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- Can’t decide between roundwound vs. flatwound strings?
- What are they, how are they made, and what’s the difference?
- Use this guide to choose strings that work best for your playing style
- Also, check out our post on the 9 Best Electric Guitar Strings
The roundwound vs. flatwound string shootout is a recurring discussion in the music community. The two terms refer to the string winding technique used during the manufacturing process. They are a crucial design element that has a significant impact on tone and playability.
We all know finding the perfect strings for a guitar or bass is a pretty tall order.
You’ve got hex or round cores, various metal alloys used for wrap wires, string gauges, and different string winding techniques. These design elements result in a shedload of permutations, resulting in a different feel, playability, and tone.
Luckily, there’s no better or worse string choice because what works perfectly is hooked to your playing style and the tone you want. There are far too many design elements to unpack in a single article. So, here we look at the two most common ways strings are wound.
Hopefully, that’s one less term to worry about when you shop for electric guitar or bass strings.
Roundwound vs. Flatwound Strings: What’s The Difference?
Round wound strings have a metal core with a cylindrical wrap wire. They have a coarse feel, bright sound, and excellent sustain.
Flatwounds have a metal core with a flat wrap wire. They feel smooth, sound warm, and produce less finger noise compared to round wound strings.
Additionally, flatwound strings cost more and are only available in medium or heavy-gauge sets. They last longer but have less bite and sustain. Roundwounds are the standard type, meaning they are easy to find, affordable, and available in various materials and gauges.
A Brief Overview of String Winding
From a manufacturing viewpoint, there are two parts to an electric guitar or bass string – a) the core wire and b) the wrap wire. Most guitar strings have a high-carbon steel core wrapped with a thin wrap-wire that can be made of bronze, brass, nickel-plated steel, and other metal alloys.
The sound among different string sets varies because every design element impacts their performance. The main things to look out for are the metal used for the core and winding, the thickness of the core and wire, and the string winding technique used to wrap the metal core.
A standard roundwound electric guitar string set has three plain (all-steel) strings and three wound strings. The high-E, G, and B are unwrapped, which means they don’t have any string winding. The G, B, and low-E have a metal core with a wrap-wire or string winding.
Now, guitar and bass strings are manufactured using three-string winding techniques. They can be round-wound, flat-wound, or half-round (ground-wound) strings. We’ll get into the differences between rounds and flats as they are the most common types.
Roundwound vs. Flatwound Comparison Table
|FACTOR||ROUNDWOUND STRINGS||FLATWOUND STRINGS|
|String winding||A metal core tightly wrapped with a cylindrical wrap wire||A metal core tightly wrapped with a flat wrap wire|
|Tactile feel||Slightly coarse||Slick and smooth|
|Sound||Bright, punchy tones with cutting treble frequencies||Warm and mellow tones with an emphasis on lows and mids|
|Overtones||Lots of overtones||Fewer overtones|
|Cost||Cheapest type||Can cost 2x to 3x more|
|Gauges||Available in all gauges||Heavy or medium gauge|
Roundwound and Flatwound: Differences Explained
In this section, we’ll look at the distinguishing features that set these two types of guitar and bass strings apart. We’ll end with a summary of the pros and cons of each type of string winding and conclude by answering frequently asked questions concerning string winding.
Round wound strings generally have a high carbon steel core with a cylindrical wire wrapped tightly around the metal core. The wrap wire forms circular strips with tiny ridges between them.
Flat wound strings have a metal core but are tightly wrapped with a flat (read: ribbon-like) wire. So, there are no ridges, and they feel seductively smooth against the fingers.
Modern acoustic, electric, and bass guitars come with stock round-wound strings. So, they are the ‘standard’ type of guitar strings and are more commonly used than flatwound strings.
Roundwound guitar strings have ridges and a coarse feel. The ridges create friction both ways – a) they produce ‘handling’ noise when you change chords or slide your fingers along the strings, and b) the ridges rub against the fret, causing fret wear over time.
The smooth surface of flatwounds results in a silky smooth feel. They are smoother to the touch, easy to fret, and do not wear the frets. Flatwound strings are a popular choice for fretless bass as they make it easier to slide your fingers and reduce fingerboard wear and finger noise.
On the other hand, a set of flat wound strings for a guitar has a wound G string (round wound sets have an unwound G). It matters because wound strings make it harder to execute guitar techniques like sliding, bending, and pull-offs.
