What Are Guitar Strings Made Of?
Not a lot of guitarists pay attention to the kind of guitar strings they use on their guitars. However, it is supposed to be an area of concentration. There are specific types of guitar strings that should be used for different guitarists. In this article, we’ll be going through all the types of guitar strings, how they are constructed, and how they affect the guitarist.
There are five main parent materials used in making guitar strings. These are further divided into subtypes by their alloys and construction methods.
The five main materials used are steel strings and nickel strings for the electric guitar, brass, bronze, and nylon guitar strings, for other guitar kinds like bass strings.
Now, we shall start by doing an overview of all the guitar string materials that are used in making guitar string and their effects.
Steel And Nickel
Before recent designs, most of the guitar strings in the electric guitar were designed with steel, while the thicker guitar strings were plated with nickel.
It is in new electric guitar designs that you can now find guitars with guitar strings that are completely made of steel and nickel. However, the thick guitar strings of these new guitars are coated with other metals.
The most popular characteristic of the steel guitar strings is the brightness that comes with its sound. They produce very high-end feedback with every note. If you are playing a genre that requires an aggressive tone to the music, then pure steel guitar strings are what you need.
Pure stainless steel strings have a design that allows them to last very long physically. However, when it comes to the playing life of the guitar string, steel guitar strings tend to lose tone faster.
As for the pure nickel guitar strings, they do not produce the bright tones that you get from steel guitar strings. However, the strength of the pure nickel strings lies in its tone. Pure nickel guitar strings tend to produce richer tones.
Another advantage the nickel guitar strings have is that their warm tones last longer than most string types. Also, nickel strings make fretting easier on the fingers.
For anyone who plays rhythms and blues, the warmth in the nickel strings makes it the best option to create the rich body and tone needed.
Now, let’s talk about nickel-plated strings. Imagine a scale with the extremes of brightness and warmth at the two ends, the mid-point of that is what you get from nickel-plated strings.
It is a combination of the low warm tone of the nickel strings and the sharp and bright tone of the steel strings. The nickel-plated strings are best for playing country music.
Brass And Bronze
When it comes to steel-string acoustic guitars, there are two possible options. The first is a brass-plated guitar string, while the second is a bronze-plated string. The strings are originally designed with steel.
When you feel these strings you actually might not be able to tell the difference between the two. However, if you listen for the tone and response of the two materials, the difference is very clear.
One thing that is a standard is that brass strings will always sound brighter than bronze. Now, a lot of brass strings are popularly called 80/20 bronze strings. Don’t be phased, however, by names, these strings are basically the same thing.
Both brass and 80/20 bronze strings are 80% copper and 20% zinc. The sharp and bright tones gotten from these strings is as a result of this composition. However, if brass strings are attached to a high-end response guitar, the sound produced might not be the best. On high response instruments, brass strings tend to produce thin sound.
To get the best out of brass and bronze strings, they should be used on OM guitars or anything larger than them.
In this category, there are also strings made of phosphor bronze. These strings offer a warm and yet high-end response compared to the other brass and bronze options. If you play a musical style that has mellow tones and finger work, the phosphor bronze strings will produce the best sounds.
So, in summary, if you need the sharp cutting lead tones, then go for the brass (80/20 bronze), for warm mellow tones, go for the phosphor bronze strings.
The nylon string is the kind of string you will find on nylon (of course) and classical guitars. As a result of the light bracing of this kind of guitar, it is important that you never use metal strings on them.
With steel-string guitars, on the other hand, it is possible to make use of nylon guitar strings quite comfortably. In the 50s and 60s, folk guitarists were known to have attached these strings to their steel string guitars. The tone created is quite warm and interesting. However, you should know that doing this, you would be sacrificing a lot of volume and response from your guitar.
This use is only great for very specific genres. Nylon guitar strings on a steel-string guitar will not give the guitar for versatility to play in different genres.
There are various options when it comes to types of nylon strings. There is no distinction for which cannot be used on any guitar. Whether the guitar is nylon or classical guitar, any nylon string will give the best result.
With nylon strings, you can get genuine nylon strings, fluorocarbon strings, and titanium nylon strings.
The genuine nylon strings are unsurprisingly the most popular in the trio. These are made from pure nylon, while their thicker strings are coated with either bronze or silver alloys. The tones produced by genuine nylon strings are warm and rich. However, they do not possess volume quality – compared to the other types.
The fluorocarbon strings aren’t exactly nylon, but they can be added to this list because of their popularity. These strings produce a louder and more articulate tone than the regular nylon strings.
