Help me choose guitar strings
December 19, 2006 2:05 PM   Subscribe

I need to buy my first pair of replacement guitar strings. Any suggestions?

As previously mentioned, I got a guitar three years ago, an acoustic dreadnaught. I've been playing with it since then, and it recently dawned on me that the dented strings should probably be replaced (duh). I don't really like using a pick, if that's relevant, and I'm not planning on performing any time soon. Is there anything I need to know so I don't look an an idiot when I walk into the local Guitar Center?
posted by MrMoonPie to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Hey I just got new ones last night. Don't worry about "looking like an idiot." Just say they sound like crud and you need to replace them. Is your 3rd string wound or not? Other than that, your choices are light, medium or heavy weight and phosphor bronze or regular bronze. The phosphor are brighter, they say [As I said, I was there yesterday, and I asked them] but the down side is if you need to replace a string, phosphor only comes in sets, not singles (may not be true at your shop, so just ask them.) I got medium phosphor because I'm into rhythm more than solos, and the sound is delicious. Inspiring. You might want to do it more than every three years though. As soon as they look or sound like crud.

If you're a string breaker, get an extra 1 and 2 string and an extra peg, in case to lose or wreck one. Always good to have.
posted by Listener at 2:09 PM on December 19, 2006

Ask for six strings, not just a pair. Its best to replace them all at once.

If you play without a pick I would recommend what are called Soft or Folk style strings that are steel wound on the lower strings and (usually) silk on the higher note strings. They have a more mellow sound to them, though.
posted by iurodivii at 2:14 PM on December 19, 2006

Yeah, get a whole set. I just assumed you would, but reading more carefull I see you wanted to replace the dented (?) ones. Believe me, if you played them at all, they are all corroded under the frets. You'll see that when you take them off. You can replace one string if the whole set it new, but now is the time for a new set. Costs about $10.
posted by Listener at 2:17 PM on December 19, 2006

How you string the guitar is as important as what strings you buy. I've had good luck with this method. Try to get 2-3 good wraps around the tuning peg, which will help keep it from going out of tune.

Also, new strings take a while to stretch out, so it will take some playing time before the tuning is as stable as you're used to now. You can strech the strings out by pulling each one away from the body, starting at one end and moving slowly to the other end of the neck. Don't pull too hard or it will break.

How often you change strings is up to personal taste, but the longer you let them go the more the dirt will kill the natural overtones that really make a guitar sound sweet. I change mine every couple weeks, but I play a lot.
posted by InfidelZombie at 2:24 PM on December 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've had a lot of luck with the Elixir brand guitar strings that are made with Gore-Tex. At first I was skeptical that there would be any difference, but there is. They cost quite a bit more, but actually last a lot longer and feel really good on your fingers. They sound fine too, but any reasonable set of new strings will have that rich sound when you first put them on.

Also, I recommend shopping around for a sale. Many music stores will have occasional deals where you can get 3 sets for the price of 1 or something. They're worth keeping around, you'll need them eventually.
posted by SBMike at 2:25 PM on December 19, 2006

er... sorry... "carefullY" and corroded on the underside, where they touch the frets.
posted by Listener at 2:27 PM on December 19, 2006

Well, if you're only now replacing strings on a three year old guitar, it doesn't sound like you play it a whole lot. Therefore, I would suggest that you ask for a light gauge acoustic set, that way your fingers won't get as hurt when you play. If you really like the gauge of the strings that you have right now, I'd bring your guitar with you so they can try and match what is on there.

Most guitars ship with a light(er) gauge from my experience.

From there, it's all personal preference as far as brand. If you feel sassy, you can experiment with different gauges of strings. They all have their own personalities. Personally, I use heavy strings to get a deeper sound. However, if I play a lot, I have to put crazy glue on my fingers to close the cuts.
posted by ampersand2001 at 3:14 PM on December 19, 2006

Elixirs are really nice; I highly recommend them as well.
posted by danb at 4:22 PM on December 19, 2006

Extra light Martin Marquis.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:50 PM on December 19, 2006

I've had too many elixirs break on me withing a couple of days of changing the strings to justify $13/pack. I use EXPs on my acoustic these days; they're coated, like Elixirs, but they're a few bucks cheaper, and I haven't had any early breakages yet.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:57 PM on December 19, 2006

How to not sound like a dork? That's easy, just ask the sales droid to recommend some decent acoustic guitar strings.
posted by drstein at 6:00 PM on December 19, 2006

For the love of Santa, don't buy strings Guitar Center. Buy through Amazon and pay $3-5 per pack instead of $12-15 for the exact same brand. Buy several packs and at that price you don't need to be nervous about screwing up.
posted by Hildago at 6:20 PM on December 19, 2006

