Your Guide to Choosing and Installing Guitar and Ukulele Strings

Everything about Guitar Strings and Ukulele Strings - Types, Gauges, Coated strings, How to change them, What's best for beginners, and more!


Jace Snel

2/17/20249 min read

a guitar sitting on a table next to a potted plant
a guitar sitting on a table next to a potted plant

Your Guide to Choosing and Installing Guitar and Ukulele Strings

Strings are the unsung heroes of the music world, quietly shaping the sound and play-ability of our beloved guitars and ukuleles. Whether you're strumming an acoustic melody by the campfire or shredding a face-melting solo on your electric guitar, the type of strings you choose can make all the difference.

In this guide, we'll take a deep dive into the world of guitar and ukulele strings, from understanding the different types to mastering the art of installation. We are going to take a look at:

What are the different types of strings.

Which string gauge you should choose for your guitar and why?

Electric or Acoustic strings, 12 String, Ukulele strings – Whats the difference?

Which Strings are best for beginners?

Installation guide – Including a few tips and tricks.

Understanding String Types

Let's kick things off by breaking down the various types of strings available for Guitars and Ukuleles:

Electric Guitar Strings:

Nickel: Nickel-wound strings are known for their warm, balanced tone with a smooth feel under the fingers. They offer a classic sound that's well-suited to a wide range of musical styles, from blues and jazz to rock and pop. Nickel strings tend to have a slightly lower output compared to steel strings, which can contribute to a more vintage or mellow sound.

Steel: Steel strings, on the other hand, are prized for their bright, articulate tone and enhanced sustain. They deliver a crisp attack and plenty of bite, making them ideal for genres that require cutting through the mix, such as country, metal, and hard rock. Steel strings are also known for their durability and resistance to corrosion, making them a popular choice for players who need reliability and longevity from their strings.

The main difference between nickel and steel strings lies in their tonal characteristics and feel. While nickel strings offer a warmer, more balanced tone, steel strings provide a brighter, more aggressive sound. Additionally, nickel strings tend to feel smoother and more comfortable under the fingers, whereas steel strings may feel slightly rougher due to their higher tension and harder surface.

When choosing between nickel and steel electric guitar strings, consider factors such as your playing style, musical preferences, and desired tone. Experimenting with both types can help you find the perfect match for your instrument and playing style.

Acoustic Guitar Strings:

Bronze: Bronze acoustic guitar strings are made from an alloy primarily composed of copper and tin. These strings offer a bright, crisp tone with pronounced mid-range frequencies. They tend to have a clear, articulate sound that's well-suited for strumming and finger-picking across a wide range of musical styles, from folk and country to pop and rock.

Phosphor Bronze: Phosphor bronze acoustic guitar strings are similar to bronze strings but with the addition of phosphorus to the alloy. This results in a slightly warmer, more balanced tone compared to traditional bronze strings. Phosphor bronze strings deliver rich, full-bodied sound with enhanced bass response and smoother highs, making them a popular choice for players who prefer a mellower, more vintage-inspired tone.

Nylon: Nylon Guitar or Ukulele strings are the traditional choice for classical Guitar and traditional ukulele players. They offer a warm, mellow tone with smooth play-ability and gentle sustain. Nylon strings are easy on the fingers and produce a soft, rounded sound that's perfect for strumming and finger-picking They're also known for their affordability and durability, making them a great option for beginners and seasoned players alike.

Ukulele Strings: Nylon vs. Fluorocarbon

Nylon: As we just discussed, Nylon is the main string type for Ukulele and what you will find on 90% of them!

Fluorocarbon: Fluorocarbon ukulele strings are a newer innovation that has gained popularity in recent years. These strings are made from a synthetic material called fluorocarbon, which offers superior tuning stability, clarity, and projection compared to nylon strings. Fluorocarbon strings produce a bright, clear tone with excellent intonation and sustain, making them ideal for players who want a more modern, dynamic sound. They're also less susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity, making them a reliable choice for gigging musicians and traveling performers.

