Best Electric Guitar Strings

13th September


What are the best strings for electric guitar?

Best electric guitar stringsOne of the most common question I get about electric guitars – from beginners as well as more advanced players – is this: “What are the best electric guitar strings?”

Before we can attempt to answer this question, we will have a brief discussion about guitar strings in general.

I would however first of all like to draw your attention to a really magnificent string guide by ‘Professor String’ – Think You Know Guitar Strings?

This excellent, no fluff and to the point guide is hands down the best I’ve seen if you want to know more about the subject. And why wouldn’t you?

Any down sides? The only one I can think of is that the author doesn’t directly say which strings are best… Apart from that – top notch in all areas!

If you want to be better armed with knowledge about guitar strings, then do yourself a favor and check this guitar string guide out today. This could really help you get the best out of your guitar and eventually make it so much more enjoyable and efficient to learn electric guitar.

The types of guitars and guitar strings

There are in general three major types of guitar strings, each designed to get the best out of their respective instruments. Strings designed for acoustic steel string (flat top) guitars; there’s nylon strings and finally strings designed for electric guitars.

Rather than going into great detail about the various types and all the various upsides and downsides of strings for acoustic guitars (classic/nylon string guitars and flat top/steel string guitars), I encourage you to get hold of the thorough string guide by professor String.

However, there are some major points that needs to be addressed here in reference to electric guitars.

Nylon guitar strings

Nylon (or its predecessor, gut strings) are designed for nylon string guitars/classical guitars – period. I can’t even begin to count the number of times people have asked if they can put these nylon strings on steel string guitars or even on electrics.

The tension in these strings is far too moderate to properly drive the heavier braced tops on steel string acoustics + you can’t fasten them easily on these guitars.

It goes without saying really, that the material in these strings have no magnetic property what so ever. Hence they are no good to use on electric guitars.

Acoustic steel strings:

The windings on these acoustic strings are usually in some form of bronze or phosphor bronze. These are made to enhance the acoustic sound, but they lack the magnetic properties you will need to have fully functional with magnetic guitar pickups.

The tension in these strings are much too high for the lighter construction (bracing, top, tuners, neck and saddle) of a classical/nylon string guitar. So again you are out of luck as far as electric usage goes (electric acoustic guitars is of course another matter).

Electric guitar strings:

Strings designed for use with a magnetic guitar pickup incorporate alloys such as steel and nickel. These materials don’t sound very good on acoustic steel string guitars but they do work well with the magnetic field in single coil or humbucker guitar pickups.

The best guitar strings:

Some will argue that it really doesn’t matter which type of strings you put on your electric guitar, since that argue that there are only a handful of factories making strings.

As Professor String outlines in his book, this is far from the truth. There are in fact a great number of string factories – smaller and larger – in operation today. He also argues that it is indeed a great deal of variation in the quality of many of the brands available today.

Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, he does not give any hints (apart from a very vague mention of one particular guitar brand) as to what the better makes are.

Personally, I tend to prefer D’addario strings on most of my electric guitars. These seems to work very well for me, plus they have always been in tune intonation wise as far as I have been able to tell.

You will need to make up your own mind and test some of the various brands for yourself. But trust me, you will be so much wiser after having read the previous mentioned book!

Coated guitar strings:

One of the things you may consider is to test out a set of coated electric guitar strings. I use Elixir Nanoweb strings on some guitars and they are usually working very good. Others swear by Cleartone strings. I haven’t tested these enough to offer my recommendations though.

The very thin polymer coating on these strings makes them last quite a bit longer and they don’t sound quite as dull as some other coated strings can.

String gauge:

One thing you need to be aware of is the issue of string gauges. Gauge is a measurement of the thickness of strings in thousands of an inch. When you hear numbers like 9 or 10 being mentioned, they are in fact referring to 0.009 and 0.010 (9/thousands and 10/thousands of inches).

Keeping it simplified, lighter/thinner strings have less mass and less volume than thicker strings. The upside is that they are easier to bend and fret.

