If you’re fairly new to playing guitar, you may not have had a chance to purchase guitar strings and put them on a guitar. The process might seem daunting if you’ve never had to do it. But rest assured — selecting a new set of strings isn’t quite as overwhelming as it might seem.
Is it Easy to Replace a Guitar String?
Thankfully, the answer here is yes, although it’s harder with some types of guitars than it is with others. For instance, if you’re restringing a steel-string acoustic guitar, winding the string properly around the peg might take some getting used to. Restringing an electric guitar with locking tuners is generally quick and easy, as you don’t need to wind strings around the tuning pegs at all.
If you need some guidance on replacing your guitar strings, there are plenty of free and helpful video tutorials out there. Alternatively, if you take in-person guitar lessons or have any friends who are experienced guitarists, you might consider asking them to show you.
How Much are Guitar Strings?
Plenty of things in the guitar hobby are expensive — amps, effects pedals, and of course the guitars themselves. Luckily, guitar strings aren’t one of those expensive things. For a fresh set of even great-quality electric guitar strings, you’re only looking at around six or seven dollars. High-quality strings for steel-string acoustics are similarly priced, while high-quality nylon strings can sometimes be a little more costly — around $10-$11. Restringing a 12-string guitar is often more expensive, but even quality sets of 12 strings usually aren’t more than about $20.
Where to Find Guitar Strings?
Now that internet shopping is a routine part of life, it’s easy to find guitar strings almost anywhere. Of course, you can always visit a guitar store. This is often a good idea if you aren’t too familiar with strings. Most guitar stores stock a wide array of strings, and staff members can usually offer helpful suggestions on which strings may suit you.
Once you know what strings you like, buying online is the easiest option. Online music stores sometimes run promotions where you can get a considerable discount if you purchase multiple packs at once. And of course, many general-interest online shopping sites offer strings at competitive prices.
A Guide to Buying Your Guitar Strings at the Best Price
How much do guitar strings cost? Like we mentioned above, guitar strings tend to be very affordable. But to make sure you don’t waste money on set after set of the wrong strings, it’s a good idea to make sure that you’re making an informed choice when it comes to your strings.
How to Choose the Right Guitar Strings
Ultimately, you’re the judge of which guitar strings are the best ones for you. But to help make the selection process a little easier, you might want to do some reading and listening to demos. Most manufacturer descriptions will tell you the general sonic characteristics of a given string type. And if you have a favorite artist or two, you might want to look into what type of strings they use.
Listening to video demos of different types of strings can also be helpful, but it can be hard to tell how much of a guitar’s overall sound comes from the strings. The most effective demos are those that show you different types of strings on the exact same guitar.
Which Strings Go with Which Guitar?
Luckily, this is a relatively easy question to answer, as each package of strings will generally say what guitar it goes with. Steel-string acoustic guitars need steel acoustic strings, nylon-string guitars need nylon strings, and electric guitars have their own types of strings. However, there are a few exceptions to these rules — they’re usually used by players who want to create a different sort of sound.
Occasionally, you may find that you want to create a different sound by using electric strings on an acoustic guitar. However, it’s not a good idea to use acoustic strings on an electric guitar, as electric guitar pickups will usually produce an uneven response when used with acoustic strings. And if used with nylon strings, electric guitar pickups won’t pick up any sound at all.
Rarely, you may also see a player who uses strings designed for nylon-string guitars on steel-string acoustic guitars. This was fairly common among folk singers in the 1960s, but it’s less common now. It’s an effective way of getting the mellower sound of a nylon-string guitar with the easier playability of a steel-string acoustic guitar.
Types of Guitar Strings Found in the Market
Especially if you aren’t too familiar with the wide world of guitar strings, it can be helpful to understand what kinds of strings are out there. Here’s a general overview of the types of guitar strings you can choose from.
1. Acoustic Strings: Phosphor Bronze and Bronze
Just like electric guitar strings, acoustic guitar strings come in a few different materials. The two most common are bronze (often called 80/20 bronze) and phosphor bronze.
Bronze strings have been around a lot longer than phosphor bronze strings. They’re often called 80/20 bronze because they are made of 80% copper and 20% zinc. This combination creates a sound that is very bright yet focused. However, it tends to have a powerful bass response, too.
