Back in the day you would ask your local drugstore clerk for a pack of cat gut strings, knowing the term a misnomer. Fortunately nylon has since been implemented as a suitable replacement, and then a whole new line of other types of string sets were invented. Flat wound strings vs. round wound strings and each set has its own version of nickel or steel manufacturing material. There have been versions of other kinds of materials and plenty of experiments but when it comes right down to it a set of strings can be just as job specific as a microphone is. Here is where we will understand why so many different kinds of strings are manufactured for guitar.
We will start with acoustic guitars and acoustic styles of music. Acoustic guitars need a heavier gauge string in order to project the sound more efficiently. Acoustic guitars require more hand strength because of the higher resistance that heavy gauge strings create. An acoustic-electric guitar pickup can be added to the guitar to improve and amplify the sound and in this case a lighter gauge of strings can be utilized. Nylon, brass and nickel versions of string sets can be purchased at any local music store or ordered online if needed. Acoustic guitars require more accuracy from the performer but can create lush sounds when an artist can adapt to this style of guitar performance.
Electric guitars have pickup systems installed and are useless for a performance if they are not plugged in. The pickups are wound in specific ways in order to create the highest amount of signal that is then passed on to the amplification system. Electric guitars tend to use lighter strings for aggressive “shred” styles of music and heavy strings for rhythm progressions. The standard stainless steel sets of strings are affordable and sound bright for long periods of time. There are also specialty strings that have special coatings applied that allow for longer use but the trade off here is that the brilliance and sustain of the string are reduced.
Gauges of string sets range from light (.009) to heavy (.011) and each gauge performs beautifully for its designed task. There are also several specialty sets to choose from that contain ultra light to ultra heavy gauges of string sets. Jazz players prefer the warm smooth sound of flat wound strings while rock guitarists prefer the pliability of light gauge round wound strings. At the end of the day it comes down to what is right for your specific style of music and the specific guitar tone that you want to create. Lighter gauges provide less resistance while heavier gauges provide deep bass frequency response. If you are looking for more sustain then stay with the steel or nickel versions.