Thanks for all the advice--I'll have to read it all again tomorrow, do some online shopping, and figure out what to do. Once again, AskMe rocks.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:50 PM on December 19, 2006

Second on the light guage Martin Marquis.
posted by paulsc at 6:51 PM on December 19, 2006

I second MrMoonPie, Amazon. Also, get different styles and brands. You should change out your strings a little more often than every 3 years if you are playing it at all. You will really see a difference (and not just because it will rip the crap out of your fingers for a little while until your calluses thicken or the strings wear a bit). So why not take the opportunity to try out some different kinds until you find what is right for you and your guitar?
posted by Pollomacho at 7:00 PM on December 19, 2006

OH, sorry, seconding Hidalgo
posted by Pollomacho at 7:01 PM on December 19, 2006

If you can afford it, see if your guitar shop will do a complete "set-up" on your guitar (is it called that in the US?).

That would mean a guitar guy checking out the intonation, the action, if necessary adjusting the truss rod or filing down a rogue fret maybe, making sure your guitar is set up correctly to suit the string weight you like, and generally giving it a clean and tune up.

If you've been bashing away at it for three years without even changing the strings, this is probably a good investment. You'll hardly recognise your guitar when you get it back.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:08 PM on December 19, 2006

You do not actually need to replace the strings. If they're well-seasoned, you may not like the edgy brightness that brand-new strings bring.

Also my pet theory is that strings are either "breakers" or they are not. You've had a set on for 3 years. None of them are 'breakers.' You might just keep 'em.

When you change 'em, though, Elixirs are quite nice. They're micro-coated with plastic, which takes that harsh treble off, and they do not oxidize, so they won't tear up your fingers.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:28 PM on December 19, 2006

I buy lighter gauge D'Addario strings for my Taylor.

FYI, lighter gauges are easier on the fingers, but have less mass, thus less sustain. They are generally quieter, but because I use a pick and finger pick, that and the fine bass response of my Taylor makes lighter strings acceptable.

When I play a lot, two weeks between changes. Usually, no more than 2 months. You can't develop consistent skills with a variable instrument, so keeping the thing in a predictable area will pay off.

Try several brands and once you find the ones you like, buy several sets at a time.

Also, if you aspire to play well, play often, and invest in a decent guitar. Play often = daily.
posted by FauxScot at 9:07 PM on December 19, 2006

When you change 'em, though, Elixirs are quite nice. They're micro-coated with plastic, which takes that harsh treble off, and they do not oxidize, so they won't tear up your fingers.

Huh? Elixirs are plenty trebly. And I can't say I subscribe to your "breaker" theory. Any strings will be crap after three years and ought to be changed. Like FauxScot, I change my strings once or twice a month if I'm playing regularly.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:13 AM on December 20, 2006

Okey doke. I've shopped Amazon, comparing your suggestions to what's available there, and have come up with these:
Elixir Nanoweb Extra Light
Martin Folk: Silk & Steel
Martin 4100 SP Phosphor Bronze Light
Total cost, including shipping, is $34. How's that sound?
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:16 AM on December 20, 2006

Go with the Elixirs. They don't break any more than any other string and retain their tone much longer than a regular set of strings.
posted by wsg at 9:58 AM on December 20, 2006

Try I did a quick search and those come to about $25 before shipping.

The thing to remember is that this is all personal taste in the end-- don't be afraid to experiment!
posted by InfidelZombie at 10:02 AM on December 20, 2006

Thanks, InfidelZombie. had a better selection, so I was able to get what I really wanted, instead of what Amazon happened to have. I ended up getting three sets, for $25 including shipping:
Martin Marquis Bronze Extra Light
Martin Folk Silk & Steel
D'Addario EXP16 Coated Phosphor Bronze Light
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:32 AM on December 20, 2006


I tried the D'Addario EXP16 Coated Phosphor Bronze Light strings first. I left them on about 3 months, practicing three times a week or so. I never liked them--I'm not sure of the terminology, but the high notes always sounded tinny and metallic. Maybe that's a feature, not a bug, but I didn't like it.

I changed to the the Martin Folk Silk & Steel strings about a month ago. Love 'em! I find I can practice until my hands are tired, instead of when my fingertips hurt, which is a huge advantage, so I've been practicing nearly every day. I really like the way the strings sound, too, nice and mellow.

I suppose at some point I should try the Martin Marquis Bronze Extra Light strings, but I'm not in any hurry to do so.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:05 PM on April 27, 2007

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