Imagine this – you’ve just gotten a guitar for Christmas, your birthday, or just because you wanted one. You want to dive right into learning how to play, so you open up a YouTube video, and the instructor keeps talking about string names that seem to have no logical order.
“Put your middle finger on the second fret of the A String”
Which one is that?!
This isn’t only something that affects beginners, either. Some guitarists have been playing for years and still don’t have a clue – they just remember the positions and they play. The thing is, if you want to get good at playing guitar, having at least a basic grasp of theory is absolutely essential, and learning the names of the strings and how that correlates to the rest of the notes on the fretboard is one of the first steps you need to take
In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide, we’ll be teaching you the names of the strings on both guitars and bass guitars, and we’ll also be giving you some helpful tips on how to remember them. Keep on reading to learn more.
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- The Basics of Guitar Strings
- Memorization Techniques
- Understanding the Fretboard
- Practical Application and Repetition
- Bass guitar string names and order
- Mnemonics for Bass Guitar Strings
- FAQs About Guitar Strings
- Are all string sets set up for E A D G B E?
- How often should I change my guitar strings?
- What’s the difference between light and heavy gauge strings?
- How do different materials affect a guitar string’s sound?
- Can I mix and match different strings?
- How do I know which string gauge is right for me?
- Does the guitar type affect string choice?
- What is the best way to store my guitar to protect the strings?
- Can old strings damage my guitar?
- How can I extend the life of my guitar strings?
- Final Thoughts
The Basics of Guitar Strings
Guitars have been around for over 200 years, although not always in the format that we know and love. So, depending on the time period, and where in the world you found them, guitars had tons of different tunings. It wasn’t until the mid 1800s that we saw the standardization of guitar string tuning to E A D G B E.
This standard tuning came about as a compromise of sorts, being deemed as the most flexible option that would allow for a wide range of musical styles and genres to be played with ease. Guitarists are better able to stretch their fingers to play chord structures with this arrangement, and it’s also possible to move through scales in a linear fashion.
Most other stringed instruments (cello, violin, etc.) have always been tuned in fifths (meaning the interval between each string is a perfect fifth).
The guitar on the other hand is a series of fourths and one major third.
- E – A: Fourth
- A – D: Fourth
- D – G: Fourth
- G – B: Major Third
- B – E: Fourth
The reason for this is two-fold.
Firstly, having the guitar tuned in fourths means you have more notes available across strings, so it’s easier to play chords that have more notes in them. This allows more harmonies across the strings. If the guitar was all in fifths like other instruments, you would have fewer strings, so your chords would have less harmonic notes available.
Secondly, with the guitar’s longer scale (typically 24 to 26 inches) compared to say a violin (17 inches), it would be harder for the fretting hand to make connections between notes if the strings were tuned further apart. Keeping the guitar in a series of fourths means it’s easier to fret chords than if you had to cover a wider span with those fingers.
Plus, think of the position you play a guitar in, compared to say a violin. The guitar is played sitting in your lap, with your fretting hand wrapped around the neck to get to the strings. The violin, on the other hand, is played extending from your chin with very little wrapping of the wrist around the neck, giving you much easier access.
Now, we’re not advocating that you start playing with a Gibson Les Paul balanced under your chin, which could very likely end in disaster (does Dunlop make a strap for that?). However, the standard tuning of EADGBE does allow you to more comfortably fret the guitar, not having to stretch your fingers as a violinist does in order to get chords and passages from the instrument.
Memorizing guitar strings can be a real challenge, but the best part is, there are no rules for how you go about doing this. If you find a mnemonic that works for you – that’s what you should stick with!
Phrases like “Every Amateur Does Get Better Eventually” offer a fun and effective way to remember the string order: E A D G B E. The beauty of using mnemonics is that they add a bit of fun to music theory, which is often thought of as being a bit dull.
Both electric and acoustic strings have the same name and order, from low (thickest string) to high (thinnest string), they read E A D G B E.
