Electric guitar

Electric Guitar Strings 101 | Guitarist

Changing electric guitar strings is the cheapest way to change your tone. It can also yield the most dramatic results.

A note comes from the vibration of the string, so if you’re looking for a different tone, it makes sense to start your odyssey here.

It’s a Wrap

The wire winding on a coiled rope is made of various alloys. Since each alloy has unique response characteristics, the metallic formulation of the envelope determines the sound of the string.

For example, pure nickel produces a relatively warm tone, while nickel-plated steel is brighter. Stainless steel is even shinier.

guitar strings

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Although the overwhelming majority of electric guitar players choose round strings, other wraps are available.

The ribbon wire winding of flatwire strings, favored by jazz guitar players, produces a soft fundamental with few overtones.

Semi-round or semi-flat strings combine a bright tone with a smooth feel. Half-rounds can be made in two ways: by pressing the cover wire as it is fed over the core, or by grinding the surface of a round-wound rope.

guitar strings

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It’s time to relax

Virtually all unwound (or “single”) strings are made of tinned high carbon steel. Single strings have less variation from brand to brand than wound strings.

One factor affecting the sound of unwound strings is lock twist, the winding at the end of the string that holds the ball in place.

However, as long as it remains firm, the string will retain good, strong sustain. Conversely, any string with a loose twist will experience a reduction in sustain.

guitar strings

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Evaluate a reaction

String gauge is essential to tone production. A heavy set of strings has more mass, tension, and magnetic output than a light set.

Heavier strings produce a fatter, fatter sound.

We recommend experimenting with different brands, gauges, and types of strings, as it’s a cost-effective way to find better sound.

“For 20 or 30 bucks, you can learn a lot about your guitar by trying out different strings.” Tim Shaw (opens in a new tab) tell us. “Changing the gauge type of the strings makes a colossal difference in tone.”

guitar strings

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Take action

Your action, or string pitch, is another related issue. “Action has a lot to do with tone,” Paul Chandler (opens in a new tab) tell us. “The higher your strings are from the fretboard, the better your overall tone.

“Have you ever played a Dobro with a big max? Part of its bulk results from having the strings so high. The angles are increased at the saddles and the nut; you have all this great tension.

“A higher action gives you a bluesy, sustained sound. Your notes return more easily and you don’t need as much electrical energy to get your sustain.”