Guitar strings are classified into several types, each with its own distinct sound, feel, and playability. Flatwound and roundwound strings are two of the most popular types of guitar strings. If you are unsure what type of guitar string to purchase, you’ve come to the right place!
In this article, I’ll go over the differences between these two types of strings and help you decide which one is best for you.
Flatwound strings are made by wrapping a flat ribbon wire around a round core.
The core wire is usually composed of steel or nickel, whereas the ribbon wire is generally constructed of a flat metal strip, such as stainless steel or nickel.
After firmly wrapping the ribbon wire around the core wire, the resulting string is polished to achieve a smooth, flat surface.
Flatwound strings have a smoother surface that generates less friction and noise, resulting in a warm, mellow tone with very little string noise. They also have less tension than roundwound strings, contributing to their more relaxed and easy-playing feel.
What genres use flatwound strings?
Flatwound strings are frequently used in jazz, blues, and rockabilly music.
Jazz guitarists frequently use flatwound strings because of their warm and mellow tone, which is ideal for the genre’s laid-back and smooth improvisational playing style.
Flatwound strings assist jazz guitarists in generating the nuanced yet mid-range focused tone necessary for playing the extended chord voicings that would otherwise sound too scattered if the overtones are pronounced.
Flatwound strings are popular among blues guitarists for a somewhat different reason.
They produce a warm tone that complements blues music’s soulful and expressive nature. String bending and vibrato are frequently used in blues music, and flatwound strings offer a smooth surface that makes it easier to execute these techniques with accuracy and control.
Rockabilly guitarists use hollow body guitars with a twangy, bright tone, complementing the genre’s upbeat and fast-paced approach nicely. Rockabilly players frequently use thicker gauge flatwound strings ranging from .11s to .13s to get that trademark sound.
Roundwound strings are the most popular type of guitar strings and are made by wrapping a round metal wire around a core wire.
The core wire, which is commonly constructed of steel or nickel, serves as the string’s base. The outer wire is commonly nickel-plated steel, stainless steel, or another metal that is wrapped around the core wire.
The round outer wire is wrapped tightly around the core wire, with little gaps between the windings. These gaps allow the string to vibrate freely, resulting in a bright and crisp tone.
If you feel the surface of a roundwound string, you will find it is rough to the touch, as the round wire creates a bumped surface. The rough surface of the round wire used to wrap the core wire increases friction and creates more string noise. The texture also produces a bright and expressive tone with various overtones.
What genres use roundwound strings?
Roundwound strings are by far the most popular type of guitar string, so they are used in several music genres, including pop, rock, metal, country, fusion, and more! However, in general, roundwound strings are better matched for louder, more aggressive-sounding music.
Rock and Metal
Guitarists who play rock and heavy metal prefer roundwound strings because of the bright, aggressive tone they produce. Also, with the added sustain and harmonics, treble-heavy roundwound strings sound great with distortion and other effects pedals.
The higher tension of roundwound strings also makes them ideal for doing fast runs across the neck during solos.
Country and Fusion
Both country and jazz fusion guitar styles typically use “hybrid picking,” which entails using a pick in conjunction with the fingers to play complex and fast-moving runs up and down the fretboard.
The rough surface of roundwound strings gives guitarists a strong grip on the strings, making it easier to perform intricate picking patterns with precision and accuracy.
Roundwounds are also popular among country guitarists for their pronounced treble, which gives a twangy tone, especially on single-coiled telecasters and Stratocasters.
Flatwound vs. roundwound guitar strings
Now you know what flatwound and roundwound strings are and what types of guitarists prefer them. But before you make your decision on what type of string to use, it’s important to understand the major differences between these two types of strings.
Flatwound strings have a smooth surface. These strings are made by wrapping the flat ribbon wire around the core and polishing it till smooth. This creates a soothing touch to the tone, especially the mids, which makes them a great choice for those who prefer a more mellow sound.
Roundwound strings, on the other hand, have a unique texture created by wrapping a round wire around a core wire, creating a rough, textured string, which adds character to your sound. This texture results in a brighter and more cutting tone, which is highly desirable for most guitarists.
Flatwound strings have a smooth and flat surface, making them feel slick while paying. Since there is less friction against the frets, there is less string noise, so you can drag your fingers as you switch between chords without creating the scratching noise you would get with roundwound strings.
Roundwound strings are easier to play fast, complex riffs with because of their textured surface. Rock guitarists and lead guitarists almost always use roundwound strings because you generally have more control over the strings with them.
Flatwound strings can last longer, and they tend to retain their mellow, warm tone for much longer. So you won’t have to change the strings as often.
Roundwound strings, on the other hand, wear out quicker because their tone is heavily dependent on the round, textured surface. The oils in our hands and fingers tend to accumulate in the textured crevices and wear down the strings over time. When oils build up on the strings, the harmonic overtones are not heard clearly, which results in a dull tone.
To achieve a clean finish of flatwound strings, the flat ribbon wire must be meticulously wrapped around the core wire and polished. The added cost of this processing step makes them more expensive than roundwounds. Furthermore, since flatwound strings are less in demand than roundwound ones, fewer are manufactured. This also results in higher production costs.
