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6 Substitutes for Guitar Strings That Actually Work

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The best substitute for guitar strings is fishing wire. It’s a cheap alternative and creates a similar sound to original guitar strings. Other substitute options consist of sewing thread, dental floss, elastic thread, copper wire, and horsehair.

In this article, we will discuss the best substitute materials that you can use in place of original store-bought guitar strings. We will also explain how well each substitute material works and why.

Fishing Line

Many ukulele players use fishing lines as strings, and it works perfectly. It might not sound as good as actual guitar strings, but it will work as a substitute.

There are several types of fishing lines made from different materials, but your best option would be to use a nylon fishing line as guitar strings are often made of nylon. You can also use the Seaguar carbon fishing line made of fluorocarbon (PVDF). 

Fluorocarbon fishing line is much stiffer than nylon fishing line and will produce a different sound. It’s also more expensive.

Fishing Line Guitar String Pros

  • A fishing line can be bought on a spool, meaning you’ll be able to make a lot of strings from one purchase.
  • Fishing line is slightly less expensive than guitar strings, but not by much.
  • Nylon and fluorocarbon fishing lines are strong and durable.
  • The fishing line, if used as guitar strings, will last quite long.

Fishing Line Guitar String Cons

  • The fishing line can stretch as you play, resulting in the guitar being tuned more often.
  • Fishing line guitar strings sound good but can be distinguished from genuine guitar strings.

How To Make Guitar Strings From Fishing Line

Making guitar strings from fishing lines such as this popular brand (available on Amazon) is straightforward and can be done quickly. Select the correct size fishing line and cut the strings to size. Add a ball end at the one end of each of them and string your guitar like you would with actual guitar strings.

You can watch this interesting YouTube video where the musician plays his guitar with 12LB fishing line strings.

Copper Wire

Copper wire has many different uses and will work well as guitar strings. If you decide to use copper wire to make your own guitar strings, ensure that it is insulated, or the wire can fray.

Guitar strings are made from various materials, including copper, so copper wire like this type found on Amazon is a great substitute.

Copper Wire Guitar String Pros

  • Copper wire is durable and, if insulated, shouldn’t fray or break easily.
  • Copper wire doesn’t stretch much, so you won’t have to tune the guitar more than usual.

Copper Wire Guitar String Cons

  • Copper wire doesn’t sound as pleasant to the ear as regular guitar strings
  • Copper wire can hurt your hands and fingers if not insulated.

Creating your own copper wire guitar strings is easy and won’t take a lot of time. You simply cut the copper wire to size, add ball ends, and string your guitar as usual.

Sewing Thread

Pin and white thread on a wooden desk

Using sewing thread as guitar strings might not be an obvious choice, but it does work and almost sounds like you are playing the mandolin. Sewing thread can be used as a substitute for a guitar string. 

When played, it has a thin and interesting sound but doesn’t sound like regular guitar strings at all.

Sewing Thread Guitar String Pros

  • Sewing thread is inexpensive, and most people have some lying around the house.
  • Sewing thread comes in a variety of different thicknesses.
  • When used as guitar strings, sewing thread sounds pretty incredible.

Sewing Thread Guitar String Cons

  • Sewing thread is soft and stretches easily.
  • It loses tune extremely quickly, meaning you will have to tune your guitar every few minutes.

Creating your own guitar strings from sewing thread works the same as making them from fishing line or copper wire.

Here is a YouTube video showing you what it looks and sounds like using sewing thread as guitar strings.

Dental Floss

Dental floss on blue background

Dental floss makes an excellent substitute for regular guitar strings. The strings sound great and dental floss is easily accessible and affordable. Make sure to use waxed dental floss as the strands need to stick together.

Dental Floss Guitar String Pros

  • Dental floss is affordable.
  • Guitar strings made of dental floss produce a pleasant sound.

Dental Floss Guitar String Cons

  • Dental floss can stretch, causing the guitar to have to be tuned more often.
  • Creating waxed dental floss guitar strings takes longer than making them from the materials mentioned above.
  • Dental floss can easily snap, meaning you might have to replace strings often.

How To Make Guitar Strings From Dental Floss

Here’s the process you should follow:

  1. Measure the length of dental floss you need. Keep in mind that you’ll be twisting the floss, so you will need a longer piece than the actual required length for the string (10’ or 3 m should do).
  2. Make every string a different thickness, just like standard guitar strings. You can start with one strand and end with six strands. 
  3. Fold the strands in half and tie one end together before twisting them as tight as possible. 
  4. Once you have your strings, you can add ball ends and string your guitar as usual.

Important: Ensure you use waxed dental floss, or the strands won’t stick together.

Elastic Thread

Many people create toy guitars using boxes and rubber bands. They don’t sound like regular acoustic guitars, but they do work.

Creating guitar strings using elastic thread, like this brand, will work as a substitute for guitar strings if you are in a bind. The sound doesn’t replicate that of a regular guitar but will get the job done as long as you aren’t playing for an audience.

Elastic Thread Guitar String Pros

  • Elastic thread is easy to string.
  • Elastic thread is affordable.
  • Elastic thread is durable.

Elastic Thread Guitar String Cons

  • Elastic thread strings can easily stretch when playing them.
  • Elastic thread strings will have to be tuned often.

Creating elastic thread guitar strings is easy. Ensure you stretch them out a bit before measuring and cutting them and adding the ball ends as you want to pull them tight when stringing them to avoid too much elasticity.

Horse Hair

Woman holding horse hair for making a bow for a stringed instrument

Horsehair is used to create violin bows, and they produce wonderfully melodic sounds, so why not use horsehair to make guitar strings? It’s possible to create guitar strings from horsehair, but it is not the most viable option. 

The sound it produces is of poor quality, and it requires a lot of work to make the strings.

Acquiring horse hair is expensive, and you want to use the longest, best quality hair you can find, such as the hair from Mongolian stallions. This is the hair they use for violin bows and is the best chance you have of creating a guitar string that will work.

Even when using Mongolian stallion hair, the strands will still be too short for a guitar string, so you will have to twist them together.

Overall, horsehair will work as substitute guitar strings, but it is not recommended. The sound that horsehair produces on a guitar does not live up to the sound it creates from a violin bow.

Horsehair is extremely expensive to buy, and making the strings takes a lot of hard work and is time-consuming. You must create strings of different thicknesses, just like standard guitar strings. You will also need to twist the hairs together intricately.

Once your strings are complete, you can add ball ends and string them as you would regular guitar strings.

For more, check out Do Animals Like Music? (And How They Are Affected by It).

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