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Acoustic Newb

A network of beginning acoustic guitar students for sharing discussion, encouragement, ideas, resources, and support as we begin the journey.

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Comment by Lennie Schoonover on December 1, 2011 at 9:44am

What the Gibson fellow says is true, but if we focus the suggestions more toward the beginners here, then we should bring to the forefront that it is OK, and even recommended to experiment with string brands, bronze percentages, and sizes for our accoustic guitars.  Most of us spend a lot of time just trying to get our fingers to go where they belong at the right time.  So, the question that comes to mind for me is, "What do I need to know about strings that will help me play better at my early stages of this instrument?"  I find little in print on this subject, but I know some strings are easier to learn on than others. 

I also know (as was pointed out) that the guitar's voice can be dramatically changed for better or worse with different types of strings, and while we beginners mainly concentrate on making our fingers go where they belong, if it just sounds crummy when we get there, how do we know if it is the strings, or something else, that keeps us from making the sound we expect?

I started out on an old old Yamaha and we put D'Addario phosphor bronze lights on it. Those strings gave it a loud and clear tone (I really like it).  On my new guitar, (a Seagull 25th Aniversary Model) the salesman said I would really like a set of Elixer coated Phosphor Bronze strings.  They sure don't sound like the D'Addarios.  They are not as loud and not as clear (lack of highs I think).  But they do last longer and I don't screetch as much when changing chords.  The next set will be the D'Adarrios like I use on the Yamaha, just to see if I like the sound on this other guitar.

The quest for the perfect tone is perhaps a little advanced for us beginners, but it is never too early to learn about how to find the strings that make our beloved guitars sound the best.  Each maker uses terms like dark, but it isn't always the opposite of bright!  They talk about bright but not dull.  I wish there was some consistancy or that someone could just get it through my head what the terms mean.

Even if someone took a bunch of different types strings and made a recording of each of the sets, on the same guitar, it seems to me that it might help (a little).  I don't know of anyone at my level of playing that changes strings often enough to really be able to say "these strings are this or that from the old set". By the time I get to needing a string change, they have lost the tone they had when they were new, and so most anything I put on will sound better than what I'm taking off.  That's just the way beginners use strings!

I've studied the theory behind strings and am an avid reader of mfg's. sales pitch so I have no fear of offering help to those that would ask...but I wish I could speak with a level of confidence because someone had recorded all the different brands and types on the same guitar so I could actually HEAR the difference.  But then I guess when I put them on my old Yamaha they still wouldn't sound like the ones I heard on the recording...wow this got long in a hurry.

Comment by Edward Sparks on December 1, 2011 at 5:38am

Speaking of strings...this just in from the Gibson website:

 

Do the Right String: 10 Tips for Choosing Guitar Strings

Ted Drozdowski

|
11.29.2011

To paraphrase the title of an old jazz song, “It ain’t got that ‘zing’ without the right strings.”

Choosing the right strings for your instrument and your style of playing might not seem like the biggest deal. After all, the Delta bluesmen of the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s often bought used strings at dry good stores for a few pennies, or boiled old strings to brighten them up. And the proliferation of brands on the market can be overwhelming to the point of leading a player to assume strings are as generic as picks – which aren’t really generic at all, but that’s another story.

The fact is, the qualities of different strings can have an effect on your guitar’s resonance and tone, on the quality and responsiveness of your attack as a plectrist or finger picker, and impact your speed and other important factors. And think about your budget. Some coated strings list at nearly $20, while a good basic set of electric guitar strings can be scored for $3 to $4 on sale.

So before settling on a particular set of strings, consider 10 tips, five each for electric and acoustic players.

Plugged:

• Fast Fingers: If speed’s the goal, most shred-heads prefer light gauge strings. They’re easy to bend and promote fast playing by offering less resistance to the fretting and picking hands. Since guitar strings are measured in thousandths of an inch, the typical recommended gauge for players planning to burn in standard tuning are .009s, available in every guitar shop.

• Sound Judgment: Consider the sonic characteristics of the various materials used in making electric strings. Stainless steel strings are the least glamorous, but offer plenty of bright bite and sustain. Pure nickel has a warm old-school sound, for vintage tones. And nickel-plated steel is a bit brighter than classic nickel and responds more adroitly to picking attack. Chrome guitar strings are typically the province of jazz players or blues artists who are looking for the kind of warm retro tones chiseled into history by the likes ofCharlie Christian or swinging Gibson ES-250, ES-5 and ES-335 bluesman Aaron “T-Bone” Walker. And then there are coated strings – the most expensive and theoretically the longest lasting. They are, however, not really the best, sonically speaking. Coated strings tend to have less sustain. Also, their Teflon exterior surfaces are slippery, which might take some getting used to for particularly aggressive electric guitar players. And when the coatings wear off, they rust like any other string.

• Wound Up: String windings directly affect tone and playability. Round wound strings have more “zing” – sustain, responsiveness and bite. Flat wound strings have a smoother and more consistent tone regardless of attack, which makes them a favorite of jazz players, like the great Gibson ES-350 legend Barney Kessel. Blues guitar kingpin Jimmie Vaughan also uses flat wounds for his vintage tone. And they offer less resistance than round wound strings, so they can be beneficial for rapid, even toned performance and squeak less.

