Skip to content

Explaining classical guitar strings

Strings define the point of beginning of the guitar’s sound . They also create the sound’s sonic character.

The right choice of string isn’t an easy task. Every musician has his individual preferences, and each instrument performs in its unique way.

This article is not a summation of string reviews on other websites as well as personal tastes. It is based on research-based studies along with interviews of experts who discuss how the material of the string gauge, tension, and gauge can influence the sound.

With this knowledge you will be able to see beyond the advertisements and choose the kind of string that will be able to support the tone you’re looking for.

How does a string’s gauge material, and tension impact the brightness and volume

String sets are generally available in medium, light or high gauges (although there is no standards for defining them). It is the primary factor that determines the tension of the string which is the force needed to tune the string.

A string with a heavy weight has a heavier mass than a string that is lighter, which means it requires the greater amount of strength (string tension) in order to reach the pitch. Most of the time this implies that heavier strings are more difficult to play, however there are equally important effects on sound.

The heavier struny do gitary klasycznej produces more vibrational energy. This means they sound more than strings that are lighter in weight.

However, research conducted of Professor Jim Woodhouse and Nicolas Lynch-Aird has also revealed that the price is less clear sound, as shown in the design chart below of nylon string. Every string is displayed onto the chart (the the x-axis represents frequency of string and the y-axis is length of string).

It reveals that a more dense string is more likely to be more loud, but less bright. On the other hand, the string that is thinner (with lower impedance and tension) is quieter, but more vibrant, according to researchers’ research report.

“I’m not saying that the damping threshold means that it’s poor and unmusical, however it does have this distinctive lack of twanginess that you cannot escape by,” Professor Woodhouse said. “You can always create less twang through playing, but it’s impossible to make more. However, it’s going to be different, and whether that’s positive or negative is dependent on what you’re trying to accomplish.”

An excellent example of nylon strings would be to make an G note on the 12th fret on the third string and to compare its sound to the note played on the second string on the 3rd fret.

There are methods to get a brighter and louder sound by altering the material used in the string.

Gut strings are stronger than nylon, and fluorocarbon heavier than nylon and fluorocarbon. This higher mass, and the specific nature of each increases the damping threshold of both fluorocarbon and gut.

Gut strings

Gut strings, sometimes referred to as catgut – are created from the intestines and feces of animals like cows or sheep.

The majority of stringed instruments, such as instruments like the guitars, were made using silk strings or animal gut prior to the introduction of nylon in the late 1940s. However, nylon strings come with many disadvantages. The are sensitive to humidity and temperature and are therefore difficult to regulate and can break easily.

Gut is still popular with musicians playing old instruments, who are trying to reproduce the sounds of the time. Gut is also popular with different stringed instruments for instance, the harp.

Many guitarists affirm that gut strings create an energizing and warm sounds than nylon string. However, Professor Woodhouse’s research shows that the damping threshold which cuts out excess tone is greater than that of nylon strings. Gut strings have a brighter sound than nylon.

Many harpists prefer the gut sound in comparison to nylon. Research illustrates the reason. Harpists have a higher tension on the strings with longer lengths which is likely to maintain the same feel across the entire range of strings that brings the damping threshold into the playing.

Nylon strings

The time of gut strings ended in the year DuPont invented nylon during the run-up towards World War II. Nylon quickly made its way into a myriad of everyday items , such as bristles for toothbrushes (1938) as well as ladies’ socks (1939) and later the guitar string (1944).

First nylon strings produced a metallic sound, however they improved quickly, and soon became the most popular option for guitarists.

Different nylon strings are made from the same materials.

The strings of nylon may appear to be identical, but there are a variety in nylon filaments (synthetic polyamide) available. The tests also reveal that the sound produced by nylon treble strings change as time passes.

“It continues to stretch for a considerable amount of time therefore its properties alter. If your string’s top has been stretched since three months it’ll be different than when it’s been in place for just a few days.”

String manufacturers don’t divulge the type of nylon they make use of, however it’s evident that they don’t make use of the same kind. My experience is that D’Addario nylon trebles are different from a Savarez-style collection of trebles.

Furthermore, some string producers were known to employ different kinds of nylon in one set.