Heavier strings are harder to fret and bend, but they tend to give more sound (and some times also sustain) than lighter strings. The higher tension is usually more important on acoustic guitars, and you will typically find that heavier strings are used on acoustic steel strings as opposed to electric guitars.

So what is the right gauge of strings for you? Unfortunately this is also one of these things you will have to work out for yourself. Here are some pointers though:

Playing slide guitar? If so, then you will probably need heavier strings and also raise the action on the guitar.

Are you tuning down? It that’s the case, then you will also want to try heavier strings. Be aware that heavier strings alone may not be enough if you tune way down. Some times a longer neck scale is also needed to keep the guitar in tune.

Lots of tapping and finger bends? If you are more of a typical “shredder”, then you may want to go for lighter strings and perhaps even adjust the action (string height) accordingly – setting it a bit lower.

Old style rock and roll or rock-a-billy guitar? Some players of these styles of music prefer the older type of flat wound or the compromise of half wound strings (also termed ground wound or pressure wound). These types of strings – the usual today is regular round wound strings – is some times even preferred by slide guitar players or those who play lap steel guitar.

Adjusting your guitar to the gauge and tuning you use:

When you have decided what string gauge you want to use or try out, and what tuning you want to play in, you will typically need to have your guitar set-up properly in order to get the best out of your strings and your playing. You can read more about that here.

Here’s some great tips about electric guitar string gauges from the good folks at Next Level Guitar. Their course is as you probably know highly recommended:

And of course, speaking of Professor String, here’s a video of the guy demonstrating the hand crafted way of making strings. And in case you wonder, the shades are there to protect the eyes – it’s not some attempt to look cool:

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Left Handed Guitars

30th May


Left with a right handed guitar?

left-handed-guitarsPlease raise your dominant hand all budding electric guitar players out there! Good, I see we have a few who is left handed. Anything else would have been quite a surprise. Oh yes, feel free to take your hand down now :-)

Through the years I have met quite a few left handed guitar players, many of whom were struggling with either finding a decent lefty guitar, or biting the bullet and adopting to a regular right handed one.

Then you had a number of lefty guitarists, who bought a right handed instrument and converted it into a left handed one. Possible? Absolutely. The best solution? Not very likely.

In the following, we will take a look at the various options and potential obstacles you have as a lefthanded guitar player. And more importantly: Is it really needed to go shopping for dedicated left handed guitars?

A good left handed electric guitar

If you really insist on getting a good lefty, then at least take a look at the Agile left handed guitars. As you probably know by now, I’m a huge fan of these guitars – moderately priced and an almost insane value for your money.

Apart from these instruments, many makers have a wide variety of left handed guitars you may hunt down. That said, there are far less guitars being made of the lefty variety, simply because right handed guitar players are in the overwhelming majority.

The flip side of the (guitar) coin

One option that is tempting to a number of players, is to modify a right handed guitar to play “up side down”. While this has been done by many players, including giants such as Jimmy Hendrix who flipped his Fender Statocaster over and let it rip.

Very few of this category of left handed players used a right handed instrument without altering it. Without any modifications, the strings will be reversed also.

The common thing to do in this case is to reverse the order of the strings, so that you still have the low E-string on top. But before you say “cool!” and merrily hop along off to do some guitar flipping 101, consider this:

- The guitar nut will have to be changed
- The bridge and each bridge saddle has to be changed
- The controls will end up on the top
- The output jack will be in an awkward place
- The cutaways may no longer give you access to the upper frets
- Any vibrato unit will have the arm upside down
- Strap button placement needs to be altered
- The balance of the guitar changes, some times significantly

On some electric guitars, it is quite easy to alter the bridge and the bridge saddles. On others, like the ones which uses the Gibson tune-o-matic bridge, you’ll have to do some hefty modifications to the guitar in order to have the instrument play in tune.

Is this really worth all the hassle? The answer, in my right handed and biased opinion, is plain and simply a resounding no.

Seen many left handed violin players lately?

Consider this: There are quite a number of left handed violin, viola and cello players. Where are they, or how come they don’t use left handed instruments?

