by Professor String

The Guitar String Jungle. Are You Judging A Book By The Cover?




If you have ever taken a look at the wall full of string selections at a major music store, then you are going to appreciate “the secret” about to be uncovered. You might be asking yourself “What secret? I didn’t know there was a secret” Well, there is a secret. It is seldom discussed amongst guitarists and guitar instructors. We are going to take a look at it in this article.


The Strung-out Jungle

Strings are no longer a simple purchase as they were many years ago. The string market has turned into a serious jungle of choices, technologies, and hype. Think about it. The string choices Charlie Christen and Chuck Berry had back in the day were nothing like the choices we have today. The choices today are overwhelming. For the technical super tone geek, it’s heaven. For the simple beginner, it’s hell! There is one question that is asked more times than any question about strings. You can hear this question being asked almost every time you step foot in a music store and a customer is trying to buy strings. A customer will ask the employee behind the counter, “What strings do you recommend?” At that moment, the employee will pause, sigh, look at the massive array of string packages and start their sentence with, “Well…Uh…” Everytime I see a music store employee take on that question, I sympathetically think to myself, “Poor bastard.”


Most guitar and bass instructors do not spend much time explaining how to select strings. Students are there to learn how to play songs, scales, chords, picking, slapping, and plucking. They are not paying instructors to hear about how alloy densities will effect string performance in certain positions. “If the string does not ring out just press behind the fret harder,” is what one of my early guitar instructors said. I would press hard, and it would still made a muted “clunk” noise on certain frets. If you are a guitarist or bassist, then you know there are a number of things that can create this problem. Most guitarist will blame the neck, the frets, the action, or themselves for not getting the notes to ring out. Seldom do we consider the strings as the first cause of this problem. For many, the logic is simple…if the string sounds crisp and clear when played open, then the string is okay. Experienced players know this is not always true. What’s the point? Strings are critical to sound and playability, but are often overlooked and over simplified. Here is the question that starts to address the secret mentioned earlier: How does someone select a new set of strings?


Buying strings presents an interesting problem. It involves buying a product you cannot actually try out until you hand over the money. You do not know what you have purchased until you actually install them on your guitar or bass. If you have used one particular type of brand before, you may have some kind of expectation from your past experience with that brand. However, if you have never purchased a particular brand, and you are trying something completely new, then your historical data is limited. What are you going to do? Some of you guitarist might be thinking, “It’s not a big deal as strings can be just a few bucks, and it’s not a big loss of money if a particular brand does not work out for me.” Others of you, particularly bassists who play aggressive slap, might be thinking, “It is a tough decision as a 5-string set can cost over $40, and they go dead after a few weeks of getting slapped up and funked over. The whole thing can be an expensive funk’n mess.”


The Secret

So, do the string companies know about this issue? Absolutely! They have marketing folks studying:

  1. How do we buy strings?
  2. What strings do we buy?
  3. When do we buy strings?
  4. How often do we buy strings?
  5. How much do we usually spend when we buy strings?

The string market is a very competitive jungle. These businesses must do their homework in order to survive. It can be like selling books. Book publishers know that the book’s cover can get someone to notice their book and pick it up. The cover must get attention, and keep it to succeed. The title, the picture, and the vibrant colors all play a role in grabbing the reader’s emotions. The book cover by itself is talking and telling us a story. Once the reader decides to pick up the book, he or she will open the book and sample a few chapters at a glance. At that moment, they will decide on whether to buy. Here is the secret: Strings are not much different. If the guitarist has not sworn allegiance to a particular brand, then they will have a melting pot of choices coming at them. What is going on when a guitarist walks up to the counter at the music store, and starts looking at the string selection? If the selection is decent, at least eighty different sets will be on display. The larger national music stores sometimes have over two-hundred different string sets on display. With so many sets on display, it’s a sensory overload on the eyes. Tons of colors, pictures, and titles are being thrown at you during your first glance…just like a large shelf of flashy books! Now, the real test comes. Which set is going to get that potential buyer’s attention the most? It is a complex answer that is beyond the scope of this article. Whatever one gets their attention, the person behind the counter can hand them the set. As soon as the set is handed to the customer, there is a very likely chance they will turn it over to check out what is on the backside of the package. Again, back to the book analogy, this is like opening the book to checkout what it is about. The appearance on the backside of the string package is just about anyone’s guess. If the marketing folks have done their work correctly, the backside of the string package will present something compelling to the buyer. The backside might have the following:

  1. The brand story including company history and heritage.
  2. A story about how the strings are made.
  3. A testimonial. Some popular guitarist saying they use these strings.
  4. A picture or cool graphic.
  5. Facts such as gauge info, alloy composition, type of winding…etc.
  6. Company website information.

Like the old business saying goes: Facts tell, but stories sell. Popular marketing guru Seth Godin once pointed out that customers buy because of the story they create in their own mind. The secret is that stories sell strings. Not just any story, but the story we tell ourselves. The information on the front and backside of the string package is a story. It is a story that we interpret to our own version. As an example, let’s say B.B. King had his testimonial on the backside of the string set. The marketing folks are hoping this will mean something to the potential string buyer. Although the company will not print “our strings are good because B.B. King uses them” the buyer might concluded that in their own head. The story in the buyer’s head would go something like this, “Heck, they must be good strings if B.B. is using them.”……Sold!


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About The Author


Professor StringTM is a leading expert in the musical string business. He leads a development group that specializes in guitar and bass string research for musicians. You can visit their site at