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The String Lab

(We reveal the secrets!)

 

 

Your Opinion

 

 

What brand of guitar strings should I use?

How can I keep from breaking strings on my guitar?

What really makes strings sound "dead" over time?

What brand of bass strings should I use?

What is a tapered string?

Why are some bass strings tapered?

How often should I change my strings?

What are round wound strings?

What are ground wound strings?

What are flat wound strings?

Does ribbon width affect flat wound string performance?

What is the ball-end of a string?

What are cryogenic strings?

What causes a string to break?

How do you calculate the frequency of plain string?

How do you calculate the diameter of a plain string with respect to a desired frequency?

How do you calculate the diameter of a wound string for a particular frequency?

Does slapping and popping affect bass string performance?

How do I pick the correct string gauge for a guitar?

How do I pick the correct string gauge for a bass?

What is core wire?

What is the shape of the core wire?

What makes a string magnetic?

Do some strings work better with certain pick-ups?

How do piezo pick-ups work with strings?

Which strings work best with piezo pick-ups?

Why do newer strings keep going out of tune?

Why are guitar strings tin coated?

What are polymer coated strings?

How does the scale length affect a string's tone?

What are 80/20 bronze strings?

What makes phosphor-bronze strings unique?

Why is brass used in guitar strings?

What are bronze strings?

Why is silver used in guitar strings?

Why is gold used in guitar strings?

Why is silk used in guitar strings?

Why is stainless-steel used in guitar strings?

Why is nickel-plated steel used in guitar strings?

Why is nylon tape used in guitar strings?

What does boiling do to strings?

Does rubbing alcohol do anything for guitar strings?

What are cat gut strings?

What is the history of cat gut strings?

What is a rectified treble string?

What is a clear treble guitar string?

What is a black treble string?

What string gauges work best with an archtop (aka. Jazz Box)?

Why do some strings have a double ball end?

How should excess string be trimmed?

Does the nut affect string performance?

What effects the sustain of a string?

Why do strings have harmonics?

Which bridge design works best with bass strings?

Do vacuum packaged strings last longer?

How does humidity affect string life?

Does temperature effect string life?

What type of strings are bad for the frets?

Does fret profile effect string performance?

Will a kinked string break quicker?

Do string lubricants prolong or shorten string life?

Is string lubricant harmful to a guitar?

How do tuning lubricants work?

Do tuning posts effect string performance?

How many string wraps should be on a tuning post?

Do excess string wraps around the tuning post effect feedback?

How does the wrap tension effect a string's tone?

Does changing strings wear out a guitar?

Do some strings wear out a guitar faster?

Does a guitar need it's intonation adjusted every time the strings are changed?

Why is there silk wrap at the end of string?

Does the color of silk wrap have any significant meaning?

What is the fulcrum?

How does a floating bridge effect string life?

What is a string's micro travel?

What causes a string saddle to have a burr on it?

How does a burr on the string saddle effect string performance?

Does the ball end effect tone?

Does poor grounding effect string life?

Do all metal strings rust and oxidize?

What is the purpose of having a wound 3rd string?

What are compression wound strings?

Why are silicates sometimes used in guitar string packaging?

What is a Nashville high string set of strings?

Why are the high B and E strings not wound on a standard guitar?

 

 

What brand of guitar strings should I use?

The secret is to educate yourself about strings. You should do your homework by reading and experimenting. Try different brands of strings and find out which one works best for your sound and ability to play. Try different gauges, winding, brands, metals, coatings,...etc. Some of the major retailers recommend sticking with a particular brand and string size (particularly a brand they sell!). This can be a BIG mistake. Don't get caught in a lazy boring rut with your sound and playing. Strings are a key component, and a secret to great sounding tone.

 

How can I keep from breaking strings on my guitar?

First, be a little meticulous with detail when you change strings. Handle the strings with care and do not allow them to bend sharply or kink. A kink or sharp bend will create a stress point in the string that will cause it to break prematurely.