Coated Strings: Pros and Cons

Coated strings are another option and one I really love. Personally, I only use coated types of strings for my instruments. Heres a run down:


  1. Extended Lifespan: Coated strings boast an extended lifespan due to a protective coating that shields against moisture, dirt, and oils from fingers, thereby preventing corrosion and preserving their tone for longer periods.

  2. Resistance to Corrosion: Highly resistant to corrosion, coated strings remain unaffected even in humid or corrosive environments, ensuring a consistent and reliable tone throughout their lifespan. Include strings rusting from the sweat of your hands!

  3. Consistent Tone: Unlike standard strings that may lose their brightness relatively quickly, coated strings maintain a consistent tone for a longer time, allowing players to enjoy a reliably great sound throughout their usage. It might not start with the same twang as standard strings but the 90% will last a lot longer.

  4. Smooth Feel: The slick surface provided by the coating enhances play-ability by offering a smooth feel under the fingers, facilitating bending, sliding, and intricate finger-picking with ease and comfort.


  1. Initial Cost: While coated strings offer long-term savings by reducing the frequency of string changes, their higher upfront cost may deter some players, particularly those on a tight budget. If you're a string breaker (for some reason) this might be a factor.

  2. Tonal Differences: This is usually the one I hear as an argument against them. Some players perceive subtle differences in tone between coated and standard strings, with coated strings occasionally producing a slightly different sound, albeit maintaining overall quality and consistency.

  3. Less String "Feel": The presence of coating can create a barrier between the player's fingers and the string, resulting in slightly less tactile feedback or "feel" compared to standard strings, though this can be a matter of personal preference. It can kinda feel a little slippery if you're not used to them, but maybe less tough on the fingers.

Choosing between coated and standard strings hinges on individual preferences, playing style, and budget considerations. While coated strings offer durability, consistent tone, and smooth play-ability, they come at a higher initial cost and may exhibit subtle differences in tone and feel. I highly recommend giving them a go but ultimately, experimentation is key to finding the perfect match for each player's instrument and playing style.

Differences Between String Gauges

Now that you know the different types of strings, let's talk about string gauges. Essentially, this refers to the thickness of the strings, and it can have a big impact on your instrument's play-ability and tone.

Understanding String Gauges:

Understanding string gauges can be a bit confusing at first, but it's essential for finding the right strings for your playing style and preferences. String gauges are typically measured in thousandths of an inch (e.g., .010, .011) for guitars and in millimeters for ukuleles. The lower the gauge number, the thinner the string, and vice versa. They're categorized by the thinnest string typically.

  • Light Gauge (eg 0.009/0.010–0.046): These strings are thin and easy to play, making them perfect for beginners or players who prefer a lighter touch. They're great for strumming and bending notes with ease.

  • Medium Gauge (eg 0.011–0.052): Offering a nice balance between play-ability and tone, medium gauge strings are a popular choice for many guitarists. They're versatile enough to handle a variety of playing styles and genres.

  • Heavy Gauge (eg 0.012–0.056): If you're after maximum volume and sustain, heavy gauge strings are the way to go. They require a bit more finger strength to play, but the payoff is a powerful, robust tone that'll shake the rafters.

When choosing string gauges, consider factors such as your playing style, preferred tone, and the specific requirements of your instrument. Lighter gauge strings are generally easier to play and bend, while heavier gauge strings offer greater volume and sustain. Experimenting with different gauges can help you find the perfect balance of play-ability and tone for your musical needs.

Choosing Strings for 12-String Guitars

Ah, the 12-string guitar – a thing of beauty and a joy forever. But choosing strings for these bad boys can be a bit tricky. Most of the things we have talked about are still valid. The difference being there is obviously 12 strings (now make sure you check for this on the packet) – they come in octave pairs which should be obvious when you open the pack. However, if you have a 12 string, I doubt this is your first rodeo. Have fun changing all those strings though!

greyscale photo of jazz guitar
greyscale photo of jazz guitar

Which Strings are best for beginners?

Nylon will be the easiest on your fingers especially for a new player, which is why people often start here. Plus most cheaper guitars are made for nylon strings since they require less tension than a steel string and your guitar can be made more cheaply. This is not to say they don't sound great and can be used on very expensive classical guitars.

