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Choosing the Right Guitar Strings

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Choosing the Right Guitar Strings
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The type of guitar strings you choose, and how often you change them will not only dramatically affect your tone, but also impact the playability of your guitar. By learning about the different string options available for your guitar, you can find the strings which strike the best balance between great tone and playability. The key components affecting tone and playability come from string gauge, string winding method and the string construction material.

String Gauge

String gauge refers to the thickness of the guitar string. This thickness in thousandths of an inch. The larger the gauge, the heavier the string. When describing gauges, guitarists typically omit the decimal, and speak only of the number (they will say an "eight" when referring to a string gauge of .008). There are both advantages and disadvantages to using lighter/heavier gauge strings.

  • the lighter the string gauge, the easier it is to bend the string
  • ligher gauge strings are easier to play
  • lighter gauge strings are more prone to breakage
  • lighter gauge strings cause more fretboard buzzing when neck action is low
  • heavier gauge strings are more difficult to press down
  • heavier gauge strings perform better in de-tuned situations (like "drop D tuning")
  • heavier gauge strings provide more sustain, volume and a bigger sound

Electric Guitar String Gauges

Most new electric guitars tend to ship pre-strung with "super light" guitar strings. Depending on your technique, and the style of music you play, that string gauge may or may not be too light for you. The following is a list of the standard string gauges included with each set of electric guitar strings. Note though that different manufacturers include slightly different string gauges in their sets of strings.

  • typical set of "extra super light" electric strings: .008 .010 .015 .021 .030 .038 ("eight to thirty-eights")
  • typical set of "super light" electric strings: .009 .011 .016 .024 .032 .042 ("nine to forty-twos")
  • typical set of "light" electric strings: .010 .013 .017 .026 .036 .046 ("ten to forty-sixes")
  • typical set of "medium" electric strings: .011 .015 .018 .026 .036 .050 ("eleven to fifties")
  • typical set of "heavy" electric strings: .012 .016 .020 .032 .042 .054 ("twelve to fifty-fours")

Acoustic Guitar String Gauges

Many acoustic guitars come equipped with "light" gauge acoustic guitar strings. This is probably a good place to start - if you are a heavy strummer and find yourself breaking strings often, you may want to consider buying slightly heavier gauged strings. The following is a list of the standard string gauges included with each set of acoustic guitar strings.

  • typical set of "extra light" acoustic strings: .010 .014 .023 .030 .039 .047 ("ten to forty-sevens")
  • typical set of "custom light" acoustic strings: .011 .015 .023 .032 .042 .052 ("eleven to fifty-twos")
  • typical set of "light" acoustic strings: .012 .016 .025 .032 .042 .054 ("twelve to fifty-fours")
  • typical set of "medium" acoustic strings: .013 .017 .026 .035 .045 .056 ("thirteen to fifty-sixes")
  • typical set of "heavy" acoustic strings: .014 .018 .027 .039 .049 .059 ("fourteen to fifty-nines")
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