Also, don’t you think that the mere fact that a left handed violin player can handle a regular violin without a problem should tell us something of importance here?

When a real complicated instrument like this can be handled the “other way around”, I dare say it is no harder for a left handed guitarist to play a regular right handed guitar. I would even go so far as claiming you’re at an obvious advantage! You lucky duck :-)

Let your stronger hand do the heavy work!

If you start out with a regular, right handed instrument from day one, then you can in fact let your dominant hand (your left, right?) take care of the most difficult task, namely the fretting.

Also, since your left hand will be the strongest, it is an advantage to use that hand for the task which requires the largest amount of force – again it’s the fretting.

I can’t begin to count all the times I have had claims from left handed people who wants to learn electric guitar, saying something to the effect: “I need a left handed guitar, it feels so awkward to play right handed!”

Next thing you know, they go and purchase a lefty guitar … and guess what? They soon realize that it isn’t easier to play a left handed guitar. It is the act of learning guitar in the first place that is hard.

I’ll leave you with this train of though… Late, great Jeff Healey was legally blind, and as we all know he was an awesome and inspirational guitar player. Healey adopted a unique style of playing with the guitar placed in his lap while he played with his fingers. Many say this is simply because no one told him how he was supposed to play the guitar.

In any case, when you hear this sadly missed giant play “While My Guitar Gently Weep” with his guitar placed like this – don’t you think the rest of us can at least adopt to playing our guitar the other way around? You’ll be the judge of that for yourself.

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Guitar Barre Chords

22nd May


A barre chord lesson

guitar-barre-chordsMake no mistake about it – a barre chord, or bar chord as it is also (although incorrectly) called, can be a real challenge to all budding electric guitar players.

It should go without saying that it is definitely not easier to do correctly and efficiently on an acoustic guitar.

In the following, we will examine some of the ways you can alleviate things and make it easier for yourself to pull of a barre chord/bar chord without calling it quits prematurely, wanting to pull your hairs one by one out or being in urgent need of painkillers or physiotherapy :-)

There are quite a few things you can do both to your playing as well as your guitar, in order to make guitar barre chords quite a bit more manageable.

But first…

What is a barre chord?

The correct spelling of this way of playing a chord is barré. Here, you’ll commonly use your index finger (and occasionally more than one finger) to press down multiple strings across the fretboard on your guitar. You may think of the index finger being a guitar capo or a “bar” pressing the strings down, and perhaps this is where the name bar chord came from.

This action of barring the strings across the fingerboard enables you to play chords not restricted by the notes of the open strings on your guitar.

Bar chords are some times also called moveable chords: The logical reason for this, is that you can easily and quickly move the various chord shapes on the guitar neck as you see fit.

Lowering the bar

I have had several people asking me how they should go about managing these “dreaded bar chords”. In fact, I suspect more than one person has given up the idea to learn electric guitar all together simply because they didn’t manage to play barre chords at all.

The sad thing really is this: The same folks have been chocked at how much easier it could be once their guitar was properly set-up. You see, a badly adjusted guitar makes playing these chords very hard even for experienced players.

To learn more about the importance of proper guitar set-up and our recommended guitar set-up guide, you can read more at this post: Guitar setup. I can guarantee you this: You will likely be amazed at how much easier a properly adjusted guitar is to handle. It can almost be a make or brake issue as far as playing barre chords goes…

How to play barre chords

There are quite a number of small but significant things you can do to you playing technique to make these moveable bar chords easier to do. This includes how to anchor your thumb on the backside of the guitar neck, opposite of the barring finger/s; where to place and how to tilt your bar finger to get cleaner notes and more.

It is always easier to see this in a video, rather than reading a lengthy, written explanation. I reckon the below video should be very helpful to you.

(Don’t) lean into it!

Another thing you should be aware of is that many beginners tend to slump or lean over their guitar in order to see where they place their fingers.  This is a bad habit in general, and really bad for being able to play guitar barre chords properly.