 

What really makes strings sound "dead" over time?

Many folks have been led to believe that string corrosion and wear are what makes a string sound dead over it's lifetime. At a high level this has some truth. However, at a microscopic level, this is not completely true. Contrary to popular belief, the loss of elasticity along with the addition of mass, weight, and material density are the factors that make a string sound dead over time. Want to learn about what really makes a string sound dead? Click here.

 

What brand of bass strings should I use?

See our string recommendation page. Click here.

 

What is a tapered string?

A tapered string has the overall wrap diameter gradually decrease as it approaches the ball-end of the string. This type of string construction is more common in bass string design.

 

Why are some bass strings tapered?

There are two popular theories that suggest a tapered design is better than non-tapered. The first theory suggests that having too much mass at the string's fulcrum point (the bridge saddle) effects performance, particularly stability and clarity. In theory, tapering eliminates the problem. The second theory suggests, by eliminating the windings from seating on the saddle, tuning performance can be improved. In theory, tapering also eliminates this problem. Is any of this true?...you be the judge.

 

How often should I change my strings?

This depends on your playing, tone quality goals, and desires for reliability. In short, there is a lifecycle curve that strings go through. Whatever your preference in tone, you find yourself some where on the curve. For more info about this topic, click here.

 

What are round wound strings?

Round wound strings are strings wound with round wire. The round wound construction gives the string more brilliance.

 

What are ground wound strings?

Ground wound strings are strings with the round wrap wire semi-flattened. It is typically grinded into this shape. This type of string mixes the sound characteristics of a round wound string and a flat wound string.

 

What are flat wound strings?

Flat wound strings use a flat ribbon shaped wrap wire. This type of string construction produced a more mellow and subdued tone. The surface of a flat wound string is very smooth compared to it's round wound counterpart.

 

Does ribbon width affect flat wound string performance?

It is often believed that a narrower ribbon width gives the flat wound string more flexibility. The increased flexibility attributes to improvements in sustain.

 

What is the ball-end of a string?

This is the section of the string that acts as an anchor for string mounting. It is typically made with a small round barrel. The string wraps around the barrel and is twisted onto itself to provide a termination for the string. Most players and manufacturers think of the little barrel as being the ball-end.

 

What are cryogenic strings?

These are strings that have been subjected to extremely low temperatures (-300 degrees F) to produce a string with a greater stability. The freezing process creates a crystalline change in the metal. The change reduces residual stress created in the manufacturing of wire and the string.

 

What causes a string to break?

There are countless failure modes for a string. Some of the more common ones include stress, corrosion, alloy impurities, fret wear,...etc.

 

How do you calculate the frequency of plain string?

There are three factors that determine the frequency of a plain steel string. They include the tension, length, and the mass per unit length of the string. The formula would look like the following:

Where:

      L = length (meters)
      T = tension (newtons)
      m = mass (kg-sec2/m)

It is important to understand that this same equation does not apply to wound strings. Wound strings have a different mathematical expression for describing a string's mass and diameter.

 

How do you calculate the diameter of a plain string with respect to a desired frequency?

If we already know the desired frequency and tension, then the following equation will get it the diameter of a plain string.

Where:

      T = Tension

      F = Frequency

      SL = Scale Length

 

How do you calculate the diameter of a wound string for a particular frequency?

The calculation is similar to a plain string, but there is a slight difference when deriving the mass per unit length. The wound string has two diameters that must be taken in consideration. The inner core string has a diameter (di) associated with it, and the outer wrapping has a diameter (do) associated with it. The ratio of these two diameters is approximately 0.9. This ratio is often represented by k.

Where:

      di = Core string diameter
      do = Outer diameter of wrapping
 

If we take the reciprocal of k and multiply it times the diameter equation for a plain string, we will get the wound string diameter for a given frequency.

