When I was a youngster, just starting to play guitar, one day the clerk at the shop I patronized accidentally gave me a set of strings with a wound G, instead of the three wound and three pulled strings that come in the typical pack of .10 gauge electric guitars strings.
I was disappointed because: a) that’s not want I paid for, and b) I had no idea what good a wound G-string could be. It seemed ungainly and was hard to bend, and just sounded wrong to my beginner’s ears.
As it turns out, my accidental purchase was enlightening. It forced me to learn why players choose wound G-strings. Over the years, I have come to call on them for very specific tasks and sounds. And I’ve found that wound G strings are great for:
• Playing traditional jazz: In a genre built on warm, round tones that sidestep searing bright sounds and, for the most part, doesn’t rely on string-bending, wound G strings are perfect. Their darker qualities help dial in the kind of tones that made the recordings of greats like Barney Kessel and Kenny Burrell so appealing. At first, if you’re used to playing jazzy or even bluesy single-note runs, in particular, on pulled strings, the thick, deep sound of the G will require a little ear adjustment, but in the long run the warmth that’s achieved is a serious payoff.
• Playing country: Sure, a wound G won’t give you the robust, deep voice of a baritone guitar, like the six-string that plays the melody line and solo in Glenn Campbell’s recording of Jimmy Webb’s brilliant “Wichita Lineman,” but it will help you get a six-string sound warm and dark enough to approximate those tones (by rolling back the tone pot, too) on a gig, which lets you do it all on one guitar. Sure, no easy Roy Nichols style three-string bends with a wound G — unless you’ve got a very powerful grip on the neck — but a wound G is perfect for a Luther Perkins style deep thwack on those Johnny Cash covers, too. When you’ve gotta go low, go with a wound G.
• Using lower tunings: Akin to the above subject: If you’re dropping your guitars into open D or open C, having a more resilient, resistant wound G string will help keep your sound from getting too flabby. Pulled strings tend to vibrate more wildly in low tunings, creating a lot of buzz and undesirable harmonics. Wound Gs help keep the bottom four strings tight and in-tune.
• Playing resonators: A wound G is essential for playing slide resonator guitar, where you’ll likely be working in open tunings and smacking, raking and shaking a piece of pipe or glass over the strings, causing pressure that can easily detune a lesser string set. Plus, the thicker tone of the wound G jumps harder and louder out of the resonator chamber, which helps make sure that what you’re playing cuts through the mix.
• Playing acoustic guitars: Since perfection of tone and tuning is especially important with acoustic guitars, which are usually played with as clean, sparkling and natural a sound as possible, the wound G’s ability to resist accidental detuning and its bold articulation make it a plus. If you’re going to play blues bends and the like, you should probably stick with the pulled G, but for fast flat-picking in bluegrass or country, or for chords to accompany songs, with wound G is a good fit for acoustic guitar.
• Tuning issues: This isn’t a recommend fix, but it can be a Band-Aid. If your guitar is having trouble with the G string slipping out of tune and you don’t have time to thoroughly investigate the problem, a wound G’s resilience can sometimes get you through a few gigs until the nut or other source of trouble is repaired.