Compared to phosphor bronze strings, though, 80/20 bronze strings don’t have a whole lot of midrange response. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on your preferences. Some players like this “mid-scooped” sound, while others feel like it doesn’t allow enough nuance.
It’s also worth noting that bronze strings tend to not last quite as long as phosphor bronze. That’s because they’re more vulnerable to corrosion from sweat. If you do choose these strings, you can get a lot more life out of them by regularly using a string cleaner and conditioner after you play.
Phosphor bronze strings are 92% copper, 8% tin, and have just a little bit of phosphorous. That combination makes them especially resistant to corrosion.
In terms of sound, phosphor bronze strings have a more balanced response across the treble, midrange, and bass frequencies. They’re great for capturing the nuances of your guitar’s sound, especially if it’s made of a midrange-favoring tonewood like mahogany.
2. Electric Strings: Stainless Steel, Pure Nickel, and Nickel Plated
Electric guitar strings come in a variety of materials as well. And while it may not seem like there’s that much difference between them, even slight changes in material can create dramatic sonic differences.
It’s worth noting that most electric guitar strings have a steel core, and the unwound strings are made of the same material. The real differences are in the wrapping — this is the metal winding around the heavier strings in a given set.
Nickel-plated steel is one of the most common winding choices, and for good reason. On its own, nickel has a smooth, warm, “vintage” sound. Steel has a more powerful and bright tone. With nickel-plated steel wrapping, you get a mixture of the two. That mixture produces a balanced, versatile tone that works well for a number of different genres.
If you’re looking for a very smooth and warm tone, pure nickel winding is ideal. However, the fact that nickel strings sound smooth doesn’t mean that they sound muddy or indistinct. Pure nickel winding sounds crisp, although it doesn’t have the snappy quality that steel strings tend to have.
Stainless steel strings are often described as sounding “bright” or “snappy.” This can be a great thing, especially for high-energy genres of music. Different string manufacturers will often make various steel alloys that sound slightly different. For instance, you’ll sometimes see cobalt strings — these strings create a strong magnetic connection with the pickups that increases sonic output.
3. Coated and Non-Coated Strings
If you’ve already spent some time searching for guitar strings, you likely have come across strings labeled as “coated” and those labeled as “uncoated.” Typically, more acoustic than electric guitar strings are coated, as acoustic guitar strings are more prone to corrosion. Depending on your needs as a player, you may find that one of these options is better for you.
Coated strings are covered with a polymer coating. And though that polymer coating is often microscopically thin, it does offer some important advantages. For one, it reduces string corrosion. Strings corrode when they’re exposed to oxygen. Since the polymer coating stops the actual metal of the string from touching oxygen, it will keep the string sounding “fresh” for much longer.
Coated strings tend to feel smoother under your fingers, as the polymers used to coat them are often very similar to Teflon, the polymer used to make non-stick pans. That smoothness has advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, it reduces the squeaking of fingers on strings. But on the other hand, it can make the strings downright slippery. Depending on the exact polymer, you may find that your fingers slip off a string when you try to do a string bend.
As the name suggests non-coated strings don’t have a polymer coating. And while this does mean they don’t tend to last as long, non-coated strings have their advantages. Namely, they have both more sustain and higher output.
4. Nylon Strings
When it comes to selecting nylon strings, you have a range of options when it comes to gauge, tension, and even tie vs ball-end strings.
Like steel strings, nylon strings come in different gauges. But the most important thing when it comes to tone is the tension of a string. And there’s quite an array of string tension levels out there; you can generally find nylon strings from extra-low tension to extra-high tension.
Beginners usually do best with strings that have lower tension. Lower-tension strings tend to be easier on your fingers, and they also make string bending much easier. Nylon-string guitars geared toward classical music usually have lower-tension strings.
Higher-tension strings are better suited to faster music like flamenco. They tend to be harder on your fingers, much like steel strings can be.
Tie-End and Ball-End Strings
On many nylon-string guitars, strings need to be looped through the bridge. Re-stringing this way can take some time to get right; if you don’t loop the strings properly, they can slip and make your guitar go out of tune.
