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The best acoustic guitar strings for beginners are strings that will assist in making it easier to play the guitar and that will minimize finger soreness.
This doesn’t mean that you have to go with nylon strings. There are certain types of steel strings that you can pick that will be well suited to the entry level guitarist.
This post will cover three main things to look out for in your strings.
- String Gauge
- String Material (not all steel strings are made of the same stuff)
- Construction method
But first let’s see if you should go nylon or not.
Don’t go Nylon if you Don’t Want To
Some people recommend getting a classical guitar as a beginner as the nylon strings are easier to play – but if you don’t intend on playing the styles of music that the classical guitar is best suited to then this means you’ll have to buy another guitar soon.
You can’t put steel strings on a nylon string guitar because a nylon string guitar (classical guitar) is not designed to handle the extra tension that is exerted by steel strings. You will damage the neck and bridge of your classical guitar if you do.
You also can’t put nylon strings on a steel string acoustic. This is because nylon strings won’t exert enough pressure to drive the soundboard of an acoustic guitar.
So if you want to play the styles of music that are best suited to steel string guitars (pop, rock, blues, bluegrass etc) then you should get a steel string guitar.
There are a number of ways you can make your steel string acoustic easier to play (see below).
If you are looking to get into classical, flamenco, folk (folk sometimes uses steel, sometimes nylon) and the likes then you should go with the nylon strings. If that’s the case, check out the post below on how to choose nylon guitar strings.
If you are looking to play steel string acoustic read on.
How to Choose Steel Strings for Beginners
As I have mentioned there a few choices you can make to make steel strings easier to play when you first start out.
It’s very important that your strings (and your guitar) are easy to play as a beginner. The easier it is to play, the more you play. The more you play, the better you get. Plus if the strings you are playing on are too difficult it will slow down your progression no matter how much you play.
And the worst thing that could happen is that you end up not enjoying playing the guitar and give up all together.
So, to help speed up your progression and make playing more enjoyable follow these easy tips.
This article focuses on the best strings for a beginner – click here to learn about the best guitar for a beginner
The gauge of string you get is probably the most important consideration for the beginner.
This is because the lighter the gauge, the easier it is to press the string to the fret-board. This is because lighter gauge strings are under less tension than the heavier gauges.
You can see the different gauges in the table below.
|Extra-Light||Custom Light||Light||Light-Medium||Medium||Medium-Light *||Heavy-Medium **||Heavy|
Don’t go any heavier than ‘light’.
If you are on a grand auditorium or concert guitar (see link above) then go with ‘extra-light‘ as they will be the easiest to play on.
Dreadnought shape = Light Gauge Strings
Grand Auditorium or Concert shape = Extra-Light Gauge Strings
Steel strings tend to have steel at the core but the bass strings have an extra material wound around them. This winding material comes in a few different materials.
The most common are Bronze, Phosphor Bronze and Silk & Steel. The most common out of those three are Bronze and Phosphor bronze.
However as a beginner you should start out with silk and steel. Why? Simple, they are easier on your fingers.
All new guitarists will get finger soreness until they build up enough calluses. This can reduce the amount of time you play and put you off playing. Whilst any string you get is going to cause some sort of soreness (yes even nylon strings) silk and steel strings will minimize that soreness compared to the bronze varieties.
Silk & Steel strings have steel as their core but are wrapped in either nylon, silk or copper that is silver plated and has silk running through it. This makes for a smooth playing experience and is easier on your fingers.
Some Silk and Steel options
Below are some of the most popular silk and steel strings:
Disclosure: Links below are affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you make a purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you.
- Martin Marquis Silk & Steel Acoustic Strings
- Martin M130 Silk & Steel Acoustic Strings
- D’Addario EJ40 Silk & Steel Guitar Strings
- Ernie Ball Earthwood Silk and Steel Extra Soft
There are of course many other options but these are some options to get you started.
There are a few of different methods manufacturers use for winding guitar strings – roundwound (rounds), flatwound (flats) and semi-flatwound (semi-flats, a.k.a. flat-tops or halfwounds).
I won’t go into detail about how these work – if you want to know more check out the link below
The Best Beginner Construction Method
Rounds are the most common type but aren’t necessarily the best for beginners.
Flats have a flatter surface which makes them easier on the fingers so better suited to beginners.