Where:

      T = Tension

      F = Frequency

      SL = Scale Length

      k = Winding compensation factor

 

Does slapping and popping affect bass string performance?

Absolutely. Each time a string is pulled outward and released, it stretches and collides into the frets (i.e. string pop). This continuous impact into a fret of harder metal eventually beats the string windings to death. Thumb slaps do a similar effect but with less force than a string pop. The brilliance decay of a continuously popped string is much faster than strings that are not popped.

 

How do I pick the correct string gauge for a guitar?

The is a matter of playing style and preference. If you are planning to do frequent bending of the strings, then a lighter gauge might be better suited for you. There will be less string resistance for fingering with a lighter set. The overall tension is less for light gauge strings. If you are into doing heavy chord work and strumming, then a heavier set might be better suited for you. With heavier strings, the string resistance will increase for fingering. The overall tension is greater for heavier gauge strings.

 

How do I pick the correct string gauge for a bass?

Similar to guitar, if you are planning to do frequent bending of the strings, then a lighter gauge might be better suited for you. However, the lighter gauge will also cause your bass to sound much thinner. If you want a heavier sound, then consider using a heavier set. Also, the heavier gauge will pack a little more punch for string pops.

 

What is core wire?

On a wound string, this is the inner wire (or string) that has a winding wire wrapped around it.

 

What is the shape of the core wire?

Core wire often comes in a couple of shapes including round, hexagonal, and star shapes. The purpose of the hexagonal and star shaped cores are to improve the mechanical bond between the outer winding and the inter core string.

 

What makes a string magnetic?

Anything with iron content will exhibit magnetic ferrous properties. Metal strings are a blend of alloys with some iron content.

 

Do some strings work better with certain pick-ups?

The short answer is yes, but let's define what is "better." If we are talking about the basic function of a pick-up detecting string vibration, then certain strings will only work with certain kinds of pickups. For example, nylon strings will not work with electromagnetic pickups. Nylon materials do not exhibit any ferrous properties. Therefore, this string-pickup combo will not work. If we were to use steel strings with an electromagnetic pickup, then these strings would work "better." If you are wanting to know more about which type of steel string will work better with an electromagnetic pickup, then you need to start reading Professor String's articles.

 

How do piezo pick-ups work with strings?

Piezo pick-ups are basically pressure sensors, or strain gauges. Piezo sensors convert mechanical energy into electrical energy. They are able to detect micro levels of pressure caused by some force exerted on them. In the case of a guitar string, it is the mechanical force of vibration that causes a frequency cycle of pressure pulses. Piezoelectric sensors are typically made up of several layers of elastic materials that combine to generate electricity. In theory, a material property of all elastic solids, Young's modulus (Y) is used to describe "stiffness" of materials. When rod or plate of cross section (A) and length (L) is pulled with force (F) resulting in an elongation (Δ L), the Young's modulus can be computed as follows:

Y = (L/A)*(F/ΔL)

In piezo applications Y is frequently used to estimate the equivalent spring constant of a rod or a plate of material that is in contact with a piezo actuator (F/ΔF).

 

Which strings work best with piezo pick-ups?

Any string that vibrates can be detected with piezoelectric technology. Since piezo pick-ups use micro pressure to transduce a signal, the strings do not have to contain magnetic properties.

 

Why do newer strings keep going out of tune?

When new strings are installed, there is a period of stabilization that will occur with the strings. By nature, strings have an elasticity associated with them. The elasticity is greatest when a string is first being placed under a tension load. Over time the elasticity will stabilize and make the string more tunable. I addition, any slack in the tuning post winding will also start to stabilize.

 

Why are guitar strings tin coated?

The basic plain steel guitar string is made from tinned mandolin wire. Mandolin wire is made from extruded raw bar stock steel. Steel easily rusts. So, to slow down the corrosion process, the string is dipped into tin to give some resistance against corrosion.

 

What are polymer coated strings?

