The Different Types of Guitar Strings Explained – 2024

Guitar Strings
Main types of strings categorized, explained and simplified for you. If you want to know what type of guitar strings you should be using, this article is for you.

Choosing the right type of guitar strings can greatly enhance the feel and sound of your guitar.

As you change the types of strings you use, you’ll definitely notice big differences. And knowing these differences can help you choose what type of string to go for when you’re re-stringing your guitar.

Here we will go through the many guitar string types and the materials used to build them. We’ll also look at how different guitar strings fit into different musical styles.

As a quick note, the information we’re going over here applies to other stringed instruments. So this piece can benefit bassists, mandolinists, banjo players, and others.

What are Guitar Strings Made of

For many years, gut was the main answer to the question “what are the strings on a guitar”. But these days, the answer is a bit more complex.

There are now two main types of string: steel and nylon. Nylon strings are pretty straightforward. But steel (metal) strings branch into many different types. This brings the total types of guitar strings to 5 (Steel, Nickel, Brass, Bronze and Nylon).

Steel and nickel strings are generally used on electric instruments. While brass or bronze strings are commonly used for acoustics. These steel string types are further divided into subcategories, based on the alloys used, and construction.

The section below covers the basic response from these main guitar string types. Note that there are subtle differences between the sub-categories, but we won’t dive into them as much. If you’d like to learn about these strings in more depth, check out some of the other articles on the site.

Steel and Nickel

Steel and nickel are the most common types of electric guitar strings. The vast majority of electric guitar strings are steel wires with the three thickest strings being plated in nickel.

Pure nickel and pure steel strings have become more popular in recent years. When we say pure we mean that the thickest strings aren’t plated with a different metal.

LP with Roto Yellow Strings
[Gibson Les Paul with Roto Yellow Strings]

Steel strings are generally brighter and livelier than their nickel counterparts. Steel strings have more high-end response, which lets them cut through a mix better. This is what makes Steel strings the go-to set for modern rock, pop, and similar styles.

Nickel strings have a richer tone with more body. This warmth is especially pleasing when used to play older genres of music, blues in particular. They are a great fit for rhythm work because the warmth inherent to these strings helps to increase the overall body and richness of a mix.

Nickel-plated steel is the middle ground between these two extremes. When plated with nickel, strings have a lot of body in their low-end response while maintaining that cutting lead tone on the treble strings.

In summation, pure steel strings are a great fit for genres where an aggressive lead tone is required. This would include things like metal, rock, and country. Nickel strings are a great fit for genres that call for a warmer and mellower response. This includes classic rock, blues, jazz, and similar style.

Brass and Bronze

There are two main types of acoustic guitar strings: brass plated and bronze plated. The actual wires are still made from steel, hence the name “steel string acoustic guitar.” But what sets brass and bronze apart is their voicing and response.

Brass guitar strings are generally brighter than bronze strings. Though, many brass strings go by the moniker of “80/20” bronze. These strings are actually one and the same. Brass, or 80/20 bronze as it’s often known, is made from 80% copper and 20% zinc. Of the two acoustic guitar string types, Brass produces a bright and cutting voice.

But this bright voice isn’t a good fit on guitars that already have a prominent high-end response. It can make an instrument sound thin and tinny.

For best results, use brass strings on a full-sounding acoustic guitar. This includes OM guitars, dreadnoughts, jumbos, and other big-body variations.

Phosphor bronze guitar strings have a warmer sound. This guitar string material has a smooth (if somewhat understated) high-end response. This makes them a great fit for genres that benefit from a mellower tone, like a lot of folk or finger-style work. These strings pair well with small body guitars. Many musicians who play more relaxed genres prefer these strings on large body guitars as well.

So if you want a brighter tone go for brass (80/20 bronze) guitar strings. If you want a richer and more mellow tone go with phosphor bronze.

Martin OMCPA4 with GHS BB20X
[Martin OMCPA4 with GHS BB20X]

Examples of Highly Rated 80/20 Bronze Strings

Examples of Highly Rated Phosphor Bronze Strings

Nylon Strings

Nylon guitar strings are generally made of composite materials. They often combine nylon with silver-plated copper or tungsten.

They feel soft and are easier on the fingers. And they have a warm tone that has become the standard for classical and flamenco guitar music.

