The choice of classical guitar strings is not necessarily a straightforward one. It’s not as simple as saying use Brand X or Brand Y, all the rest are rubbish (although I’m sure there are some that would say something along those lines). It’s actually a matter of a little experimentation, understanding your playing style, understanding what sound/s you want to produce and understanding your guitar and which strings produce the best sounds from it. Take it from me one particular brand of strings can sound excellent on one guitar, but then can sound quite flat and lifeless on another guitar.
So don’t be afraid to experiment a little. The string technologies are changing all the time too, so it pays to explore around sometimes. We now have all sorts of different materials – copperwound, titanium wound carbon filament basses, carbon trebles. We have flat wound low noise strings. And of course there are the different tensions of strings to play around with too.
Too much choice!
In spite of what I’ve just said above, if you’re a beginner to intermediate guitarist you may not want to fluff around too much with strings (and you may not have the ear yet to discern the differences too much anyway). The important thing will be too have a set of reliable strings that produce a decent tone, hold their tuning and keep their sound for a few months before you need to change them.
As a beginner I used to use the Augustine strings. I figured that if they were good enough for Andres Segovia then they were good enough for me! They were also pretty cheap and cheerful. The top E string did used to have a tendency to go “ping” and snap from time to time (although that may have been related to my playing style at the time!).
As I progressed as a guitarist I then moved onto the d’Addario Pro Arte strings, first favouring the medium tension strings and then moving onto the high tension (EJ46s). And these are still my “go-to” strings – I know I can rely on them to produce a decent tone, hold their tuning and the basses last for a reasonable length of time before sounding dull (it’s your basses that will tend to die before the trebles due to the metal coating). There are also others that I like to use from time to time, such as the d’Addario EXP46 Hards and Hannahbach Silver Special medium tension strings.
In terms of string tension, medium tension strings, particularly for those just starting out, can be a little more forgiving on the hands as you’re building up strength and dexterity. For myself, however, I found once I moved over to the higher tension strings I was able to produce a much bigger, bolder and richer sound. Again, the development in playing technique would have a significant part to play in this.
Which is probably a key point to make – no one set of strings is probably going to be the set of strings you use for the rest of your guitar-playing life. You will change and how you play will change and so you may want to continue your experimentation with strings for your sound. And, of course, if you purchase a new or pre-loved guitar you’ll want to find the best strings you can as the guitar opens up for that instrument.
It’s important to be aware also that there isn’t a universal set of numbers for what constitutes a low, medium or high tension set of strings. Medium tension Hannabach strings, for example, have a higher tension than d’Addario Pro Arte high tension strings. They sound fabulous though and so don’t be afraid to try some things out.
My top tips?
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. Perhaps every other set of string changes try something different.
- You don’t have to use all of one type or make of strings on your guitar – try mixing and matching.
- If you’ve found something you really like stick with it for a while.
- Find a “go-to” string that you know you can rely on, that will always feel good for you to play with (my preference: d’Addarion Pro Arte High Tension).
- My own other favourite strings: d’Addario EXP446 (hard tension) and Hannabach Silver Special medium tension.
- Remember that medium tension in one string type could be equal in pressure to high string tension in another make.
- When trying new strings assess their immediate sound, how long that lovely “new string” sound lasts, comfort of playing, how long they take to bed in and hold tuning, and how they hold their tuning/ intonation in the longer term.