Flatwound vs. Roundwound Strings – Which Should You Use?

The key difference between the roundwound and flatwound strings is that flatwound strings have a flattened out wire wrap on the outer part, giving them a muted sound. Roundwounds are more popular and sound brighter. They also feel rougher compared to the slick feel of flatwounds.

Flatwound and roundwound guitar strings are the most popular choices. While roundwounds are more popular, many players prefer flatwound strings for their mellow-dead sound and smooth feel. Ultimately one is not better than the other, it comes down to personal preference.

What are Flatwound Strings?

Modern guitar strings have two parts, a string core and a wrap-around made of stainless steel. Flatwound strings have the wrap wire flat instead of round. They feel smooth, have less string friction, sound mellow, and have reduced treble, stronger bass, and mid-tones.

What are Roundwound Strings?

Roundwound strings are the more popular choice for guitars. The wrap wire is round and made of nickel. Thanks to the ridges, they are easier to hold. The higher strings are not wound, but the lower ones are roundwound. They are higher-end strings and have a more balanced tone and lower sustain.

Differences Between Flatwound and Roundwound Strings

Let’s go deeper into the differences between these two string types to grasp better which one is ideal for you!

Construction

Most guitar strings have similar construction styles, with a center core wire surrounded by a wrap wire. The main difference between the flatwound and roundwound strings is with the construction, as the first has flattened out wrap wire while the latter one has round wrap wire.

The roundwound strings are much more popular, and if you have played guitar before, you have probably used roundwound strings. When using roundwound strings, you can feel the ridges between the wrap layers.

The flatwound strings have the wrap wires compressed and flattened for a smoother feel. The lack of ridges makes them feel more smooth and slick. Without the ridges, the strings sound new for longer as the finger gunk does not accumulate between the ridges.

Playability

One of the most noticeable differences between the flatwound and roundwound strings is the overall feel. Roundwound strings feel rough and may hurt your fingertips and contribute to fret wear. Flatwound strings have a smoother feel, thanks to the flattened-out wrap wire.

Flatwound strings are excellent for fast playing thanks to the smooth feel. That is why many jazz musicians prefer flatwound strings, as they can use the whole fingerboard quickly for complex jazz chords or licks.

It is worth mentioning that roundwound strings come in a wider range of sizes, while flatwound strings usually feature .11 gauge. These are relatively thick strings, and when playing guitars equipped with .11 gauge strings, you get a more acoustic-like feel. Due to the thickness of the strings, the bends and vibratos feel slightly harder to play.

Sound

There is a clear sonic difference between flatwound and roundwound strings. Flatwound strings sound mellow and muted like “dead.” With the tight wrap wire, the string’s vibrations are limited, so the sustain is low, and the tone is darker. Roundwound strings have a brighter tone, and more sustain as the strings can move more freely.

Flatwound strings are mainly preferred by jazz guitarists due to the lack of pronounced overtones in the strings. That is great for playing complex jazz chords.

Flatwound strings are slightly quieter and have less sustain. Also, they are quieter in terms of noise. The finger squeaks while playing are almost non-existent. They are great for recording if you want your recording track to be clean as much as possible.

Roundwound strings are the industry-standard strings for most electric guitars, and they sound quite bright with good sustain. The high resistance of the strings causes a lot of noise, however.

Durability

When it comes to durability, flatwound strings are the better choice. As the wrap wire is flattened, the strings do not have a surface with ridges where oil and dead skin from fingers can accumulate. Without the two vital reasons for string deterioration, flatwound strings survive for very long periods.

Roundwound strings do have the ridges on the string surface where dead skin, sweat, and oil accumulate, causing the string to deteriorate. That is why you have to change the strings of your instrument frequently.

Another reason for the long lifespan of flatwound strings is that they do not have the bright sound of roundwound strings. As their natural sound is not that bright and the strings tend to sound less bright when they get deteriorated, there is not much to lose for a flatwound string. So, flatwound strings can sound new even if they aren’t.

Price

In terms of price, flatwound strings usually cost much more than traditional roundwound strings. The price difference is big, as the flatwound has a price tag double or even triple the price of roundwound strings. But, flatwound strings last significantly longer than rounds, making them more cost-effective, especially when considering the long term.

Flatwound Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Mellow and smoother soundPricey
Slick feel, great for fast playingHard to find
Much more durable, long lifetimeLess sustain
Less finger noiseOnly available in medium and heavy gauge sets
Less fret wearCan sound dull sometimes

Roundwound Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Bright sound with great high-endsHarder on fingertips
AffordableRidges can cause fret wear
Many models with different materials and gaugesRidges can cause string deterioration 
Easy to findMore finger noise
Popular choiceLasts significantly shorter

Conclusion

While roundwound strings are the industry standard guitar strings today, there are many flatwound strings fans, thanks to their high durability, slick feel, and mellow sound. Both string types have their advantages and disadvantages, ultimately leaving the choice to personal preference and taste.

To summarize, flatwound strings have flattened out wrap wire and shine with their long lifespan and less finger noise due to the lack of ridges, mellow sound without much high-end, as well as a slick feel for fast playing. They are mainly loved by jazz players but cost significantly more.

Roundwound strings are the more popular choice thanks to their excellent sound with bright high-ends, affordable prices, and a wide variety of models with different materials and gauges. But, they are slightly harsher on the fingertips and have shorter lifespans.

Berk Öztuna is a handpan player, percussionist, and guitarist. He has been playing multiple instruments over the last 10 years. He started his music career as a guitarist, playing with several bands before putting his main focus into playing the handpan.

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