Guitar String Decisions that Affect Tone and Playing Feel.

Introduction.

Guitar strings are interactive with both of a guitarists hands as well as the magnetic pickups in the body of the guitar. Running from the tuners to the bridge and tailpiece or bridge and body any type of guitar string will be involved with the overall transference of string vibration into body resonance. Differences between string size, type, and construction method and material used has a strong effect on its tension, the size of its field of vibration, the amount of metal and movement the pickup sees or reacts upon to produce volume and tone as well as the way it feels to the player. Rough or smooth to the touch. Noisy or silent during slides. Hand or finger strength requirements to produce vibrato or bends. Issues of tuning and intonation.

Because of contact with the players fingers and the guitars frets all guitar strings need to be changed from time to time. How often is up to the player. Some players change their strings more than once a week. Others go six months or more or even wait until they break. I personally think a performing Dino guitarist, who plays a form of music that's not known for being gentle to a set of strings, should put a new set on one or two days before a show so the strings are both fresh and have had time to stretch to avoid tuning issues and string breakage while providing an excellent contribution to the tonality of the performers music. Because of a string sets replacement requirements guitarists are always buying strings. Many experienced players have settled upon a specific brand and type while others may still be experimenting with each purchase. The following information is provided to help the second type of player make an informed decision when their guitar requires it's next set of strings.

String Gauge?

String Gauge refers to the thickness of the string. String sets range in size from those that start with a very small gauge 1st (E) string, .008, up to a very thick gauge 1st (E) string of .013 or more. While standard string sets follow a relative or normal increase in gauge as you go from the high to low E string there are many optional sets now being offered that allow for differing amounts of set sizing that can result in extra thick bass strings or other optional configurations. Most players refer to the thickness of the strings they use by the gauge of the 1st (E) string. You might hear someone say, I really like the feel of 9s, or, I think 11s work best with single coils.

Selecting a string gauge comes down to finger strength vs. loudness and tonality as well as string height over the frets. . The thicker a string is the more metal crosses through the pickups magnetic field. The more the pickup sees the more it has to work with. Yet, pickups also see the size of a strings pattern of vibration. Because of string tension thicker strings vibrate in a narrower, tighter pattern. While the pickup may see more string it also sees less of a field of vibration. As for the issue of finger strength it's obvious that a thinner string will result in easier bends and vibrato. They are much easier to move around. Some stronger fingered players don't like the lightest gauge strings because they find them too easy to move around. It was like playing rubberbands.

Lastly, because thicker strings have a narrower field or pattern of vibration they can be set up slightly closer to the fretboard. Thinner strings have to be set up slightly higher because they have a wider pattern of vibration that would more easily result in issues of fret buzz.

Most Dinos, when using a six string electric guitar in standard tuning, opt for a string set between the range of 9s and 11s. For myself.....I prefer 10's for single coil equipped guitars, tone issues, or floating trem equipped guitars, control issues. With humbuckers I use 9s or 10s. I must be outside the norm on the floating trem gauge preference because every guitar I've ever bought with a floating trem seemed to always have 9s on it from the factory.

Flat Wound, Round Wound, or Half Round?

Because we're discussing string types most appropriate for good Dino tone this part is pretty simple. The majority of guitar strings produced are round wound. The majority of Dino guitarists use round wound. A minority of Dinos use half rounds, round wounds that have had their outer surface shaved or flattened to feel smoother and create less noise during slides. Flat wounds, with very few exceptions, are only used by Dinos on guitars setup exclusively for working with a brass or chromed slide. The windings on flat wounds are much like metal ribbon wound around the center core. They are also darker in tonality than round or half round strings. With a metal slide, which is normally very bright, flat wounds help to both darken the tone as well as provide a smooth surface to reduce the noise of the slide being moved around.

String windings material. Steel, Nickel Coated Steel, or Pure Nickel?

