What Is the Difference Between Acoustic and Electric Guitar Strings?

Choosing the right type of guitar strings for your guitar is important because it affects the playability and tone of the guitar. When the right type of guitar string is used, it can enhance and make your performance better compared to using the wrong type of guitar strings.

When the wrong type of string is used, it can affect the way you play and your performance, or worse, it might even break your guitar.

Two main categories of strings are acoustic and electric guitar strings. What is the difference between acoustic and electric guitar strings?

The difference between acoustic and electric guitar strings is the material they are made of. The material of the string affects the tone and playability of the guitar. Steel, nickel, and chromium alloys are mostly used in electric guitar strings due to their magnetic composition.

On the other hand, acoustic guitar strings are mainly composed of bronze and brass which are more acoustically resonant alloys compared to electric guitar strings.

Read on to learn more about the difference between acoustic and electric guitar strings.

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What Is the Difference Between Acoustic and Electric Guitar Strings?

Guitar strings come in five main types. These are steel and nickel, which is generally used for electric guitars, brass and bronze, for acoustic guitars, and nylon for the classical guitars. This article will mostly focus on acoustic and electric guitar strings, and not dwell much on nylon strings. 

Electric Guitar Strings: Steel and Nickel

Both of these materials are used in electric guitar strings. The 3 common metals used for electric guitar strings are nickel-plated, pure nickel, and stainless steel. 

Nickel-plated strings cover the majority of electric guitar strings used today. They are made up of steel and coated in nickel that act as protection and soften the touch. They are the most popular option among the electric guitar strings because they balance out the characteristics of nickel and steel in one string.

Nickel-plated steel strings have a combination of both warmth and brightness. The steel that the string is made of gives a strong picking attack. On the other hand, the nickel-plate on the string balances out the bright sound giving off by the steel. Nickel strings are softer than steel so it won’t quickly damage the frets of your guitar compared to stainless steel guitar strings.

Pure nickel strings give off a warmer sound than nickel-plated strings or stainless steel strings. Pure nickel is best used in classic-old school, vintage genres, which are played with a low level of distortion, such as blues, jazz, or classic rock because it has a thicker sound compared to other electric guitar strings.

Lastly, pure steel strings give off the brightest and liveliest sound among all the electric guitar strings. It also resists corrosion well because it is made up of a highly magnetic alloy which makes it last longer and brighter than other electric guitar strings.

Steel-strings produce more volume as well as more sustain than nickel strings and are sensitive to touch which makes it great for modern and metal rock. However, these strings can wear out your frets quicker than nickel-plated strings or pure nickel strings.

Acoustic Guitar Strings: Brass and Bronze

The two main types of acoustic guitar strings are brass-plated and bronze-plated strings. Both of these strings are made of steel, thus also called “steel acoustic guitar strings.”

Brass strings or often known as 80/20 bronze, are made from 80% copper and 20% zinc. It is the most popular option because of its bright and clean sound. However, this kind of string quickly loses its brilliance after some time because of the corrosion of the metal strings. Brass strings are best used on a guitar with an orchestra size model or larger than ordinary guitars.

On the other hand, phosphor bronze strings produce a warmer and smoother high-end response than brass strings. The warm quality sound it produces makes a great fit for mellow-tone genres such as folk and finger-style work.

While the brass strings are best used for an OM size guitar, the phosphor bronze strings are recommended best for smaller-bodied guitars. However, many prefer using them with large-bodied instruments. The addition of phosphor to the bronze strings prevents the strings from oxidizing and corroding quickly.

String Construction

what is the difference between electric and acoustic guitar strings

Gauge

String gauge has a big effect on the playability of the guitar. The gauge of a string refers to the thickness of the string. The thicker a string is, the warmer the sound and more volume it will produce. Thinner strings produce a brighter sound than thicker ones and they are also much easier to bend and play with. While thicker strings are stiffer which makes them more difficult to play.

The gauge of a string is determined by measuring the string’s actual diameter. It is measured in 1/1000th’s of an inch, which ranges from .008 (lightest 1st string) to .056 (heaviest 6th string). The entire set of strings depends on the size of the high E string. For example, when referring to a set of “10’s”, it refers to the 1st string (high E string) which is 0.010 of an inch thick.

An acoustic string gauge ranges from 0.010 – 0.013 of an inch thick. Light string is around .012 gauge while lighter than .012 is classified to be extra-light strings. The heaviest acoustic string you can find is around .013 gauge or also called medium strings. Thicker gauge strings tend to have more volume and tone which makes your playing sound whole and louder. However, its thickness makes it harder to play.

On the other hand, if you want to play your guitar without much effort, it is recommended to use thinner gauge strings but the tone and volume won’t be the same as playing with thicker gauge strings.

For electric guitars, the string gauge ranges from .008 (the lightest strings) to .56 (the heaviest of all the strings). One of the characteristics of a guitar string that affects the sound produced by an electric guitar is the string gauge. The lighter gauge an electric guitar string has, the less volume and sustain it produces. It also breaks more easily and is prone to cause fret buzzing. However, it is generally easier to play lighter gauge electric guitar strings because you can easily bend the notes and exert less tension.

On the other hand, heavier gauge electric guitar strings are preferred more for low tunings and they produce more volume and sustain compared to lighter gauge electric guitar strings. They are harder to play than light gauge strings because it requires more effort and tension to be put on the frets.

String Core

The string core = shape of the wire. It is found beneath the outer winding of the strings. The solid core wire has 2 varieties: round core and hex core.

