Guitar Strings for Beginners: Everything You Need to Know

Beginners Guide to Guitar Strings

Strings play a key role in the feel and sound of a guitar, and you can’t play a guitar without them. There are countless varieties of guitar strings too—big, small, roundwound, flatwound, nylon, acoustic, electric, coated, uncoated, and more. 

So where does a beginner start? What strings should you use? What size? It can be confusing finding the right set of strings, which is why we’ve written this guide. We’re going to cover everything you need to know about strings, that way you can choose the best set for you and get playing. 

Why Guitar Strings Matter

First, let’s quickly talk about why strings matter in the first place. Though many think that strings aren’t a big deal, they are. Strings can have a massive impact on the feel and tone of your guitar. The right strings can make your guitar sound incredible and play smoothly, while the wrong set of strings can result in a poor tone and a hard-to-play guitar. 

For example, let’s say you play metal music and frequently tune down a whole step or more. If you use smaller strings, you can run into issues. Your strings will feel floppy and loose due to low string tension, certain things may be harder to play, and your tone may be lacking too. But if you use a heavier set of strings, your tension will be more normal and your tone will be better too. 

Conversely, a singer/songwriter with a light touch has different needs. A heavier set of strings might make their songs much harder to play, and the heavier tension can even cause neck bending. For them, a medium or light set of strings would likely feel and sound better. 

No matter what kind of music you play, your choice of strings is important. The right strings will make you sound and play better, so it’s worth the effort to find the best strings for you and your music/preferences.

Guitarist playing guitar strings

Different Types of Guitar Strings

Walking into a guitar shop and looking at dozens upon dozens of different strings can be intimidating, especially for beginners. What’s the difference between them all? Which ones do I need? But don’t fret; we’re going to take a closer look at the different types of guitar strings so you can make an informed decision. 

Acoustic Guitar Strings

Acoustic and electric guitars may be fairly similar, but they typically use different strings. For acoustic strings, there are three main options—phosphor bronze, 80/20 bronze, and coated. For now, let’s just focus on phosphor bronze and 80/20 bronze. 

80/20 bronze were the original string for steel string acoustic guitars. 80/20 strings have a brighter tone with a bit of scoop, but also have plenty of bass. They are very crisp and clear strings with a well defined top end. Their downside however is durability. 80/20 strings don’t last as long as other options, which is a main reason they were largely replaced by phosphor bronze strings.

Phosphor bronze strings emerged in the 1970s and quickly took over the acoustic string market. Phosphor bronze strings are more balanced tonally and sound more rich and warm. They also have a bit more midrange than 80/20 strings. They also last much longer thanks to the materials used, making them a great option for gigging musicians and those who play a lot.

Nearly all acoustic guitar strings feature a wound 3rd (G) string, which helps the guitar sound smoother and project better. Typically, a slightly heavier gauge of strings is used for acoustic guitars as well (where the average electric player plays 9s, 10s, or 11s, the average acoustic player plays 11s, 12s, or 13s), since they need strings with enough mass to resonate the body of the instrument to create a full, projecting sound.

Electric Guitar Strings

For electric guitars, there are also a few different options—nickel wound, pure nickel, and stainless steel. Each has its own pros and cons, so let’s take a look.

Nickel wound (also known as Nickel-Plated Steel) are the most popular electric strings used, and for good reason. Nickel-plated strings have a great tone, giving a fairly balanced and clear tone with a nice mid-range hump. 

Pure nickel strings are less popular, but they are still fairly common. Pure nickel strings are warmer and more full than nickel plated strings. They are also good at resisting corrosion as well, but less high end clarity can be a downside for some. 

Stainless steel strings are less popular, though some still prefer them. They are the brightest of the string choices listed here, and they will sound bright the longest as well. Stainless steel strings last longer and sound fresh longer too. They also have a distinct feel that you may or may not like, many players consider them to feel “sticky.” The other downside is that they can wear your frets out quicker (unless you also have stainless steel frets).

Roundwound vs Flatwound

Another thing to consider when choosing strings is whether you want round or flatwound strings. Roundwound strings are the strings you’re probably already using, and they are by far the most common choice. Flatwound strings are less common and typically used for specific sounds/genres.

Roundwound strings are wound round as the name implies. That’s why a regular set of guitar strings has those little lines that scrape when you slide up and down the fretboard; those are the round windings of the strings. Roundwound strings have a brighter tone with a lot of “pop.”

Flatwound strings on the other hand are completely different. They are wound flat, meaning that those little ridges on the strings aren’t there. They are completely smooth. This makes them much more warm, mellow, and smooth than roundwounds. That’s why they are commonly used by jazz players. The downside though is that they can be too warm and mellow, typically players refer to their sound as “dead.” They would get completely lost in the mix for stuff like rock or metal. 

Coated Strings

The other thing to consider is whether or not you want coated strings for electric or acoustic. Coated strings are covered with a thin layer of polymer. The coating makes the strings more corrosion-resistant, meaning they will last much longer. That’s not all the coating does though. 

It also changes the feel of the strings. The coating makes the strings feel slick and slippery. Some players absolutely love the feeling of coated strings, while others can’t stand it. It’s really a matter of preference, so try them out for yourself at some point. 

There are downsides to coated strings. Outside of potentially not liking the feel, they can also impact your tone. Coated strings can dampen the highs of your guitar (although Stringjoy’s coated strings actually have more high-end than our uncoate strings), which can be a huge downside depending on your preferences. Coated strings also tend to be more expensive, though it may be offset by the increased durability. 

Guitar strings coiled on acoustic guitar

What String Gauge Should You Choose?

The last thing you need to figure out is what string gauge to choose. Guitar strings come in all sorts of different sizes, and finding the best gauge for you is an essential part of the process. Thankfully, it’s not too hard. 

String gauge ultimately comes down to personal preference, though there are a few things to consider. Certain genres and styles of music may require certain strings. For example, if you play in a metal band that downtunes a lot, you should probably use heavier strings to offset the loss in string tension. On the other hand, if you are a more shred style player who mainly does leads, a light set of strings might make more sense. 

We recommend taking some time to think about your playing and then try out some strings. There’s no wrong choice, so see what works for you. Maybe you prefer heavy strings, or maybe you prefer light strings. You won’t know until you try. 

With all that said, if you’re totally in the dark, we typically recommend electric players to start with 9.5s or 10s and acoustic players to start with 11s.

String Maintenance Tips

Before wrapping up, here are some string maintenance tips:

  1. Wash your hands. Playing guitar with messy hands dirties your strings and fretboard, which can accelerate rust and corrosion. Always wash your hands before playing. 
  1. Wipe down your strings and fretboard. No matter how clean your hands are, you will inevitably end up with sweat and other dirt/grime on your strings and fretboard after playing. Take a couple minutes to wipe down your strings and fretboard when you finish playing. 
  1. Change your strings regularly (or as needed). No strings last forever. When your strings are getting rusty, dirty, sound dull, or feel stiff, it’s time for a change. Playing with dirty and rusty strings can cause damage to your frets and fretboard, so change them out regularly (or as needed).

String Up and Play

Choosing a set of strings might seem intimidating, but it’s not as bad as it seems. Analyze your own playing and then think about what strings are best for you. Most importantly, try out some different strings. You won’t find your favorites unless you see what’s available. So check some Stringjoy strings, find the best ones for you, string up, and have some fun playing guitar!