Have you ever gone to your local music store and been overwhelmed by the huge selection of acoustic guitar strings? Well, you’re not alone. There are many different types of guitar strings on the market and they each have their own unique feature, sound, and feel. After all, an experienced guitar player changes acoustic strings regularly!
We’re going to try to simplify this process by talking about the four most common types of acoustic guitar strings: steel wound strings, nickel wound strings, bronze wound strings, and phosphor bronze wound strings. We will cover what they are made of and how they affect sound quality.
Need buying advice to choose the right acoustic strings, guitar tips or a product guide? Let’s jump right in!
Steel Wound Strings
This is the most common type of acoustic guitar string. They are made from a high quality plated steel and are wound with a copper wire. Due to the fact that they are made of steel, they have a bright, cutting tone. Steel wound strings have broken into two categories, medium and light gauge strings. Medium gauge acoustic guitar strings are usually 9’s or 10’s and light gauge strings usually fall between 8’s to 6’s.
- Sound – The sound of steel wound strings can be described as very bright and cutting. They can add a lot of attack to your music.
- Durability – Because they are made from steel, these strings have a fairly long life. However, steel tends to rust and there can be some damage to your acoustic guitar if they are exposed to moisture. They can also cause tiny dents on the frets if not changed frequently and with care. If you take good care of them, though, steel wound strings are very durable.
- Best used for – Medium gauge steel wound strings are best used in rock, blues, country, and jazz. Light gauge steel wound strings are best used with fingerstyle playing or for relaxed folk.
These strings are made from high quality brass wrapped around a steel core. They are wound in a flat spiral and have a medium gauge. This makes them perfect for blues, rock and jazz. These strings are very durable, although not as durable as steel wound strings.
- Sound – Flatwound strings have a very warm, smooth and bright tone that is good for fingerpicking or plucking the guitar string with your index finger or thumb. They have a great sustain but can sometimes sound initially strident because of the brightness of the tone.
- Durability – These strings are a little more durable than steel wound strings, but not as durable as regular brass. They have a long life in terms of the number of times they will vibrate.
- Best used for – Flatwound strings are best used with fingerstyle playing or blues, rock and jazz styles.
Nickel Wound Strings
Nickel wound acoustic guitar strings are also made from a high quality steel but they are wound with a nickel plated copper wire. These strings produce an overall warmer sound than steel wound strings. Due to the fact that they’re not made of steel, they have more sustain than their steel counterpart.
- Sound – Because they are made from nickel plated wire, these strings tend to have a warmer tone. They are not as bright as steel wound strings but still produce good attack.
- Durability – Because they are made from nickel, these strings can last for a long time without rusting. However, they can lose their brightness faster than some other types of acoustic guitar strings if exposed to moisture and dirt.
- Best used for – Nickel wound strings are great for all genres of acoustic music. They’re especially good for bluegrass and folk music.
Bronze Wound Strings
Now we’re going to talk about bronze wound acoustic guitar strings! These are often referred to as “brass” or “flatwound”. They are made from a bronze alloy that is composed of 85% copper, 10% zinc, and 5% tin. This alloy causes the strings to sound less bright on the fingerboard and more of a “warm” tone. They have also found that bronze wound strings produce an increased amount of sustain and they tend to have a warmer, fuller tone.
- Sound – These strings have a warm tone with less attack than steel wound strings. They are also very soft to the touch, making them great for fingerpicking styles of music.
- Durability – Although they are made from an alloy, bronze wound strings experience faster wear and tear than other acoustic guitar strings. This is because they have a lower copper content and greater tin and zinc content. This means that they corrode more quickly than steel or nickel wound strings do.
- Best used for – These acoustic strings are best used in fingerstyle guitar and mellow folk music. They are good all around strings for almost any kind of music. To get a good sound with these strings, you have to be able to play a nice soft picking style and still have some bite to your attack.
Phosphor Bronze Wound Strings
Now we’re going to talk about phosphor bronze acoustic guitar strings! They are made from a phosphor bronze alloy that is composed of 85% copper, 20% zinc, and 5% tin. Phosphor bronze strings have a bright, cutting tone that is sometimes hard to describe.
Phosphor bronze strings are very expensive, but they do have a brighter and more cutting quality than bronze wound strings and a “warmer” tone than nickel wound strings. Phosphor bruins are very durable as well as they require less maintenance than other kinds of acoustic guitar strings. They also maintain their quality even when used for many years.
- Sound – Phosphor bronze acoustic guitar strings have a brighter and cutting tone than bronze strings or nickel wound strings. They are sometimes hard to describe but they have been said to sound similar to a mix between steel and nickel.
- Durability – Because they are made mostly of copper, these strings last longer than any other type of acoustic guitar string. They are very resistant to corrosion and with proper care will last your entire life.
- Best used for – Phosphor bronze acoustic guitar set of strings are particularly effective when playing folk and rock. They have a great, biting tone that is popular in many different types of music.
Some popular Acoustic Guitar String Brands
The next time you are planing to change your strings, check out these – great for any playing style:
- Ernie Ball Earthwood
- Dean Markley Blue Steel Acoustic
- Elixir Strings
- Gibson Masterbuilt Premium
- Dr Strings
- Curt Mangan Acoustic Round Cores
- Dragon Skin
So which one should I choose?
This is a tough question and there really isn’t a right or wrong answer. It all comes down to sound, feel, and preference.
Related reading – warped neck guitar issues to look out for