When I really got serious about playing guitar, I was moving from a concert ukulele (with nylon strings) to an acoustic steel string guitar. There’s quite a difference between these two types of strings, especially for your fingers. Luckily you develop a level of calluses with any strings (as long as you practice consistently) even if nylons are a lot easier. But the type of strings you choose affects more than just the tips of your fingers. You should be choosing strings based on the style of music you play, what type of guitar you play, the sound you want, and the level of your abilities. I already talked about how to tell IF you should change your strings in a previous blog, so now it’s time to decide which strings your guitar needs.
The first thing I need to point out is… never put acoustic strings on an electric guitar or vice versa. You should also only use nylon strings on a classical/flamenco guitar. If you do use the wrong kind of strings, it can cause problems with your guitar because whatever you play-classical, steel string, or electric-your guitar is designed for a certain level of tension (steel strings having higher tension than nylon) from the strings. Electric strings are also designed to work with pick-ups.
If you are still a beginner, extra light or light strings are generally recommended. They are easier to play and a little nicer to your fingertips. The number listed as the size of the strings is the diameter of the strings-the lighter the strings, the smaller the gauge. There are positives and negatives either way. Heavier strings are harder to play but they produce more volume and sustain. Lighter strings require less finger pressure but they break more easily and don’t have as much volume.
Another thing to decide is what you want your strings to be made out of. The high E and B strings are just plain steel but the lower 4 strings have a core and then are wound with something else. Most electrics are wound with nickel. The most common types of acoustic steel strings are bronze, phosphor/bronze, and silk & steel. Bronze strings have a brighter sound, whereas phosphor/bronze produce a warmer tone and the phosphor makes them last longer than just bronze. Silk & steel have a mellower sound and are used a lot on vintage instruments for less tension.
Heavier strings are used for rock and nu metal types of music, particularly if you are using drop tunings. Keep in mind that when you put heavier strings on your guitar it is adding tension to the bridge and neck on your guitar which can pull the bridge up or off (especially if you don’t properly humidify your guitar), or bow the neck. That’s why I specifically recommend lighter strings on smaller guitars because they don’t have as big of a scale as full sized guitars and it puts even more pull on smaller guitars. I know of a guy who uses heavy strings on a parlor but he always has lower tunings so it balances the tension somewhat.
One thing for certain is that all of this depends on personal preference-just like most things. So I recommend that once you feel like you’re passed beginner stage to try out multiple styles, brands and gauges of strings to figure out what you like. I stopped using extra lights a long time ago, but I mostly play with light strings on all my guitars. My recommendation is to change your strings regularly enough that you can tell the difference from dead strings to new strings, heavy strings to light strings, bronze to phosphor/bronze strings etc. You could even try restringing two different guitars with different strings and compare them side by side. As always I just want you to keep playing and practicing, that’s the most important thing.
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