FEATURE > STRINGS
Bronze refers to a mixture of metals,
frequently a combination of copper, zinc,
brass, or other materials. It’s generally
used as a wrap for acoustic-guitar strings
to provide bright, crisp tones with good
volume and projection.
Phosphor-bronze combines phosphor
with bronze to increase the durability.
It’s also generally used for acoustic guitar strings to provide a combination of
brightness and warmth.
In the past, players were constrained by
manufacturer offerings in terms of gauges,
but today, there is an almost limitless palette.
“Throughout most of the 20th century, standardized electric and acoustic guitar gauges
were sufficient,” says Brian Vance, director of
product management at D’Addario. “However,
today there are so many popular styles and
trends that it is often necessary for players to
go outside of standard gauge sets to get the
effect they desire. Whether it’s for open tunings,
drop tunings, baritone guitars, 5-string guitars,
7-string guitars, or a variety of other reasons,
many players are opting to go their own way
and customize their string selection.”
Many guitar string brands offer sets that are
treated with a variety of proprietary coatings
and polymers to reduce corrosion, fret wear,
and the audible squeaking sounds players
sometimes experience as they slide their
fingers from one neck position to another.
Some players dislike coated strings (although
Perhaps the most common terms you’ll hear
guitarists use when talking about strings
are their gauge—that is, how thick each
one is. You might hear a fan of shredding
metal solos saying, “I play eights” or “I play
nines,” which is simplified guitar speak for
saying they prefer using a set of strings that
has a .008" or .009" high-E (or 1st) string.
Lighter gauges (.008 or .009 sets for
electric, or .010 or .011 set for acoustic)
are easier to play and most appropriate
for newer guitar players. The most common gauge sets for electric guitarists in
general are .010 sets, but some blues and
jazz players often play .011, .012, or .013
sets because they tend to yield a more
taut and burly tone. Fans of detuned
metal or baritone guitar also play heavier
sets out of necessity—thinner gauges are
too slack and lose their pitch too easily
when tuned to lower registers.
As for acoustic guitar, .012s are the
most common sets for two reasons: First,
most acoustic players don’t play electric-like leads on their flattops, so they don’t
need them to be as easy to shred on.
Second, more of your tone is generated
directly by the physics of the guitar body
with an acoustic, and heavier strings
yield a richer, more robust acoustic tone.
As we mentioned above, keep in mind
that these single-number designations
(e.g., “I play .011s”) are just ballpark figures, because virtually every string manufacturer makes at least a couple of varieties
of sets in each general gauge range. For
example, both Dunlop’s Medium sets and
its Light/Heavy sets have .010, .013, and
.017 gauges for the top three strings, but
the Mediums have .026, .036, and .046
gauges for the lower three strings, while
the Light/Heavies have .030, .042, and
.052 gauges for a little extra oomph on the
E, A, and D strings.
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