During World War II, there were restrictions on the materials used for traditional gut strings. This led to the development of nylon guitar strings. Andres Segovia played a key role in their creation. And he influenced a major shift among guitar players and manufacturers.

Today, the nylon guitar string has replaced gut. Nylon strings are now the standard string set for classical and flamenco guitar playing. They have also made their way into various modern guitar builds. This made them versatile enough to fit into genres such as Pop, Latin, RnB, and others.

D'Addario EJ43 Semi-Polished Winding
Semi-Polished Winding over Multi-Filament Nylon Core – Image courtesy of D’Addario.

For a more in-depth look at nylon strings, check out our guide to the “Best Nylon Classical Guitar Strings”.

Nylon strings on an Acoustic guitar

Nylon strings are generally used on nylon or classical guitars. These types of guitars are more lightly braced than steel string acoustic guitars. So the general rule is to never use metal strings on them.

With that in mind, the inverse of this rule isn’t always true. So if you’re asking “can you put nylon strings on a steel string guitar”? The answer is yes, but it depends.

During the Folk Boom of the 1950s and 60s, there were actually quite a few musicians who put nylon strings on steel string acoustics. This gave the guitar a very warm and relaxed tone.

If you do this, be aware that you’re going to get a lot less volume. The response across the entire frequency range will also be reduced. Another complication of switching to nylon strings is having incorrect slot sizes on the nut. You will need to change your acoustic’s neck setup to properly accommodate nylon strings.

If you decide to use nylon strings on an acoustic guitar, you’re most likely going to be stuck playing slow and mellow folk music. So, while the response you get from nylon strings on a steel string acoustic is great for a certain genre, don’t expect the versatility you’d get from brass or bronze strings.

String Construction

As stated above, construction has just as much of an impact on a guitar’s tone as material. The factors that make up construction are as follows: gauge, string core, winding type, and string coating.

And while these factors are all important, keep in mind that different companies have different approaches. So never be afraid to try out a variety of guitar string brands, because while the strings may look the same you will get a different response.

Gauge

A string’s gauge is how thick it is. As a general rule, the thicker a string is the warmer its response will be and the more volume it will produce. However, thicker strings are also stiffer. This makes it harder to fret the string and makes it more difficult to execute heavy string bends. Thinner strings are generally brighter and easier to play. But on some instruments, they can sound thin and tinny.

You can tell whether or not strings are of a thin or thick gauge based on the numbers on the package. The smallest number, which is the gauge of the thinnest string, will usually be .9 or lower on thin gauge strings. On thick gauge strings, this number will be .12 or higher. Strings that are .10 or .11 are generally considered to be “mediums”. They produce a tone and feel which is the middle ground between these two extremes.

String Core

A string’s core is the shape of the wire. There are two main types: hex core and round core.

Hex core strings are brighter and louder. They have a more modern tone (think post-1980s rock or metal). And this is the reason why they are considered by many as the best guitar strings for metal. These strings also feel a bit stiffer than round core strings, though the difference isn’t dramatic.

Round core strings have a more mellow tone which makes them a great fit for blues and classic rock. They also have more sustain than hex core strings, though while the difference is noticeable it isn’t huge.

Winding Type

There are three types of windings used on modern guitar strings: roundwound, flatwound, and half round. If you play standard guitar strings like the D’Addario EXL110, odds are you’re using roundwounds. These strings have a textured surface and a bright tone.

Flatwound strings have a flat surface. These strings are very popular among jazz guitarists because they have a very dark and understated tone. However, they can be more difficult to play. These strings are not a good fit for rock or blues because of their stiffness and dark tone. These strings make it harder to cut through the mix and pull off the intricate runs and bends that define blues, rock, and metal.

Half Round strings are the middle ground between flat and roundwounds, they still aren’t a good fit for modern genres. They’re still harder to play than roundwounds. And while they are brighter than flatwounds, they’re still widely considered to be too dark for modern genres.

With these things in mind, it should be noted that many bassists actually use flat or half round strings in modern genres. They work because bass guitars don’t need to cut through a mix too much. The additional warmth produced by flat or half rounds results in a fuller bass sound that’s great for recordings and live performances.

Coating

When people say “coated strings” they’re referring to a standard guitar string that is coated with a plastic polymer. Coated strings last significantly longer than uncoated strings.

