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Do You Need New Guitar Strings?

By: Pat Newsome

If you've shopped around for guitar strings lately, you know the variety is staggering!  How can anyone pick the strings they will truly love?  It's disappointing to go to the work of putting on a new set and finding that you liked the sound of the old set better, even though they were dull and worn out.

One important thing to remember about choosing guitar strings is that you need to get strings that are designed for your type of guitar.  If you are playing a classical guitar, for instance, you must get classical guitar strings.  They are generally made of nylon instead of the steel blends used on a basic dreadnought or other acoustic.  If you put the wrong type of strings on your guitar, you can cause physical damage in several ways.  For one thing, you might have to hollow out the slots the strings go through.  More importantly, you will not have the appropriate level of tension on the neck, which can lead to neck problems that can be hard to correct. 

It's also important to know whether you need loop ends or ball ends.  You can tell this by seeing how the strings fit on your guitar.  Most basic acoustic guitars take ball end strings.  These don't necessarily have a "ball" on the end, but they do have a little piece of metal that keeps the string in place.

Strings come in different weights, ranging from extra light to heavy.  Medium weight strings are used by many professionals and have more volume than lighter strings.  Lighter strings are easier on the fingers, however, and are often preferred by beginners.  To try different strings to pick your favorites, it's recommended that you choose the weight you prefer, and then try different materials within that weight.

Phosphor-bronze strings are very common, and are usually the type of strings placed on new guitars from the factory.  Bronze strings are a similar option.  Both of these types of strings have a "bright" sound, although the phosphor bronze variety tends to be a bit brighter.  The brightness of new strings wears off after a while.  Some guitarists like the strings better without the new sound, and others change strings frequently to get the new sound.

Coated strings are strings that are coated with a thin flexible material to make the strings more durable and easier on the fingers.  They are reported to last as much as three times longer than the non-coated strings, but they cost about three times as much.  These strings, made by a variety of manufacturers, have less brightness to the sound.  They are a popular option for those who don't like to change strings very often.

Typically, guitar strings should be changed after 30 hours of playing.  Frugal people play on strings until they break, but this method won't give you the best sound.  Also, you can bet it will be your high E string you will break, and you'll probably have to buy an entire set in order to get a replacement, anyway, so you might as well change them all.




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