Flatwound vs. Roundwound Strings
By Phil O'Keefe |
Flatwound vs. Roundwound Strings
by Phil O'Keefe
Does it make a difference which type of strings you use?
The average person probably doesn't put much thought into guitar strings guitar strings; to them, guitar strings are guitar strings and as long as you get the right strings for your guitar they're all pretty much the same. Yet experienced musicians know that's not the case. There's a huge variety of guitar string types available, and they come in a wide range of scale lengths and thicknesses or gauges. Instead of overwhelming you with every possible consideration when choosing the best guitar strings, we're going to focus in on just one in this article flatwound vs roundwound guitar strings.
Flatwound Guitar Strings or Roundwound Guitar Strings - What's the Difference ?
Guitar strings are made by wrapping material around an inner core of wire. Roundwound guitar strings use a round external wire to wrap around the inner wire core, while flatwound guitar strings use a flat, tape-like wire. The difference has an effect on the sound and playing feel of the guitar strings.
Roundwound Guitar Strings
Roundwound guitar strings tend to have a brighter, more harmonically complex tone. They are available in the widest selection of string gauges and materials (nickel, stainless steel, etc.) and many companies now offer treated or coated roundwound guitar strings to improve their life, as well as reduce the buildup of dirt and oils in the wraps that would otherwise make them "go dead" faster.
The downsides to roundwound guitar strings are that finger squeaks and other noises from repositioning your hands on the guitar neck. Roundwound guitar strings also tend to cause little grooves to wear into your frets faster than flatwound guitar strings, so you may need to refret your guitar more often if you use roundwound guitar strings .
Flatwound Guitar Strings
Flatwound guitar strings tend to have a darker tone that emphasizes the note fundamental, with limited harmonic content compared to roundwound guitar strings. Another big advantage to many players is the smoother playing feel of flatwound guitar strings, which can be easier on the fingertips, not to mention your fingerboard and guitar frets .
Flatwound guitar strings tend to be harder to find, cost a bit more and come in a more limited variety of string gauges. Flatwound guitar strings can also be harder to bend. However, note that guitarists who play MIDI guitar often find tracking is more reliable with flatwound guitar strings due to the reduced harmonic content; flatwound guitar strings are also popular among jazz guitarists.
Does It Matter Who Wins the Popularity Contest?
Roundwound guitar strings and flatwound guitar strings are available for both guitar and bass. Roundwound guitar strings are by far the more popular of the two with modern players, and most new guitars come equipped with this guitar string type. While generally not as popular as they once were, flatwound guitar strings are more popular with bassists today than they are with guitarists. What's the sonic difference? Think of "Bernadette" by the Four Tops - that's a flatwound guitar string sound on the bass, while "Roundabout" by Yes features a bass with roundwound guitar strings.
If you play guitar, don't overlook the usefulness of flatwound guitar strings for getting different tones. There are some guitar tones you can't get any other way than by using flatwound guitar strings, so if you've never tried a set of flatwound strings, you should give them a try sometime. Not only may you find interesting new sounds, you may find you prefer the playing feel of flatwound guitar strings. At the end of the day, that's what the decision comes down to - sound and feel. There's no "right or wrong" answer when selecting guitar string types - just preferences. The only way you'll know which one you prefer is to try them both. -HC-
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Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.