Unlike the proceeding paragraph Dinos seem to go all over the map on this one. Assuming we stick strictly with round wound strings, Steel wrapped strings are by far the brightest, Pure Nickel wrapped strings are the darkest, and Nickel Coated Steel wrapped strings fall somewhere in between and are the most commonly used by regular electric guitarists. Pure Nickel is softer and allows for easier bendability. Steel is the hardest and is harder to break. Pure Nickel is often referred to as having a vintage tonality and provides a smoother more mellow tone. Steel has a bright cutting quality to its tonality. Nickel Coated Steel again tries to walk the line between the other two. It's not really an issue for two Dinos to butt heads over, but, from time to time it happens. Older players seem to lean towards Nickel. Young wildmen seem to lean towards Steel. Joe Average, like usual, plays whatever is on the guitar until it's time for the next string change. Then woe be the guitar forums when they come asking for advice.

Hex Core or Round Core?

Hex Core is just what it sounds like. Cut it and look at the end and it's shaped like a hexagon. Six sides and five corners. The corners are supposed to help hold the string windings in place and seem to do so. The difference in tonality is slight, but, to a great set of ears the round core seem to produce a slightly smoother sound quality. Slightly darker or richer. Remember. I said to a great set of ears. Most players, with so many other components affecting their tone, are not going to hear much if any difference.

3rd (G) String issues. Why? Options?

Most electric guitar players reading this are probably of an age where a plain G string is the only type they've ever seen or used on an electric guitar. Have you noticed how most acoustic guitar string sets have a wound G string? In the 1940s and most of the 1950s this was also the type of G string used on electric guitars. Through most of the 1960s a wound G string on an electric guitar was still commonplace. What changed?

In the later 50s and on through the 60s many players were looking for lighter gauge strings. Standard sets generally ran high to low from .010 to .05 something. When lighter gauge strings started being produced they continued to use the wound G. Some players found that if they mixed two sets or bought six separate strings they could take a thicker gauged B string and use it in the G string position. Why? Because an unwound string is easier to bend. An unwound string tends to feel faster and sound brighter. Pretty soon manufacturers picked up on what players were doing and started making string sets with a plain G string. It was the old The customers always right business decision over the protests of the companies designers and engineers. String sets of this type became so popular that, in less than a decade, the norm for electric guitar string sets would include a plain G string rather than the original wound version. Acoustic guitars continued on with the original string setup.

Have you ever noticed how, if any string on your guitar gives you issues with intonation or volume it's usually the G string? Ever wondered why? You can't really make a plain G string that will intonate correctly. The amount of tension required to bring a string to a specific frequency varies. Certain frequencies can only be achieved over a specified scale length in a manner of production that takes into account the strength as well as the thickness of the string. When the right equation of the two is attained the string will intonate perfectly anywhere along the fretboard. The problem with a plain G string, as well as the reason for the protests from the companies engineers in the dark distant past, is that the equation that results in the frequencies needed for the G string on a guitar, electric or otherwise, cannot be achieved using a plain piece of steel. When tuned to pitch it remains too loose or slack. This throws the formula off and results in the intonation issues we've all become very familiar with. Concerning volume issues, if you notice your G string seems at a different volume when compared to the volume of the rest of the strings check out the type of magnet stagger your pickup has. Many guitars today carry vintage stagger rather than flat stagger polepieces. It's all about that original vintage look. The problem is that with vintage stagger magnets the pole piece is the wrong distance from a plain G string. You have to either adjust the polepiece, most Fender type single coils have non adjustable polepieces. replace the pickup with one that has a flat stagger, or purchase a set of stings that have a wound G string to both complete the vintage look and play at the right volume level.

Does all of this mean you have to use a wound G string? Absolutely not! Most Dinos prefer a plain G string. Most electric guitarists prefer a plain G string. It makes the guitar feel faster as well as making for easier bends and vibratos. It's the players choice. Will it ever intonate correctly on a standard electric guitar neck? No. Is there any way around the issue? Well, Buzz Feiten, through a combination of creating a shelved nut and a specific pattern of bridge adjustments has probably come the closest. I have this system on my Suhr and must say that it helps quite a bit. It's still not perfect, but, according to original string design formulas it probably never will be. It's all about picking which is more important to you. The play feel of the G string or the intonation issue. Most Dinos pick the play feel.

