When searching for guitar strings, you may stumble across a few vocabulary words such as “flatwound” and “roundwound” from time to time. It is easy to glance at these words and keep moving, writing them off as mumbo-jumbo. However, the difference between roundwound and flatwound guitar strings is surprisingly striking. Switching between the two will certainly have an effect on the sound of your guitar, as well as the playability of the guitar. Depending on your playing style, your hand will most definitely like one or the other better, and as you will see further below in this article, so will your ear.
Flatwound vs Roundwound Construction
A guitar string consists of a core, surrounded by a wrap wire. The words flatwound and roundwound specifically refer to the cross-sectional shape of the wrap wire. In the diagram to the left, the core is shown in blue and the wrap wire is shown in gold. On a roundwound guitar string, the wrap wire has a circular cross section. For this reason, a roundwound string will have a bumpy feel as your finger slides up and down. Conversely, the wrap wire on a flatwound string has a much more squared off cross section, which makes the feel of the string much smoother as you slide your finger across it.
Feel and Tone
The feel of each type of string is going to be very different. The roundwound, which has a bumpy texture is going to be slower as you move your fingers across, but will allow your fingers to get better purchase on the string when you are bending. A flatwound string is going to be just the opposite. They are very fast and slippery, but when you try to bend, your finger will have to work harder to get enough grip on the string to bend cleanly without slipping off.
As for tone, a flatwound guitar string is going to be more mellow and substantially less bright than a comparable roundwound string. Because tone is a subjective thing to some degree, I find that it is usually easier to show tone rather than struggle through trying to explain tone. Morten Faerestrand does a great video comparison which I will show below. It is a pretty cool video all the way through, so I recommend watching the whole thing, however if you just want to hear a tonal comparison, you can skip ahead to 6:30 where he plays roundwound and flatwound strings on the same guitar and puts similar riffs and chord progressions back to back.
Only you can decide which type of strings you prefer more. Since guitar strings are cheap, I always recommend trying different ones in order to whittle the selection down to choose your favorites. Different strings match up well tonally to different guitars so don’t be shy about swapping strings around. You can also go to our main page to find some of the best roundwound acoustic strings or you can read more about flatwound guitar strings.