Relationship Between String Gauge and String Height

Bill Sheehan

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To the extent it's possible to generalize about something like this, is it normally thought that if you switch to a little heavier-gauge string set (say, moving from 10's to 11's), you may be able to lower your action at least a little bit without experiencing unwanted string "buzz" on the fretboard?
 

Bill Sheehan

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It’s the opposite, actually. Heavier strings vibrate in a wider elliptical pattern. They need more room to move, so you’ll find yourself having to raise the action to avoid buzzing and rattling.
Thanks, Eljay, that makes sense. Hmmm... maybe I should make the switch back to 9's, and then bring that action down just a little, like I used to do in the seventies...
 

Freeman Keller

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It’s the opposite, actually. Heavier strings vibrate in a wider elliptical pattern. They need more room to move, so you’ll find yourself having to raise the action to avoid buzzing and rattling.

ElJay, can you point to a reference that confirms that? Either theoretical (solution of the string wave equation) or by directly measuring the envelope? I want to see the assumptions made and how the results were obtained.
 

telemnemonics

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I dont associate any connection.

An assumption might be made though if the player chooses heavy strings because their style is slamming the strings, either for volume on acoustic, or for whatever reasons an electric player might have for hitting the strings extra hard.

A lighter touch and better setup affords lower action.
 

Freeman Keller

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I dont associate any connection.

An assumption might be made though if the player chooses heavy strings because their style is slamming the strings, either for volume on acoustic, or for whatever reasons an electric player might have for hitting the strings extra hard.

A lighter touch and better setup affords lower action.
That is often the case with acoustic players, a hard driving flat picking bluegrasser will impart a lot more energy into the strings than a finger picker playing with flesh and nails - we set up a bluegrass guitar with phatter strings and higher action. I am trying to get my head around the apparent fact that a heavier gauged string tuned to the same frequency would necessarily have a larger vibrating envelope. I'm assuming that the tension goes up but that the initial displacement remains the same, same relief, same note frequency, same unit weight on the string. We tend to set up guitars with slightly higher action on the bass strings - I've just always took it for granted that envelope was bigger but I can't see any reason for it looking at the math.

Not disputing what ElJay said, just want to know why.
 

ahiddentableau

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I would also like to see the math/evidence, because I think I can make it make sense in both directions. TBH, bigger diameter strings = more tension = less excursion (which I think is the argument the OP is referring to) makes as much sense to me as what Ejay said earlier, but I'm not a physics professor. There are other factors, too. How much energy is being used to get the string moving? I agree that people tend to hit heavier strings harder, so you'd have to define the parameters or it won't be an apples to apples comparison.

In practice I've never noticed a significant difference.
 

kuch

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To the extent it's possible to generalize about something like this, is it normally thought that if you switch to a little heavier-gauge string set (say, moving from 10's to 11's), you may be able to lower your action at least a little bit without experiencing unwanted string "buzz" on the fretboard?

I always use 10's on all my electrics so it's not an issue for me.

What I always do when I get a new guitar after initial set it up is install the strings I want. Let it settle for a day or so; lower the action to the level where it buzzes. And start raising it a little at a time when it stops buzzing according to my playing. Be sure to let the guitar settle between adjustments. To me, that's the lowest action to suit my playing.

Edit: remember to intonate whenever you change your saddle height.
 
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Ricky D.

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When I change to a heavier or lighter gauge, I hit the strings differently. I hit heavier strings harder because they push back harder. Just a little, but we are talking about small changes here. I think the net difference is almost trivial.

I always tweak the intonation and saddle height when I change gauge, just to be sure it’s right. But I do it so seldom I can’t say exactly what changes I might make.
 

dsutton24

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You know, it's an interesting question. Heavier strings take more effort to make them vibrate, and vibrate longer than a like string in a lighter gauge. It might be that the longer vibration time would make something that was borderline buzzy buzz a bit more.

But, there are strings of all sizes on the guitar anyway. You generally give the bigger strings a bit more clearance.

A heavier gauge set is heavier by thousandths of an inch. My gut says there really isn't much of a correlation from one gauge to another with regard to action.
 

KokoTele

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Heavier strings = higher tension = more damping force = less vibration. But...

Heavier strings = more mass = more momentum = more vibration. But...

Heavier strings = more mass = more momentum = more ability to overcome other damping forces, like some fret rattle.

All that said, I generally find that I can get strings a bit lower with a heavier gauge. The player and their touch have as much to do with it as anything.
 

Stedgett

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I'm waiting for the mathematical equations requested, not that I would understand them. j/k. My experience has been the same as dsutton24's. When younger, I tried to move from 10s to 9s. My hands still being strong, I could not adjust and fretted out of tune every time. Over the last 2 years I have gradually gone from 10s to 8s with very little adjustment to bridges. Intonation of course but I have done that with each string change even using the same size. I used to really hit and fret the strings hard but has arthritis has become a factor, I don't hit them so hard any more. Lighter touch on the fretboard also and not by choice, by necessary adaptation. dsutton24 is correct You will need to make little if any adjustment to your guitar. To your playing technique? Maybe.
 

Boreas

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I basically do a complete setup when I change string gauges. Often the nut needs to be tweaked, neck relief adjusted, saddles adjusted, and intonation tweaked. By the time I have done all of that, a direct comparison is nearly impossible.

IMO, best action for any gauge or string type is a compromise based on minimizing buzz, and maximizing the ability to bend strings. I find with low action and light strings, I can't get enough purchase on the strings and they will slip under my fingertip with a healthy bend. Raise the action and I seem to get more bite and force behind the bend. Fret height and fretboard wood also comes into play. Someone who strums straight rhythm would likely have different preferences.
 

Swirling Snow

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I basically do a complete setup when I change string gauges. Often the nut needs to be tweaked, neck relief adjusted, saddles adjusted, and intonation tweaked. By the time I have done all of that, a direct comparison is nearly impossible.

IMO, best action for any gauge or string type is a compromise based on minimizing buzz, and maximizing the ability to bend strings. I find with low action and light strings, I can't get enough purchase on the strings and they will slip under my fingertip with a healthy bend. Raise the action and I seem to get more bite and force behind the bend. Fret height and fretboard wood also comes into play. Someone who strums straight rhythm would likely have different preferences.
Yeh, I don't know what's wrong with us, but those low setups the shredders favor just don't let me get a grip.
 

KokoTele

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Yeh, I don't know what's wrong with us, but those low setups the shredders favor just don't let me get a grip.

The shredders usually have super tall frets and play really light strings. Or they're tuning down and playing heavier strings. A couple of months ago, one of my customers wanted a guitar setup to play in drop C with 9s, low action, with no buzzing. I got him there with a 9-46 set, action between 2 and 3 6ths, and made him promise to ignore the fret rattle when he chugs on the low strings. The frets were like .110 x .055".
 




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