy roundwound strings. Steel is most commonly used for the plain and core strings.
Of course there are the different types of roundwound strings, which are based on the materials used for the wire wound around the core string (ex. pure nickel, nickel plated steel and stainless steel). Strings for bass guitar are most commonly wound with nickel or stainless steel. It is important to understand this, since each gives its own distinctive sound.
As a general reference, pure nickel gives a more vintage, mellow tone while stainless steel is the brightest and loudest. The tone from nickel plated steel strings lies between the two with a crisp, edgy tone. So if you’re not sure about which type to choose, I suggest trying nickel plated steel strings first, and then you can decide from there what you want out of your next set of strings.
The next thing to know about guitar strings is string gauge which refers to the size of the strings. A string’s tone partly depends on its weight and on its diameter or gauge – the larger the diameter, the heavier the string. String diameter is measured in thousandths of an inch and a set of strings usually refers to the gauge of the first or highest string.
For example, a set of 9-gauge strings is referring to the high E string for which its diameter is .009 of an inch. If a pair of numbers is given (ex. 9-42), those numbers refer to the high and low E strings (i.e. .009” and .042”).
The most commonly used gauges are 9-gauge and 10-gauge strings. What you want to know about string gauge is that lighter gauge strings are easier to play, while heavier ones have better tone. Decide what’s right for you and your style of playing.
One thing to point out is how any new set of strings will sound bright, almost too bright, when you first put them on your guitar. However, they settle in after playing them a while. Also, over time your strings will lose their brilliance and sound dead.
The best thing you can do to maintain your strings is to wipe them down with a soft, dry cloth each time after you’re done playing. An old clean t-shirt or soft rag should work fine, too.
On how often to change your strings, for starters if you’re playing casually, I recommend changing them monthly. Over time, you will get a feel for when your strings need to be changed. If you’re playing more regularly, changing your strings weekly may become necessary. Some players do it weekly or before every gig while others do so only after they are stone cold dead sounding (not recommended).
Perhaps you’re shopping around looking for some colored strings? DR Strings has got you covered there as they make ones in pink, green, yellow and orange so you can add some “front page zing” to your guitar’s look.
Some of the biggest names for strings are Ernie Ball, D’Addario, DR Strings, Dean Markley and GHS, who makes the Rene’ Martinez Big Core Strings. Rene’ was Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar tech as well as for some of big name players like Prince, Eddie Brickell, Carlos Santana and John Mayer. Needless to say, Rene’ knows world-class tone.
Some notable players’ strings are:
~Jennifer Batten (Michael Jackson) – D’Addario XL Nickel Round Wound Hybrid set (9-48)
~Joan Jett – D’Addario 10-gauge
~Poison Ivy (The Cramps) – D’Addario XL115 (11-49)
~Marnie Stern – D’Addario (10-46)
~Lisa Lim – GHS Boomers 10 and 11-gauge
~Lita Ford – Dean Markley
~Orianthi – Dean Markley
~Malina Moye – Dean Markley
And a couple of dudes for good measure:
~Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) – Ernie Ball Super Slinky 9-gauge
~Stevie Ray Vaughan – Rene’ Martinez Big Core Strings
~Carl Verheyen – Carl Verheyen Balanced Bridge Helix Electric
So now you’re more “in the know” about what a big deal electric guitars strings are. When you find the strings that are right for you, your guitar’s tone will soar and people will say, “Did you see that girl’s string bling?”