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Guitar String Thickness - How To Choose The Best String Thickness
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Guitar String Thickness   -   How to Choose the Best String Thickness

A string is a part of guitar (or any other stringed instrument) which produces sound by vibration. Guitar strings can be either made of steel or nylon. Different materials will give them different sounds, but the string tone will also partly depend on its diameter. Lighter strings have smaller diameters (which is also called a string gauge). Heavier strings have larger diameters and they require more tension in order to keep the same pitch, so the tone will be different. Generally the choice of which guitar string thickness to use comes down only to personal preferences.

Different string gauges which you can mostly choose from (for acoustic and electric guitars) are:

  • .008 (thinnest e string) - .038 (thickest E string) super light
  • .009 - .042 light
  • .010 - .046 light medium
  • .011 - .048 medium
  • .012 - .054 heavy
  • .013 - .056 extra heavy
  • .014 - .058 extra super heavy

Heavier strings have fuller sound, but they will be much harder to press against the fretboard. If you’re new to guitar, starting out with the heavier strings (11s or 12s) might put you off playing, as you’ll most likely find it too much painful. Bending is especially hard and that is no good for lead playing. They are really good for rhythm playing, and the heavier they are the more sustain (sustain is the duration of the note after it has been played) they'll give. If you want heavier strings it’s best if you work up to them.

Lighter strings on the other hand have thinner but sweet sound, and less sustain. They’re most often used for lead guitar playing. They are easier on the fingers to press down, they are more controllable, and are especially good for techniques like bending, slides, legato etc. They can snap easily though, especially 8s. Beginner guitar players who use 8s often break their low e, B or G strings, most often low e. Many guitar players who like to play and neoclassical shredders like Yngwie Malmsteen use exclusively extra thin sets of strings.

Most major brands offer different combinations in their sets of strings. So if you want to play some lead and expressive bends on the thinnest strings, but also keep the full sound of the heavier strings for strong riffs and general rhythm playing, it’s possible to chose the combination that will serve you best.

But what about the mediums (10s)? Well, they’re in my opinion the best choice if you’re just starting out, no matter what your end goal on guitar is.

Also keep in mind that when changing the thickness of the strings, you need to do a proper guitar setup. Otherwise (depending on the new string thickness) the guitar neck can be bent slightly, and then the guitar will have trouble staying in tune. You might get note buzz on some frets because of the action change, and it will generally feel harder to play. Those are just some of the consequences...

That is not healthy for a guitar, so make sure that you find someone knowledgeable who can do a proper setup for you, or you can do it yourself if you’re experienced enough and have the right tools.

As you develop your playing style and technique you'll know what string thickness will be the best choice for you, and what to ask for when taking guitar for a setup.

Developing your playing style is not something that can be done overnight. It might take years to develop, but that’s the beauty of guitar journey. You just enjoy along the way. ;)


Street Talk

Deven  

Great article Nikolar. I'd agree that starting with too thick of a gauge string could discourage a newbie as it can be a true pain to get all the notes to sound clearly, bend, vibrato, etc. I've found that one thing that really helped me though was starting with 11's or 12's to build finger strength then once it became easier find a string set that fits my style. Would you agree or disagree with this method? I've found it similar to the 'starting with an acoustic' theory

Reply
  about 5 years ago
  

I agree with you for building the finger strength, but i also think beginners who just picked up the guitar might give up more easily if the strings are too hard to press. I started with 12's and after a couple of months i changed them to 10's. Now i'm using 12's again. I guess it's individual and depends on a person in the end.

Reply
  about 4 years ago
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