A note for the curious. D'Addario and, I believe Gibson both make round wound string sets with wound G strings. The D'Addarios are in their Nickel Coated series and are available in 10s or 11s.

Coated Strings?

Manufacturers who produce coated strings do so for either extended string life or giving the string a smoother feel. At least one manufacturer uses a coating to produce strings in a variety of colors. Do they work? Well, the science of protecting the string from corrosive elements certainly holds water. Do they sound the same as regular uncoated strings? Some players say they don't hear a difference but I choose to disagree with them. Coated strings, in my opinion, sound old right out of the box. You know how at some point as a string ages it begins to sound lifeless? Well, to my ears, coated strings sound similar to strings that have reached that age.

Summation.

If you just choose to go by the popularity of string types among Dino guitarists you'll probably find that they will be 9s, 10s or 11s, Round Wound with a Hex Core, have a plain rather than wound G string, and will be made out of either Steel, Nickel, or a combination of both. You should make your selection partially based on your guitars strengths and weaknesses. Does the guitar have an overly bright quality to it? Maybe it's voice is a little rough around the edges? Look into some Pure Nickel Wound strings to slightly darken it and increase the smoothness of the tone it produces or possibly try a string set with round cores. Does your guitar need a little help to cut through the sound of your bandmates? You might want to try some steel wrapped strings. Do large bends cause your fingers to feel pain? Well, pain is never good. If your just starting out as a player some mild hurt is common until you build up your finger strength. But, if you've been playing quite awhile or maybe getting on in years and you feel pain you would do well to stop playing for awhile and then use a string gauge one size smaller when you come back to playing. Have you become obsessive compulsive or anal retentive or been driven to speaking in tongues because your GD freakin G string just never sounds right? Maybe give a set with a wound G string a try. Most Dino Guitarist I've played with use strings manufactured by one of the following companies: Fender, Gibson, D'Addario, DR Handmade, Ernie Ball, or GHS. This doesn't mean to say that these are the only good brand names out there. They're just the ones I seen on the guitars of most Dino players I've met.

A List of Manufacturers

D'Addario http://www.daddario.com/DADFElectric.aspx?ID=1

Dean Markley http://www.deanmarkley.com/Strings/Electric/ElectricStrings.shtml

DR Handmade http://www.drstrings.com/main.html

Dunlop http://www.jimdunlop.com/index.php?page=products/strings&cat=5

Electro-Harmonix http://www.newsensor.com/ProductListing.aspx?CatId=38

Elixer http://www.elixirstrings.com/products/index.html

Ernie Ball https://store.ernieball.com/index/574.0.5908.5281.16037.0.0

Fender http://www.fender.com/products//search.php?section=accessories&cat=strings&subcat=guitarstrings&pg=1

Galli http://www.gallistrings.com/inglese/catalogo_3.asp?id_cat=1&id_sot=14

GHS http://www.ghsstrings.com/products.php

Gibson http://www.gibson.com/en-us/Divisions/Gibson%20Gear/

Kerly http://www.kerlymusic.com/index.php

Rotosound http://www.rotosound.com/electric.html#

S.I.T. http://www.sitstrings.com/products.php

Thomastik-Infeld http://www.thomastik-infeld.com/guitars/index.html

 

Other References.

StringBusters. http://www.stringbusters.com/

Strings and Beyond. http://www.stringsandbeyond.com/elguitstrin.html

Just Strings http://www.juststrings.com/electricguitar.html

Telecaster Central http://www.tdpri.com/

as well as

 

Vintage Guitar Magazine

Guitar Electronics for Musicians by Donald Brosnac