Without a doubt, the guitar is the most popular instrument ever. Especially the electric guitar which has a level of coolness no other instrument can come close to matching. And considering how this instrument simply requires you to play it in a manner that’s far from gentle, it’s not unusual for guitarists to experience a broken string or two. The first time it happens, it’s normal to be caught off guard and not know what to do. Or more specifically, what kind of strings to get.
If you ask any beginner guitar player, they’d tell you that all electric guitar strings are the same. But professionals who have experimented with different types of strings know that there is a significant difference. Some are lighter and some are heavier, some are bare and some can be coated with additional materials to prolong their lifespan. In other words, there are a few important things to consider when choosing your electric guitar strings.
The Different String Gauges
Strings for electric guitars are produced in a range of thickness which is measured in gauges. The lightest strings start at 0.008 (which guitarists call an “eight”) and the heaviest are 0.56 gauges (or fifty-six). The string gauge can significantly influence the sound, as well as how easy it is to play.
Lighter gauges are generally considered much easier to play, allowing the guitarist to bend notes and fret smoothly. Since they are lighter to play, they put less tension on the guitar neck which makes them a safe choice for vintage guitars. However, they tend to produce less volume and can often cause fret buzzing, especially on guitars with low action.
Heavier gauge strings on the other hand, are much harder to play and require more finger pressure to bend and fret notes. Because of this, they manage to produce more volume. Heavy gauges are preferred for low tunings, like for instance drop D.
All electric guitar strings are made of steel, however there is a difference in the type of steel used in the wrap. Strings made of nickel-plated steel are the most widely used due to their ability to balance between snappy and smooth sounds with an even feel. A wrap made of pure nickel produces warmer and smoother sounds, while stainless steel is used to play brighter and snappier tones. Some manufacturers apply additional treatments, such as protective coating or cryogenic processing, to improve the tone as well as the durability of the string.