Flatwound strings cost around $17 to $22 on average. Roundwound strings cost a bit less at around $6 to $15 on average.
Response to effects pedals
Both flatwound and roundwound strings sound great with effects pedals. However, it is more common for guitarists with flatwound strings to play with a clean tone.
Effects such as chorus, reverb, and delay can add depth and dimension to the sound of flatwound strings without overpowering their natural tone. You can certainly use flatwound strings with a distortion pedal, but you may not get the gritty saturated sound you are looking for.
With roundwound strings, effects that boost harmonic content, like distortion and overdrive, tend to sound great. These effects can enhance the grit and sustain of roundwound strings, allowing players to produce powerful, heavy tones. Roundwound strings take on all effects quite well. Modulation effects like phasers and flangers can also give movement and texture to the sound of roundwound strings, increasing their already dynamic tone.
Flatwound strings have a flatter frequency response causing them to be more focused and balanced than roundwound strings. They basically have a strong fundamental tone with very few harmonic overtones. This makes them highly sought after in recording sessions, where they are frequently used to provide a clean and consistent guitar recording.
Roundwound strings are brighter and punchier sounding than flatwounds, with a more defined mid-range and a brighter overall tone.
Intonation relates to the precision of the pitch of a note produced at various fretboard positions. Inaccurate intonation can make certain notes play sharper or flatter, thus affecting the overall sound of your chords.
Flatwound strings have a wound G string, while roundwounds simply have a metal core G string. The wrapped G string is heavier and gives a more consistent tone across all fret locations. This improves the guitar’s intonation and tuning stability.
Damage to fretboard
Roundwound strings are also known to cause more long-term damage to the finish of your fretboard because the textured surface slowly wears away at the wood over time.
Flatwound strings will not damage your fretboard nearly as much because of their flat, non-abrasive surface.
Famous guitar players who used flatwound strings
Here are some of the most famous guitarists to use flatwound guitar strings:
- Wes Montgomery
- George Benson
- Pat Metheny
- Joe Pass
- Herb Ellis
- Tal Farlow
- Grant Green
- Charlie Christian
- Barney Kessel
- Jim Hall
- Kenny Burrell
Famous guitarists who used roundwound guitar strings
Famous guitarists who used roundwound guitar strings include:
- Jimi Hendrix
- Eric Clapton
- Eddie Van Halen
- Stevie Ray Vaughan
- Jimmy Page
- Joe Satriani
- Carlos Santana
- John Petrucci
- Steve Vai
Flatround vs. roundwound bass guitar strings
Flatwound strings are not very common for guitar players, but they are much more commonly found on bass guitars.
If you use techniques like slap bass and want to use the bass guitar percussively, it’s best to go with roundwounds, as their dynamics are way more pronounced.
However, walking basslines sound fantastic on flatwounds. The smoothness of the strings is really felt and creates a smooth bass sound.
Flatwound bass strings are also great for slow blues as they create a smooth bass sound with very few tonal variations. This allows the guitarists and vocalists to express themselves on top of the rhythm section.
What type of string should you choose?
If you’re still not sure which strings to use, here are a few tips:
- Flatwound strings may be a more suitable choice if you want a smooth, mellow sound with less finger noise and a vintage feel. Jazz, R&B, and Motown guitarists and bassists frequently favor them.
- If you are looking for a brighter, more cutting tone with more attack and sustain, roundwound strings are a better choice. They are frequently favored by rock, metal, and funk guitarists and bassists.
- If you want a compromise between the two, try half round strings, which are simply roundwound strings that have been ground down to eliminate finger noise and create a smoother feel.
- If you have a fretless guitar or bass, you should choose flatwound strings to decrease fretboard wear and strain.
Lev’s pick: flatwound strings
These D’Addario strings are top-notch electric guitar flatwound strings with a warm, soft sound that pairs perfectly with jazz, blues, rockabilly, or even soft rock guitar styles.
Lev’s pick: roundwound strings
Elixir strings are a step above other guitar string brands as they last longer and sound amazing! These coated strings are made to last, are corrosion-resistant, and have a crisp and natural string feel.
Other types of guitar strings
Half round strings are simply a cross between roundwound and flatwound strings. They are manufactured by passing a roundwound string through a set of rollers that smooth down the windings’ outside edges.
This method produces brighter strings with more sustain than flatwounds while having a softer feel than roundwounds.
Tapewound strings have a smooth, polished surface, similar to flatwound strings. However, instead of employing ribbon wire, they are made by wrapping a thin layer of flat tape (typically nylon or silk) around the core wire.
This produces a mellower, warmer tone than flatwound strings but with less sustain and definition. It is very rare to find tapewound guitar strings, as these are almost always used by bass guitarists. However, they do exist for guitarists and are designed exclusively for jazz musicians.
Strings made of nylon or other synthetic materials are commonly used on classical guitars. They’re less powerful and don’t sustain as long as steel strings, but they’re more comfortable to play with.
Nylon strings are often lower in tension than steel strings and are only used for classical guitars, which are designed specifically for nylon strings.