Saturday, April 13, 2013

GUITAR AND BASS STRINGS! a guide for dummies.

hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about the part of our instrument that is directly touched by our fingers and our pick: the strings.
In order to decide which string to use, besides the particular characteristics of the various manufacturers, there are three general aspects that we need to understand: the Winding, the Material and the Gauges.

- The Winding: the two main string winding types for guitar and bass are the Flatwound type and the Roundwound type. 
All wound strings are made by wrapping layers of wire around a core wire. Roundwound strings use a round wire as the wrap, flatwound strings use a flat ribbon wire.
Roundwound strings deliver a brighter tone, but can also emphasize squeaks.
Flatwound strings have a duller sound, with less extra noise, and tend to keep a more consistent tone longer.

- The Material used to wrap the strings is also a crucial aspect, here are the three most used for electric guitar and bass:

Pure Nickel Wound String: Most strings of the '50, '60 and '70s were wound with an alloy called Pure Nickel; this kind of strings have a soft feel and produce that warm, vintage tone.

Nickel plated steel (commonly known as NPS) is the alloy most widely used in string making today. It is a steel winding with a nickel plating applied, which enhances the feel and reduces finger noise and fret wear. NPS strings are hotter and provide greater sustain and a brighter sound than the pure nickel ones.

Stainless steel strings are the hottest and brightest, and provide more sustain than either pure nickel or NPS. They are more resistant to oils, acids and sweat and are, hands down, the longest lasting strings. Used on most Flat-Wound sets, Stainless steel is a hard material, so it feels a little different and can cause more fret wear.

- String Gauge is the last general criteria we should use when choosing which strings to use on our beloved guitar or bass; the measure is in thousandths of an inch: the first number is the gauge of the thinnest string, the second number is the gauge of the thickest one, and the bigger a gauge is, the fatter and "mid-lows oriented" the tone will be, while smaller gauges will produce brighter tones. Most brands have string gauges that ranges from light to heavy, and also composited sets: for example if we are trying to obtain the typical Jimi Hendrix tone, we would use 10-38 pure nickel set, if we want to play death metal we can use instead a 13-56, or 13-60 stainless steel one, but we can also use composited sets with the highest strings of a thinner gauge and the lower ones of a thicker set, in order to obtain fat rhythm tones while retaining a certain softness for bendings, and a common example for this kind of set would be the 10-52 one.
For Bass the range goes from 40-100 to 55-115 for a four strings one, but a fifth string can become as big as 145.

String Brands: After we have chosen the right material, the winding type and the right gauge compromise that will let us play confortably our guitar and obtain the right tone, it's time to choose a good string brand. There are many brands on the market, and among them the most commons are: D'Addario, Ernie Ball, Elixir, Fender, Dean Markley, Rotosound, Ghs... The only criteria here is to try different brands and to choose with our own ear and fingers, until we find the right strings for us; in the end is all quite subjective.

Once we have our brand new strings it's time to mount them on our guitar or bass (click here for a dedicated article!).

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  1. Such an informative blog. Thank you for sharing this information. This is just what i needed to know. Will share this info to my brother. I'll know he will be interested.-

  2. Thanks a lot for imparting these thoughts about bass guitar. It is best that you look according to quality of sounds and also the materials used to the instrument.