Which Guitar Strings Are Easiest On The Fingers?


Learning the guitar is not easy. It’s rare to find skilled guitarists who have not struggled during their first months or even years of learning. One of the notable concerns of new and novice guitarists is the difficulty they have with strings and the often painful interaction between the strings and their fingers. This leads many to ask, “which guitar strings are easiest on the fingers?”

Which guitar strings are easiest on the fingers? Nylon strings are easiest on the finger due to their smooth texture and low density compared to steel strings. In terms of steel strings, flatwound strings cause less friction than roundwound strings. Silk and steel winding is gentler on the fingers, as are most coated strings.

In this article, we’ll discuss which guitar strings are easiest on the finger and consider the significant factors that apply to the ease of use of various guitar string types.

Related articles:
• Top 11 Best Electric Guitar String Brands On The Market
• Top 11 Best Acoustic Guitar String Brands On The Market
• Top 11 Best Bass Guitar String Brands On The Market
• Top 10 Best Classical Guitar String Brands On The Market


Which Guitar Strings Are Easiest On The Fingers?

By default, nylon strings are softer to play and easier on the fingers than metal or catgut. This is due to the low density of nylon strings and its silky texture being far smoother and less taxing on the tips. It’s probably for this reason (among others) that classical guitars are considered academically as the best choice for beginners, even if students later opt for other guitar types.

Calluses, the areas of thickened and hardened skin that appear after frequent friction, may take some time to form, and finger pain may be inevitable during the first few weeks. Even after forming, they may still wane if you spend some time without fretting a guitar, which means that even experienced players could feel pain in their fingers if they decided to take time off.

However, the probability of suffering from finger pain, as well as its intensity, will depend somewhat on the string type. Not all strings pose the same level of difficulty. Aspects such as the material, build, and gauge can greatly affect how a string feels when fretting, sliding, bending, plucking, or slapping.

Guitar strings are made of either nylon, catgut, or metal. The material used also depends on the kind of guitar. Nylon and catgut are customarily reserved for classical or Spanish guitars, while metal is employed for acoustic, electric, and bass guitars.

However, being easier on the fingers doesn’t necessarily translate into easier playing. We must keep in mind that classical and Spanish guitars have a higher height/action than others (such as electric). A higher action means that fretting can still become a challenge for beginners because they will have to push the strings further/harder against the fretboard to deliver a clean sound.

Nevertheless, with nylon strings, you should experience far less pain than with other string varieties for the reasons outlined above. The problem is that classical guitar may not be suitable for all genres of music, and the player may feel very limited when using nylon strings exclusively.

Related articles:
Are Nylon Or Steel Strings Better For Acoustic Guitar?
Does Guitar Action/String Height Affect Tone?


Factors That Affect The Ease-Of-Use Of Guitar Strings

If you feel that nylon strings are not an option for you, you can try to find metal strings that are the most fitting if you want to suffer the least amount of finger pain while playing (we will not deal with catgut for the time being, as they are mostly used in more academic settings).

First of all, we need to know what metal strings are made of. There are three main components:

  • Core: the steel wire itself, made mostly from high-carbon steel alloy (or stainless steel in more specific cases). Normally, the 3 highest notes (G, B, and high-E) are pure steel cores and don’t include any winding or wrapping (some sets include a wound G string, though).
  • Wrapping (winding): implemented in order to increase the string’s width and, therefore, render lower notes. They’re made from various materials, but the most common are bronze, phosphor bronze, nickel, and nickel-plated. The three patterns used to wind the strings are roundwound, flatwound, and halfwound (also known as “groundwound”).
  • Coating: an optional feature aimed at increasing the string’s resistance to corrosion.

There is also the gauge, which is synonymous with the diameter or thickness of a string. Gauges are varied within a guitar category. Electric guitar string sets are built with lighter gauges than acoustic guitar sets, while bass guitar sets are the largest. The heavier the string, the more amount of tension it needs to produce higher notes. Thus, heavy strings are destined for lower notes.

Let’s analyze how some of these factors may affect the string’s playability or easiness on the fingers, notably:

String Gauge

By general rule, the lighter the gauge, the easier it is to push the string against the fretboard due to the lower mass.

Nonetheless, keep in mind that lighter strings tend to have a thinner tone, and they need to be plucked harder to sound as loud as a heavier string. They also tend to exert lower tension on the strings and rest closer to the fretboard, meaning that they are more prone to buzzing as they contact the frets.

Electric guitars are habitually easier on the fingers since the strings are lighter and require the least amount of force to deliver buzz-free sounds. The pickup mechanism also helps in this regard.

By contrast, acoustic guitars rely solely on the string’s vibration and the soundbox, which means that you need to play the strings harder to draw audible notes. Add to that the fact that the gauges are heavier, precisely to increase the volume of the guitar’s output, which means that you will develop sore fingers much easier with an acoustic guitar than you would with an electric one.

Check out the following My New Microphone articles for more information on string gauge:
Should I Use Light, Medium Or Heavy Gauge Guitar Strings?
Do Heavier/Thicker Gauge Guitar Strings Sound Better?
Should I Use Light Or Heavy Gauge Bass Guitar Strings?
Are Lighter/Thinner Gauge Guitar Strings Easier To Play?
Do Heavier/Thicker Gauge Guitar Strings Stay In Tune Better?

String Winding

As stated earlier, bass strings are either roundwound, flatwound, or halfwound. This is true of bass guitar strings and the bass strings of standard guitars.

Roundwound strings exert far more friction on the fingers and produce more abrasion due to the grooves produced by the ridges. They are also heavier than flatwound or groundwound strings of the same range.

On the flip side, flatwound strings are much more lenient on the fingers when sliding, but they can be very slippery for bending, and they also hold more tension, producing additional challenges on the fingers when trying to fret.

In summary, the playing style may determine, in this case, which winding pattern produces more pain on the fingers.

To learn more about roundwound and flatwound strings, check out my article Flatwound Guitar Strings Vs. Roundwound Guitar Strings.

String Material

It’s hard to distinguish whether the metal used for the strings could influence how soft they can feel on the fingers. While it’s true that some metals are harder than others, it’s also the case that almost all materials used for strings are, more or less, alloys or combinations of various metals.

The only material that could make a discernible difference is silk and steel, which is essentially a metal core wrapped with a combination of metal and silk. These strings naturally feel more satiny than the rest and can be a great choice for those who haven’t developed calluses yet.

String Coating

The coating consists of a polymer layer that protects the strings from environmental agents that cause corrosion. Apart from providing protection, it also makes the string feel silkier and smoother to the touch, benefitting the fingertips during a performance.

Non-coated strings feel rougher and more rugged, although some guitarists claim that they render louder and stronger sounds, yet, at times, the differences in tone can be negligible.

To learn more about coated guitar strings, check out my article The Differences Between Coated & Uncoated Guitar Strings.


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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