First Guitar – What Kind of Strings Should I Buy?

ESP-electric-guitarA question I get all the time is “I just got my first guitar – What kind of strings should I buy?” This is a little more difficult than you would think at first glance.

If you remember in my last post, I recommended to learn on an electric guitar rather than an acoustic.

This narrows your string selection down some.  You won’t need nylon strings.  Which by the way, if you decide to play an acoustic guitar no matter what, then nylon strings are much easier on your fingers.

Strings Types for your first electric guitar:

1. Round wound
2. Flat wound

So what is the difference?  Think of a flat wound string like a wire with a metal strip of foil wound around it in a spiral such that it is smooth on the outside.  The round wound string is more like winding a wire around a wire.  So if you look close it has a lot of valleys and peaks along the string.  The round wound string is rough.

If you are a beginner and haven’t built up callouses on your finger tips yet, then round wound strings are really rough on your fingers.  For that reason I recommend LEARNING on flat wound strings.  It hurts less, plain and simple.

The problem is that there is a trade off.  For reasons we won’t cover in this article let’s just say that round wound strings are MUCH brighter.  They have better high frequency response.  They ring longer and last longer.  Yes, there IS a life to strings.  We’ll cover that some other time.

Anyway, for the long term I recommend round wound strings simply because they sound better.  Of course that is a matter of taste and opinion.  I USED to use flat wound strings and I USED to play a Gibson SG.  Now I use round wound strings and play a Fender Stratocaster.  That is simply to get a SOUND that I wanted.  Of course I didn’t get rid of the SG…are you crazy?

Next we should discuss the gauge of the string.  This is the diameter of the strings.  Without getting all fancy with custom string sets or anything crazy I would recommend starting with a little lighter gauge strings.  As your fingers toughen you can move towards heavier strings.

Why use heavier strings?

While they don’t bend as easily, bigger strings ring longer, louder and uh… sound better.  (Back to that)

 How are string sets sized?

While it isn’t totally proper, most people refer to their string sets by the diameter of the high E (smallest string).  So they will talk about set sizes of 011, 10, 9s.  This is the size in thousandths of the E string.  The smaller that number is the easier it is to bend the string.  The higher number is more difficult to bend and therefore harder on soft fingers.

Sometimes the strings are labeled something like medium, light and super light.  I hesitate to advise the super lights but some people love them.  But the lights are a good place for beginners.

Eventually you will probably find yourself increasing string size to get more sustain and a bigger sound.  People like Stevie Ray Vaughn would use larger strings and then tune the guitar down a half step to make it easier to bend strings.

The point of all this is that there is always something to learn in guitar.  Not just about the guitars themselves but how to find the right guitar lessons for you.

If you have any questions, put them in the comment box.

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What Kind of Guitar Should You Buy for Your First Guitar?

Guitars for Beginners

Guitars For Beginners

Most people who want to learn how to play guitar don’t have access to a guitar at all.  So they need to go buy one.  So what kind of guitar should a beginner buy?  There are many different opinions on this I guarantee.  A beginner guitar can make or break your experience when you are just starting out.

How difficult is the guitar to Play?

I have been playing guitar for 40 years and have a pretty firm opinion about this myself.  What you want to know about a guitar you are considering is “how hard is this particular guitar to play”?  What I mean by that is would someone who already knows how to play the guitar pick your new guitar up and think it was fairly easy to play?  That is a question you need to answer.

I have gone with many people to the store to get their first guitar and they want to pick out the cheapest guitar in the store to save money.  OK I get that but that isn’t always the smartest thing to do.  What if I can’t play your new guitar easily?  How are YOU going to be able to play it at ALL?  Usually with the reduced price comes reduced quality.  Who can blame the manufacturer for that?  They have to cut some corners to save money to make it more affordable.

Types of Guitars:

In general the two types of guitars you will find are electric guitars and acoustic guitars.  There is overlap of course, with some acoustics having pickups on them.  And there are semi-solid body electric guitars that get some acoustic sound out of them.  But that is not what I am talking about.