The downside to this coating is it tends to cut high-end response. While coated strings do last longer than non-coated strings, they’re also more expensive.

I find that coated strings last roughly twice as long as non-coated alternatives. Since they’re also about twice as expensive, I don’t save any money using coated strings. However, depending on how acidic your sweat is, your experience may vary.

Editor’s Note: If you wipe your strings down with a cloth after every session they’ll stay brighter and last longer.

How Many Strings Does a Guitar Have

Standard configuration electric and acoustic guitars come with 6 strings. The 6-string guitar configuration is preferred because it balances three thick bass strings and three thin treble strings. This is the number of strings you’ll find in most guitars.

12 string guitars double up the 6-string setup. The strings tunings are usually set up to add high octaves to the bass strings, and drones for the treble. The resulting sound covers more frequencies, like 2 or more guitars playing. The 12 strings are set up in a way that can be fretted like a normal 6 string guitar. The difference though is you’ll deal with more string tension as you fret two strings per finger. You can hear 12 string guitars employed in many popular songs like Ticket to Ride, Stairway to Heaven, Hotel California, and more.

Some electric guitar brands offer 7-String and 8-string electric guitars. The extra strings are usually strung with thicker gauges, tuned to reach lower notes that standard 6-string guitars can’t. These lower notes for the 8 and 7-String Tuning are often used for chugging metal riffs.

Aside from these popular ones, there are many other configurations. There is no set limit to how many guitar strings can be used in one instrument. I’ve even seen a 10-string nylon string guitar. Note that these none 6-string guitars are usually custom-made, and you’ll need specialized string sets for them.

In Conclusion

We hope that this article has cleared up some of your questions about the main types of guitar strings. From one musician to another, the next step is to try out as many different types of guitar strings as you can. Strings are cheap enough that most people are going to be able to afford to experiment. And as they say, experience is the best teacher. Check out our roundup of top-rated electric guitar strings, and see the strings that more guitarists are raving about.

About the Author and Contributors

Original Author: Mason Hoberg
Update Contributor: Alexander Briones

12 thoughts on “The Different Types of Guitar Strings Explained – 2024”

  1. I am taking guitar classes and my teacher has asked me to change the guitar strings. He asked to collect some information on guitar string types and I found your post to be very helpful. My teacher also said that the bridge of my guitar needs to be replaced as well because the strings are not sitting properly. Which is the best tuneomatic bridge according to you for my electric guitar? Please suggest.

    1. Thanks for the compliment Nethan – glad you found this article helpful.

      We haven’t analyzed or produced ratings for Tune-o-matic bridges yet, however Premier Guitar has some suggestions that make for a good starting point in this Premier Guitar article.

      I hope this helps,
      Jason.

  2. Good primer overview. I’ve played for 40 years. Decisions on purchase often has been size first then availability and price. I have 17 guitars and still play professionally. Key change strings every year at minimum. I’ve been told in the past, there are only a few string making facilities and often same strings are packaged under different brands. Do you know if this is still the case? Again nice job on article overview.

  3. Good overview, although flat wound strings can still be used in fast playing, evidenced by numerous jazz albums. I’ve been using D’Addario Chrome flat wounds for years, and they’re all I buy now.

  4. Hey, I’m trying not to give up electric guitar, but it ruins my nails for classical. I thought tape wound would fix things, but the trebles are still trouble. Can’t keep running through mail order £30 experiments and the shops have zilch.
    help?

  5. Avatar
    Brand on kirkhart

    Okay first off thanks for the help. Bc I’m a beginner to the guitar thing and my strings are shot so I needed help on finding out which ones I’d need. Well crap I forgot my question.

    1. Don’t worry about what anyone else tells you, since you are a beginner and probably want to save some money on strings a good way to go is a medium or light gauge and a good brand that is fairly inexpensive is D’addario. The 80/20’s are a bit cheaper and work great, I prefer the phosphor bronze myself but I also have a Taylor and use Elixirs which are some of the more expensive strings but they are the best. I’m assuming that you have a steel string guitar.

    2. Buddy whether its according to your guitar size or according to your play if your guitar is jumbo and play chords(rhythm) size then you should’ve pick.011 gauge and if your guitar is of small size then You should pick .009 or .010 gauge strings.

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