It seems to me that beginners would really get value from a discussion on this topic. So I'll start a "discussion box" in which to keep everyone's comments. Please feel free to post your questions and suggestions.
here's a little list of string 'voices' from "www.juststrings.com - - they list more, but this is what pertains to accoustic guitar. This can be found in their glossary
- excellent for projecting a penetrating acoustic sound with unsurpassed tonal range. These strings lose their initial super brilliance after a few hours of use. The remaining tone, however, is still pleasant and penetrating.
- a favorite of acoustic players because of their bright, focused sound. They are bright and brassy when you want them to be, with a clear, penetrating sound.
- longer lasting tone than the 80/20 due to the phosphorus content. These strings provide about 80% of the brilliance of a new 80/20 set for a bright, rich tone that's not excessive.
Brass (85/15 bronze
- a warm, full-bodied tone with good depth. Heavy, louder and brighter and are often chosen by flatpickers and energetic fingerpickers.
Silk & Steel
- offers the driving force of steel strings and the soft tonal properties often associated with classical strings. A center wrap of silk fiber provides easier fingering and minimizes the brilliance for a sweeter more mellow tone. Popular with folk guitar enthusiasts and finger-style players.
In choosing your new STEEL strings, besides the tonal quality that you want to find, you will also need to choose a "string gauge" that is comfortable or fits the strength of your guitar's neck. Some guitars are not suited for Medium or heavier strings and the mfg. will not warranty neck and bridge problems resulting from the usage of strings that are too heavy as they put too much tension on the neck. I make this point only to make the 'newbe' aware that a set of strings that is 'too heavy' for his/her guitar can do damage to the instrument. It is always best to consult the mfg for his recommendation on the Maximum String Size when possible.
So what's the difference - - why do they make sets of strings in different gauges?
One answer is Tone. The fatter the string, the stronger the tone - generally speaking
Another is Volume. The fatter strings tend to be louder.
Another is Feel. Fatter strings tend to be harder to push down behind the fret. And sometimes they feel harsh to your tender finger tips. Ah, but to some folks the fatter ones don't seem to cut into the skin as much, so your results may vary
Another is Flexibility. When you get more advanced, you might want to try 'bending' the strings' and mediums don't do that as well as lights and extra-lights.
So what is right for you- the beginner? most folks start out with Light Guage on Dreadnought Guitars to see how it works out. But if you have tried the normal bronze or brass Light Gauge and then went to Extra-Lights and you are still having trouble getting clean notes, you might try a set of "Silk and Steel" strings. They don't sound quite the same, but they make fretting your guitar easier.
Here's hoping this helps someone - Please feel free to add your comments, suggestions, or questions
I seem to be a Martin string kinda guy...even on my Gibsons and Guilds!
My 1976 Martin D 28 6 string: Martin M140 Light Gauge strings
1980 Martin D 28 12 string (tuned down a whole step): Martin light gauge set
1994 Gibson J100 and 2004 J160E 6 strings: Martin Bluegrass Medium/lihgts
1980 Guild JF212XL 12 string (tuned to concert pitch): Martin extra light 12 string set
1980 Guild JF30 (tuned down a whole step): A custom assembled set bought as singles from Juststrings.com
That's what I like! Edward
Thanks for that, Ed. Could you take us through the process you have used through the years to pick the strings that sound best for one of your accoustic guitars? I think it might really benefit those that are overwhelmed by the many brands and types of strings for sale these days.
Sure Lennie, I will try to think it out...hopefully I won't ramble!
When I was younger I used whatever the builder put on them as I figured who knew better what to use than them! I soon realized though that variables such as playing style and action preference were to individual to rely on what they preferred. So, I began to experiment and settled on light gauge. I didn't worry about a loss in volume because I played with a flatpick or for fingerpicking, metal banjo picks and a plastic thumbpick. My first really good guitar (which I still have today) was a 1976 Martin D-28 I bought used in 1978. It came with medium gauge strings on it from the previous owner and the tension and action were a bit high for me. Also, I considered that this Martin, made before they started using the adjustable truss rods in Martins, would have to have an expensive neck reset if it pulled up on the top or bridge. Similarly, when I bought my first good 12 string new, a 1980 Guild JF212XL which I still have also, I wanted to tune it to pitch and not have it tuned down a whole step forcing me to use a capo most of the time. Since Guilds at the time came with two truss rods in the neck, I felt comfortable changing the lights that came on it to EXTRA lights and tuning it to pitch! I still have this guitar today and use it on stage every booking and the action is still perfect! It needs a fret job after years of playing on it, but that's normal no matter what gauge strings you use! I also use the finger picks on the 12 string.
If really hit hard, the lighter strings had a tendency to buzz, but having them on the guitar forced me to learn to play heavy handed "stuff" gentler, but with the same presence and power. A little technique booster. So, this taught me how to play whatever style I wanted on my acoustics without pounding on them!
Years later when I bought my two Gibson acoustics they both came with mediums, but I quickly changed them out for lights. But, I noticed that my technique with the lights still resulted in buzzing on the low D and A strings... Frustrated about the buzzing, I took them both to a trusted repairman in our area and the first thing he said, after checking to be sure that both guitars were set up properly, was "Bluegrass." This wasn't a question, like "do you play bluegrass" but rather a statement, which puzzled me. I said “No, I don’t play bluegrass", which uses a lot of hard picking on the bass strings...and he said “No, not playing bluegrass, bluegrass strings.” He said that most Gibsons he has seen, old and new, have this buzzing problem when played with light gauge strings and picks. He said go to the guitar shop down the street and ask for Martin “Bluegrass” strings. They have medium gauge low end (E,A,D) strings and light gauge high end (G,B,E) strings. With the Gibsons he said I‘d get the best of both worlds, bass that I could pump on and treble I could bend and the overall reduced tension would protect the neck and bridge and feel closer to my trusty light gauge sets! And, this is the best part, he was right! Since then I have also used John Pearse Bluegrass sets and they are really good too. Also since then, Martin has a new set of Bluegrass string that are a little heavier and they are not for me! The gauge I use is 12 to 56 and are called Bluegrass M240’s. I have kind of applied this technique to all my guitars, but mostly it's lights unless it's a Gibson! My electrics are a different story...since I am primarily an acoustic player, I prefer a little heavier gauge on them , like a 10 or 11 high E set. My electric 12 string was custom made and the final steps were done but Paul Reed Smith's partner at the time (this is 1987 before he became famous) and he gave me a list of the gauges to use and told me not to vary from his list. To this day I get a custom set as singles from Juststrings.com. I also have a 1980 Guild JF30 that I keep tuned down a whole step for songs that are too high for my range, like McCartney's "Yesterday" and Neil Young "stuff' and I use a custom set on it from Juststrings.com too. It is kind of a set between medium and heavy!
Hope this helps and thanks for asking, you make me feel so lofty like an expert! Edward
Thanks and it does help. There is no substitute for experience, and I'd rather learn from someone elses hard knocks than knock my own (if you know what I mean). I'm hopine your method will help other beginners and encourage them to experiment with their string purchases to find the voice for their guitar that really brings out the sound they want. I had a chat about strings with a luthier that I really trust. He said that strings can really make it or break it on a guitar. The wrong ones and it will just sound lifeless, but the right ones and it will ring with overtones and fullness. The challenge is for us to find what the guitar likes.
Thanks again for offering your experiences for our benefit.