School me on acoustic guitar strings

brother rat

All mics sound the same.
I don't consider myself a guitar player, I'm a bass player. But in the last 5 years I've been playing vastly more acoustic guitar than bass. I don't know anything really about guitars or strings. I usually like playing guitars that guitar players hate. I feel more comfortable with higher action - it feels more familiar to my left hand. I play a cheap Alvarez right now, and I'm about to buy a used Seagull S6. When I record I feel like I get the most realistic sound using M/S method with my cheap ribbon and my cheap SDC. I usually play folky/country/bluesy type of music. I was recommended Elixir phosphor bronze strings by a friend, but they were a little too bright for my taste. Anyway, I figured after 10 years of guitar playing I should start to learn what I can, because right now when I buy strings I might as well be blindly reaching into a drawer and using whatever I get.
Impart to me whatever wisdom or opinions you might have. Most of the acoustic guitar string nomenclature is very cryptic to me: coated/non-coated/polyweb/nanoweb/zinc/bronze/earthwood/hybrid slinky/etc.
I do know that there are only a few that make their own strings and that most brands purchase from them and repackage. Which manufacturers and brands those might be? I have no idea.
Thanks for your help!
 

c7sus

Disenfranchised Member
Stick with the Elixers a little while longer and you will be rewarded. I used Martin phospher strings for years, then Guilds when they were US made. Switched over to Elixers years ago and never looked back. To me the Elixers don't sound as bright as uncoated strings right out of the box. They seem to last longer and stay in tune better too. They have really become expensive. GC used to sell them two-for-the-price-of-one all the time.

Maybe try the regular nanowebs instead of bronze, or even the polywebs.

Elixer's Polyweb coating is thicker than the nano coating. I think it is a little too much and they sound a bit dull to my ears.

The best thing about Elixers is they stay in tune! I have yet to get a dud set after years of using them. I quit using Martin strings after repeatedly getting low E strings that just never sounded right. I don't know if it was the way the ends were wound or what, but instead of a nice ringing open E all they would do is "thud". Never had that issue with Elixers.

You don't say if you are using lights or mediums, but for the music you are playing mediums is probably where it's at if the guitars will take them.
 

brother rat

All mics sound the same.
What do you mean "if the guitars will take them" ?

Anyway, thanks for the info.
I've been playing Elixir nanoweb and polyweb trying to see if I can tell a difference between the two. I don't think I can.
What are Elixirs coated with and why?
 

mjbphotos

What?!?
The heavier the string, the more tension they put on the neck. I use extra lights (9s, 010s) I used the Martin Marquis for years (and may go back to them) - good sound, but don't last. I like Cleartones because they sound good for a long time and stay in tune, but they're expensive. Most strings will sound "too bright" when you first put them on but will dull up once you play them a little.
 

Richard Monroe

Well-known member
Yo Frere Rat! OK. When selecting acoustic guitar strings (I'm going to assume steel- nylon is a whole different ball game), the first thing that you have to remember is that guitarists are worse than a bunch of engineers trying to agree on a mic. Ask 10 different superstar guitarists, and you'll get 10 answers. In the end, you'll have to find strings that agree with *you*, but I can give you the options.

Once upon a time, folks used steel wound with nickel, but those days are gone. Pretty much, strings today are made of steel, with the trebles often being silvered, wound with bronze. Understand this right off the bat- Steel acoustic guitar strings need to be changed *much* more frequently than your bass strings. Don't wait. 20 hours of play if you play Renaissance music, 6 hours if you play The Who. Get over it. Next, they will go dead much more rapidly than bass strings. Even if they don't break, the sound will be long gone.

That said, you need to select the type of bronze, the gauge, and decide if you want them coated or not. The 2 main types of bronze are phosphor bronze (copper and tin) and 80/20 bronze (copper and zinc) Phosphor bronze lasts longer, and is darker. 80/20 is bright, and begins to lose that brightness pretty quick, perhaps in 10-12 hours of play. Of course, there are supporters of both types. 80/20 is good for cutting through a mix, and I like phosphor on a big stage guitar. Probably more guitarists prefer phosphor, which also has excellent sustain.