Fluorocarbon strings do not have very good sustain. This might not exactly be a bad thing, it just depends on the kind of music you play. If you play slow musical pieces then you might not appreciate the articulation that the strings offer.
As for the titanium nylon strings, they are designed from a polymer of titanium nylon. They could also be made from polyamide. This just depends on the manufacturers you purchase from.
For a nylon string, the titanium nylon string produces very bright tones. It is said that the tones and sounds produced by this kind of strings aren’t like the regular nylon strings, they sound more metallic.
The Construction Of Guitar Strings
You already know the materials involved in making guitar strings. Now, we’ll be doing a breakdown of what makes up the construction of guitar strings.
The String Core
The core of the string is what is used to describe the shape of the string. The two main types of string core are hex core and round core.
Strings that have a hex core usually have a brighter tone and a louder volume. This secures them a spot in the modern music genres.
Another feature of the hex-core strings is that they are slightly stiffer than the round core strings.
These two string shapes are designed for different purposes. Hex core strings are more difficult on the fingers and they damage the fretboard even more than round core strings. Because their heavier fretboards take the beating better.
This makes them more popular bass strings
Round core strings are used to play more of blues and classic rock as a result of the mellow tones they produce.
String Winding Type
Apart from the material used in the design of the strings, the winding is another big player in the tone that the string creates.
The winding used for guitar strings come in three types. They are round wound, flatwound, and half wound.
Roundwound strings are the simplest of the three winding types. They are designed with an internal round core and round winding wire that is wound to create a tight coil around it.
You would usually find a roundwound on any standard guitar string. Roundwounds are generally the least expensive of the three too.
Now, there are a few downsides with roundwound strings. The first and most prominent being their surface profile. Roundwounds have bumps that are created by the winding. These tend to squeak whenever the fingers slide over the strings.
Although we call this a downside, some guitarists make use of these squeaks as a creative effect. But it isn’t a generally accepted feature of the round wound.
Also, because the roundwound isn’t flat, it causes the fingerboard and frets wires to wear faster.
However, the roundwound strings produce a much brighter and harmonical tone than others. You can also find them in almost any material and gauge size. They offer a wide selection for both material and gauge with most companies improving on the design for an increased life span.
Flatwound is also designed with an internal round core. The difference, however, is with the winding wire. The winding wire for flatwound is wound in a rounded square cross-section.
The wound style gives these strings a shallow profile that makes it easier to play. It also reduces the chances of damaging the fret and fingerboard. It also reduces the squeaks that come from finger movement.
As with everything, the flatwound also has a few downsides. The flatwound doesn’t create tones as bright as that of the roundwound.
Also, flatwound strings aren’t very easy to find, and on top of that, they come at very high costs. They are also somewhat limited when it comes to the number of gauge sizes.
The halfwound strings play the middle-man between the round and flatwound. They offer the tone experience of the roundwound and physical feel of the flatwound strings.
These strings are designed by first having a round wire wound around a round core. After that, it goes through a process of polishing and griding that brings it to the point where it is almost flat.
The biggest advantage for the halfwound strings is that they offer a much brighter tone than the flatwound.
Although having such a great mix of the two winding types, the half-wound has a few drawbacks. The half-wound strings are said to be harder to play than roundwound strings.
The gauge of a string is the thickness of a string. One basic rule for strings is that as a string gets thicker, the tones its produce become warmer and volume higher. Thick strings are also generally stiff.
What this means that fretting the strings will be a bit of a challenge. With thick strings, performing string bends will not come easy also.
As expected, thinner strings are brighter in tone and easier to play. However, when used on some instruments thin strings might sound thin and empty.
So how do you tell when a string has a thick or thin gauge? When you look at the string packaging, they should have numbers on them. For thin strings, you should find numbers from .9 and lower.
If they are thick gauge strings, then, they would have numbers from .12 going up. Between these two figures, there are .10 and .11 strings. These are called the mediums. Their tones are the midpoint for the two extreme tones created by the thicker and thinner strings.
Coated strings are regular guitar strings that are coated with a plastic polymer. These kinds of strings are known to last longer than strings that aren’t coated.
Apart from lasting longer than non-coated strings, coated strings are also more expensive.
It is not compulsory to get the expensive strings to be a good guitarist. The only thing is that you would be changing strings twice as much as you would with the expensive strings.
So, if you have the financial capacity to buy the coated strings, then, they are a good investment.
The composition of a guitar string consists of a lot of different materials and depends on different factors. So, based on preference, you can now decide the construction and material that works for you.
Above, we have done a detailed breakdown of everything you need to know about what guitar strings are made of. Now, its left to you to pick a string type based on your preference and style of music.