What kind of strings should I use?

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Hello friends, I would like to write about the importance of guitar strings within the different styles we want to play.

The topic is quite large and a bit complicated but I will try to explain it from my own experience and without considering myself as an expert on the subject.

It’s clear that there are many different styles in Latin music, and even within each style you will find a lot of nuances that are used to achieve a particular sound. This sound will allow us to make a special version of a song. Sometimes we want a little bit sustain in the strings to make the harmony envolving although the volume will be less, sometimes we want more volume, sometimes we emphasize the rhythm sound with a shorter answer, etc … Although the type and model of guitar and its action (hard or soft), is almost the greatest influence to give these sounds, the type of strings we use also becomes very important.

So depending on the style the first thing we have to decide is the string tension, low, normal, normal-high, high or extra high. In order to decide the strings tension you need to know the action of your guitar (the effort you need to press the string, that depends on the distance from the string to the fretboard). The more distance between string and fretboard the more effort you need to press it to make sound. A high action guitar holds well with low tension strings, which vibrate more than higher tensions strings, because the risk of unwished fret sounds decreases just for the longer distance from the strings to the fretboard.

A low action guitar can be compensated by a high tension strings set. You’ll get more volume and the risk for fret sounds decreases because the high tension strings vibrate less. In general the higher the string tension is, the greater volume and shine you achieve, even if you could lose some sustain. If we want a standard all round sound, we have to keep us between normal and high string tension, avoiding the extremes that lead us excessive to a kind of sound.

Thus, from one guitar action (for simplicity) a very high tension strings forces you to a more powerful fingering and not everyone is comfortable with that, and a very low tension does not allow you to play loud as the risk of a possible unwished fret sounds would be higher.

It is very important, as I said before, the model of guitar, construction, (materials, shaping, bracing  etc … ) If the top is barniced with a very strong and vibration resistant lacquer it will require more volume and therefore more tension on the strings, while a thinner coating (made usually with natural methods like “french polish”, that protect the top less, of course) need lower tension to sound.

Apart from that, we have the strings manufacturers and the different materials that they use today. All these are general rules and cannot be taken as an example to all, however we could summarize this issue describing the tensions in the strings. We will talk only about normal and high tension strings, (the extra high or high normal are only intermediate steps between these two):

  1. Normal tension. More sustain and not so much volume. Ideal for playing at home, especially with complex harmonies and relaxed rhythms. For me it’s perfect for bossanova (and quiet jazz) always at home. To play live on stage I don’t find them very useful unless you have a guitar with a very nice preamp and is just this sound you want to project out an not the sound of the acoustics of your guitar. Pros Easy to play, soft. They are perfect for learning. Very nice touch and good sustain, ideal for interlazing harmonies and with rhythms that require sustain. Cons: Less volume and projection. They can make unwished fret sounds we play hard. More limited dynamics.
  2. High tenson. Less sustain but much more dynamics and brilliance. Ideal for many more styles where harmony, rhythm and melody are important. Pros: More projection and ability to play louder without sounding bad. More open to guitar techniques that require more volume (flamenco rasgueos etc). Cons: Requires more power on your fingers than normal tension. A little less sustain.

 

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