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Good Vibrations

Arguably the most important part of the electric guitar, the strings, can also be the biggest mystery. The vibrations of the guitar strings heard by the pick-ups and amplified by your amplifier are what ultimately allow you to rock the house. Keeping fresh strings on your guitar can be a matter of taste, but old strings will rust and wear out causing your guitar to slip out of tune. There are a plethora of electric guitar strings available on the market today. This guide serves to end the mystery and help you choose the stings that will suit your individual needs.

Gauge Your Excitement

The gauge, or thickness, of the strings is a very important factor in how your strings sound and feel. When discussing string gauges, the size of the high E string is typically used to refer to the set as a whole. For example, a guitar player may say, “I use 9s” which refers to the high E string being .009 inches in diameter. This wording can be used to describe the range of all strings in a set. For example, “I use 10 to 46s” would refer to range of .010in at the high E string to .046in at the low E string. Of course, there are many variations of string sets that may come with mixed gauges to suit the needs of different styles and players. There are different advantages to using lighter or heavier strings. Lighter gauge strings are easier to play, especially when string bends are needed, but they are more prone to breakage. Heavier gauge strings are more difficult to play, but will provide more volume and sustain. The “Action”, or how high the strings are raised off of the fretboard, will also have an effect how strings of varying gauges will perform. For beginning players, it’s best start off with lighter gauges and experiment from there.

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All Wound Up

Electric guitar string manufacturers employ various construction techniques and materials to provide guitar players with choices. Typically, the first 3 (higher) strings are made of a solid wire or “core”, and the next 3 (lower) strings have additional wire wound around the core. The core is attached to a brass ferrule, referred to as the “ball end”, which holds the string on to the bridge. Strings cores are most commonly made of steel and come is 2 different shapes, round or hex. Hex cores are the most common form and hold the string windings better than round cores. This leads to a brighter sound and stiffer tension. Round core strings have a softer and fatter tone. The windings around the core also play a crucial role in the sound and feel of the string. The windings are either made from steel, nickel or an alloy of both, with steel being on the brighter end of the sound spectrum and nickel on the warmer end. String windings also come in round or flat varieties. Round-wound strings are the most common and used for almost any application. Flat-wound strings have a smoother feel and a more subdued tone, mostly favored by Jazz players. Lastly, coated strings are also available for the electric guitar player. A very thin coating is applied to the string to help combat corrosion from sweat and friction. Coated strings are more expensive than non-coated, but do last much longer.

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The key to choosing the best string for your style is experimentation. Try out different gauges and materials to find what works best for your sound and style of playing. There are no wrong answers!

Electronic String Buying Guide Written by Sam Sumner: Combo, Proprietary Brand and Technology Buyer

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