Round core strings are characterized as being more flexible, producing a warmer sound, having a gentler attack, producing more sustain, and having a vintage tone, however, inconsistent tone. On the other hand, hex-core is stiffer, produces a brighter sound, has a stronger attack, produces less sustain, and has a modern and consistent tone.

The main guitar strings used in the past had round cores. Eventually, hex cores became popular in the industry and almost all companies started producing guitar strings with hex cores. Hex cores are more preferred because of its sharp edges that make it good at “gripping” the outer wire. This prevents slippage and makes the sound more accurate and consistent than round cores.

Winding Type

Winding is the wire wrapped around the solid core metal of the string. It is classified into three types: roundwound, flatwound, and halfround.

Roundwounds are the most popular among the 3 types mentioned. This type of winding method is popular for a reason. Firstly, they are the cheapest type of winding you can find and secondly, they have the widest selection you can choose from. Roundwounds are characterized to have textured-surface because it uses a round wire to warp around its core metal. Roundwound strings create a brighter sound, longer sustain, more string noise, and lower tension than flatwound strings. It is also best recommended for rock ’n roll music.

The second type of winding method is the flatwound. Flatwounds are characterized to have a smooth surface on its string, created by a flat wire covering the core metal. Flatwound strings usually last longer and produce less string noise. Flatwound strings are best used for jazz music because it produces a warmer sound than roundwound strings.

Lastly, halfrounds are the least popular among the three and it is usually ignored when buying for strings.

Coating

Coated strings refer to as standard guitar strings covered in a micro-thin plastic polymer coating. Coated strings usually last significantly longer and significantly cost more than uncoated strings, however, it tends to cut high-end response. Using coated strings is for protective purposes. Coated strings have an outer layer that covers the core metal and protects the string against oil, sweat, dirt, and skin. Not only does it protects the strings but it also produces a smoother feel and less squeaking sound.

The Elixir company introduced the concept of “coated strings” and continued to manufacture these strings up until today. Despite many copycat companies produced the same “coated strings”, Elixir is still the recommended brand for coated strings by guitar players and enthusiasts.

They offer coated strings in two varieties: NANOweb and POLYweb. NANOweb has a light coating that has a feel and sound that is almost close to uncoated strings while POLYweb has a heavier coating which gives off a smoother feel and longer lifespan.

The recommended options for acoustic guitars are 80/20 Bronze NANO, 80/20 Bronze POLY, and Phosphor Bronze NANO while the recommended options for electric guitars are Nickel Plated Steel NANO and Nickel Plated Steel POLY.

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See the 3 Sets of Elixir 11052 Light Acoustic Strings for my favorite Nanoweb acoustic guitar strings:

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See the Ernie Ball Cobalt Regular Slinky 5-pack Electric Guitar Strings, for my favorite electric guitar strings:

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Can You Put Acoustic Strings on Electric Guitar or Electric Strings on Acoustic Guitar?

electric guitar strings vs acoustic guitar strings

Have you ever had a thought of putting acoustic guitar strings on an electric guitar or electric guitar strings on an acoustic guitar? Is this even possible? Read more to find out if it is okay to put acoustic strings on an electric guitar and vice versa.

Can You Put Acoustic Guitar Strings on Electric Guitars?

Electric guitars usually have magnetic pickups which are designed to detect the specific kind of string and movement that vibrates in their magnetic field. However, wound acoustic strings, such as bronze acoustic guitar strings, do not produce magnetism which in turn, does not contribute to the sound produced when used in electric guitars.

Only the core of the string will contribute to the whole output and not the nonferrous windings that are wrapped around the core metal. The wrap wire is not magnetically active which results in less fullness sound produced. The resulting sound of wound acoustic strings on an electric guitar will only be a thinner and more transparent sound. It will not produce the same brightness and fullness sound compared when using regular electric guitar strings.

Therefore, it is not recommended to put acoustic strings on an electric guitar because it would only lessen the quality of the sound an electric guitar is supposed to produce.

Can You Put Electric Guitar Strings on Acoustic Guitars?

You can, but it is not recommended. Acoustic guitars are built and designed to use heavier and thicker gauge strings to produce good volume and resonance.

The sound from an acoustic guitar is produced by the vibration of the strings which affect the volume and tone quality of the sound. Electric guitar strings usually have lighter gauge compared to acoustic guitar strings. Lighter gauges, as said before, tend to produce more brightness and less volume.

Using lighter gauge strings on an acoustic guitar won’t provide the proper force and tension to produce the appropriate vibration and acquire the right sound on an acoustic guitar. The sound produced when using electric guitar strings on acoustic guitars is not bad at all but it is not recommended.

Conclusion – What Is the Difference Between Acoustic and Electric Guitar Strings?

What is the difference between acoustic and electric guitar strings?

The difference between acoustic and electric guitar strings is the material they are made of. The material of the string affects the playability and the tone and of the guitar. Nickel, steel, and chromium alloys are mostly used in electric guitar strings due to their magnetic composition. Acoustic guitar strings are mainly composed of brass and bronze which are more acoustically resonant alloys

Choosing the appropriate guitar strings will depend on the genre and playing style you want to achieve and the sound you want to produce. The different parts of the string construction mentioned can help you decide which kind of guitar strings is appropriate for your acoustic or electric guitar.

Both acoustic guitar strings and electric guitar strings have different producing sounds, playability, and tone. In general, acoustic guitar strings are thicker and produce a warmer and fuller sound while electric guitar strings are thinner and produce less volume and a brighter and lighter sound.