In an effort to reduce string corrosion, manufacturers began offering strings with polymer coated strings. The polymer is special type of plastic resin that enables the string to maintain its elastic properties while providing a hermetic seal for the metal.

 

How does the scale length affect a string's tone?

A longer scale can enhance lower tone registers while a shorter scale aids in enhancing upper tone registers.

 

What are 80/20 bronze strings?

The number designation stands for the ratio of alloy used in the strings. These strings are used for acoustic guitars and give a very broad range in tone. They produce some of the brightest tone for an acoustic string, but they also age the quickest due to the corrosive nature of the metal. These strings will lose their brightness sometimes in just a matter of hours depending on atmospheric conditions and a player's hands

 

What makes phosphor-bronze strings unique?

These strings are similar to their counterpart 80/20 bronze strings. However, the phosphor does two things: 1) It allows the string to last a bit longer in being able to retain brightness. 2) These strings retain about 75% of the brightness of a fresh set of 80/20 bronze strings. This makes them a bit more warmer sounding than the 80/20 bronze strings.

 

Why is brass used in guitar strings?

Brass strings can produce a thicker and heavier sound than the bronze series strings. They also have considerable brightness that works well with finger picking.

 

What are bronze strings?

If you are looking for that super bright in-your-face tone, then the basic bronze strings are something to consider. They sound a little thinner than the brass strings, but they deliver a much brighter and loud brassy tone overall.

 

Why is silver used in guitar strings?

Silver strings are more commonly found in classical guitar string sets. These strings consist of silver plating on copper winding wire used in the string's wrap. The core of such a string is usually several nylon filaments. The soft copper wrap gives them a very full and well rounded tone as the silver adds a crisp bright tone.

 

Why is gold used in guitar strings?

Gold has been used in more recent years as a plating to prevent corrosion and tarnish. Gold is a very soft metal which can absorb some of the kinetic energy be subjected to the string. The gold keeps the string clean, and yet ads some warmth to the tone.

 

Why is silk used in guitar strings?

Silk was one of the earlier materials used for the guitar. It has been used almost as long as cat-gut. Silk is still used today for the wrapped strings in classical string sets. Earlier wrapped strings used a thin metal wire wound around cat-gut. Silk became a more popular alternative during the second World War as gut was being used for surgery thread, and created a market shortage. String makers began using silk threads as an alternative core for wound strings. The silk core also produces a brighter tone than the cat-gut wrapped strings.

 

Why is stainless-steel used in guitar strings?

String makers began using stainless-steel in their string designs as a means of reducing string corrosion. Stainless strings also have a slightly different magnetic signature than their pure steel counterparts. They are a little less brilliant in tone compared to pure steel.

 

Why is nickel-plated steel used in guitar strings?

Nickel plated steel strings enhance the brightness of tone.

 

Why is nylon tape used in guitar strings?

Some bassists use strings with a teflon or nylon coating applied to the windings. Overall, the tone achieved with an electric bass using taped strings is very muted, similar to a standup acoustic bass.

 

What does boiling do to strings?

To learn more about the effects of boiling, see Professor String's article, click here.

 

Does rubbing alcohol do anything for guitar strings?

Some players like using isopropyl alcohol for cleaning their strings. The properties of alcohol are good for breaking down light oil build up on the strings. However, great care should be exercised when using isopropyl alcohol around the fretboard and finished areas of the guitar, particularly guitars having lacquer finish.

 

What are cat gut strings?

Contrary to popular novice belief, cat gut strings have nothing to do with the furry feline friends. Back in the early days of guitar, particularly classical and Spanish guitar, players would install strings made from dried lamb intestines. If you were to envision an empty sausage casing stretched out, you would be on the right track. These strings were typically used for the G, B, and upper E strings. However, it is common to see the lower part of the string set use cat gut as the core of a wrapped string. These strings can became weak and brittle over time in comparison to their nylon counterpart strings. Today, most players favor the more popular nylon strings as an alternative to cat gut..

