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I've recently decided to start playing guitar as a self-learner and I want to change the strings of an acoustic guitar I have.

I've started to get into it and I discovered that there are various types of strings (light, medium, custom and so on).

I have heard that the "softer" ones (I think they are named silk) are better for beginners because they are more gentle on the fingertips which are not accustomed yet, but on the con side, they are really weak and need to be changed like two weeks later, they're less durable.

My question is what are the differences between the various types and which one is the best for a beginner?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

First thing I suggest is to change -- or set -- the way you play. Choose a note, any note, fret it and pluck the string. Fret it as hard as you can, then back off until you hear the thunk and not the note.

You will notice a few things. First, it hurts your fingers. Second, the note will rise in pitch the harder you fret. You will think you want to fret a not a lot harder than you actually need to. When you do that, the strings will bite into your fingers, which doesn't feel good, and you will play out of tune, which doesn't sound good. You can develop a light touch on any set of strings.

There are reasons why an experienced guitarist would want to go with heavy strings, and there are drawbacks. There are also reasons why an experienced guitarist would want to go with lighter strings. By all means, as you begin to learn what you like and what makes your instrument play like you want it to, try everything. But medium is set as medium for a reason, which is that they're good for most uses.

My suggestion is to start with a medium set from a reputable brand, set up with a reasonable action and relief, and work more on your own technique before you start changing the instrument.

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If you're going to use a plectrum,you're probably better off sticking with steel strings,as the silks will wear out quickly. They won't sound as lively as steels, but will be kinder to your fingers. You would be just as well using a gauge or two lighter steels, say going from 012s (I'm guessing) to 010s or 009s. Another option would be to tune down to maybe D, to have less tension in your strings until your fingers harden up (tips and muscles). Most times when you, in the future, play someone else's guitar, it'll be steel strung, so getting used to it is a good move.

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The first question is what type of guitar you have! If it's a classical guitar (Spanish style), then it's nylon strings all the way. Never, under any circumstances, put anything other than nylon strings on a classical guitar. It can't handle the tension, and you'll destroy it.

Otherwise, just get very light strings. String sets are described by the thickness of the top E string in thousands of an inch - so a set with a 0.012" thickness top E would be called "12s". You want 10s max, maybe 9s or even lower. "Proper" acoustic sets don't tend to go so low, but there's no harm in buying extra-light electric sets. The guitar won't sound anything like as good, but you're a beginner so it's not like you're going to be gigging it, right? :) The main thing is that your fingers survive while you're learning.

In theory the truss rod (which keeps the neck straight by pulling against the strings) might need adjusting with the lighter strings. In practise I suspect you'll probably get away with it. You certainly won't damage anything. If you do find the strings are buzzing against the frets all the time though, then consider taking it to the shop and paying for a quick setup. You'll then need to get it adjusted again when you graduate to heavier strings.

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The light, medium, heavy etc are string tensions as far as I know. Heavy tensions are preferable for low tunnings as it won't make the string feel too loose, FYI.

I don't know anything about silk strings, but for a beginner I recommend nylon strings if you're going for an acoustic guitar. They sound nice and they don't feel harsh on the fingertips, plus I guess you don't have to change the higher strings (eBG) as often as silk ones.

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My humble opinion again, based on many years on the road across Australia with my wife Irene, Busking. Went from 12 - 45's to 13 - 56's so as to get heaps of volume out on the street. The old guitar finally gave up the ghost after 15 years of very hard work (never in a case - on the back with a strap most of the time). Got much better at playing guitar though. Next guitar fared much worse, much quicker - bridge decided to divorce the body and left. Wood glue seemed rather wimpy...and don't get me started on the clamps !!!! My old mate down the road at my local guitar shop stated simply - Drill a couple of holes through both ends of the bridge and bolt it back on !!!! Bugger me if it doesn't work like a charm. Oh, by the way, I put 12 - 54's back on...BEAUDIFULL !!!! Realised that I could actually do pull offs and bends now.Easier on the old onkerporingers (sorry,fingers) too. Light - Medium - Heavy are actually the gauges (thickness) of the strings. We used to play 12 stringers and tuned down a full tone to 'D' and then whacked a capo on to bring it back up to 'E' standard, but with MUCH less string tension. As to changing the strings How long is a piece of string? If you flog 'em you change 'em often. Every new gig? NEW STRINGS !!!!! We've used the best, and the rest. A $5.00 set lasted us as long or longer than a $75.00 set. Broke 3 'G' and a 'D' in a 2 hour session up in north Queensland much for the Elixer of youth I guess.

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Even as an experienced guitar player I still personally prefer light gauge steel strings and often use coated strings because they are less noisy when I slide from fret to fret on a string. But everyone has their own personal preference and you will develop your own preference over time.

One thing you will notice as you experiment with different strings on acoustic is that the 80/20 bronze strings tend to sound brighter and the phosphor bronze strings sound warmer. You may prefer one or the other.

Silk and steel strings are definitely easier on the tender fingers of a beginner because they have built in padding. By the time you wear them out your fingers will toughen up enough to handle regular steel strings.

For brand new guitarist just starting to learn to play their first chords and who have not yet developed callouses on their tender fretting fingers, I recommend starting out using a custom set of strings made by using a combination of two types of strings. To learn how to put together the most finger friendly easy to play set of acoustic strings possible click here Custom finger friendly acoustic string set

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