Flats also reduce the string noise that is created when your fingers slide across the strings. This can make it easier for the beginner to create a cleaner sound.
Flats are harder to bend but this shouldn’t be something that a beginner is doing yet so this isn’t a problem.
The biggest problem with flats is that they can sound a bit dead on most acoustic guitars. That’s where semi-flats come in. They have the same or at least similar benefits as flats but sound brighter.
It’s also important to note that you probably won’t find any flats or semi-flats that are also silk and steel (see materials above) – not sure if anyone even makes them.
This isn’t a problem though. Choose either silk & steel or semi-flats. You don’t need both.
One more thing about semi-flats is that they tend to be more expensive than rounds. However, they are also more durable so that cost should even out, at least somewhat, in the long run.
Some Semi-Flat Options
Disclosure: Links below are affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you make a purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you.
What are Acoustic Guitar Strings Made of?
The kind of string you use on your guitar can greatly affect its sound. The right strings can make an inexpensive acoustic guitar sound like a million bucks. You can’t just use any guitar strings for acoustics as their design and build are unique.
To the untrained eye, all guitar strings look pretty similar but this isn’t true. While electric guitars use nickel-plated steel or pure nickel, acoustic guitar strings are typically made of two main varieties: 80/20 bronze (80% copper and 20% zinc) and phosphor bronze. (8-10% tin and a small percentage of phosphorus) However, there are a variety of different alloys that can be used too such as aluminum bronze, nickel, and Alloy 52.
The wound strings of an acoustic are made with an alloy wrapped around the steel core while plain guitar strings are usually made from tin-plated steel.
When is it Time to Change Guitar Strings?
Changing guitar strings can depend on the amount you play them, the quality of their construction, and how long they have been on the guitar. Strings can wear out from use and the passing of time. For beginners, the general rule of thumb and recommended time to change guitar strings is every 3 months or 100 hours or whichever comes first.
It is important to change your strings to prevent them from sounding bad and dull. Older strings are more difficult to tune and can break easily. Dead skin builds up on the string’s surface and fretboard as well leaving an uncomfortable texture to feel. Of course, this can be combatted with regular maintenance and cleaning.
Check your strings for any signs of wear and corrosion. Moisture in the air can cause rust over time but this is accelerated with moisture from your fingers. If your killer tone is now dull and corrosion is evident, it is time to change your guitar strings.
How to Pick Strings for Warm Sounds?
The acoustic guitar can sound a little sharp at times, especially when using a pick, but there are certain techniques that can roll off that brightness in favor of a rich and soul-stirring warmth.
There are two main things that you can do to change the voicing of a note: change position or change picking style.
- Positionally speaking, the further towards the neck you pick, the warmer the sound will be, and the closer to the bridge you pick, the more twangy and sharp the sound will be.
- Stylistically, if you’re fingerpicking, you should try to make softer connections with the strings and use the pads of your fingers rather than the very ends. Employing upstrokes with a pick can also increase tonal warmth.
If none of these techniques are working for you, you may want to consider a thicker plectrum or changing your strings. You’ll need a set that accentuates the mid and bass frequencies, with plenty of 2nd order harmonics to thicken the tone. If you’re using an amplifier try rolling off the mids.
If the problem still persists, perhaps the sharpness you’re hearing is just part of the unique timbre of your guitar.
When Should I Change my Acoustic Guitar Strings?
Acoustic guitars tend to grow old with dignity and, like a fine wine, they can improve with age. The same can’t be said about acoustic guitar strings, however. After some time, they can sound dull and become harder to play. This can be remedied by changing the guitar strings.
It is recommended that you change your guitar strings every 2 to 12 weeks on average. This is depending on the amount you play.
Professional musicians who play live and record in the studio regularly will need to change their strings for every gig or studio session. If you mostly play at home on an irregular basis, you should change your acoustic guitar strings every 2 to 12 weeks. If you are just beginning or don’t pay regularly at all, it is possible to leave your strings on until a string breaks or corrosion begins to appear on the strings.
Do Acoustic Guitars have Steel or Nylon Strings?
You can use both steel and nylon strings on an acoustic guitar. While both offer different sounds, there are advantages and disadvantages of using either. Nylon strings are often used on classical guitars and many guitarists start out on these strings for their softer, easier-to-handle texture.