Strings are ordered from 6 for thickest to 1 for thinnest (full string guide here), so the number order is
- 6 – E (Thickest)
- 5 – A
- 4 – D
- 3 – G
- 2 – B
- 1 – E (Thinnest)
In this order, you can use the following mnemonics to remember the strings:
- Eat All Day Get Big Easy
- Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie
- Elvis Always Dug Good Banana Eating
- Every Apple Does Good Being Eaten
- Every Amp Deserves Guitars/Basses Everyday
- Eat Apples Daily Grow Big Ears
- Eric And Dave’s Guitars Beat Everyone
- Every Acid Dealer Gets Busted Eventually
- Every Amateur Does Get Better Eventually
- Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears
- Eat A Dog, Get Big Ears
- Even Average Dogs Get Bones Eventually
- Every Apple Does Go Bad Eventually
- Eat All Dead Gophers Before Easter
Understanding the Fretboard
Think of the fretboard as a map, and knowing the string names is much like having the key to this map. Understanding the relationship between each string and its corresponding notes on the fretboard is essential for learning and mastering chords, scales, and melodies.
Acronyms and Mnemonics
As we’ve discussed at length, our favorite way to remember the string names is with acronyms and mnemonics. These memorable phrases are easy to remember, and can be applied without much of any thought.
Remember, though, learning the string names is only the first part of the challenge. Next you’ll need to learn how the rest of the notes relate to the open tuning of each string.
In guitar theory, there are 7 individual notes, meaning that the gap between a note and the next time it appears is 8 full steps – hence octave.
On a guitar, the first and the last strings are both E strings, but in this case they are two octaves apart. The thicker E string (string 6) is the low E, and the thinner one (string 1) is the high E.
It’s also important to know that the 12th fret on each string represents one octave above its open tuning. To bring this full circle, the 12th fret of the low E string is the half way point between the open low E and the open high E.
EADGBE – E Eat, A All, D Day, G Get, B Big, E Easy – EADGBE!
Visualizing the Fretboard
The next thing you need to know is that every fret represents a half step, or semitone. As you move up the fretboard (ironically towards the body of the guitar), the pitch of each string increases. Knowing the string names, you can start learning the notes on each fret.
For example, if you press down on the first fret of the E string, you’re playing an F note. If you press the second fret of the same string, that’s an F sharp, the third fret would be a G, and so on.
It always helps to recite the string names every time you pick up the guitar. When you do your warm up exercises and work through scales, say the name of each note out loud as you play it. This will not only help in memorizing the string names but also in understanding the relationship between the notes on the fretboard.
Practical Application and Repetition
Repetition really is the mother of all learning, and this is definitely true when it comes to remembering guitar string names and the notes of the fretboard. Including the string names in your daily practice routine is a great way to get on the path to learning them verbatim.
Start playing simple chords and scales, paying attention to the string names and the fret numbers. If you’re learning from tabs or chord diagrams, make sure to learn what notes fit into the triad of the chord you’re playing, and again, say them out loud – it helps in this case to play them as an arpeggio (in lay terms, by picking each string involved in the chord individually.)
Another great trick is to use a tuner or tuner app. Think of a note and play it, then you can quickly verify using your tuner whether you got it right or not. If you’re going to do this, you do need to make sure your guitar is properly tuned before starting (something you should really be doing already!
Bass guitar string names and order
If you’re thinking about picking up a bass guitar and you’re worrying about having to learn an entirely new string arrangement, you really don’t need to. As long as you’ve picked up the foundations from playing guitar, you’re already on your way to understanding how to remember the strings on a bass.
A standard four string bass uses much thicker strings, but they’re tuned in the same way as the last four strings of a six string guitar, that is E A D G (there’s no B or high E.) Because of this, the beginning of the mnemonics we already shared for guitars would directly translate to the bass.
EADG – E Eat, A A, D Doughnut, G Guitarists – EADG!
Mnemonics for Bass Guitar Strings
Because the bass shares the same first four strings as the guitar, we can use the same system with a couple of different mnemonics.
- Eddie Ate Dynamite, Gross
- Eat All Da Grapes
- Every American Eats Gatorade
- Eat A Doughnut, Guitarists (if you can think of another word that starts with a D that works too!)
- Eventually Anyone Drums Good
- Every Aardvark Dies Gracefully
- Elephants Always Do Good
- Eat Avocados Daily, Grrrrreat
And so just as with the guitar strings, you can drill these using the following method to learn them in no time (especially because there are only four strings!):
EADG – E Eat, A A, D Doughnut, G Guitarists – EADG!
