The origins of the guitar have been lost to history. It’s believed that stringed instruments were played over 5,000 years ago by the Hittite people from the Eastern Mediterranean Levant region and modern-day Turkey.
Fast forward in time and you’d find in thirteenth century Spain, the guitarra morisca and the guitarra latina, precursors to the modern acoustic guitar, with further innovations made over the following centuries. Yet it wasn’t until around 1850 that Antonio Torres Jurado – known as the most important guitar maker of the nineteenth century – is generally thought to have created what we know today as the modern acoustic guitar.
Almost one hundred years later, electric guitars were first sold in the early 1930s. Today, they include some of the most famous musical instruments ever created, including the Gibson Les Paul, the Rickenbacker 330 and the Fender Stratocaster.
Of course, every guitarist, from beginners to the greatest stadium rock axemen in the world, has strings on their guitar, and here we’ll tell you what they are made of and how guitar strings are manufactured.
The String’s The King
Under tension, i.e being plucked by the guitarist, guitar strings vibrate at different frequencies and this is what produces the different tones and sounds.
Each type of guitar requires a specific type of string. Acoustic guitars use nylon or steel strings, while electric guitars use steel and nickel strings. In this article, we’ll answer the question ‘how are guitar strings made’ for electric, acoustic and classical guitars.
Manufacturing Electric Guitar Strings
How are guitar strings made for electric guitars? It starts with a steel core wire that is examined under a 100x microscope to look for the tiniest flaws that can affect the sound of the finished product. Next, the diameter of the wire is measured and the wire is tested for tension, strength and elasticity.
The core wire is then wrapped with a very fine bronze wire and each string representing a different musical note is wrapped to a different thickness. The rule of thumb is that the finer the string, the finer the sound, and the thicker the string, the heavier the sound.
What are Electric Guitar Strings Made From?
There are three main types of electric guitar string:
Nickel-plated steel: These well-balanced strings are the most common – and softest – and are made from an alloy of steel and nickel at a ratio of around 90:10. Nickel is resistant to corrosion and these strings offer excellent response and tonality.
Pure nickel: Nickel strings are incredibly durable and the wire wrap in this case is 100% nickel. Pure nickel has a warmer, more mellow tone than nickel-plated steel and is particularly well suited to guitarists who play blues, jazz and classic rock. The main downside to these strings is that they are harder to play for beginners.
Stainless steel: Corrosion-resistant, long-lasting and offering a sharp sound, stainless steel strings don’t tend to feel as nice on the fingertips as nickel strings, and they can wear out the frets a little quicker than you might like. Overall, they are a good string for regular giggers who err on the side of hard rock.
Manufacturing Classical Guitar Strings
The method of how guitar strings are manufactured for classic and acoustic guitars is similar to the method used for electric guitar strings but the materials differ.
The strings of a classical guitar have a nylon core and are wound with wire, while the strings of an acoustic guitar are also slightly different. Since acoustic guitars don’t have the benefit of electric amplification, the strings need to be heavier to get the required sound from them.
Bronze strings (usually made up of 80% copper and 20% zinc) are softer than steel and are versatile with a bright sound. The chemists among you may well be thinking that copper and zinc makes brass, not bronze, and you’d be correct. Bronze is a misnomer but that’s the way they are marketed and sold.
Phosphor bronze strings are actually bronze, made up of approximately 92% copper and 8% tin, with a touch of phosphor added to prevent corrosion and oxidation. These strings have a more mellow, midrange quality and are predominantly used by finger-pickers and singer-songwriters.