Gauge- most string sets are sorted into light, medium, and heavy gauge, and you may see medium-light
or medium-heavy. The last 2 hybrids usually mix and match, with combinations of lighter trebles and heavier bass strings. Most folks use lights or mediums. Here's where you have to pay attention to the guitar. For every guitar, there is the gauge it likes, the gauge it is set up for, and the gauge it can survive. Bluegrass players like the higher action you prefer, and heavier strings, at least medium. This is loud, has superior sustain, and is good for flat picking. Not so good for bending strings. Heavies are rarely used, except on specialty guitars, such as baritones, a resonator/Dobro, or lap steel. There are a few bluegrass diehards that use them. Heavier strings place more stress on the neck, truss rod, and neck joint. Some older or more delicate guitars can just snap. This can happen with any string, but using heavies on an old guitar is rolling dice.

When a guitar is set up, it is set up for whatever strings the luthier or company intended to use, so note the gauge of the provided strings on a new guitar, or any used one you get from someone with a clue. The nut is cut with slots to fit the intended strings, If you are using mediums, and the nut is sticking when you're trying to tune, that's a clue that the guitar was set up for lights. That can be changed by a guitar tech, but changing it back may be a bitch. Also, the truss rod is adjusted to provide the right amount of relief for a given amount of tension, and changing gauge, or sometimes even brands, calls for a truss rod adjustment. My guess is you will prefer medium phosphor bronze, and a guitar set up bluegrass-style. Try out a brand new higher end Martin dreadnought, like a D-28. They are pretty much set up that way out of the box, and many people bitch about the high action on the factory setups. You'll probably like it.

OK- to use coated strings or not? Elixir really started it off with their polyweb strings. They are coated with a polymer, basically plastic, which is almost invisible. This is intended to protect the string from corrosive acids in your skin oils and sweat. It does make the strings last 2 to 2 1/2 times longer, and gives a more gradual, linear loss of tone toward the end of their lives. The coating also reduces finger squeaking when moving up and down the neck, and are a little easier on your fingers. Note that not everybody's sweat was created equal, and if you are a person who sweats a lot, and your sweat is acidic, you will get a bigger benefit from the corrosion resistance. As far as the sound goes. the crowd is clearly divided. Some very knowledgable people will tell you coated strings are the work of the Devil, and kill your high end detail. On the other hand, many highly skilled acoustic guitarists use them. Only you can decide what sound you like.

Some definite brands to try are Martin Marquis (not coated) D'Addario (not coated, unless they have started making coated strings), Elixir Nanoweb (same as polyweb, but thinner coating- theoretically less change in sound), and Cleartone (a different formulation of coating- the new kid on the block).

Hope that helps-Richie
 

antichef

pornk rock
The heavier the string, the more tension they put on the neck.
This is actually something to worry about if you have an awesome really old acoustic. Most people don't - including me - but my mother in law has her father's Gibson L-0 from the late '20s. I *almost* put medium strings on it, because that's what I like, but then read that they'd almost certainly destroy the guitar in short order - yikes! But in fairness, this is a pretty rare case.
 

Anfontan

Banned by eurt
This is actually something to worry about if you have an awesome really old acoustic. Most people don't - including me - but my mother in law has her father's Gibson L-0 from the late '20s. I *almost* put medium strings on it, because that's what I like, but then read that they'd almost certainly destroy the guitar in short order - yikes! But in fairness, this is a pretty rare case.

Very good point, one of the members in my band has a 1950 Martin 000 that they string with light gauge strings. It plays like a dream-one of the easiest playing Martins that I've played-and is light as a feather.
 

stevieb

Just another guy, really.
Although Martin guitars are top-notch, Martin guitar STRINGS are nothing to write home about. In my experience, I find D'Addario's to be much better.
 

andtrans

New member
When a guitar is set up, it is set up for whatever strings the luthier or company intended to use, so note the gauge of the provided strings on a new guitar, or any used one you get from someone with a clue. The nut is cut with slots to fit the intended strings, If you are using mediums, and the nut is sticking when you're trying to tune, that's a clue that the guitar was set up for lights. That can be changed by a guitar tech, but changing it back may be a bitch. Also, the truss rod is adjusted to provide the right amount of relief for a given amount of tension, and changing gauge, or sometimes even brands, calls for a truss rod adjustment.

that's wonderful advice, I have found with all my guitars over the years that they play the best with what they were set up with at the factory and to never buy a guitar with the thought of 'well I don't like the strings , will just change them' , never seems to go well.

New poster here just want to say great board ! so much info to go through
thanks
Andrew
 
Ive just discovered "Rotosound RS200 Top Tape Flatwound" put them on my 64 Hofner senator tuned DADGAD it's now my favourite guitar :) Light action and thick folksy sound.
 
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