• Heavy is as Heavy Does: For low hanging alternate tunings like open D or dropped D, consider a heavy string gauge – at least .11s, although Stevie Ray Vaughan, who kept his instrument turned down just a half-step, employed a set gauged .13 to .58. Thicker strings will maintain their tension better when they’re low-tuned, which makes for less fret noise and other undesirable distortion. Many players feel thicker strings make for better slide playing, too, since the strings resist going slack under the pressure of the slide. But that’s really a matter of feel and learning to control a slide more than a string thing.

• Gotta Feel It: Ultimately, what feels right under your fingers and sounds right coming out of your rig should determine your strings. It’s important to try different brands before zeroing in on a favorite. Judge a new set of strings by its brightness, sustain, tone and how easily they permit bending, fretting and picking. When a brand and gauge feel like buttah and sing like Circe, that’s the zone.

Unplugged:

• Fade to Bleak: Since there are no pickups, juice or amps involved in acoustic guitar playing in its purest form, string composition – which affects how a string responds to being struck and the retention of tonal qualities – is particularly important for acoustic guitars. Bronze, phosphor bronze and coated strings tends to be the preferred varieties, ascending in price. Bronze strings start out the brightest, but lose their high voices relatively quickly. Phosphor bronze offers a darker tone, but still with a clear, ringing top and the phosphor allows the strings to produce their optimum sound longer. On acoustic guitars, coated strings trade a longer life for less brightness, but good warmth and presence.

• Lighten Up: Typically, heavier strings project more natural sound when struck, but for most live performers it’s practical to have an acoustic guitar with a pick-up for plug-and-play situations. Having a pickup in an acoustic guitar allows for the use of lighter gauge strings. Some acoustic guitars even respond well to slinky electric sets, like .10s, providing electric-guitar-like playability without sacrificing the chime of acoustic tones.

• Them Changes: Since the strings on acoustic guitars play a much more important role in projecting volume and clarity than strings on an amplified electric guitar, considering changing acoustic guitar strings often to keep an instrument sounding its best. Remember to wipe down the strings after playing and check for string damaging fret wear. Both can prematurely end a guitar string’s life.

• Do the Right String: Some instructional guides advise beginning players to try ball-end nylon strings because they are easier on the fingers and are more bendable than metal, but steel string guitars are called “steel string guitars” because that’s what they require. Nylon strings lack the tension needed to keep steel strings guitars at their peak, which means warping, bridge damage and other issues can occur. Likewise, steel strings on a nylon string classical guitar will warp its neck with frightening speed.

• Keep it Clean: This axiom applies to electric guitarists as well. It’s a good rule to wash one’s hands thoroughly before playing. Dirt can become caught in wound metal strings, dulling their sound and promoting corrosion, but nothing corrodes quite like human sweat. Besides, having clean, fresh fingers is never a bad thing, right?

 

Comment by Edward Sparks on November 29, 2011 at 7:15am

Hey Jim,

Here's an online tuner:

http://www.gieson.com/Library/projects/utilities/tuner/

 

Online metronome:

http://www.metronomeonline.com/

 

Looks like you are set!  Edward

 

 

 

 

Comment by TheValleyGirl on November 29, 2011 at 6:19am

So, another good reason to have a smart phone!  The Guitar Box app is excellent for timing and tuning.  There are many free apps to choose from and I love my iPhone.  If you don't care about having a smart phone and to avoid monthly fees, get one with wi-fi for next to nothing on e-bay.  Or just do it the old-fashioned way and google it :)

 

I also need a new single string for my Hummingbird 12 and don't need to replace them all so thanks for all the advice group!

Comment by Edward Sparks on November 29, 2011 at 5:48am

Hey Jim,

You can purchase strings on line cheap, even singles at juststrings.com

I have a Guild jumbo body guitar that I keep tuned down a whole step for when I need it for songs like McCartney's "Yesterday" as well as some other Beatles and Neil Young tunes. Because I couldn't find a set gauged for tuning down that didn't buzz and rattle against the frets, I experimented with singles from this website until I got just the right combination...it took a little while and I bought a few strings that I ended up removing and tossing (recycled them) right away, but in the end it was worth it.  I guess this time your problem was "user error", but if you have tendency to break certain strings often, you can have backups handy! So, check them out...here is the direct link:

http://www.juststrings.com/

Hope this helps!  Edward 

Comment by Denny Baer on November 29, 2011 at 2:48am

Jim,

Your local store may sell individual strings depending on the brand.

Most online stores are running sales. Here is Musician's Friend: http://www.musiciansfriend.com/tuner-metronome-combos?fA=r&fI=2...

Maybe your local store will match or beat the price.

Comment by Jim McHie on November 28, 2011 at 11:14pm

Super-newb moment yesterday as I broke a string whilst re-stringing because I got the order mixed up.  So now I have 5 shiny new strings and one slightly-tarnished D string.  Also a couple of weeks ago my metronome-tuner broke down, hopefully I'll be able to pick something similar up after Christmas on the cheap.

Comment by Rosemary j. Lambin on November 28, 2011 at 9:53pm

I'm glad your story had a happy ending! What became of the thief? Maybe they should post his mugshot at Guitar Center.

Comment by Edward Sparks on November 23, 2011 at 5:32am

You're welcome...so now go record your serial numbers and take pictures of your guitars!  Edward

Here is a pic of the 12 string and Hofner I got back from the "Guitar Gallery" on my website:

 http://www.edwardsparksmusic.com/photo_gallery/guitar/guitar_galler...

Comment by Mark on November 23, 2011 at 3:43am

Wow Ed..

 

That really is a great story!

 

Thank you for sharing it with us.

 

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