Steel strings can not be put on nylon string guitars as these are not designed to handle the amount of tension steel strings exert. If so, a classical guitar’s neck and bridge can become damaged. The same goes for putting nylon strings on a steel-string acoustic guitar as nylon strings won’t exert enough pressure to drive the soundboard of the guitar.
Which String material is Best for Acoustic guitar?
There are three popular choices for an acoustic guitar’s string material. These are:
- 80/20 Bronze (Bronze, Brass) – These are made up of 80% copper and 20% zinc creating a bright and clean sound. Although this metal corrodes quickly, it is one of the most popular choices.
- Phosphor Bronze – Made up of 80/20 bronze, the phosphor is also added to prevent oxidation and increase the string’s lifespan. These tend to be less bright in sound.
- Silk and Steel (Compound strings) – These have greater flexibility and a lower string tension creating a more mellow and gentle sound.
The best string material for a classical guitar is clear nylon thanks to its brightness and clarity.
Are my Guitar Strings Nylon or Steel?
Fortunately, it is easy to tell whether your guitar strings are nylon or steel. Nylon strings are much softer on your fingers than steel strings. Steel strings are under a higher amount of tension and need a far greater force to press down than nylon strings.
One easy way to tell the difference is how they look. Nylon strings are generally thicker than steel strings and don’t feel metallic under your fingers. Steel strings are tougher and have a harder feel like a metal wire. Also, nylon-stringed guitars are usually smaller and don’t include electronics, cutaways, or fretboard markers. The necks are generally wider too with these models and have 12 frets as opposed to most steel-string guitars with 14.
Are Guitar Strings Toxic?
Due to the presence of certain chemicals and metals in guitar strings, many people are worried that guitar strings are toxic. You’ll be pleased to know that they are not toxic. This is because nickel, chromium, bronze, and steel can not be absorbed through the skin very well. However, repeated use and exposure over many years could lead to possible side effects such as dermatitis or a very minor allergic reaction but this is very rare.
Guitar strings can not be coated in hazardous materials that could impede anyone’s health. The only way you could be harmed by a guitar string’s chemicals is to repeatedly lick the string for many months. As you can guess, this is not advised.
What Happens When Guitar Strings Get Old?
When steel guitar strings get too old, their sound becomes dull and muffled with very little or no presence. New guitar strings sound colorful and very bright but this fades over time along with the original color. Older strings tend to turn into a brownish color as opposed to the gleaming silver and gold they start off as.
This is a sign of rust build-up and that it’s time to change the strings. They become rough to play with and can hurt your fingers.
Nylon guitar strings also become more dull-sounding but there is no visible change in color. Typically, the top three strings will look and sound uneven with gaps sometimes forming on the wound.
How Long do Guitar Strings Usually Last?
It can be difficult to gauge the lifespan of guitar strings for a variety of reasons. One instance is how often the guitar is played. The more you play your guitar, the more frequently you will need to change your strings.
Other factors to consider are the size and gauge of the strings as well as their brand and construction quality.
On average, a set of uncoated electric or acoustic guitar strings should last between one and three months. Coated guitar strings can last a lot longer. These can hold their tone and vibrancy for six to nine months and even longer. Professionals who play very regularly are known to change their strings before every performance or studio session.
Does Heat Affect Guitar Strings?
Heat can have a dramatic impact on your guitar’s strings, especially at extreme temperatures. One way heat can affect your strings is through the added sweat your hands produce. Over time, this can make your strings become sluggish and feel very sticky. Therefore, the strings will soon lose their brilliance and tone.
The tension of the strings can also be affected as different temperatures can cause them to go out of tune easily. If you have a nylon string guitar, you should lower this tension if the guitar will be in contact with cold temperatures. The same should be done with steel string guitars too at very low temperatures.
Hopefully you now know more about choosing the best strings for a beginner – whether that be you or someone you are researching for.
To sum up:
- Either Silk & steel material or semi-flat strings; and
- In a lighter gauge string (‘light’ for a dreadnought and ‘extra-light’ for a Grand Auditorium or Concert guitar).
If you want to learn how to put new strings on your guitar check out the link below.
Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments please leave them in the comments section below and I will get back to you as soon as possible.