 

What is the history of cat gut strings?

It was noted sometime in middle part of the 13th century that the first known guitar string was made. At that time, the intestinal tracks of various sheep live stock were used. However, the violin has to take credit for the term "cat gut." According to Britannica, the term cat gut originated from the Italian word for violin. The word for violin was "kit" in Italy. So, the term "kit gut" was the original reference to the strings. Overtime the term evolved into "cat gut." Another theory suggests that the term "cat gut" was used in reference to an early string maker in Catagniny Germany. Back in the day, many violinist obtained their strings from the German string maker.

 

What is a rectified treble string?

String rectification is the process of taking the single filament and grinding it down to have diameter uniformity over the entire length of the string. Strings that have been through this process are known as "rectified strings" or "rectified trebles." Strings that are rectified have a softer mellow tone.

 

What is a clear treble guitar string?

These are strings that have a higher density nylon filament.

 

What is a black treble string?

A black nylon string. Some tests have shown these strings to have a higher amount of treble due to the difference in string resin.

 

What string gauges work best with an archtop (aka. Jazz Box)?

The key objective in archtop string performance lies in the bridge. Unlike solid body guitars and semi-hollow guitars, the archtop guitar has it's bridge simply rest on the top of the guitar. Getting the strings to transfer sound to the top of the guitar requires a heftier string with more mass. Typically, anything under .012 gauge will struggle to get adequate sound transfer the top sound board.

 

Why do some strings have a double ball-end?

These strings are made for guitars that utilized ball-end anchoring at the bridge, and at the nut. This type of string design is fixed in length, and does not require any trimming of excess string.

 

How should excess string be trimmed?

Caution should be used when trimming excess string. A pair of side cutters work well. When you cut excess string, ALWAYS hold the section of string that will be tossed away when cutting. The portion being cut will have a tendency to turn into a dangerous projectile possibly causing injury.

 

Does the nut affect string performance?

Anything that comes in contact with a string can affect performance.

 

What effects the sustain of a string?

There are many variables that effect a string's acoustic sustain. The guitar itself, the body, the bridge, strum energy, the finger pressure on a fret, and the neck all play a role. If we are only looking at the vibrational properties of the string. Acoustically, the string's mass per unit length and tension can have the greatest effect on sustain. A higher mass will enable a greater vibrational inertia.

 

Why do strings have harmonics?

Check out our String Physics for a detailed description of string harmonics. Click here.

 

Which bridge design works best with bass strings?

What ever works "best" can be a matter of opinion and what you are trying to do. For what it's worth here are some items to consider. Most bass bridge designs focus on string vibration transfer to the wooden body, string spacing, and adjustability. If you are looking to get better string vibration transfer and sustain, consider a bridge with good metal mass and the option to let the strings be ran through the body. For adjustability, consider a bridge with fully adjustable saddles (up-and-down, forward-and-back) that lock in place via a channel design.

 

Do vacuum packaged strings last longer?

Vacuum packaged strings have a longer shelf life. The idea of vacuum packaging is to improve the shelf life of a string. Vacuum packaging delays the string's metal corrosion cycle until the strings are taken out of the package and installed on the guitar. If you add in a longer shelf life to the overall life cycle of a guitar string, it will give you more time of service.

 

How does humidity affect string life?

Humidity can attack a string's metal causing it to oxidize and cause micro-pitting. Ultimately, this can kill the tone of a string.

 

Does temperature effect string life?

Temperature is not so much an issue as humidity. In general, the strings can take on much more abuse temperature wise, than the instrument they are on. Of course, extreme temperatures like -300F or 500F are the exception.

 

What type of strings are bad for the frets?

