Beginning Guitar Part 2 : Guitar Strings And Guitar Tuning

Beginning Guitar - Guitar Strings

Acoustic Guitar Strings

Acoustic guitars are strung with steel strings (often simply called ‘acoustic’ strings on the packet). It’s best to stick with medium or light gauge strings to start with. Very light gauge (the lighter the gauge, the thinner the strings) strings can be easier to play, but can also be looser, causing notes to be inadvertently bent out of tune. Heavier strings generally sound louder and ‘fuller’ than medium or light gauge strings, but notes and chords are harder to hold down, which may cause fret buzz and / or discomfort for the beginner.

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Sets of acoustic guitar strings usually have four ‘wound’ stings (the strings have thin wire wound around them) for the bottom strings, and two non-wound strings for the two highest strings. This differentiates them from electric sets, which are usually comprised of three wound strings (the lowest strings) and three non-wound strings (the highest).

Electric Guitar Stings

Electric guitar strings are usually lighter gauge than acoustic strings. Acoustic strings will work on an electric, and visa versa, but it’s not advisable string an electric guitar with acoustic stings, as they are not built to withstand the increased tension and may get damaged. Very generally, light gauge strings are favoured by heavy metal / rock players, and heavier strings are used by blues and jazz guitarists. Jazz guitarists often use heavy, 'flatwound' guitar strings to aid the speed and fluidity of their playing. Flatwound strings are wound with smooth metal and are not ridged like standard wound guitar strings.

Beginner electric guitarists will find sets of 'nines' or 'tens' (the number is the width of the highest string) most suitable.

Classical Guitar Strings

Classical guitars are strung with nylon (or similar) strings, the lowest three of which are wound with metal. Strings for classical guitars will be marked as such on the packets. Most classical guitars are built to be strung with medium tension strings. A classical guitar could be seriously damaged if strung with steel (acoustic / electric) strings.

Guitar Strings Advice

Over time and with use, all guitar strings lose their brightness and clarity, and may also be less likely to stay in tune. Many professional guitarists change strings before every gig. Some classical guitarists change their bass strings more often than their treble strings, as these lose their brightness sooner. If a guitar has been sitting in a shop for a long time the strings may need replacing. It's a good idea to ask the guitar seller if they can put new strings on, not only because your new guitar will sound better, but also so that you can watch how they do it!

Guitar Tunings

Standard tuning for all guitars is when the strings are tuned to the following pitches: E, A, D, G, B, E, starting from the lowest string. The high ‘E’ string is two octaves higher than the lowest. Many variations on this scheme exist, two common ones being ‘Dropped D tuning’, in which the lowest string is tuned down a tone to a D, and ‘DADGAD’, in which the strings are tuned to those notes (i.e. D A D G A D). Blues guitarists (particularly slide guitarists) often use open E or G tunings - which means that when the open strings are strummed they produce a major chord. Classical guitarists also commonly use dropped D tuning, and occasionally use a tuning in which the third string is dropped a semitone to an F sharp, to replicate the tuning of early guitars.

Without either an electronic guitar tuner (devices that display how sharp or flat individual guitar strings are) or another instrument / device to provide a reference pitch, guitars can be tuned to themselves. This means that although the strings aren't strictly producing their correct pitches, all of the strings are tuned proportionally to each other, and the instrument won’t sound out of tune if played on its own.

I would advise all beginner guitarists to purchase an electronic tuner. Although you should not come to rely on it (by regularly practicing tuning up without it), it will save you a lot of time in the long run, and if a guitar is properly tuned, your playing will sound much better.

Part 3 of this Beginning Guitar series covers guitar playing techniques.

Related Articles:

Beginning Guitar

Beginning Guitar Part 2 : Guitar Strings & Guitar Tuning

Beginning Guitar Part 3 : Guitar Playing Techniques

Beginning Guitar Part 4 : Guitar Music Notation

Beginning Guitar Part 5 : Guitar Amplifiers & Guitar Effects

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guitar scales chart
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