A YOUNG kid who I consider a friend asked me to teach him some basic guitar playing. I agreed and soon enough his parents dropped him off at my place for the hourly midweek session. He had a good stratocaster which I tuned for him the first time we met for lessons and immediately, I noticed how the strings were too thick and high off the fretboard.

He told me that he uses gauge .11s.

Sure, nothing wrong with that. But then I discovered that both his last strings were the same size. Apparently, he just used another B string for his last string. It messed with my mind a bit and I told him to buy a complete set of gauge .10 strings the next time.

He texted me days after that the gauge .10 strings were a lot better. I know this kid reads this column, so here’s a shout-out: keep your head down, hopes up and keep on playing music.

In the office, me and another colleague got to chat about his guitar strings. He prefers tuning down to C# standard on his telecaster. I suggested he try a set of .11s this time to keep somewhat a natural tension when playing rhythm. Next thing I learned, he’s ecstatic about how his instrument felt. What a great way to feel, most especially during his birthday!

When I started playing guitar before, I didn’t care much about which strings to use. I guess, the concept stays the same until this day—if it sounds right, it’s good to go! But then there’s the okay way, and then there’s the best way.

Here are a few random tips on guitar strings:

Gauge matters.

Thicker strings are best for lower tuning so as to avoid going out of tune. Thicker strings are also better for rock music when there are a lot of power chord work involved. Thinner strings should be okay for standard tuning and lead guitar playing. However, some advanced players prefer thicker strings for lead as these players have usually developed stronger hand power and those thicker strings, which translate to harder tension, keep lead players from going out of tune as well.

Sweaty hands?

There are great string sets that should be selling for about P250 to P350. Common brands to choose from are D’ Addario and Ernie Ball. Both string brands have their own sound qualities. However, these basic sets can go rusty ASAP if you have sweaty hands. There are strings made to counter this problem, but can cost as much as P900. But then again, they can last for six months. String changes depend on circumstance and playing frequency which only you can tell.

Tone characteristics.

Strings are not just strings. Each piece is made intricately and with a lot of science and technology behind it. The length, the material used, the way it is wound, the coating, each one of these qualities—to the trained ear—matters a lot to your guitar tone. Read the cover of the packaging and try to research on it. Some strings are made to sound a bit dull for the likes of jazz and some strings are made to sound a bit bright for the likes of funk.

We could be making mountains out of mole hills here. But it pays to practice excellence.