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Strings n Things

Here you will find everything you want to know about strings. You’ll know that whatever you do- learning a new sport, playing around at poker.de or playing a cigar box guitar, it does make a difference knowing all about it. The more background you have, the more insight you will have and the more progress you will hopefully make.

Nylon strings

Least mass, least tension force, least “energy” delivered to soundboard, distinctive classical clean, lower sustain plinky sounds. Have about 60% of the tension forces of a steel string set of equivalent pitch.

Compound “Silk and Steel” strings

The first and second strings are regular steel strings, the remaining strings are a thin steel steel wire wrapped first in nylon or polyester fiber then in bronze, copper, or nickel as in a nomal set of steel strings. Allow you a bit more mass and energy for the given tension. Because they are relatively lower tension, the strings sound by comparison, depending on how you think of it, “warmer”, “rounder”, “muddier”, or “sloppier” than their slightly higher tension regular steel string cousins.

Steel Strings

All are steel piano type wire of varying gauges, with a wrap of various metals on the fatter strings, usually bronze or copper on the acoustic sets, and nickel or nickel plated steel on the electric sets. The wound strings may have a hexagonally shaped core, and the wrapping portion may be round wire, flat tape, or round wire then ground flat(rare). Few if any string brands make their own wire, they just wrap the secondary copper wires on the low strings and install the ball or loop ends. Most makers redistrubute these and may market them under several brand names from marketing companies.

May come coated with teflon or lacquer on the more expensive sets for people who like a slicker feel, dislike the sounds produced by fingers on strings, or like the extra life partially provided by keeping the metal cleaner. Pure personal preference and budget choice.

The terms 80/20, 60/40, or phosphor bronze, or nickel refer to the metal type in the wound strings. 80/20 strings are actually brass, an alloy of copper and zinc. Phosphor bronze are an alloy of copper and tin witha small amount of phosphorous added for strength. As far as what you may hear and feel, the sound pretty much follows the mass of the windings – the phosphor bronze sound the warmest, the 60/40 sound the brightest, and the 80/20 somewhere in between. The nickel plated electric strings are somewhere up in the bright end, with less sustain on an acoustic setup and are harder on the frets. The cryogenic alloys are a relatively newly marketed string metal of dubious advantage.

Typical String Set Data

(Standard tuned 6 string Martin-style guitar, 25.4 inch scale)

Set Approx Gauges Approx. Total Tension (lbs)
Nylon Unknown 75
Electric Ultralights .009 – .042 105
“Silk and Steels” .011 – .047 130
Extra Lights .010 – .048 125
Lights .012 – .053 150
Medium .013 – .056 175
Heavy .014 – .059 200
Note: Shorter scales will have proportionately lower tension forces and lower volume for a given string at a given pitch. Tensions may reduce to the point of buzzing at the nut or bridge.

String Choices for Alternate Tunings

To keep a constant level of balanced tension and volume between strings, as you deviate from “Standard Tuning” EADgbe with individual strings in a stringset, you may wish to choose a string of different gauge. If you deviate to a lower pitch, choose a heavier string gauge; conversely, as you deviate in tuning to a higher pitch, choose a lighter string.

Example Set: Light gauge strings on a 6-string guitar

Standard Tuning
Note E A D g b e
Gauge .053 .044 .032 .025 .016 .012
Open G Tuning
Note D G D g b d
Gauge .056 .046 .032 .025 .016 .013