The common cliché that “tone starts in the fingers” is quite accurate. Remember, however, that your fingers create that tone by interacting with your strings of choice. There are hundreds of different sets of strings out there that use differing materials, gauges, and construction techniques. If you’ve dug deep enough into all of the differences between different brands of guitar strings, you’ve undoubtedly come across a classic—and unsettled—debate: are round core guitar strings or hex core guitar strings better?
Well today we’re diving into the important differences between these two primary varieties of guitar string construction to help you decide what’s right for you and your instrument.
Round Core Guitar Strings
Round core strings are the traditional, or “vintage” style of guitar string construction. As the name suggests, round core guitar strings are constructed using a round core wire underneath the winding.
Round core construction was the standard method of construction for many years—up until hex core strings were developed. Though most manufacturers these days favor hex core strings for a number of reasons that we’ll get into here shortly, round core strings are still made by many manufacturers (GHS, DR, La Bella, Newtone, Thomastik, and yours truly for our bass strings).
The primary advantage of round core construction is that more of the surface area of the core wire is in contact with the winding (in theory, nearly 100%) which means a greater density for a string of the same gauge, vs a hex core string. Generally, round core strings are slightly more flexible than their hex core brethren, but because of this are also slightly less stable, which can lead to tuning stability issues as well as premature breakage.
Tonally, the biggest different with round core guitar strings is that they tend to have a much boomier bottom end, and less high end clarity than hex core strings.
At Stringjoy, we use round cores on our bass strings, because that boominess gives them a full, bottom-heavy characteristic that we really dig. At the same time, the breakage and tuning stability issues of round core strings are not a big factor when it comes to bass strings, because of their larger diameter and compound-wound construction.
Hex Core Guitar Strings
Though round core guitar strings were the only game in town for many years, in modern years most companies have switched to primarily manufacturing hex core guitar strings. These strings utilize a hexagonal core wire underneath the outer winding layer, which helps to hold the wrap wire stable and in place. Generally speaking, this stability gives hex core strings a slightly stiffer feel, but also enables them to hold tune better and as a result, be less susceptible to premature breakage.
If you have played a modern electric or acoustic guitar, you are probably more familiar with the feel and tone of hex core strings. Hex core strings are generally perceived to have a brighter, less muddy tone than round core strings. Many also perceive hex core strings to have a tighter pick attack and increased clarity. Because of this hex cores are especially necessary for guitarists that make use of extended or drop tunings to retain sonic clarity for a more modern sound.
What’s best for you?
There’s a lot of hype and strong opinions in each camp of the round core vs hex core debate—when it comes down to it, everybody thinks their way is best. But ultimately, as with all things guitar, things like tone, feel, and performance can be quite subjective, so the only way to know what’s best for you is to try different things and see what works best for you.