Can You Make Your Own Guitar Strings?

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You pull out your acoustic guitar on Jan. 1, ready to start your New Year’s Resolution of practicing every day, when, while tuning up, you break a string. You search your case, but you don’t have any extras, and no stores are open.

You have to keep your resolution! Can you make your own guitar strings in a pinch?

You absolutely can use various items to make your own guitar strings, including dental floss, fishing line, and even wire. Most of them end up being pretty poor substitutes for guitar strings, however, with problems ranging from playability issues to the tone they produce.

Let’s examine how guitar strings are made, what common items you can try instead of standard strings and the problems you might run into.

Can You Make Your Own Guitar Strings?

Like I said above, you can make your own guitar strings using a variety of things, but before we get too much further, I want to offer a word of caution. Maybe your mother told you — I know mine told me! — that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it.

All of the material we’re going to cover are designed for things other than use on a guitar. Most of them won’t do any damage, but a few of them have the potential to cause issues if you aren’t careful.

And none of them are going to sound as good as guitar strings.

That doesn’t mean there’s no point in doing it, though! Experimenting with new ways to make music is a lot of fun, and discovering how something works is always worthwhile.

But don’t think you’re going to discover the secret to super cheap but amazing sounding guitar tone by using alternative materials — that isn’t likely to happen.

How Are Guitar Strings Made?

There are a lot of manufacturing methods for guitar strings, but there are two main types of strings: steel and nylon.

Steel strings, which can actually be made from anything from plain steel to nickel alloys to mixtures of brass (an alloy of copper and zinc) and bronze (an alloy of copper and tin), come in plain strings and wound, with different string gauge sets coming in different combinations.

In general, heavier sets have a wound G string — based on Standard Tuning, E A D G B E — and lighter gauge sets have a plain G string.

Plain strings are just what they sound like: basic pieces of wire with a way to attach one end to a guitar bridge. Wound strings have a core of metal and are wrapped in another material, with many acoustic strings using brass and bronze with electric strings tending toward nickel alloys.

You even have the choice between roundwound and flatwound strings, which we’ve looked at before.

This video takes a tour of one factory that makes steel guitar strings.

The other main kind of strings are nylon strings. Sometimes called gut strings they were, in fact, originally made of animal intestine, but the alternate use of that material, to make surgical sutures, caused shortages during and after World War II.

That caused companies to look to new materials, like DuPont’s synthetic, nylon, as a possible replacement and the development of modern nylon strings. While nylon strings are primarily used on classical guitars, they work on any guitar.

They’re especially useful when you have a delicate instrument and you don’t want to put too much tension on the neck — think of early 20th Century acoustic guitars without a truss rod, for example.

Guitars designed for nylon strings are a good choice to experiment on here, because with only one exception, the substitute strings we’re going to look at are closer to nylon strings than anything else. They also generally have a bridge you can tie strings onto, making attaching them a bit easier than with a pin-style acoustic guitar bridge.

Can Fishing Line Be Used As Guitar String?

Let’s start with the substitute most likely to actually work and be at least a little bit useful.

Most modern fishing line is monofilament nylon, just like classical guitar strings. In fact, using fishing line for strings is a fairly common trick in the ukulele community.

This video shows a comparison between nylon strings and fishing line on a ukulele.

It isn’t a perfect solution for guitar. While the difference in string gauge from one string to another on a ukulele is relatively small, the gap grows on a guitar, obviously.

In a classical string set, the high E string is often around .028″ or .029″ with the low E string about .043″, which is a significant difference. Fishing line usually tops out at about .030″, making it a fine substitute for the higher strings, but possibly not able to hold enough tension to sound good when tuned to lower notes.

Remember that the thickness of the string affects how much tension is required to get it to produce a given pitch, and that strings usually have uniform tension across the neck. If your high and low E strings — tuned an octave apart — are about the same thickness, they’ll be under much different levels of tension.

Nylon changes the specifics of how that process works, compared to steel, but the same basic rules hold.

That, however, is part of the reason to experiment. Such a string arrangement would lead to very different feels on the fretboard as you played, because of the very different tension and likely a very different tone.

It’s possible the lower tension bass strings could give the instrument a percussive, thudding bass sound with a fairly normal sounding higher register. Probably not something you’d want in every song, but a sound you could certainly find a use for.

But what about other materials?

Can You Use Dental Floss As Guitar Strings?