You can easily fix this issue by buying a set of flat wound strings and an additional plain G string (unwound) from any round wound series. This quick fix will improve overall playability. But note that flats are relatively expensive, and the plain G further adds to the cost.
Roundwound guitar strings sound bright and spunky. They are a better choice if you value attack, sustain, or biting treble frequencies that cut through a mix. However, their sound deadens over time, which means there will be a noticeable decline in brightness and sustain.
On the other hand, flat-wound guitar strings sound smooth and slightly dark. They are ‘vintage-voiced,’ with emphasis on the lows and mids. Understandably, flat wound strings lack the biting attack and cutting top-end of round wound strings.
Roundwound strings are a go-to choice for solid-body electric guitars. They are available in various materials (metal alloys) and string gauges. It implies they are highly versatile and can be used in almost every genre.
Many jazz, blues, and country guitarists prefer the ‘mellow’ tone of flatwound strings. They’re ideal for a vintage or era-authentic tone since many early guitar players played using flatwounds.
Flat-wound strings aren’t ideal for metal, rock, or punk settings.
Their mellow and dark character doesn’t pair well with heavy distortion or overdrive. It can yield poor individual note definition and muddy sounds in hi-gain settings.
Pro-Tip: Flat wound strings have an excellent fundamental tone and fewer overtones when compared to round wound strings. Therefore, they are an excellent choice if you play complex chord voicings. Also, they can tame the harshness of an overly bright bridge pickup.
If you look at the picture, you’ll notice Roundwound strings have ridges, and flatwounds don’t.
These ridges are gaps between the wrap-wire winding. They fill up with finger oils, dirt, and dead skin, which alters the tone and eventually deadens the sound.
Flatwound guitar strings have a longer lifespan compared to roundwound guitar strings. They don’t have ridges in the wrap-wire, so there’s no room for gunk to accumulate. So, flat-wound guitar strings have a longer playing life without massive variations in the tone as they age.
Roundwound strings are made using the standard manufacturing process, making them the cheapest guitar or bass strings. Flatwound strings (particularly for bass guitars) cost up to three times as much as round-wound strings.
The cost of flat wound strings isn’t prohibitive if you want to try a set or two, but it adds up if you experiment with different brands. However, you will get added value as they last long and ensure you don’t have to change strings often.
Pros and Cons
|Very durable and long-lasting||Pricey and not easily available|
|Less handling or finger noise||They come in medium and heavy gauge sets|
|Warm and mellow sound||Relatively poor attack and sustain|
|Great fundamental note||Some sets have a wound G string|
|Reduced finger noise||Don’t sound great with heavy distortion or overdrive|
|Reduced fret or fingerboard wear||Slightly niche applications|
|Ideal for vintage blues, country, and jazz|
|Standard type of strings for guitar and bass||Shorter lifespan|
|Easily available in all gauges||More handling or finger noise|
|Bright tones with sparkly top end||Coarse feel due to ridges in the strings|
|Very affordable price||Can cause fret or fingerboard wear|
|Different materials, cores, and wrap-wires|
Pro-tip: Not happy with roundwound strings or sold on flatwounds either? You have two other options – a) experiment with half-round guitar strings and b) try pure nickel guitar strings. Half-rounds sound warm/mellow, reduce finger noise, and retain some top-end zing. Pure nickel strings are gaining popularity due to their rounded, vintage, naturally warm tone.
Related: All 20 Types of Guitar Pedals (And What They Do)
Do flatwound strings sound warmer?
Flatwound strings sound warmer and are smoother than roundwound or half-round strings. They are famed for a mellow sound, emphasizing the lows and mids. Flatwound strings also have fewer overtones and less bite in the treble frequencies, which results in a smooth, rounded sound.
Roundwound vs. flatwound strings – Which is better for rock music?
Roundwound guitar strings are a popular choice for rock and metal music as they have more sustain and top-end zing. Flatwound strings can work for some rock sub-genres or if you’re after a specific tone.
Conversely, flatwound bass strings are a popular choice for rock ‘n’ roll and have been used by the likes of Geddy Lee, Duck Dunn, Tommy Shannon, and others.
Related: What guitar strings does Jimmy Page Use?
Who are the famous guitar and bass players who used flatwound strings?
Legendary guitar players like Kenny Burrell, Bob Weir, and Wes Montgomery used flatwound strings. Famous bass players using flatwound strings include James Jamerson, Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce, Steve Harris, and John Paul Jones.