Do this once a day, and within a week you’ll have it memorized.
FAQs About Guitar Strings
The strings are arguably the most important part of a guitar. They’re literally what connects the player to the instrument, and while learning their names is absolutely vital, it’s also super important to know as much as you can about every aspect of them.
Are all string sets set up for E A D G B E?
The vast majority of string sets are designed to be installed with standard tuning. Some manufacturers like DR strings create drop tuning specific packs, but they very clearly label the packaging as such. Additionally, you might see strings for Nashville tuning, or other alternative tunings, but unless the packaging specifies otherwise, it’s safe to assume any set for a 6 string is generally meant for standard tuning.
How often should I change my guitar strings?
Guitar strings should be changed around every 3 months for casual players, or at minimum monthly for more regular players. This varies based on playing frequency, the environment that you play in, what kind of tone you’re looking for, sweat acidity, and string quality amongst other factors.
What’s the difference between light and heavy gauge strings?
Light gauge strings are physically thinner than heavy gauge. Light gauge strings require less string tension, making them easier to play and bend, ideal for beginners and lead guitarists, but on the negative side, they’re easier to break.
Heavy gauge strings offer a fuller, thicker sound but require more finger strength due to the increased tension. Heavy gauge strings tend to be preferred by rhythm guitarists and anybody playing in lower or drop tunings.
How do different materials affect a guitar string’s sound?
Strings are typically made from nickel, stainless steel, or phosphor bronze, although there are all kinds of new alloys hitting the market every year. Nickel strings are smooth and warm, stainless steel offers brightness and high durability, and phosphor bronze, usually reserved for acoustic guitars, produces an open, airy tone with tons of punch.
Can I mix and match different strings?
You can absolutely mix and match your strings to create a custom set. Sometimes players opt for a light top heavy bottom arrangement, sometimes players even mix and match different alloys to help get the sound they want.
Above all else, when you mix and match a set, it’s important to try and maintain balance in tension. If you’re using super heavy bottom strings and light top strings, the added tension on one side of the neck has the potential to cause a warp.
How do I know which string gauge is right for me?
Figuring out which string gauge is best for you really is a case of trial and error. The best way to figure out what you like is to try a different gauge each time you restring until you find one that suits your style of play, and that you find comfortable. The majority of guitars come with a medium gauge from the factory. If you think the stock strings feel too light, start by moving up to a heavy. Conversely, if they feel uncomfortable, or they’re difficult to bend, think about trying a light gauge.
Does the guitar type affect string choice?
Yes, electric and acoustic require different string types due to their tensions and construction methods. Electric guitars tend to use lighter strings than acoustic guitars. So, a light set of electric strings might be listed as 0.09”, whereas a light set of acoustic strings might be listed as 0.11”.
What is the best way to store my guitar to protect the strings?
Keeping your guitar in a secure and stable spot is the first step. Be sure it’s in a location that has a steady temperature and humidity. Being metal, your guitar’s strings are vulnerable to oxidizing, or rusting, just like other metals. By keeping them away from sources of humidity, you’ll slow down this process, and preserve them for longer.
Acoustic guitar strings, particularly phosphor bronze, are especially prone to fast corrosion if they aren’t stored properly.
Can old strings damage my guitar?
Believe it or not, old strings can actually cause damage to your guitar. If the strings start to get gritty with rust, they can scratch the wood of your fretboard and grind on the frets, causing pretty serious damage if you let it go on long enough.
How can I extend the life of my guitar strings?
To make your strings last as long as possible, wash your hands before playing, and then clean your strings after each use to remove oils and dirt. Try to clean and condition your fretboard between string changes, too.
There are also products like Fast Fret that act as a lubricant and string preserver that you can apply directly to the strings between uses.
Remembering the string names on your guitar really is an essential part of your journey to mastering the instrument. Remember, it’s never too late, so even if you’ve been playing for years, there’s no shame in taking a step back to learn the basics if you’re serious about taking the next step towards being a great player.
By using any of the mnemonics we’ve provided (or creative ones that you’ve thought up yourself), you’ll quickly find yourself understanding the layout of your guitar, which will translate to you being a better improviser and an all round better guitarist.
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