More focus is usually given to choosing the guitar than the strings for it. Strings seem rather secondary, but they are as important as the materials and build quality of the guitar itself. They will affect not only how well you play, especially as a beginner, but also how clean and vibrant the sound they produce is. Many are often surprised to learn that the selection of guitar strings is just as varied and nuanced as selection of guitars. Let’s break this down to make the choice simpler.
Let’s first address the obvious matter of material. Two main materials are used in acoustic guitars – nylon and steel. Some beginners make the mistake of buying a guitar made for steel strings and discover that it’s quite a lot harder on the fingers than they expected, and think that they should make their life easier by getting nylon strings. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Guitars are purpose-built for the strings that are meant for them, so if you fit nylon strings to a steel-string guitar, it will sound like total garbage. And if you fit steel strings on a nylon guitar, it is likely to break. If you’re looking to switch strings or the type of music you want to play, you’ll need a different instrument altogether.
The gauge of the string is also important to consider. The gauge is basically the thickness of the string. Each of the six strings (we will assume only six strings for the moment) has a range of thickness. Higher gauge strings are called “heavy”, with the thinner ones called “light”. The way to choose a gauge is to determine your style of playing and the general sound you’re looking to produce. The thicker gauge is a louder string that produces more bass. If you like to play with a guitar pick then you’ll find the thicker gauge well suited. The heavier strings also have the advantage of extra durability, ideal for musicians who are especially passionate. If you want to do more finger-picking type playing, then lighter strings will be best suited, with some sacrifice in volume.
Whichever gauge you choose, make sure to adjust the guitar accordingly. Best to take it to a shop where a professional will help you both choose the strings and tune the guitar so there isn’t unnecessary tension on with, but enough tension that the strings don’t rattle. With that said, if you’re buying new strings for sound, then don’t forget to take good care of them. Sometimes the dullness of the strings is a result of poor maintenance. Cleaning the strings with special cleaners will ensure the sound is clean too. You can simply wipe the strings with a dry cloth after playing – something as simple as that can help. It might seem silly to buy special guitar cleaning stuff with so much detergent in the house already, but there is a reason they exist. Detergents that are too strong can negatively affect the strings, not to mention the body of the guitar itself.