String Basics

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Guitar strings and strings for any other instrument from bass strings and violin strings to ukulele strings and mandolin strings vary in the material they incorporate and in the tension they put on the instrument. Originally strings were made of gut, and while special historical strings still use gut, modern strings are made of either metals such as bronze and steel, or plastics such as nylon and fluorocarbon. Lower pitched bass strings use a threaded or solid core (or both) with an external winding.
The sound and feel of any string instrument are changed by using different strings. This is due to the many different materials and manufacturing techniques used.

Sound / Tone

There are many factors to be considered when deciding which strings to buy. The characteristics of your instrument, your playing style, and the sound you're trying to achieve are the most important. Everyone has their preferences; you must cut through the hype and decide for yourself which string is best for you. In most cases you'll have to experiment with different brands and even come up with a mix strings from different brands until you get the best solution. Here are examples of custom sets designed by customers of Strings By Mail. Strings By Mail Custom Customer Concoctions (C3)

Getting advice about which string is "the best" is a good idea, but it is a personal choice in the end and different people will have different criteria for evaluating strings. For example, a luthier will probably favor a string that is neutral in tone (neither noticeably bright nor noticeably mellow) to allow the instrument's natural characteristics to come through unimpeded. A player, however, may have preferences for a certain sound (darker basses, brighter trebles, etc.).

In simple terms the harder the material the brighter the sound. Carbon trebles and titanium trebles would be brighter than regular nylon for example and 80/20 Bronze strings would be brighter than Phosphor Bronze strings. The choice of string types changes the feel and sound of the instrument, but in the end the feel and sound will also depend on the instrument and on the player's style and technique. The same strings on a different instrument played by a different person will usually have a different sound and depending on the set up of the instrument will have a different feel.

Feel / Tension

Tension is another important factor in string choices. It is the amount of force that must be put onto the string to bring it up to pitch. Thicker strings of any given one material will have a higher tension. And the same thickness strings on a shorter instrument will have less tension than on a longer instrument. So the same strings on a Ukulele will have much less tension than they will on a guitar. Generally speaking tension ratings for nylon strings are extra-light, light, medium, medium-hard, hard, and extra hard. Tension ratings for steel strings are similar but usually refer to “heavy” rather than “hard” and usually list the gauge, such as .011 .034, etc., of each string in the set. The lighter the tension the easier to fret, but they may not bring out as much of the instrument’s character and may have more propensities toward buzzing but this also depends on the set up of the instrument.

More tension does not always mean louder, but generally it does give an instrument more initial punch. However the duration or sustain of an instrument may diminish with much higher tension. A case can even be made with acoustic instruments that an extra-hard classical string or heavy tension steel string could put so much stress on the top of the instrument that the top becomes restricted which actually decreases loudness. Before using extra-hard tension or heavy tension strings, always check with the manufacturer of your instrument to be sure it can handle them. Many luthiers do not recommend extra-hard or heavy tension strings for their instruments. Hollow body electric instrument may have similar issues, but solid body electric instrument do not.

Changing tension also can change intonation, so once you have settled on a new tension you may want to adjust your set up or have it adjusted if you are going to have the most perfect intonation (SBM Intonation Video). Most players will be comfortable with light, medium, medium-hard tension strings. We do not usually recommend extra-light tension strings on standard scale length instrument in general because the sound is thinner than most players want. However, a light or extra-light tension string may be ideal on a longer scale length instrument and the tradeoff for ease of playing may be perfect for some players on any instrument.

Comprehensive Tuning Chart

This comprehensive tuning chart compiled by Tobe A. Richards features each string reading from left to right as if the instrument was standing up vertically in front of you. The note names are listed in scientific pitch notation as used by The Acoustical Society of America. When discussing the configuration of an instrument’s stringing arrangement, you’ll find they are often referred to by the number of strings or by the number of courses. A course is simply a... To continue, Click Here to download the Tuning Chart!

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