Those, in my opinion, are the two most FAQs by newer guitar players. Often, even experienced players don’t ‘know’ why they use the strings they use! Ask them and they say things like, “I have always used these”!!
Here, I will concede that the range and types of strings available in the market can make choosing a set a formidable proposition. You must consider things like gauge (size), material, coatings, and brand names. If you are a new player it becomes that much more confusing.
The best way out is to read up and educate oneself about the strings available and find out which type of music you like to play on your acoustic instrument. ‘Knowing’ the strings is also important because using the wrong strings may damage your instrument.
String sizes are measured in thousands of an inch and it’s common to refer to an entire pack of strings based on the size of the first string. For example, if you want to buy a pack of new strings, you could ask the shopkeeper for a pack of ’10s’ of a particular brand.
The chart above is representative as string manufacturers tend to have slight differences in thickness of strings of the same gauge from their competitors.
Heavier strings are louder and richer in tone though they are tougher on the fingers. This may increase frustration among beginners. In contrast, lighter gauge strings don’t produce as much volume and the tone is considerably jeopardised. However, they are easier for beginners to play and to bend.
Different acoustic guitar bodies require certain gauge of strings. Bigger or jumbo sized bodies are usually better suited for medium or heavy strings while smaller parlor sized guitars tend to perform best with light to medium-light gauge strings.
Your playing style
This too, is a major factor in choosing strings. If you prefer to play finger-style, you should go in for light or medium-light gauge strings. If you usually strum your guitar, you should try medium to heavy gauge strings. If you do both, you might want to find a set that’s the right balance between light and heavy.
The heavier the gauge of string, the more tension it will produce from the guitar headstock to the bridge. Neglecting to properly set up your guitar when replacing strings to a heavier set, or, downgrading to a much lighter set could damage the guitar. Talk to a guitar tech before making dramatic string size changes.
I would suggest for newer players to play everyday at least for an hour, and to change strings every two months. Each time, pick a different type of string set, play it and record it. Once you have tried all string types, you can go back to your recordings and choose the string type that best pleases YOUR ears.
Yes, the initial investment will be a lot and frequent but you and your playing will gain a lot from the process.
How often to change?
This is a very subjective question and the answer depends on how much and how often you play your guitar. Professional players are known to change strings every two or three days!
More casual players, who pick up their guitar twice or thrice a week for 30 – 45 minutes must change their strings every three months. Experts are of the opinion that every two months is the ideal time but I would suggest a string change every three months.
Whether 2 – 3 days or 2 – 3 months, know that a change of strings is mandatory. With usage and being under constant stress, strings undergo a lot of wear and tear which is not apparent to the naked eye, but you can certainly ‘hear’ the strings go ‘dead’ after a certain period of time. They will just not ring out the way they used to.
TIP: If a string breaks, never try to change just that string. Change the entire set!
Just like after a period of time your shaving razor gets dull and you have to change it, so also it is with strings. The following chart will help you understand string changes better.
TIP 2: Once you have decided on a string type, don’t just buy one set. Buy 3 sets at one go. While you put on one set on your guitar, there will be two sets waiting, just in case you break a string. Even if you don’t break a string, you will have two sets ready to put on once it is time to change the strings. You will not only save on time but even on effort.