If you’re in the doubt about whether to use coated or uncoated strings for your guitar, you’re not the only one.
Regular guitar strings are uncoated. Those were the only type of guitar strings out there until mid 90s when coated strings emerged on a market.
Obviously, there are some good reasons to use coated strings. But are coated strings better than uncoated strings? Do they make a difference? Are they worth the price?
These, and many more, questions will be adressed in the further text. If you want to know everything about these two types of strings, stay with me.
What Is The Difference Between Coated And Uncoated Guitar Strings?
There are many differences between these two types of strings. But let’s say the most obvious difference first.
Coated strings are, just like the name suggests, coated with thin layer of polymer. So, basically, that’s the only physical difference between coated and uncoated strings.
Yet, that only difference is causing a lot of other differences. Sound, playability, duration, and so on. All of that will be covered in more details further in the text, so let’s move on!
What Are Guitar Strings Coated With?
Coated strings are coated with polymer, which is in most cases Teflon PFT (Polytetrafluoroethylene). This layer protects the string from the environment. It acts like a cooking pan that has a non-stick surface.
Sweat, dirt, rust – everything is easily removed from the surface of the coated string. That was the main reason for coated strings production in the first place.
How Long Do Coated Strings Last?
Coated strings last longer than uncoated ones. Still, it is impossible to tell exactly how long will any type of guitar string last. It depends on a lot of factors, from frequency of playing, relative humidity, maintenance etc.
One thing we can tell for sure – coated strings definitely last longer than regular uncoated strings. How much longer?
There are many brands of coated and uncoated strings out there, but usually coated strings last 3 to 4 times longer.
Coated Vs. Uncoated Strings – Are Coated Guitar Strings Better?
To answer that question, we have to lay out all of the differences between these two types. After that, the choice is yours.
Let’s start by pointing out the fact that the sound produced by coated strings is different than the one produced by uncoated strings.
Is the sound better? Well, objectively, sound of coated strings is not better. That’s because coated strings are heavier, because of a polymer layer.
String mass directly affects tonal frequency of the string. That’s affecting the sound – in a bad way. A fundamental frequency of a string depend, among other factors, on linear density. That’s mass per unit length.
It is inversely proportional to fundamental frequency. What does that mean? It means that when density goes up, the fundamental frequency goes down. Since coated strings are heavier (obviously) than uncoated ones, the linear density is bigger. That means that the fundamental frequency of a coated string is smaller.
How Does That Affect The Sound?
Frequency of a string tells us how fast the string shakes up and down. From that we can conclude that the coated string shakes slower, since its fundamental frequency is smaller.
Now, let’s say you want to play vibrato on a string. Vibrato is essentially pulsating change of a frequency. With smaller frequency, the vibrato you try to play on a coated string sounds not as good as it sounds on an uncoated string.
To find out more about how the physics of string and how it’s affecting the string sound, check out this scientific article by David Robert Grimes. It’s called String Theory – The Physics of String-Bending and Other Electric Guitar Techniques and it’s published on the website of National Center For Biotechnology Information.
In general, coated strings don’t sound as snappy and bright as uncoated ones.
Of course, there can be various coated strings that differ by the thickness of the layer. The more thick the layer is, the sound is worse. Also, the sound of coated strings is heavily affected by the way how string was constructed.
If the coated string was coated before it was wound, then the sound will be much more bad. In comparison in which the string was coated after the core wire was wound.
Taking all of this into account, the conclusion is clear. If we talk about sound, then uncoated strings are obvious winners in this round.
As it’s already been stated, coated strings do last longer. Usually it’s from 3 to 4 times longer. That’s because the coated layer protects those strings from dirt, sweat etc.
A guitar string itself has cracks in which sweat and oil from fingertips can easily break through. That’s why an average lifespan of an uncoated string is few times shorter.
If you want to know more about how to deal with the sweat on your guitar, check out the article from this page about it.
Duration is important when you think about all of the guitars exposed in music shops. Put yourself in a perspective of a music shop owner. People are frequently coming into the shop to try out a lot of guitars.
It is much practical to have coated strings guitars in a music shop. Why? It’s because they will last longer and they will be more immune to corrosion.
Have you ever wandered in a music shop to try out some guitar, and the guitar was awfully out of tune? Coated strings practically solve that problem. No sweat, no dirt, longer duration – perfect for music shop!
Anyway, it is clear that coated strings are winners of this round.
Which strings are more playable, coated or uncoated?
Well, this one is hard to tell. You’ll quickly realize why. If you hate the finger squeak while you play a guitar, then coated strings are for you.
A layer of polymer coated around a string does significantly reduce a finger squeak. When you record your electric guitar, finger sqeaks can be pretty irritating. Yes, you can reduce the sound of those squeaks in the mix, but then the quality of the tone suffers.
Coated strings are of great help, when it comes to this.
However, there is one downside. Coated strings don’t have a grip as good as uncoated strings have.
If you like to bend a guitar string (who doesn’t?), there’s a chance the string will slip under your finger. Remember, a polymer layer acts as a cooking pan with non-stick surface. Clearly that’s affecting a grip.
It’s hard to decide which strings are more playable. Perhaps it depends on what do you value more, bending a string, or a reduction of finger squeaks?
Clearly there are no winners if we talk about playability.
Coated strings are more expensive than uncoated strings. But, at the same time, they last longer.
Which ones are more affordable then?
The average price of a pack of average uncoated guitar strings is in range from 5 to 7 dollars.
The most famous brand of coated strings, Elixir Strings for an electric guitar, costs about 38 bucks. At least that’s the price of this product, in which you get 3 packs for a price of 2.
Let’s say an average pack of coated strings costs around 12 to 15 dollars.
We can conclude that coated strings are 2 to 3 times more expensive than uncoated strings. Yet, they last from 3 to 4 times longer (depends on a brand).
If we compare ratios of price over a duration, it is clear that coated strings are more affordable.
Before You Decide – Ask Yourself These Questions
So, let’s go back to our main question. Which strings are better, coated or uncoated? It is rather difficult to answer that question in one word.
It all boils down to one thing. What does matter most for you?
Do you hate to change guitar strings, and want to change them as rarely as possible?
If so, coated strings are for you.
Do you have very sweaty hands, and in general, do you sweat a lot?
If so, coated strings are the choice for you. Their protective layer makes them safe from corrosion.
Do you prefer tone quality over duration?
If so, choose uncoated strings. It’s been described thoroughly above what difference in a sound does a coated layer make.
Do you want your guitar to be playable, at the expense of duration?
If so, uncoated strings are the right ones for you. Remember, while coated strings remove annoying finger squeaks, they are at the same time much less playable. String bending is harder, as the string can easily slip. Also, vibrato sounds much worse.
So, here we are. All of the main differences between coated and uncoated guitar strings have been laid out in this article. Each type has its own pros and cons.
Some people prefer coated, some prefer uncoated strings.
Again, it all boils down to your choice. What do you think? If you don’t know what to choose, try coated strings and then decide.
Anyway, I hope this article gave you some insights and valuable information about string types. If this text helped you in any way, I’m more than happy about it.
Don’t forget to check out some other interesting articles I wrote on this site!
Cheers, and rock on!