Today, we’ll be discussing the materials of guitar strings.
You might be wondering:
“Why do I need to learn this?”
Here’s the kicker:
Guitar string materials significantly affect the tonal quality of your guitar.
The types of guitar strings are based on their material. So, in a sense, we’d be evaluating 7 different types of guitar strings as well!
Let’s dive right in!
What Are Guitar Strings Made Out Of?
Guitar strings are made of nylon or steel alloy.
It isn’t just one type of steel though, each company surely has some “secret” as to what their “recipe” is.
Luckily, we’ll be talking about the “main ingredients” per se when it comes to guitar strings.
On the contrary, this isn’t a guide on the “best guitar strings.”
But wait, here’s the good news:
Here’s the deal:
Both acoustic guitar strings and electric guitar strings are made of steel alloys. They are similar in a way, yet different.
Here’s what I mean:
Each set of strings has a respective instrument.
Sure, you can use acoustic strings for electric, but it won’t sound that awesome. In fact, it might result in an unpleasant sound.
And don’t even try to put steel strings on your classical guitar!
The names are based on the wrap wire material(s) around the steel-string core.
The first 2 strings (thin), don’t have a wrapped wire.
Types Of Acoustic Guitar Strings
There are basically 2 types of acoustic guitar strings: 80/20 Bronze, and Phosphor Bronze.
80/20 Bronze Strings
80/20 means the alloy is composed of 80% Copper and 20% Zinc.
Here’s the funny thing:
The “Bronze” is actually misused, but this is how to string makers advertise it.
The copper and zinc combination is brass, while bronze is composed of copper and tin.
It doesn’t really affect the sound or quality, just the way it’s named.
80/20 Bronze strings have bright and clear tonal quality.
It’s versatile that it fits the style of your choice.
Phosphor Bronze Strings
At least the use of “Phosphor Bronze” isn’t a misnomer in this case.
The wrap wire materials are made of 92% Copper and 8% Tin, aka bronze. There’s also a trace of phosphorus, which keeps the string from corroding.
What does this mean for you?
Well, in terms of durability, phosphor bronze will last you longer than the 80/20 bronze strings.
This type of string has more midrange and mellow quality.
It’s famous for folk players, singer-songwriters, and fingerpickers.
Types Of Electric Guitar Strings
Remember when I told you acoustic and electric strings aren’t interchangeable?
It’s because of its materials.
Electric guitar strings should be magnetic, ferromagnetic to be exact.
Bronze can be magnetic; however, it’s not as strong as the ones electric guitar has.
Let’s talk about the 4 different types of electric guitar strings.
By the way:
Materials are the same for both electric guitar strings and bass guitar strings.
Nickel-Plated Steel Strings
This type is the most common amongst electric guitarists. In fact, it’s probably the best-seller of all the electric guitar strings.
If you remember in your chemistry class, nickel is one of the ferromagnetic elements in the periodic table.
The “nickel-plated” is typically an alloy of steel (92%) and nickel (8%).
What does this mean for you?
Well, simply put:
The response or tonal quality of your electric guitar will be terrific with this type of string. (Your guitar pickup will be happy)
Furthermore, nickel helps avoid corrosion.
That’s not even the best part:
Nickel-plated steel strings are softer, which means your frets can relax. It will also be easy for your hands!
This string is well-balanced that it fits any genre.
Pure Nickel Steel Strings
The same as the nickel-plated, these strings have excellent durability.
By the way:
The pure nickel means that the wrap wire around thickest strings is literally nickel (100%).
Considering that its pure nickel (100% magnet), it has a more responsive tone!
If your genre is either blues, jazz, or classic rock, you’ll like its mellow, warm tone.
The downside of this is its harder to play, particularly for beginners.
Stainless Steel Strings
The stainless steels we see around us aren’t magnetic, eh?
Here’s the thing:
That depends on the elements incorporated into the stainless steel alloy. Of course, guitar string makers SHOULD make it magnetic.