Whenever there is metal rubbing on metal, there is friction. When there is friction wear is going to eventually occur. Various string profiles cause different wear patterns. Round wound strings can dig into a fret a little quicker since the pressure is concentrated on the tangent of the winding. It is like taking a blunt needle and rubbing up and down on a piece of metal (or fret). A groove is eventually going to occur where the winding is located. With flat wound strings, the pressure is more evenly distributed across the winding as the winding is flat.

 

Does fret profile effect string performance?

Yes. Frets with a narrower profile at the string contact area tend to dig into the windings a little quicker. This type of profile will accelerate string wear a little quicker.

 

Will a kinked string break quicker?

A kink in a string is a very sharp bend that might have occurred during installation. This sharp bend is a stress point that has gone beyond the string's natural elasticity. The string might, or might not be weaker, but it is certainly beyond it's original fabrication specification. Whether or not the string breaks quicker is a random variable.

 

Do string lubricants prolong or shorten string life?

String lubricants can improve string life and shorten it at the same time. The lubricant can help keep moisture from attacking a string, as long as it is still present on the string. At the same time, the lubricant can be like a dirt magnet for micro particles within a string's winding. This will decrease the string brightness. So, in short string lubricants can prolong string life but short the amount of time the string will remain bright in it's tone.

 

Is string lubricant harmful to a guitar?

Some lubricants can be harmful to guitar finishes, particularly nitrocellulose lacquer finishes. In general, most string lubricants are made from light mineral oils that are chemically neutral to most parts of a guitar.

 

How do tuning lubricants work?

Tuning lubricants are often applied to the fulcrum areas (i.e. nut & saddle) of a string. These lubricants lower the amount of friction caused by micro travel. By allowing the string to move more freely across the nut and saddle, it is able to come back to it's natural state. Overall, this yields some improvement in string tuning.

 

Do tuning posts effect string performance?

Yes. Tuning posts are the very heart of what is being used to tune a string. Some of the newer lock-and-trim tuners are excellent in reducing string slippage around the tuning post.

 

How many string wraps should be on a tuning post?

The fewer, the better. At least one complete turn around the post is a good minimum. If you have more than one wrap around a post, make sure the additional wraps do not rest on top of each other.

 

Do excess string wraps around the tuning post effect feedback?

There are some who believe this will add more tension on the nut and fulcrum resulting in less feedback. You be the judge.

 

How does the wrap tension effect a string's tone?

In order for a wrapped string to maintain it's energy to vibrate, having a tightly coupled wrap and core string is important. Loose windings will create a loss of sustain, create dead zones, inconsistent gauge thickness, and cause a guitar to make all kinds of fret buzzing noises you do not want.

 

Does changing strings wear out a guitar?

Changing strings should not wear out the components on a guitar.

 

Do some strings wear out a guitar faster?

Strings, particularly round wound strings, are notorious for causing fret damage over time

 

Does a guitar need it's intonation adjusted every time the strings are changed?

It's a matter preference. If you want to make sure your instrument is fully in tune up and down the neck, then you should check the intonation anytime the strings are changed.

 

Why is there silk wrap at the end of string?

The purpose of this wrap is two fold. One is to help secure the primary metal wrap in place until the string is installed. The second is purely cosmetic.

 

Does the color of silk wrap have any significant meaning?

Some string manufacturers use the silk color to indicate string identity (E,A,D,...etc.), gauge, or style of set.

 

What is the fulcrum?

A support or point of support on which a string vibrates. This is typically on the bridge saddle or nut region.

 

How does a floating bridge effect string life?

Like any tremolo bridge design, the objective is to allow the musician to change the tension of the strings dynamically. Anytime a string is taken through a dramatic change in tension, it will effect lifecycle and it's ability to retain it's elasticity. If you are continuously reaching for the whammy bar, you are cycling through the string's elasticity. This will eventually take a toll on the string's ability to retain it's original specifications.

 

What is a string's micro travel?

When a guitar string is bent, it exhibits an elastic property. The amount of stretch across the nut and bridge saddle are considered to be a string's micro travel. This small amount of travel has an effect on strings staying in tune. Some locking bridge and nut designs have eliminated the micro travel to improve tuning.

