Even after all these years, the guitar is still an instrument that holds so many secrets. This even goes for acoustic guitars, which are seemingly fairly simple. But there seems to be a lot of stuff that most of the guitar players haven’t tried. One of the questions that might come up is whether you can put flatwound strings on an acoustic guitar.
To those who are not familiar, flatwound strings come with a completely flat and smooth surface. Yes, this includes the bottom strings as well. Using special manufacturing practices, some string brands also offer flatwounds. While they’re not an uncommon sight among bass players, especially those who play fretless basses, they’re much less present among guitarists.
In fact, they have very limited use among guitar players. And this often makes them expensive and somewhat hard to find. Flatwound strings are usually popular among jazz guitarists, most notably those who play archtop hollow-body guitars.
So what about acoustic guitars then, can you put flatwound strings on an acoustic guitar?
No one can stop you from putting flatwound strings on an acoustic guitar. And they would certainly work. However, you’d experience a noticeably different tone and a significant reduction in volume. But at the same time, they’re still louder than nylon strings.
If you really feel like using flatwound strings on an acoustic guitar, you can. But in order to help you out with this, let’s explore the topic further. What are actually flatwound strings and how would they impact your tone and performance?
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Roundwound vs Flatwound Strings: What Are the Main Differences?
Before we get into it, it’s important to make a distinction between flatwound strings and “conventional” roundwound ones. Of course, if we’re talking about electric guitars, the top two or three strings are always unwound. This means that they’re made from one solid piece of steel.
However, the bottom three strings are always more complex in construction. There’s the steel core, along with a wire wound around it. Aside from E, A, and D strings, some sets also include a wound G (or third) string.
Of course, the wire used for this is round. In return, these wound strings have a rough surface. In fact, they kind of remind us of springs held really tightly. You can also notice this on the skin of your fingertips. And when you move your hand over the wound strings, you’ll also hear that squeaking sound.
Although the core is always made from steel, these wounds are from various other materials. Sometimes, they’re from chromed steel, but we also have phosphor bronze, 80/20 bronze, and nickel-plated steel as the most common materials.
Flatwound strings, on the other hand, have a steel core with a different type of winding. Instead of a regular round wire, flatwound strings come with a flat wire. In some way, it’s like a very thin metal tape that goes around the steel core.
As a result, the surface of the string feels completely smooth. Of course, if we were to magnify the surface of the string, we’d notice the grooves. However, they’re far less pronounced compared to those on roundwound strings.
The feel of flatwound strings is completely different. Additionally, their construction makes a noticeable impact on the tone, as well as your performance. A lot of flatwound strings are made with steel wiring, which would increase their overall brightness in tone.
Advantages of Flatwound Strings
There are a few important reasons why some players prefer to go with flatwound strings. Some of these advantages are also personal preferences, something that these players just prefer. Let’s look more into those.
- Tone – The tone of flatwound strings is always smoother and darker, even if steel was used for the winding. This isn’t necessarily an advantage, but jazz players often prefer this kind of output.
- Performance – Having a flat surface, these strings feel much smoother when you go over them with your fingertips. Even with a tighter grip over them, you’ll have a much more comfortable performance compared to roundwound strings.
- Less noise – Additionally, a flat surface helps you achieve less noise. When moving your fingertips over roundwound strings, you won’t have those squeaking noises that regular strings are known for.
- Prolonged life – Interestingly enough, such design actually gives these kinds of strings a much longer life. With smaller grooves, you’ll have far less residue in there. In return, you’ll have much less corrosion and strings will sound “fresh” for a longer period.
Disadvantages of Flatwound Strings
On the other hand, there are a few downsides or just traits that guitar players don’t like.
- Tone – Although an advantage to some, a smoother tone can be a disadvantage to other players. Such a construction gives a smoother attack and you won’t notice that “zing” that roundwound strings have. Some would even call them “dull.” Additionally, you’ll notice a lack of sustain and volume.
- Performance – Despite a smoother feel, flatwound strings can be more difficult to bend. You need to use some extra energy to grab and pull them. This can actually cause a lot of difficulties for those who prefer to use the technique frequently. This is why flatwounds are also very popular among fretless guitar players, who can achieve that true glissando and vibrato without bending any of the strings.
- Price and scarcity – If you do decide to get yourself a set of flatwound strings, the first problem you’ll stumble upon is scarcity. They’re actually not that easy to find. Most likely, you’ll have to order them online, possibly even order multiple sets at the same time. And while we’re at it, the more expensive manufacturing costs and specific demand raise their price. They can get well over three times more expensive compared to regular roundwound strings.
Can You Put Flatwound Strings on an Acoustic Guitar?
So we get to the main part here. Can you put flatwound strings on an acoustic guitar? The simple answer is yes, you can put them on a regular acoustic guitar. The gauge and other properties allow it.
What Would It Sound Like?
However, there are a few issues that you’ll need to bear in mind. The most important one is that you’ll experience a drop in volume. It won’t be catastrophic, but you’ll certainly have a hard time getting through the mix of other instruments if you’re playing without additional amplification. After all, these strings are designed for electric guitars, and this also brings a lack of volume.
If you’re using a piezo pickup or a microphone and going through a PA system, then you’ll be able to sort this out. But on the other hand, you’ll also experience a sharp drop in brightness, which can also give difficulties if you want to cut through the mix. Your tone won’t be as bright as with regular strings, even if you take the brightest-sounding flatwound strings.
The tone isn’t necessarily bad, but the overall output wouldn’t be something you’d expect from an acoustic guitar. If you like darker and smoother tones, then you can generally use flatwound strings on an acoustic guitar. However, bear in mind that there’ll be a significant sharp in volume, brightness, and sustain.
The positive side, however, is that it will also significantly reduce those squeaking noises that you get when moving your fingers over the strings.
If you’re a lead acoustic guitar player, there are a few other issues you might stumble upon. While the flatter surface can be of help, it can also bring other problems. This is mostly about bending.
Of course, acoustic guitar players don’t bend as much as electric guitarists. However, if you do prefer to play this way, I wouldn’t recommend using flatwound strings on an acoustic guitar.
Sure, they might feel smoother, there’ll be less noise, and maybe you like the softer tone. But with an already decreased volume and sustain, bending and some other techniques will be hard to pull off.
The Most Common Uses of Flatwound Strings
Of course, no one stops you from using these strings on your acoustic guitar. There are, however, a few things to bear in mind. So, to sum it up:
- They’re harder to find
- They can be really expensive compared to regular strings
- The tone is darker and smoother
- There’s a significant decrease in volume and sustain
- You’ll have a hard time bending the strings
But who uses flatwound strings then? Many wonder whether flatwound strings are good for rock but they’re usually more popular among jazz guitarists who play vintage-oriented archtop hollow-body guitars. Of course, they can be found on semi-hollow-body and solid-body guitars as well. They’re usually common among those who prefer smoother tones with fewer high-ends, weaker attacks, and those who don’t use the bending technique that often.
Flatwound strings are also way more common among bass players, especially those who play fretless basses. Likewise, fretless electric guitars can also sound great with flatwound strings.
Finally, it’s important to note that flatwound strings have somewhat limited use. They’re not that common and they’re even somewhat “experimental” in nature. But at the same time, it’s possible to use them on acoustic guitars.