Thinner gauge electric guitar strings are going to be the second best choice for beginners, where the pressure from your fingers needs to be lower – this can also mean you need to control your pressure as well as to not press the string out of tune.

Smaller body guitars can also be effective in reducing the overall tension of the strings, they might not sound quite the same but can make it easier on a starter.

Coated strings will mean you have to change them less often and wont go bad from sitting in the cupboard for months (hopefully it doesn't though!)

Installation Guide

Now that you've chosen the perfect strings, it's time to install them on your guitar or ukulele. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you out:

Installation Guide: How to Install Guitar Strings

Installing new strings on your guitar is a crucial skill for any guitarist. Follow these steps for a smooth and successful string installation process:

  1. Gather Your Tools: Before you begin, make sure you have all the necessary tools on hand:

    • String winder (not really necessary, just makes it easier)

    • Wire cutters (Pliers work, don't ruin your good scissors!)

    • Guitar tuner

    • Clean cloth/Paper towel

  1. Prepare Your Workspace: Find a comfortable, well-lit space to work in. Lay down a clean cloth to protect your guitar's finish and prevent any small parts from rolling away. (If you're changing acoustic strings, don't lose the pegs holding the strings in.)

  2. Loosen the Old Strings: Using the string winder, carefully loosen and remove the old strings from your guitar. Start with the low E string and work your way up to the high E string. Be sure to unwind the strings slowly to avoid any sudden releases of tension, which could damage your guitar.

  3. Remove old strings: Once you have them clear from the head of the guitar, you can remove them from the body side. Some will just slide straight out, some will need to be untied, some you will have to remove pegs to get them out. (you can use a teaspoon to help get them out if they're stuck, careful not to scratch the guitar though!)

  4. Clean the Fretboard: With the old strings removed, take this opportunity to clean the fretboard using a clean cloth. Remove any dirt, dust, or debris that may have accumulated.

  5. Install the New Strings:

    • Starting with the low E string, insert the ball end into the corresponding bridge pin hole (for acoustic guitars), bridge tailpiece (for electric guitars) or slide through the hole and tie (ukulele)

    • Pull the string taut and insert the other end into the tuning peg hole, leaving a few inches of slack.

    • Wind the string around the tuning peg in the direction of the peg's rotation, ensuring that each wrap lays neatly next to the previous one with all strings being wound toward the centre of the guitar.

    • Once the string is secured, use the string winder to tighten it to the desired tension. Be careful not to over-tighten, as this can cause the string to break or the tuning peg to strip.

  6. Repeat for the Remaining Strings: Follow the same process for each remaining string, working your way from the low E string to the high E string. Be sure to leave a few inches of slack in each string before winding it around the tuning peg.

  7. Tune the Guitar: Once all the strings are installed, use a guitar tuner to bring each string up to pitch. Start with the low E string and work your way up to the high E string, tuning each string carefully to ensure proper intonation.

  8. Stretch the Strings: After tuning, gently stretch each string by pulling it away from the fretboard and then returning it. This helps to seat the strings properly on the guitar and stabilise their tension. This can be scary if you've never done it – but I have never had one break doing this.

  9. Trim Excess String: Finally, use wire cutters to trim any excess string length near the tuning pegs. Be careful not to cut the string too close to the peg, as this can cause it to slip out of tune. You can always loop it up into a neat circle also.

  10. Final Tune: Give your guitar a final tune-up to ensure that all strings are properly seated and in tune. Congratulations, you've successfully installed new strings on your guitar!

And there you have it – a crash course in choosing and installing guitar strings and ukulele strings!

Whether you're a seasoned pro or a total newbie, finding the right strings for your instrument and installing them properly can make a world of difference in your playing experience. So go ahead, experiment with different string types and gauges, and let your creativity soar!

Here you can check out some other handy guides:

How to read Guitar and Ukulele Tablature

Baratone Ukulele Breakdown

Best Beginner Guitar Riffs

black and brown Gibson Les Paul guitar head stock
black and brown Gibson Les Paul guitar head stock