I am talking about the difference between a big bodied hollow acoustic guitar and a solid body electric.  As I said many people will disagree with me but I am pretty confident in this following comment.

So what kind of guitar do you want?

“For the same amount of money spent you will get an easier to play guitar if you buy a solid body electric guitar.”  Even if you want to learn acoustic guitar it *may* be beneficial to you to purchase a solid body electric to learn on.

Here’s why.

  1. The action (how high the strings are off the fret board) is usually lower on an electric guitar which means that you don’t have to press down as hard to get the note.   This is also important when learning because it makes it less painful on your fingers, literally.  Yes it is painful learning until you get calluses built up on your finger tips.
  2. Electric guitars usually have easier to adjust setups.  If it doesn’t play quite right a guitar tech has more flexibility in making it play better.  It simply will usually have more adjustments than an acoustic guitar.
  3. The strings on the electric guitar are often lighter gauge than on the acoustic guitar.  Lighter gauge strings are easier to bend which is used to make notes change pitch or add vibrato.  Again, lighter gage strings are easier to push down so that means less pain.
  4. Solid body guitars are relatively quiet while the student is learning.  So pounding away on the guitar late at night is not a problem plus you can get a headphone amp and make it sound like a monster sized guitar amp.
  5. Most young people who want to learn guitar want a solid body anyway because their favorite band uses those … not acoustic guitars.  Sure you may be an exception and want to play the acoustic.  Nothing wrong with that.

There are more reasons to buy an electric guitar for your first guitar, but those are some of the more common ones.  So if you or your kid wants to learn electric guitar instead of the acoustic guitar anyway you are in business.  Now all you need to do is get one that is easy to play.

How Much?

There will be exceptions to this rule I promise but you don’t usually get a very playable electric guitar until you get up around $150-$200.  Every now and then I am surprised by a cheap guitar but keep in mind that some of the more popular Gibson electric guitars can cost from $2000 to $4000.  So how do you make a $49 electric guitar worth anything?  Well it isn’t easy!

Another thing I can say is that one of my favorite guitars now is a $200 Korean Fender Stratocaster guitar I bought a many years ago.  I have replaced the pickups with better pickups.  The original pickups were harsh and noisy.  I also replaced the nut (up by the tuners) with a roller nut.  That helps the guitar stay in tune better.  I also had the tremolo arm system inside the guitar modified by a very good guitar tech.  That ALSO makes it stay in tune better.  But it is now my daily guitar.

I even changed the pickguard and the string tuners to premium tuners.  I did this all over a period of time so it was affordable for me.

I have guitars that cost more money for sure but this one is hand crafted for me now and stays in tune better than many more expensive guitars.

I would also like to add that if you really WANT an acoustic guitar you should not let this article change your mind.  However, what you need to realize that you will probably have to spend a little more to get an acoustic that is easy to play. AND there will be a little more “pain” involved.

Take a guitar player with you

So here’s a question for you.  If you don’t know how to play a guitar, how do you know the guitar is “easy” to play?  You take someone with you who DOES know how to play.  Then you have them play different guitars for you and see not only how easy they are to play but how different they sound and feel.   If you can’t do that, then get a clerk at the guitar store to play them for you and give his opinion on how easy they are to play.

Other factors may come into play like small hands.  If you have small hands you need a narrower neck on the guitar.  There are so many factors that it is impossible to cover them in just a single article.

Remember that a guitar that is difficult to play makes learning guitar no fun.  Learning to play guitar is challenging enough without getting a guitar that is low quality.  Having said that, I would also like to add that unless you have been playing awhile or are just made of money you don’t want to go crazy and buy a $2000 guitar for your first guitar.  You don’t know if you are even going to use it for sure.  You might get frustrated and quit.  (Don’t do that!) So get a lower priced guitar but not a “cheap” guitar.  Some medium priced electric guitars can be found at BigDogGuitar.

Hopefully I have given you some ideas about how to find your perfect first guitar.  You can pick up a good beginner guitar and amp combo pack if you click here.


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Posted in Beginning Guitar | Tagged , , | 2 Comments