You can get more exotic than fishing line for strings, if you’d like. One option is to actually wind your own strings out of dental floss.

It’s a surprisingly easy process.

  • Start with three 9- or 10-foot long lengths of waxed dental floss
  • Bundle the floss strands together and fold them in half
  • Hold the loop created and at the other end, tie the strands securely
  • Insert the knotted end into the chuck of a drill and with a pencil, gently hold tension on the loop
  • While still gently holding tension run the drill forward to wind the strings together.
  • Snip off the knot and install the string you created.

This is best used on a classical guitar, where you can tie the string to the bridge. On a guitar with a pin-style bridge you can either scavenge the ball end from an old string to re-use or just tie a large knot at the end of the string, which will hold it against the pin.

If you want to add thickness, you can add more strings to the bundle.

You’ll need to be careful when stringing your guitar with these. While the wound strings will be much stronger than just a single string of dental floss would be, they still can’t withstand a lot of tension.

These will not sound bright at all, and will instead offer a warm, percussive tone.

They’ll sound somewhat similar to regular nylon strings, in fact, but with less sustain. Given what they’re made of, that isn’t very surprising.

You can hear someone playing on dental floss strings in this video.

What To Use Instead Of Guitar Strings?

You can follow a similar set of steps with a wide variety of material to create your own strings.

One example would be just about any kind of thread. If you wound a group of strings from a spool of cloth thread you’d be able to create strings fairly easily. These, too, would probably sound quite dark.

Cotton isn’t noted for how well it transmits vibrations, after all.

What Can I Use For Homemade Guitar Strings?

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, there’s no reason you couldn’t create your own metal strings, as well, though you obviously need to be a lot more careful.

In addition to the extra stress on the top and neck of any guitar when using metal strings, the strings themselves are under much more tension. If a dental floss or cloth string snaps, you’ll hear it, but if a metal string snaps and hits you, you’ll feel it.

With that word of caution out of the way, you can absolutely make an attempt at your own metal strings. The first, and easiest, way to do that is to buy bulk wire.

You can buy wires of various gauges, with 32 gauge wire coming in at .008″, 30 gauge at .010″ and so on, down to 16 gauge, which is about .051″, as thick or thicker than you’d want for a low E on most six string guitars.

One issue is, of course, while 16 gauge plain wire might be the same thickness as a low E string, those strings are made quite differently, as we saw above. The tension would be different than a standard string and you could risk damaging the guitar.

With the three highest strings, at least, it’s relatively easy to find a replacement.

Easy, but not very cost effective. If you take a guitar string out of a package and lay it out straight, you’ll find it’s about 3 feet long. Maybe a tiny bit more or less, but right around there. That makes sense, as it gives you plenty of room to string up even a guitar with a scale longer than the pretty standard 25.5 inch scale.

Bulk wire generally comes in spools that don’t get much shorter than 25 feet. That is a lot of guitar string to make.

But, with that said, having a few spools of 30 or 32 gauge wire sitting around might make you the savior when your band’s lead guitarist keeps breaking his high E string when practicing solos.

Earlier I mentioned how guitar strings might be made of bronze or brass alloys, so could you use copper wire for guitar strings?

You could, but you might run into more problems than just using steel wire would present. First, you have to find the right kind of wire — plain, as opposed to braided, which is made up of many tiny strands.

While either could work, plain will be far better.

A second problem is that copper is much more subject than steel to work hardening, which is when a material becomes hard and brittle because of deformation. While you always have to worry about the friction points of the bridge, nut and tuner and their effect on the string, that’s even more important with copper.

Over time, the repeated attempts to get the guitar in tune and just the vibration of the strings from playing would render the strings quite prone to breakage.

You’ll also have to contend with the different ways copper and steel take up and hold tension, which will making tuning difficult.

But, again, the effect might be worth the attempt — it just takes experimentation to figure that out.


As we’ve looked at, you have quite a few options when it comes to making your own strings at home. But before you embark on that journey, stop and consider both what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

You don’t want to damage an instrument with sentimental or monetary value, so be careful about which instruments you experiment on and which experiments you choose.

But also, don’t expect anything like “standard” guitar tone from most of the options we’ve discussed. And if, like plain wire, they might be a perfect substitute, don’t expect to save much in terms of time or money by making your own.

But if you’re eager to experiment, making your own strings is a great way to learn about the different things that go into tone.