Why are Guitar Strings so Complicated?

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The first time you go to shop for a new set of strings as a new guitarist can be a little bewildering.

Strings come in different thicknesses (gauges), obviously. You might have expected a choice in material, like nickel or brass.

But here you are before a wall of brightly-colored foil packets with words like "HEAVY" and "SLINKY" and "CUSTOM" splashed across the front in funky lettering.

What does any of that mean?

Picking up a set or two to examine more closely is just as confusing: Phosphor? Hex Core? Ribbon wound?

Do these features matter or are those just words that the guitar string marketing people made up?

The good news is that guitar strings are less complicated than they look based on their packaging. There are only a handful of features that really matter, and once you understand them it's easy cut through the buzzwords and jargon manufacturers sometimes use to try to separate themselves from the pack.

But yeah, some of those features really do matter. Changing the strings on your guitar can radically change your sound. Even your playing will change with different strings, as tension and stiffness and even the feel of the strings beneath your fingers will influence not just the guitar's acoustics, but the whole guitar playing experience.

Posts in this Series

This is the first of a series of posts that I hope will tell you everything you need to know (maybe more than you wanted to know) about guitar strings.

If you are new to the guitar, this series will give you more than enough knowledge to confidently stride into your local guitar shop and sort through the selection without being intimidated (or upsold) by the staff - and walk out with a set of strings you'll be happy with.

Even an experienced guitarist may find the answer to some detail or jargon they've been wondering about.

I'll link the new posts here as they are published:

  1. Basic Guitar Strings
    a go-to list of the features you should look for when buying basic guitar strings.

  2. How to choose guitar strings when you are in a hurry.
    an expanded version of the "Basic Guitar Strings" list, describing and justifying the features a little bit.

  3. The Structure of a Guitar String
    a visual description of the structure of a guitar string, covering round and hex cores and round, flat, and ground windings.

From Liner Notes, the FATpick blog

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