What happens is that it becomes much harder to hold your anchor thumb in the proper position on the guitar neck. It is also much harder to maintain enough pressure with the fretting hand and thumb if you don’t sit straight and hold your fretting hand at a proper angle.

Take it easy!

As with everything else, it is tempting to force yourself and being impatient. Just remember that mastering bar chords takes time. No matter how good your technique is and no matter how good your guitar set-up is, it still takes time to build up sufficient strength in your hand as well as “muscle memory” and coordination.

Remember to go easy on yourself and take brakes. Do some simple barre chord exercises for half an hour maximum to begin with, then play something else (or take a brake all together)!

Follow the above guidelines and you will soon have these chords down :-)

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Guitar Setup

2nd January


Guitar Set-Up: Get Into The Action

Having your electric or acoustic guitar properly set up and adjusted is way too often overlooked when you want to learn electric guitar skills.

One of the best places I have found to dig into this vital aspect of having a guitar that will bring out the best in you for years to come is this: Learn and Master Guitar Set-Up. Do check it out when you have the time.

Disclosure: We are compensated when you purchase products reviewed here through our links. We do our best to test each product thoroughly and recommend only the best. The opinions expressed here are our own.

Here’s the thing: You would more than likely think I was making it all up if I told you how many times people came to me asking about problems they had with playing their beginner guitar – and it just boiled down to an inferior or non-existent guitar setup.

“I can’t do a barre-chord for my life”. “It hurts playing the guitar”, or “This guitar is killing me”, people would say. Then, after a few simple tweaks, it was time and time again like a burden was almost magically lifted from their shoulders!

Having a guitar that is well adjusted will many times relieve you of so much extra strain and discomfort that it is almost unreal. The opposite, having a badly adjusted guitar, is a real confidence and motivation killer. Yes, it is many times that bad…

A more expensive guitar will come better adjusted from the factory and/or the dealer. Some times you can even have the guitar tailored and adjusted for your specific playing style and comfort.

Here are the most common factors in order to set up a guitar so that you will stay motivated and continue playing on a regular an on-going basis.

Set up your guitar – the basics

guitar set-up

Before doing anything else, you should have your neck checked. First, you will need to have the guitar frets checked. Any loose or uneven frets may give you a host of problems further down the road.

Usually, this is not a problem. You will now put on a fresh set of guitar strings (after you have cleaned the fretboard of course :). The string gauge – how heavy or light your set of strings are – will determine the set up. Most beginners will in general use fairly light strings as these are easier to play.

The next step is to check that the neck is straight with the strings tuned to concert pitch. Almost straight, that is – you will need just a tiny neck relief in the neck (think of the guitar neck as being like a very wide and extremely shallow “valley”). If you press down one of the outer strings on the first and 12th fret, there should be just a tiny fraction of a gap between the string and the fret somewhere in the middle – around the 6th fret.

When you get hold the info at the page I mentioned, you should have no problem with doing this yourself. I would however ask you to be careful unless you know what you’re doing. The neck truss rod found in electric and acoustic steel string guitars will need to have just a quarter of a turn at the time most of the times. Go gently and use the proper guitar setup tool!

When the neck is set up properly, you may adjust the height of the bridge. On an electric guitar this is very easy. An acoustic guitar will need to have the bridge saddle manually adjusted. Again, this is not hard … when you have the right tools and know how.

The final step – if needed – is to adjust the depth of the nut (found between the guitar tuners and at the first fret). Here you will definitely need proper tools and knowledge. You do not want to file away on a guitar nut or cut the slots too deep!

What a relief!

This may seem like a lot of work and perhaps even something you will never manage yourself. Yes, often times you will need to have your guitar checked by a qualified repairer.

However, you can save quite a bit of time, hassle and money by knowing what to look for and what you can manage yourself. The guitar setup guide I mentioned is perfect for that, as well as teaching you proper guitar maintenance.

And rest assured – a properly adjusted electric guitar may well be worth a small investment in time or money.

I’d love to hear your comments and experiences about it!

Spotlight Series Guitar Set-Up with Greg Voros

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