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What To Look For In Classical Guitar Strings

Strings are the beginning point of the guitar’s tone and create the sound’s sonic character.

Making the best choice for string isn’t an easy task. Every musician has their own preferences and each instrument reacts in its own way.

This article isn’t a summary of string reviews on other websites as well as personal tastes. It is based upon scientific studies as well as interviews and discussions with professionals to show how the material of the string gauge, gauge, and tension can influence the sound.

Once you have that information you will be able to see beyond the ads and select 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 volume and brightness of a string

String sets typically come in medium, light or high gauges (although there aren’t any standards for defining them). It is one of the main factors that affects string tension which is the force needed to tune the string.

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

The heavier strings produces more vibrational energy. This means they sound more than strings with lighter weights.

But studies conducted done by professors Jim Woodhouse and Nicolas Lynch-Aird has shown that the price is lower brightness of sound, as shown in the design chart below of nylon string. The length of each string may be drawn in the diagram (the one-axis that is the x-axis shows frequency and the y-axis is length of string).

It reveals that a more dense string is likely to be more loud, but less bright, whereas smaller strings (with lower impedance and tension) is quieter, but more bright, as per the research papers.

“I’m not saying that the damping threshold is always undesirable and not musical, but it always displays the characteristic lack of twang that you are unable to escape by,” Professor Woodhouse said. “You can always create less twang through playing, but there’s no way to increase it. However, it’s going to be different, and whether that’s positive or negative depends on the goal you’re trying to achieve.”

A great example of using nylon struny do gitary klasycznej can be played by playing an G note on the 12th fret on the third string, and then compare its sound to the note that was played on the previous string on the 3rd fret.

There are methods to get a brighter and more powerful sound by altering the material of the string.

Gut strings are stronger than nylon, while fluorocarbon is heavier than nylon and fluorocarbon. The greater mass, as well as the specific nature of each can raise the damping thresholds for fluorocarbon and gut.

Gut strings

Gut strings, also known as catgut – are created using the intestines of animals like cows and sheep.

Stringed instruments of all kinds, including instruments like the guitars, were made using silk strings or animal gut up until the invention of nylon in the 1940s. They have numerous disadvantages. The are sensitive to humidity and temperature and are therefore difficult to maintain a constant level of sensitivity and easily break.

Gut is still popular for guitarists who play antique instruments who wish to recreate the sound of the past. Gut is also popular with different stringed instruments for instance, the harp.

Guitarists frequently affirm that gut strings create the most warm and resonant tone than nylon strings. But, the study of Professor Woodhouse has shown that the threshold of damping which cuts out excess tone is greater than that of nylon strings. This means that gut strings have a brighter sound than nylon.

Many harpists still prefer to hear the gut sound over nylon . The research provides the reasons. Harpists have a higher tension on the strings with longer lengths which is likely to maintain the same feel across all strings that brings the damping threshold into the game.

Nylon strings

The era 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) and ladies’ socks (1939) and finally the guitar string (1944).

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

The nylon strings may not be made from the same materials.

The nylon strings might appear identical, but there’s a broad selection of nylon fibres (synthetic polyamide) available. The tests also reveal that the tone of nylon treble strings change with time.

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

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

Furthermore, some string producers were known to utilize various types of nylon in one set.

For instance, the year 1991 French producer of strings Savarez informed the acoustician Antoine Chaigne that its metal over-wrapped bass strings feature an nylon 6-6 core, but its treble strings utilize monofiles of nylon 6-10, or 6-12. (Different kinds of nylon polymers are identified through a numbered system which is the count of carbon atoms that make up monomer chain.)

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

Black nylon strings

The distinctions between nylons don’t include the more obvious distinction that is color. Most nylon strings are transparent however some strings are colored in red and black. They are thought to be brighter, and that’s why they are usually targeted at folk and flamenco guitarists.

Flamenco guitar player Grisha Goryachev performing with 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 using different polymers or made in a different way from clear nylon which could alter the sound. One way of know is to test various sets.

Ball-end nylon strings

Ball-end nylon strings are targeted at folk musicians or guitarists moving from steel-string electric or acoustic guitars.

The advantage is mostly more psychological than practical. Learning to string the classical guitar is an easy technique, just like learning the art of tying your shoe.

Fluorocarbon strings are greater challenges. When I first tried an entire set, the very first string flew off and landed on the ground, which is not a thing that occurs with nylon. It could be due to a variety of reasons, like lesser friction or the strings tend to be thinner due to the material being extremely heavy.

An alternative is to lightly melt one side of the treble strings using matches or lighters. This will create a faux melt-ball-end that gives extra grip after you tie the string off. Another option is to tie an knot in the overhand or figure-of-8 knot that acts as an end stop.

Fluorocarbon strings: brighter more durable

Fluorocarbon strings for treble are composed from a polymer called Polyvinylidine Fluoride (PVDF). It is a very dense substance that gives more pronounced sound. It is similar to the tone of gut strings however without the price and tuning problems.

Similar to the gut string, studies have demonstrated that the damping threshold of fluorocarbon strings is higher than that of nylon strings. These overtones make a different sound as gut strings.

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

This problem is particularly evident in the string G of guitar. The reason? It’s the most dense among the strings for treble which results in more string stiffness. This is naturally a problem with the vibrating that the strings produce, which results in more inharmonicity (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 possible solution. By replacing with nylon G string with a more vibrant sounding fluorocarbon string could result in an even sound across the entire the treble range of strings.

Fluorocarbon strings with greater density mean they are also able to produce sound with greater force as nylon strings. However, this increased density can cause vibrato to become more difficult, and some may find the strings difficult to fret.

String maintenance: Why do bass strings go dead?

Monofilament strings like nylon, change in 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 due to the fact that their sound quality decreases over time. Sometimes , it takes only days for the luminosity or brightness before it is replaced with dullness.

Each musical note is comprised of fundamental frequencies (or the lowest note) as well as a variety of overtones. Metal strings that are old are more likely to create weaker notes at the frequencies of 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 time of these higher overtones decrease rapidly making an unnatural sound.

Researchers were also able to reproduce old strings by pressing clay made by a fine potter into wound metal strings, indicating that “foreign matter in between the wound strings’ turns is at the very least a primary factor, and perhaps the most important cause in the deadness.”

Preventing treble strings from breaking

Fluorocarbon and gut string have lower breaking limit than nylon. However, this threshold usually is reached by the first string, when they are tuned up to the standard E.

“So you shouldn’t make use of fluorocarbon or gut to make strings that are really tight,” Professor Woodhouse said.

Although harpists generally prefer the gut-toned sound, “they usually use nylon on their longest, most expensive strings due to their an insignificant lifespan. They’re more durable and cost-effective as you’re constantly changing the strings.”