 

What causes a string saddle to have a burr on it?

Most string saddles are made from a metal casting process. This means a casting mold was used to make the saddle. Many of these molds are constructed with two pieces that come together to form the shape of the part. Sometimes there is a small amount of metal that makes its way into the seam created by the two halves of the mold coming together. This seeping metal is called "flash". The flash is the metal creating a burr on the string seat. It can easily be eliminated by filing away the excess metal.

 

How does a burr on the string saddle effect string performance?

Sometimes the burr can be very sharp and cut its way into the string. This will cause the string to break.

 

Does the ball-end effect tone?

Typically no, but there are some exceptions. Indirectly, the ball end can effect tone via resonance through the sound board.

 

Does poor grounding effect string life?

Yes. Anytime a residual electrical current exists on an exposed conductor, this will accelerate oxidation depending on room atmosphere conditions. The electrical current combined with moisture, salt, and iron are the perfect recipe for rusting a guitar string.

 

Do all metal strings rust and oxidize?

Virtually every metal has an associated oxide with it. An oxide is made whenever an oxygen atom molecularly bonds to a corresponding metal. In steel, oxygen bonds with the iron molecule. This creates iron oxide, commonly known as rust. For the bond to take place, an energy is needed to make the molecules come together. In some metals (i.e. iron) the amount of chemical energy needed to make an oxide is low. In other metals (i.e. gold), a higher chemical energy is needed to make an oxide.

 

What is the purpose of having a wound 3rd string?

A wound 3rd string is typically heavier in gauge compared to a plain 3rd string. For an electric guitar, the purpose of having a wound 3rd string is to soften the brightness of tone, in contrast to an unwound (or plain) 3rd string. Many acoustic string sets come with a wound 3rd string to help improve vibrational energy transfer to the sound board through the bridge.

 

What are compression wound strings?

Compression wound strings have an outer wrap wire that has been compressed into a semi-round shape. Compression wound strings tend to have a little less brightness than a round wound string, but a little more than a ground wound string. In addition, this process gives a softer feeling string compared to a more abrasive round wound string.

 

Why are silicates sometimes used in guitar string packaging?

Silicates are sometimes used in guitar string packaging to absorb any residual moisture in a package of strings. By keeping the moisture content low, the strings are less susceptible to corrosion over time. For further study, go to the packaging section of the Professor's string lab.

 

What is a Nashville high string set of strings?

Nashville tuning is about combining a unique set of lighter gauge strings to create a twelve-string guitar effect. Typically a six string guitar is used with a string set gauge combination resembling something like this (high E to low E): .011, .015, .011, .015, .022, .030. Most of the strings are plain unwound strings to give a higher pitch.

 

Why are the high B and E strings not wound on a standard guitar?

The answer to this question dates back to when the standard steel string set was established on early acoustic guitars. The influence on the direction to go with unwound strings in the upper register had to do with the a guitar's top carrying vibrational energy, and creating significant sound pressure. Acoustic volume projection as well as bandwidth were major factors. Many early century orchestral instrument makers understood the principles of leveraging upper frequency response with a "tight" string, sound pressure, and energy transfer through various materials like wood. Many of these principles were carried over to the making of the acoustic guitar in the 18th and 19th centuries. Getting the upper frequency meant using a string with very little mass to increase the vibration speed (aka. Frequency). The unwound strings fit the need perfectly for upper registers. This was one of the paths that got us to today's popularity of an unwound B and E string. Ironically, one of the biggest challenges for strings in the early years was not establishing the upper register strings. Rather, finding a string with a large enough mass that would produce low frequency and yet have flexibility when struck with a bow, finger, hammer, or pick. When the concept of wrapping an outer string around a core string (or silk strands) came into being, did this problem get solved. The wrapped string architecture happened long after "plain" strings were used since the pre-14th century years.