Guitar Strings - 6 and 12 string guitars

String types and gauges

There are 6 guitar strings on most acoustic, classical and electric guitars. 12 string guitars are also available for acoustic, acoutic-electric, and some electric guitars, with acoustic and acoustic/electric guitars the most common.

6 string guitar

Guitar strings for a 6-string guitar

Top E (highest sounding open string), is sometimes written as a lower-case 'e' to distinguish it from Bottom E (lowest sounding string), which is written as 'E'.

12 string guitar

Guitar strings for a 12-string guitar

Top E's (strings 1 & 2) are both the same pitch. The B's (strings 3 & 4) are also the same pitch. The bottom 4 string are all 1 octave apart. The lower-case letters indicate the string is 1 octave higher than its pair... notice the string thickness on the chart above - the higher sounding strings are thinner.

Just remember: Strings 1,3,5,7,9,11 are all the normal guitar strings, with strings 2 and 4 exactly the same pitch as their pairs (1,3). Strings 6,8,10,12 are all 1 octave higher in pitch than their pairs.

Please Note: The Top E's have been written as E/E and the Bottom E's as E/e. This is to prevent confusion with the 6-string chart. The octave above bottom E on the 12 string chart (e), is actually 1 octave below the Top E's... (there is a 2 octave range between bottom E and Top E with 'e' right in the middle)... online 12 string guitar tuner.

🡇 Guitar Strings

Wound strings

Wound Guitar Strings: The bass or lower strings of a guitar, are made thicker by wrapping wire around the central core. These are called 'wound strings'. The central core is either round or hexagonal - nylon strings have a nylon core while steel strings have a steel core.

Material used for wire-winding: This varies, with different types of metal, namely white (silver) and gold (yellow) metals. White metals include stainless steel, silver-plated copper, and nickel alloy, while gold metals include brass, bronze, and other related alloys.

Electric Guitars with magnetic pick-ups: Only white metal strings can be used on these guitars as they are magnetically responsive. Nylon strings and yellow metal strings will not work with magnetic pick-up. Guitars with non-magnetic pick-ups, e.g., piezoelectric pickups etc., can be used with any type of string.

Different types of wound strings

Roundwound Strings:

6th guitar chords
  • by far the most commonly used and the least expensive
  • long length of wire is wrapped around a nylon or steel core which is either round or hexagonal (hexcore - less slippage of the windings around the core)
  • produce good volume and tone
  • excellent clarity when new
  • susceptible to 'guitar-squeek' and harder-wearing on the frets and fingerboard due to the bumpy surface profile
  • preferred by rock guitarists due to the bright percussive tone
  • suitable for acoustic and electric guitars

Flatwound Strings:

6th guitar chords
  • much smoother surface than the roundwound strings, as the winding is made from flat metal tape or ribbon - the core is either round or hexagonal (hexcore)
  • less 'guitar-squeek' which occurs as your hand moves up and down the fretboard when it is in contact with the strings
  • a more mellow sound than roundwound strings although a little harder to bend
  • preferred by jazz players

Groundwound / Half-wound / Pressure-wound Strings:

6th guitar chords
  • combination of roundwound and flatwound strings
  • round wire is wrapped round the core which is either round or hexagonal, and then the winding is ground-down to remove any protrusions in the string, leaving a more flattened surface
  • different brands are ground down to different degrees
  • reduced finger or string noise when moving along the fretboard or changing chords
  • results in some of the brighter sound of a roundwound with a smoother feel of the flatwound

Silk & Steel Strings:

  • inner core is a combination of steel and silk
  • strings 1 & 2 (treble strings) - plain unwound steel
  • strings 3 - 6 (bass strings) - the steel core is firstly wrapped with a fine silk layer followed with regular metal winding
  • only used on acoustic guitars
  • the sound and feel of the guitar string is somewhere between a nylon and steel string guitar.

Guitar String Gauges: typical sets

String Ultra Light Extra Light Light Medium Heavy
1 - e .008 .010 .011 .013 .014
2 - B .010 .014 .015 .017 .018
3 - G .014 .020W .022W .026W .028W
4 - D .022 .0328 .030 .034 .040
5 - A .030 .040 .042 .046 .050
6 - E .038 .050 .052 .056 .060
Please Note: W means the 3rd string is wound

These are typical gauges with manufacturers offering a variety of in-between gauges. You can also buy strings separately and mix and match your strings to suit your playing style. Gauges are usually calculated as fractions of an inch.

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Nylon Strings

  • produce a warmer, mellower sound, which is well-suited to classical, flamenco, bossa nova and folk music - also used to good effect by jazz and country artists
  • ideal for beginners as they are much easier on the fingers compared to steel string guitars
  • strings are made of nylon with strings 4 - 6 wound in metal - usually silver plated copper thread
  • only used on acoustic guitars.

The fretboard on these guitars is wider as nylon strings when plucked have a large vibrational range needing more space between strings so that adjacent strings are not hit. This allows more space to play each string without contacting other strings especially when playing a quick succession of notes. Generally there is approximately a 1cm difference between the fretboard width of a nylon vs steel string acoustic guitar.

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Nylon String Gauges: typical sets

String        
1 - e .028 .028 .020 .028
2 - B .032 .032 .033 .032
3 - G .040 .040 .041 .040
4 - D .031 .030 .030 .029
5 - A .037 .035 .036 .035
6 - E .045 .043 .044 .043
Please Note: With Nylon Strings, gauges don't differ that much

While steel string guitars are selected in gauges, nylon strings are selected in different tensions, commonly being low, normal and high.

Low Tension
  • Low (light) - quieter volume
  • easier on the guitar resulting in extended health - ideal for older / vintage guitars
  • easier to play especially if your guitar has a high action (distance between the fretboard and the string)
  • emphasis on the body of the note rather than the attack into the note
  • more susceptible to fret buzz.
Normal Tension
  • Normal (medium)
  • excellent starting point for most players as you may want to go for lower or higher tension strings depending on your playing preference.
High Tension
  • High (strong) - more volume
  • better for strumming
  • more emphasis on the attack into the note compared to lower tensions
  • guitar needs to be set up or designed to take a stronger tension otherwise your guitar will be susceptible to bridge and neck damage
  • loosen strings after each practice or session
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