Otherwise, the pickup will not “pick up” the string vibration.
As we know, stainless steel resists corrosion. If not, it would be called “stainful” steel.
This is excellent for the fact that stainless steel strings will last longer.
As if that’s not enough:
Stainless steel has a bright tone and more output. So, this string is excellent for distortions.
On the other hand:
They don’t feel as lovely as nickel strings, and they can diminish your frets quickly.
Cobalt is another ferromagnetic metal.
Cobalt strings are more responsive; it’s like the pickup and the string communicate more.
Cobalt Strings are an alloy of cobalt and iron, developed by Ernie Ball.
It has a more substantial tonality, and it’s more precise.
The Cobalt Strings vibrate more and have excellent overtones.
If you’re a hard rocker or heavy metal player, this is the right strings for you.
Why do electric guitar strings have to be magnetic?
Well, it has something to do with how guitar pickups work.
Nylon Guitar String
This type of string is mainly for classical guitars.
Classical guitars have light bracing since nylon strings don’t have extreme tension.
This is exactly why you shouldn’t try putting a steel string on a classical guitar!
But, there’s a catch:
The reverse isn’t true. You can definitely put nylon strings in acoustic guitars.
Unfortunately, it won’t sound as appealing as you might think.
Here’s the deal:
This type of string is quite similar to the ones used in fishing lines.
You might see some “steel strings” on some classical guitars.
But get this:
Those strings, mainly bass, are still nylon, but with a metallic wire wound around it.
Did you know that in the past, strings were made from an intestine of an animal?
. . .
How Guitar Strings Are Made
There are three foremost things you need to know about guitar strings construction: Core Shape, Winding, and Coating.
Round Core vs. Hex Core
The core is a string in which the wrap wire is wounded.
Quite hard to explain in text.
Don’t worry, I attached some images for better understanding.
Round Cores have been around for many years. In fact, it was the only available core back then.
String makers still use it today because it still has its advantages.
For one, it’s more flexible.
For the sound:
Round core guitar strings have boomy bass than hex cores.
Hex Cores, on the other hand, are more stable, and it’s easier for the wrap wire to grip.
If you play a lot, this will be the ideal choice because it holds the tune better.
In terms of sound:
Hex cores have a more definite tone.
Roundwound vs. Flatwound
Roundwound is literally “round” wire around the core. Imagine a paper clip wound around another straightened paper clip.
Here’s the thing:
It has brighter tonal quality, better sustains, and excellent overtones.
Furthermore, it’s great for beginners considering that it has lower tension.
If you play with bends or perhaps a fingerpicker, this will be easier for you.
It has a shorter life and will wear out your fretboard and frets more.
You know those squeaky sounds you hear when playing the guitar? This is actually the leading cause of that obnoxious sound.
Flatwounds are well, flat wire around the core.
It will last longer than a Roundwound.
To top it off:
It will also be comfortable for your fretboard, frets, and your fingers!
It has a warmer sound opposite to that of the Roundwound.
For the cherry on top:
Flatwounds don’t have that annoying squeak when you move to higher or lower strings!
Guitar Strings Coating
In our contemporary era, guitar string makers offer coating.
Basically, this helps the strings last longer than uncoated ones.
If you have oily hands, this will be SUPER as in SUPER helpful.
Unfortunately, it’s more expensive than uncoated guitar strings.
If you think about it:
Guitar strings aren’t really that expensive, why not go for coated strings? It will last longer, and in theory, it will be cheaper in the long run!
Final Words of Advice
Guitar strings are one of the most crucial parts of a guitar. I mean, can you even make fantastic music with a stringless guitar?
In fact, I don’t think a stringless guitar can even be called a guitar.
And to think that string materials and construction have significant differences in tone, quite fascinating, don’t you think?
Now that you know about, “What Are Guitar Strings Made Of?“
If you’re looking for the best string replacement for your acoustic instrument, you might want to check my 5 Best Acoustic Guitar Strings guide.
Keep on strumming!