Guitar strings for children’s guitars

I’m no expert, but here’s my advice:

  • Use ordinary (not fractional) high-tension (or “hard” tension) strings.
    • I like D’Addario EXP hard strings, but they are relatively expensive ($8.50 online, $15 at retail stores).
      • Note, however, that a commenter (see Ray DeGennaro’s second comment, below) found these strings to be unplayable on his child’s 1/4-size Strunal. This is a puzzle, since I use them on the same guitar. But apparently they don’t work for everybody.
    • For a few bucks less, you could get D’Addario ProArte hard strings, which should be just fine.
    • I’ve also used ordinary Savarez strings, but I prefer the D’Addarios.
  • Avoid LaBella fractional strings. They stink.
  • Note: In the comments, Ray DeGennaro says that he likes Hannabach Kinder Guitar strings (see below). I’ve never used them, and personally, I would avoid them because they have a wound G string.  But use your own judgment.

Why high-tension strings? Because (according to a luthier who explained this to me) on a short-scale guitar, to bring an ordinary string up to pitch, you apply less tension than you would on a full-size guitar. So strings that would be under low tension on a full-size guitar will be under extra-low tension on a short-scale guitar. To get ordinary strings to feel right on a short-scale guitar, you need to use high-tension strings.

“But,” you ask, “if high tension is good, why not use extra-hard strings?”

Maybe you should. I’ve only used hard strings, though, so I can’t say how extra-hard strings would feel.

Why not use the LaBella fractional strings? Because they include a wound G string, not a nylon one. Why would anyone want a wound G string on a kid’s guitar? It’s hard enough keeping a kid’s nails in shape without having one more wound string to wear them down. Also, I got notable fret buzz on my 6th string when I used the LaBellas. My guitar’s action is low, but I did not get the same buzz with either ordinary Savarez strings or the D’Addario “hard” EXP strings.

As I noted, a commenter is happy with Hannabach Kinder fractional strings.  These are the only fractional strings, other than LaBellas, that I know of.

For myself, the hard  D’Addarios both sound and feel good enough (on a 1/4-size Strunal) that I don’t plan to get anything else.

But if you know different, please chime in in the comments!

8 thoughts on “Guitar strings for children’s guitars”

  1. I just tried a set of D’Addario EXP hard strings on my daughter’s 1/4-sized Strunal, and they did not work well at all. The low-E was way to loose & flubby when tuned to pitch and the G was way too tight. The tension on the other strings were acceptable; however, they were still all over the place. The Low-E made the guitar unplayable. Fortunately, I bought a set of the Hannabach Kinder 49cm strings at the same time, the tensions are much more even across the board. The set does have a wound 3rd string, but that’s my preference on my steel-string acoustic and hasn’t been trouble (yet) for my daughter on her classical.

    Ray

    1. Ray, thanks for your comments. I’ve updated the post to reflect them.

      Your experience with the D’Addario EXP strings is a real puzzle to me. I’ve got them on a 1/4-size Strunal, and the tension on every string is fine. I don’t notice any of the variation you mention.

      Your suggestion of trying different sets of strings to get matched (or slightly increasing, from 1 to 6) tension is really interesting. It had never occurred to me.

      I’ll probably be getting a new guitar soon, so I may experiment with your suggestions.

      Thanks for visiting and sharing what you know!

      1. Now that I think about it more, maybe I got a bad batch? It’s not unheard of. I actually managed to snap the 6th string. I installed the strings just like I would on a full-sized guitar: Looped them at the bridge and peg head, and then tighten just enough so that the strings aren’t loose, then started checking with the tuner. When I started checking the pitch, the 6th string started at an F# and snapped just as I passed D. I assumed I had been off by an octave and just didn’t realize it, so that when the string was minimally tight, it was sharp by over two semi-tones, hence the too flubby comment. Maybe I wasn’t off by an octave and just got a bad string.

        Regarding the progressive tensions, since I’ve gone that way, I’ve never looked back. It’s just so nice not to have cheese slicer trebles and tight bass strings. Even though the strings are progressively tighter, they feel all the same. The bass notes are much tighter and louder. The two disadvantages are that you have to buy singles and if you have a guitar that already has a 1st or 2nd string that’s a bit twangy for your taste, thinner, looser strings can accentuate that.

        Ray

  2. I recommend the Savarez yellow card set 520J ( with J for ‘jaune’ or yellow). The high (E-B-G) strings are not as smoothly polished as other brands or Savarez types, which gives your child (and you!) a great grip on things. Besides, these strings do not ‘squeak’ when you slide your fingers along them, but rather ‘rustle’. I have been playing Savarez yellow for 25 years, and now my children play – and love – them too.

  3. Well, I keep ending up on your page because I do Google searches and end up here. So, a few questions…

    1) I understand that high tension strings are essentially normal tension strings on a fractional guitar, and thus will sound better, although I have also gotten the advise that the first set of strings you put on a child’s guitar should be low tension. Not permanently, but while they’re getting used to playing the instrument, they should use low tension strings (normal tension strings, which translate into low tension on a 1/2 guitar) because it’s easier on their fingers. My thought was that comfort is important, but hearing good sound from their instrument is also important to beginners. Thoughts?

    2) I have read that the perceived hardness (to press, to play, to get good sound) of round core strings is less than that of hex core strings. So, I thought maybe round-core strings might be better for children as they might be perceived as softer and easier to play. Might be worth looking into, especially if one were to decide to go with the extra hard strings. Although, almost all machine-made strings are hex-core, so it’s much harder to get round-core. Lots of hand wound ones are, though, which on a plus-side can be made in fun colours (including multiple colours on one string), which is fun for kids.

    3) What exactly is the difference between fractional and regular strings? Are they just shorter or do they compensate for the tension? I feel inclined to ignore them entirely unless I know exactly how they’re different.

    1. I’m glad that my pages are showing up! By the way, there’s a Suzuki Guitar Facebook page that you could also follow and post questions on if you wanted some input from teachers around the country.

      The advice to use ordinary strings on a fractional guitar seems bad to me, and it’s not advice I’ve heard from any reputable Suzuki teacher. If the action on your guitar is correct, then high-tension strings on a fractional guitar are not difficult to play, even for a child. Indeed, using ordinary-tension strings creates new difficulties, namely, the strings are more likely to be bent, resulting in an out-of-tune note. Rather than using loose strings and having intonation problems as a result, it’s better to use properly tensioned strings and make sure that the action is sufficiently low. Many off-the-shelf guitars, even decent ones, have the action set far too high from the factory.

      I don’t know anything about round vs. hex-core strings. I do not believe that such a fine distinction could matter for a child. Again, as long as the action is set properly, extra-hard strings on a 48-cm-scale or smaller guitar will be right, while hard strings will be right on a larger fractional guitar. If you want to get colorful strings, I suppose that’s fine, but I would think that they’d potentially be a distraction.

      As for “fractional” strings, I’ve only ever bought one set, and I took them off very quickly because they had a wound G string. They are shorter than ordinary strings, and they must be roughly the same tension as hard or extra-hard ordinary strings, but there is really no upside to them that I can see. And a wound G string is just a terrible idea.

      At the early stages of the Suzuki method, kids play mostly on the top 3 strings, which (unless you get a set with a wound G string) are all nylon, and nylon strings are not difficult to play. The most important thing is the action.

      Hope that helps!

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