No doubt about it strings are important. They determine not only the sound of your instrument, but also the feel and playability of your guitar. Beginning guitarists may not put much thought into string selection, but the wrong choice can seriously degrade the sound of your guitar and make your instrument much more difficult to play.
Note: In this section, “metal” refers to the material and not “metal”-as in “heavy metal”-the musical genre. Electric guitar strings are always metal and tend to be lighter (thinner) than acoustic guitar strings. For instance, string gauges (in inches) for a typical set of regular light gauge electric guitar strings would be as follows:
1st string – E: .010 inches (.25 mm)
2nd string – B: .013 inches (.33 mm)
3rd string – G: .017 inches (.43 mm)
4th string – D: .026 inches (.66 mm)
5th string – A: .036 inches (.91 mm)
6th string – E: .046 inches (1.17 mm)
Contrast these with a typical set of medium phosphor bronze acoustic guitar strings:
1st string – E: .013 inches (.33 mm)
2d string – B: .017 inches (.43 mm)
3rd string – G: .026 inches (.66 mm)
4th string – D: .035 inches (.89 mm)
5th string – A: .045 inches (1.14 mm)
6th string – E: .056 inches (1.42 mm)
As you can see, going from an electric to an acoustic is almost like moving up a string-that is, the first string on the acoustic is equivalent to the second string on the electric guitar. The second acoustic is like the third electric string-and so on.
Note that this is just a general trend. You can select heavier strings for an electric guitar. (You will sacrifice playability for a richer sounding tone). For instance, you can buy electric guitar strings that go from .013 inches for the high E to .056 inches for the low E string.
And you can also buy lighter gauge strings for an acoustic guitar and sacrifice volume and tone for playability. For instance, you can buy extra light acoustic strings that range from .010 to .047 inch-or even extra lights (.009 to .045).
But, in general, acoustic guitar strings tend to be heavier than electric guitar strings because they must generate a greater sound pressure level without the benefit of amplification. Thicker strings tend to ring more and have higher volume than thinner strings.
Electric guitar strings are made thinner so as to make them easier to play. Lighter strings make it easier to play the very fast solos and improvisations normally seen in rock, metal, jazz and other electric guitar genres. The strings can be lighter to facilitate fast playing because the string sound does not have to be as strong due to the fact that it will be amplified before being heard.
Classical guitars are strung exclusively with nylon strings. These strings produce a mellower, much less harsh sound than metal strings. Nylon stings are under much less tension than steel strings when tuned to concert pitch. Thus they are much easier to play and also gentler on the finger tips.
Metal strings should never be used on a classical guitar. The neck is not sufficiently reinforced to be able to support the high string tensions caused by metal strings and will most certainly break.
Guitar string selection is important not only to tonal and sound quality; it also affects playability of the instrument. Guitar strings come in three general categories. Electric guitar strings are made of metal and are generally lighter gauge than acoustic steel strings. Acoustic folk or western guitars use strings that are metal. They are generally heavier in gauge than electric guitar strings. This makes them harder to play but also makes them louder. Classical guitars are always strung with nylon strings which gives them their characteristic mellow sound.