Strings 101 - Understanding Classical Guitar String Tensions
Posted by Rothko and Frost on June 02, 2014
Classical guitar strings come in a range of tensions. This is unique to classical guitars as all other guitar string types come in different gauges not tensions. Tensions determine how easy the guitar is to play and how much 'give' the string has.
Classical guitar strings are also made from a variety of materials depending on the string. The E, A, and D strings tend to be made out of silver-plated wound copper, while the G, B and e strings are traditionally made out solid, round-section nylon.
High tension strings
High tension classical guitar strings tend to be favoured by professional classical guitar players, for a number of reasons. One is that high tension strings when set up and strung correctly do not tend to produce fret buzz. Also, high tension strings have a higher volume output that other string tensions and have a greater tonal depth.
High tension strings are often used in flamenco guitar playing and are useful for players who want a low action without any fret buzz. However, high tension strings can be harder to play and make it difficult to use techniques such as vibrato and legato.
Low tension strings
Low tension strings, in contrast, are much easier to play. This is due to the lower level of pressure needed to fret the strings and potentially means you can play faster. Guitar techniques such as a complex vibrato or a smooth-sounding legato are easier to perform on low tension strings.
There are a few disadvantages with low tension strings, such as unwanted fret buzz, which takes a lot of playing experience to avoid. Also, low tension sets have an increased chance of string breakage due to their slack feel when played hard.
Medium tension strings
Medium tension strings are a happy middle ground, taking the best aspects of low and high tension strings to create a versatile set of classical guitar strings, although a point to consider is that medium tension strings tend not to have a tone or playability type of their own, which can prove frustrating for those wishing to really refine their playing style.
Bear in mind that tension can sometimes vary from brand to brand. What one manufacturer may consider to be a set of strings with a certain tension may be viewed differently by another company.
The best advice we can give is to play as many types of classical guitar strings as possible before settling on a brand or tension type – you may be surprised what you like and straying outside of your comfort zone as a musician is a great way of keeping your playing fresh and rewarding.