Ball-end strings tend to make re-stringing a lot easier. These are strings that are designed much like those for steel-string acoustic guitars. Especially if you’re a beginner, they make re-stringing much, much easier. You don’t need to loop the strings around the bridge at all — you just thread them through.
If you want to try nylon strings on a steel-string guitar, make sure you choose ball-end strings. The bridge pins on a steel-string acoustic guitar won’t work with tie-end strings.
5. Flatwound and Roundwound Strings
Most guitar strings are roundwound, which means that the winding around the core creates a rounded string shape. However, roundwound strings aren’t the only ones out there.
The wires themselves that are used to make roundwound strings have a rounded shape. That helps create a complex, relatively bright sound with more sustain. Of course, roundwound strings are not without their downsides. Namely, the ridges created by the wires create finger squeaks, and they also make the strings more prone to corrosion.
As the name suggests, flatwound strings are wound with flat wire that’s a lot like tape. Since these strings don’t have ridges, they tend to be a little easier on your fingers. They also are less likely to cause little notches in the frets of your guitar.
Flatwound strings aremore popular among jazz guitarists. They don’t have quite as much sustain as roundwound strings, and they have less harmonic complexity, meaning you get a clearer emphasis of the actual note you play.
Since flatwound strings are much less common than roundwound strings, they tend to come in fewer gauges and materials. They also are usually a little more expensive.
Which String Set According to My Budget?
Like we mentioned above, guitar string cost is often minimal. But if money is tight and guitar strings price is a concern, keep in mind that the strings you use create only part of your guitar’s tone. And while high-quality strings can give you an edge, you don’t need the most expensive strings out there to sound great.
Of course, if you prefer strings that are more on the expensive side, there are ways to get them more affordably. If you can set aside the money to buy several sets at once, you’ll end up paying less per set. And since strings are available from a wide variety of retailers, keeping an eye out for promotions is wise.
Lastly, if you have any music gear you don’t need, you might be able to trade it in. Many music stores will let you trade your gear in for cash or store credit, and that can be a great way to get several sets of strings without needing to spend additional money.
Frequently Asked Questions
We hope that we’ve answered most of your questions on guitar strings. But if you still have some concerns, here are some frequently asked questions:
How Much is a Full Set of Guitar Strings?
As you likely know, most acoustic and electric guitars have six strings. These sets tend to be fairly affordable, and they are usually about $4-$7 for acoustic or electric strings. Flatwound strings are a bit more expensive, and a six-string set is often $16-$25. And a set of stringsfor a 12-string guitar is usually around $11-$15.
Can I Replace Just One Guitar String?
The short answer here is yes. If you only break one string (and your guitar isn’t due for a string change for a while), it makes more sense to replace one string than it does to put a full set on. So how much is a guitar string? In many cases, single replacement strings cost between $1 and $3. You also can have a full set of strings on hand and then replace single strings if they break.
However, if the strings on your guitar are fairly old, you may be better off just replacing all of them. In some cases, the new string can sound much brighter than the older strings, and that can throw off the entire sound of the guitar.
How Long Do Guitar Strings Last?
Technically, guitar strings can last for years. But that doesn’t mean that you should leave them on that long. When strings are exposed to air and to sweat and skin oil, they tend to “go dead,” or start to sound dull. Coated strings may last longer before this happens.
What Causes a Guitar String to Break?
Nobody like breaking a string, but it does happen sometimes. Over-tightening a tuning peg can make a string snap. Strings also can be “pinched” at the bridge and nut and then break. If this is something you run into frequently, consider getting a string lubricant to put in these places. And of course, wear and corrosion can cause your strings to eventually break.
How Often Should You Replace Guitar Strings?
As a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to change your strings every three to four months. If you prefer to go by practice hours, replace them roughly every 100 hours of practice. If you want to be able to go a bit longer between string changes, consider getting a string cleaner and conditioner. This is a liquid you can use to wipe down your strings as soon as you’re done playing each time. It helps remove sweat and skin oil, which will slow down corrosion.
Hopefully, you now have an idea of how to choose the right strings for your guitar. Don’t be afraid to experiment, though — it can take testing out several brands of strings before you find the perfect one for your playing style and chosen genre of music.