All About Guitar Strings

Difficulty: White

I often get asked what strings I use and to recommend strings. In this lesson, I'll take you through the basics because in the end it's a personal preference and I'd like to give you the information to make your own informed choice.

What Strings Does Justin Use?

I play D'Addario strings.

On electric guitar, I use NYXL Balanced Tension. 10-46 gauge on most guitars, 11-52 on a few. I use EXP coated string on the guitars I don't play often.

On acoustic guitar, I use various string depending on the guitar because I spend time assessing the best type of string for each guitar!  Thinking about it, seems I usually use 80/20 Bronze on Dreadnaught style guitars and Phosphor Bronze on guitars that I use more for fingerpicking.

String gauge (thickness)

The thickness of the strings is important. Thick strings are a lot harder to press down and to bend but give a thicker (better!) sound. The standard measurements are made in thousandths of an inch (1/1000th). Approximate standard thicknesses, though it varies between different manufacturers, are shown below:

Electric
Super Extra Light: 08-36
Super Light: 9-42
Light: 10-46
Medium: 11-52
Heavy: 12-54
Stevie Ray Vaughan: 13-58!

Acoustic
Super Light: 11-52
Light: 12-53
Medium: 13-56
Heavy: 14-59

Recommended For Beginners
I suggest that all beginners use super light or light strings (we'd say '9's' for electric and '11's' for acoustic) or one step up if you feel tough enough! Thicker strings do have a better fuller sound but they're a LOT harder work.

String Coating

A few manufacturers now coat strings in a kind of 'Teflon' plastic, a very very thin coating that stops finger grime, sweat and dirt getting into the strings. Most manufacturers have different names for it, D'Addario use the term "EXP", some brands like Elixir only sell coated strings. 

I was never much of a fan of coated strings, they have a duller sound than uncoated strings - however, I got tired of changing strings on guitars I didn't use much when I wanted to play or record with them and so I made friends with coated strings. They sound say 80% as bright as a new uncoated string, but keep that level for a lot longer than an uncoated set will... weeks longer.

Because they don't rust they also stay smoother and slinkier and are less harsh on the fingertips (especially if you do a lot of sliding!).

Recommended For Beginners
Assuming most beginners won't be recording a lot, I think coated strings are a great idea for beginners and though they are a little more expensive, it's money well spent and your strings should last a lot longer than uncoated strings.

Roundwound vs Flatwound

Flatwound strings are smooth to touch but I only use them on my big old Jazz guitar, they're very difficult to bend and a very dull sound which works great in jazz but not so good for most other styles. Beginners should just stick with roundwound.

Buy Cheap, Buy More

One thing I found over the years is that cheap strings are a waste of money. My first string deal was with a company who gave me and my band free strings but they were rubbish and we all broke strings all the time, to the point where we'd rather pay for them! So don't scrimp on your strings!

Guitar Maintenance 1

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