For instance, to 1991 French producer of strings Savarez explained to an acoustician Antoine Chaigne that its metal wrapped bass strings had an nylon 6-6 core, but its treble strings utilize monofiles of nylon 6-10, or 6-12. (Different kinds of nylon polymers can be described through a numbered system which is the count of carbon atoms within monomer chain.)

Before that, a different form of nylon was used by string makers called nylon 6. However, it was eventually discarded because of its lack of brightness as per Chaigne.

Black nylon strings

The differences between nylons do not consider one more obvious difference that is color. Most nylon strings are transparent however some strings are colored in red and black. They are believed to sound brighter, and that’s why they are usually targeted at folk and flamenco guitarists.

Flamenco musician Grisha Goryachev, playing black Treble strings.

The results of scientific tests show that the color of dye is not likely to produce a brighter sounding string.

However, sets with colored colors could be constructed from different polymers or produced differently from clear nylon and this could alter the sound. Only way to determine this is to try various sets.

Ball-end nylon strings

Ball-end nylon strings can be aimed at folk musicians or guitarists who are switching from steel-string electric or acoustic guitars.

The benefits are mostly more psychological than practical. Learning to string the classical guitar is an easy ability, similar to learning how to tie shoes.

Fluorocarbon strings are an additional challenge. The first time I played with an entire set, the very first string flew off it, something that never occurs with nylon. It could be due to a variety of factors, including lesser friction or the strings tend to be thinner due to the material being extremely thick.

An alternative is to melt a small part of the triple string using an igniter or match. This results in a fake melt-ball-end that gives extra grip after you tie the string off. Another alternative is to tie an overhand knot , or figure-of-eight knot that acts as an end stop.

Fluorocarbon strings: brighter more robust

Fluorocarbon treble strings consist from a polymer called the polyvinylidine fluoride (PVDF). This is a dense material that produces more pronounced sound. It is more like the gut-like sound however without the price fee or tuning issues.

Similar to Gut strings, research has demonstrated that the damping threshold for fluorocarbon strings is greater than nylon strings. These overtones make a different sound unlike gut strings.

“Every individual string becomes closer to this cutoff for damping when you move up on the frets” Prof. Woodhouse said.

The most noticeable issue is particularly on the G-string of the guitar. The reason? It’s the strongest string in the range of trebles which results in more string stiffness. This is naturally a problem with the vibrating that the strings produce, resulting in more harmonics (or overtones that aren’t pleasant to the ear) and also reducing the sustain.

The fluorocarbon’s nature that is much denser than nylon, gives one possibility of a solution. By replacing that nylon G string with a better sounding fluorocarbon string may result in more uniformity of sound across the entire the treble range of strings.

Fluorocarbon strings have a higher density, which means they can also project sound with greater force over nylon string. However, this increased density can also make vibrato more difficult and some may find the strings more difficult to fret.

String maintenance: Why do bass strings go dead?

Monofilament strings, like nylon, can change over time, but they do not be affected by deadness. The strings wrapped for bass are different.

Guitarists have to replace their strings on a regular basis since the quality of their sound diminishes as time passes. Sometimes , it takes only days for the brightness or brilliance for the brightness to fade away and be replaced with dullness.

Each musical note is comprised of fundamental frequencies (or the lowest note) as well as a variety of overtones. Older strings made of metal generally produce less overtones in frequency ranges between 2.5 milliseconds and 10kHz (above the 20th and 15th harmonics) as compared to modern strings, as per an University of Iowa study.

The amplitude and decay times of these high overtones drop rapidly and create an unnatural sound.

Researchers were also able replicate old strings by pressing fine clay with wound metal strings, indicating that “foreign material between the wound strings’ turns is, at a minimum, a major reason, and possibly the most important cause for deadness.”

The treble strings are stopped from breaking

Fluorocarbon and gut string have lower breaking limit than nylon. However, this threshold is usually attained on the first string, when the string is tuned with the standard E.

“So it’s not recommended to make use of fluorocarbon or gut for strings that are extremely tight,” Professor Woodhouse said.

Although harpists generally prefer the gut-toned sound, “they usually use nylon on their most tiniest, longest strings since they have such the shortest lifespan. They’re more durable and less expensive since you’ll be constantly changing the strings.”