So, you've decided to play mandolin. You've got your mandolin, you're strumming along, doing chops...and oh no! The first string break. Now what? Well, of course, its time to buy a new set of strings. Before we start thinking about where to buy, we need to figure out what to buy. And its pretty hard to know what to buy when you just started playing.
So we created this simplified beginner's guide to mandolin strings to helping you on your string shopping experience.
You have three basic attributes of a set of mandolin strings (8 strings, tuned GDAE). These will all effect the sound of your mandolin in different ways. They are as follows:
1. String Gauge
Mandolin string gauges (how thick the strings physically are) are usually either light, medium or heavy. You may find a few labeled between the two, such as medium-heavy. The heavier (thicker) your string is, the louder the sound the mandolin will produce. So of course they seem preferable, right? Well, if you're a beginner, probably not. They have more tension, so they are harder to press down on. It also often labors the tempo of playing, especially if you are inexperienced. Unless you have played string instruments before, you likely won't have the finger strength to produce clear notes. I always say start with light strings, and work your way up.
2. String Material
Your top two sets of strings, so your top four strings (GG, DD) will be made of steel wrapped most commonly in bronze phosphor, copper or nickel, while your bottom two sets of high strings (AA, EE) will be made completely of stainless steel or something similar. Some are even made completely of steel. Which metal type the mandolin strings are made of heavily influences the overall tone of the sound. For example, bronze is excellent for mellow celtic accompaniments, while copper is better for bright bluegrass. Packages of strings will often tell you the best type of music to be played with the strings, and you can research your preferred style of music and what string composites they are most played with. But an overall pleaser is always copper; it seems to work for almost all genres and tones.
Here is a good snippet from themandolintuner that explains it well:
3. String Construction:
This one is fairly simple, its a choice between round-top of flat-top and it absolutely depends on what you want to play. For faster picking styles, flat-top adds ease of playing. However, round-top strings are amazing for playing chords and chops. They create a smoother, fuller sound but are much harder on the fingers. They also tend to be a fair amount cheaper.
All brands have their own codes for the combination of these three aspects of a set of mandolin strings. Codes like "AM101" or "EJ74". These are brand-specific and do not cross over to other brands, and really aren't worth concerning yourself with. Read packaging carefully to figure out string length, composite, etc.
Well, there you have it. You are all equipped to set out on your hunt for the perfect set of mandolin strings. Happy hunting!