THE SCIENCE OF GUITAR STRINGS
What are the guitar strings and how do they work? We'll find out right now. Guitar strings are the main source of sound coming from your guitar. How is this little wire responsible for producing sound? Simple, the laws of physics demand that if we hold a piece of wire (string) between two points, with a certain level of tension, and then pluck it to make it move and vibrate, the string will start resonating at a constant frequency (or pitch) until it is stopped because of the air's resistance.
In an ideal world, it should keep vibrating forever. But our world is very far from being ideal, and is full of external forces that make perpetual endless movement impossible. I won't dive into the math and science behind strings and sound, but I think it's good to have some basic understanding of your guitar strings from a scientific perspective. Basically what the science say is this:
Given a specific string with a specific length, made of a specific type of material, stretched in a specific level of tension, then making this same string vibrate will create a resonance sound of a musical note. This is the whole process in a nutshell. Of course the science behind this involves many complicated math and physics equations on the subject of waves and wave propagation, that without them it would probably have been impossible to create a proper musically-functioning string.
So again, type of material, length, tension, and also the diameter (or gauge) by the way, are what make your guitar strings function the way they normally do. When you move your fingers on the fretboard, you are only “altering” the length of the string, thus forcing it to vibrate at a different frequency, thus producing a different pitch sound. Higher frequency translates to higher pitch note, and lower frequency to lower pitch note. What remains is the volume, or the amplitude of the wave, which is determined by the amount of force that you exert on the string. In other words, how hard or how soft you click or pluck the string.
NOTICE that the larger the diameter, the deeper heavier tone the string would have.
Now that you understand your guitar strings, and how they function and why, let us examine how these strings are built, name a few famous guitar strings companies, and the best place to buy them from. Read on!
GUITAR STRINGS NAMES
Many people asked me about guitar strings names, types, what are the best guitar strings in my opinion and so on. There are many manufacturers that produce guitar strings, some are new, some have been running for decades and even centuries (like the D`Addario), and surely new manufacturers will arise in the future. Naming every and each one is a hard and daunting task, so I picked the top five guitar strings manufacturers that I think you should recognize:
- Ernie Ball
D'Addario being the oldest in the industry, they have been making strings for over three centuries now, they produce all kinds of strings for every stringed instrument that exists, not only guitars. And being THAT old in the strings business, rightfully grants them so much experience and an outstanding reputation, thus making them one of the best strings companies in the world today.
I will take the opportunity here to mention a great article that I've found just recently, which expands well on the topic of strings and strings companies, it is by E-Home Recording Studio. Worth a check!
And here is an interesting video done by D'Addario, showing us the process of strings production in their factory, including narrative:
THE CONSTRUCTION OF GUITAR STRINGS
Taking what we have learned so far about the nature of strings, we will conclude that each of the electric, acoustic, and classical guitars, that clearly have different voices, all have different types of strings installed on them. Let us explore them and in the process, I will explain a little bit about the construction of strings and how they are built.
Strings normally come in TWO types:
- Plain strings: consisting only of one material (nylon, metal, etc)
- Wound strings: consisting of two layers, the core, and a surrounding winding that serves as a protection layer, and to give it a different pitch tone.
NOTE: Some manufacturers may add other materials (such as silk) to each end of the string for protection.
There are many types of wound strings around, the most popular ones are:
- Roundwound: A round wire surrounding the core in a spiral kind of shape. This is the simplest and most basic kind of wound strings, and is very popular due to its cheap price and ease of manufacturing. However due to the nature of their build-up, they tend to break more often, less durable, may wear your fretboard over time, and can also create “squeak” sounds more easily.
- Flatwound: Round or hex core, with a round square cross-section winding. Makes for a more comfortable playing experience, less “squeak” sounds, and it is more friendly to your fretboard. However due to its unique shape, manufacturing is hard and so the cost is much more expensive. Flatwound strings have a longer life than roundwound strings.
- Halfwound: A combination of the above types, that also combines their advantages to some degree. Their price are usually higher than the roundwound, but lower than the flatwound.
