Good and matching strings will gloss over faults and reveal all good qualities in your instrument. We should have some basic ideas about strings before we learn how to choose them.
Strings are made from core string with metal winding. The material choice for the core can greatly influence the thickness (gauge) and tension of the strings which will determine the playing response and tone colour.
There are four main types of core: gut, solid steel, stranded steel, and synthetic materials.
Since the appearance of string instruments, gut core strings made from sheep intestine were the only type of strings for several hundred years. Despite the fact that these strings are known to have the warmest, most colourful and complex sound rich in overtones, they take much longer time to settle after installing on the instrument and easily go out of tune with slight changes in temperature and humidity. Moreover, compared to other strings, they are the most unstable and difficult strings to handle because they react slower, make softer/weaker sound and have shorter longevity. Nonetheless, because of the peculiar sound characters, gut core strings are still sought after by professional players who pursue Baroque style of playing and making traditional sounds.
In comparison, strings with steel or steel strands core are the most durable, highly responsive, stable in pitch and tone, and affordable – the perfect choice for beginners. Steel core stings offers bright and focused sound with the highest volume; therefore it is often acquired by musicians who play in non-classical music styles and electric string instruments.
Synthetic core strings are modified version of gut core strings made with synthetic materials such as nylon and composite fibers. They have the good qualities of both gut core strings and steel core stings which include the rich sound qualities from the former and the stability, durability and sensitivity in response from the latter. That’s why even synthetic core strings are more expensive, it is still very popular amongst intermediate to professional players.
String core is wound by metals such as aluminium, steel, titanium, and those with higher density and heavier mass are usually used on lower strings. Though aluminium is one of the most commonly used metals and less expensive, it does not last as long as those using metals such as steel and titanium with stronger resistance against corrosion by oil from skin.
Gauge and Tension
Depending on the choice of materials, the guage (thickness) and tension (the force needed to stretch the string to the desired pitch) may be different for strings of the same pitch. When we choose our strings, we will usually pay attention to the tension because the greater the tension, the more power and sound it can make but also the slower the response. That’s why most people will prefer medium gauge and tension in order to strike a balance between response and tone colour for the best performance of their instruments.
Now we should have a some idea about strings. But there is just one last thing that we take note on.
For strings that have the same pitch and tension and use the same materials for winding and core, it is still possible that they will sound different if they are from two manufacturers. It is because tension is not standardized amongst different brands and each manufacturer has different pursuance in tone colours. If we are looking for the strings that suit our tastes, it will be the best to try them out ourselves.