ELECTRIC GUITAR STRINGS
The electric guitar normally uses steel or metal strings, and these strings normally tend to have a nice, bright tone comparing to other types, and requires higher tension. Depends on the genre or the personal preferences of the guitarist himself, different wire weights or gauges will be picked (from the heavy, to the light, super light, and super extra light). The lightest makes it easier to bend strings (very popular for rock genre), while the heavier strings tend to have a heavier, darker tone (Jazz, for example). Below you will find some good electric guitar strings from amazon:
ACOUSTIC GUITAR STRINGS
They tend to have a heavier gauge strings than the electric guitar, acoustic guitars normally use steel strings, ranging from the heavy gauge to the extra light. Amazon collection:
CLASSICAL GUITAR STRINGS
In the past, classical guitar strings were made of animal gut and silk. Today, all classical guitars use nylon strings. Nylon strings normally have a deeper and much softer tone than acoustic guitars. Find classical guitar strings in amazon below:
A WORD ON ELIXIR STRINGS
Started only since 1997, the “Elixir” strings company uses a unique, patented coating technology, that helps create a protective physical barrier between the string and the outer world. Normal strings tend to catch all sorts of junk and dust from the air, as well as skin particles from the tips of your fingers, which results in wearing down the string and making it lose its unique tone over a “short” period of time.
Elixir is the only company known to coat all their strings, and thanks to this coating technique, not only the surface of the strings is protected, but also the gaps between the windings.
This kind of protection, granted by the coating technology, prolongs the life of the strings, and makes them last much longer than normal uncoated strings.
The coating hardly affects the tone of the string, some like it, some don't, and some don't get bothered by it. The best way to know if Elixir coated strings is for you or not, is to try them yourself. But be informed that Elixir strings normally are more expensive than regular strings.
I've known many people that are simply in love with Elixir strings and they wouldn't try anything else, a friend of mine that uses only Elixir strings for many years now, has once told me that he didn't need to change the Elixir strings on his guitar for years! But he also added that he's used to cleaning the strings every time he finishes playing on them.
Bottom line is, Elixir coated strings are very durable and last much longer than uncoated strings, but they cost more money. If you don't mind paying a few extra bucks for the longivity, then you should definitely give them a try. Amazon have lots of Elixir strings for all types of guitars, find the proper ones for your guitar below:
HOW TO KNOW WHEN TO CHANGE THE GUITAR STRINGS?
My personal opinion on this matter is this: your own feelings, and the shape of the string. If you are new to guitars and strings, it will be very hard at the beginning to tell by feelings alone or by ear whether your strings are good or bad and it's time to replace them. If you are in that situation, then consider the following:
If you play the guitar frequently, let's say about 2 – 3 hours a day, then a normal set of strings will start to get worn out within two or three months. You can still play on them, but I would say, consider changing them after three or four months, or even five if you can tolerate it. When they get too worn out they would normally start to break anyways and this is a clear indication of their bad status, unless of course, you break them by mistake by doing a bad move.
Regarding the strings' look and shape, the best way to learn how to identify a bad string is by comparing. When you buy a new set of strings, inspect them for a while and notice their shape and color. After a couple of months, inspect them again and make the same comparison. Repeat this procedure every time you buy new strings and you will quickly be able to tell a bad string from a good one by its features and color. A bad string will change color to darker, and look damaged and dirty if you zoom in with your eyes.
Also, when you get more experience playing the guitar, you will start noticing the difference in tone between a good and a bad string. You can do the same comparison that we did with the shape and color, listen carefully to how the new strings sound, and after a couple of months, you will surely notice a change in the tone. Again, it all depends on how frequent you play on those strings.
Also notice that strings, like any other product, have a “shelf-life”, or in other words, even if you don't play on your guitar, after a year or two they would naturally get old and rusty, and thus will need to be replaced.
A LAST WORD
I hope this article has achieved its goal in providing clear information and some insight into the world of guitar strings, there are plenty more to say about guitar strings or strings in general, but the point was to give a clear presentation on the topic of guitar strings, general knowledge on their construction and how they work, introducing you to world leader guitar strings companies, and a little beyond that, so the next time you go and buy a new set of guitar strings, you won't feel as much clueless or confused.
I would love to hear your opinion on the topic, what guitar strings company you prefer and why, and have you been using lately, or anything strings related.
That's it for now, enjoy, and good luck!