The oddness of guitar strings

BuckNekkid

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I just started playing my new Tele (see my NGD post here) and just like every other electric guitar I own and play, the default strings are just way too light for me.

Now, I don't have meathooks for hands. In fact, I have small hands and narrow fingers. But perhaps because I've been playing acoustic guitar for decades longer than I have been playing electric guitar, I tend to "crush" the strings, which results in a lot of out-of-tune sounding chords and inadvertent bends when soloing.

I note with a touch of irony that acoustic guitars tend to weigh a lot less than electric guitars, but they are usually played with heavier gauge strings (I run .012 - .054, usually). But electrics seem to ship with .009 - .042 (at least that's what came on my new Tele) and they're usually heavier (solid wood versus hollow body).

So, I've found that if I follow in the footsteps of some of my guitar heroes, I put 12's (sometimes even 13's) on my electric, I have better control over my playing. I've heard Hendrix did this. I know that Robin Trower does. Trower usually tunes down a half or whole step so he can still get the bends, but I find that I cannot go into a guitar store and comfortably play a floor model because of my "idiosyncrasy."

This certainly has to be my issue. Otherwise, more electric guitars would ship with heavier gauge strings. What's your issue with strings?
 

toomuchfun

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I understand your issue, you have to have a string that you can feel comfortable without bending it a little out of tune just grabbing a chord.

For me it's 10's, for you it's 12's. Stevie Ray used 13's but he tuned down a half fret. A bigger string will give a bigger, richer tone.

It's just an individual thing, but a factory is most likely going to use one gauge to make set up and production run smooth. You're the odd ball, at least your not left handed.

Right now, strings are good to me. I use a nickel wound, usually EB or D'Addrrio. I'm sure I'm going to regret this but I can't remember the last time I broke a string playing. I'm playing a benefit Saturday, see if I jinxed myself.

I play a lot of acoustic too, makes playing electric guitars feel so easy.
 

loopfinding

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big box guitar stores hardly (if at all) set their guitars up. and factory setup is usually with pretty high action and the nut cut too high. that’s a recipe for crappy intonation.

the problem isn’t really 9s, it’s that the home depots of guitar leave their inventory unplayable and don’t care, and factories leave them high because it’s less labor/time and no chance of buzzing/fretting out.

i’m used to 11s or 12s but do t really have trouble playing properly set up guitars at mom n pop stores who throw 10s on, or my friends’ guitars. but i also play classical so i’m used to adjusting to different guitars i guess. you should be playing with the lightest touch possible to fret the note, otherwise you’re going to tire or injure yourself.
 
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JohnnyCrash

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I just started playing my new Tele (see my NGD post here) and just like every other electric guitar I own and play, the default strings are just way too light for me.

Now, I don't have meathooks for hands. In fact, I have small hands and narrow fingers. But perhaps because I've been playing acoustic guitar for decades longer than I have been playing electric guitar, I tend to "crush" the strings, which results in a lot of out-of-tune sounding chords and inadvertent bends when soloing.

I note with a touch of irony that acoustic guitars tend to weigh a lot less than electric guitars, but they are usually played with heavier gauge strings (I run .012 - .054, usually). But electrics seem to ship with .009 - .042 (at least that's what came on my new Tele) and they're usually heavier (solid wood versus hollow body).

So, I've found that if I follow in the footsteps of some of my guitar heroes, I put 12's (sometimes even 13's) on my electric, I have better control over my playing. I've heard Hendrix did this. I know that Robin Trower does. Trower usually tunes down a half or whole step so he can still get the bends, but I find that I cannot go into a guitar store and comfortably play a floor model because of my "idiosyncrasy."

This certainly has to be my issue. Otherwise, more electric guitars would ship with heavier gauge strings. What's your issue with strings?


I can’t stand .009s.

They feel like toys and, to me, they sound weak.

Lowest I can go on a Fender scale is .010s. I prefer .011s (which are on all of my Gibson scale guitars by default).

I’ve found that the thicker I go, the better it sounds, especially dynamics and pick attack. The pickups’ magnetic fields have more to “see” and I find I’m able to play quieter or louder and have more whisper or shout at my fingertips.

I tried .008s again recently and almost threw my guitar into a fire.
 

Fluddman

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I think it is pointless to generalise about string gauge and tone. My guess is it's more about the player, their musical style and how they react with the guitar especially the strings.

I enjoy the feel of 11's on electric guitar but I can cope with 10's. 9's are just too light for me. I like how the extra tension tightens the feel of the guitar for me and improves the intonation of chords. But I can understand how others don't like this - especially if your style is bends and vibrato.

Horses for courses. You just have to try different gauges and work out what works for you.
 

dlew919

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Response is not tone. So when we use thicker or thinner strings it has a negligible affect on the tone. It has a huge effect on what we feel under the fingers and pick and how we bend etc. vibrato systems behave differently too.

I’m going to thicker strings as we speak partly because I like to keep my bigsby under control but also for some reason I like the fight of thicker strings.

It’s a great discussion
 

stxrus

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I’ve used 10s for as long as I can remember. I’m slowly trying to transition to 9s. The 9.5 set isn’t that much different than 10s
 

swervinbob

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I played 11s forever. I've recently, finally, gotten to where I can play with 9s I was using too hard of a touch and pulling sharp. Now, I struggle to even play 10s on an electric.
 

schmee

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I have converted to lighter strings lately. Once I got used to them it's helped a lot. I use .0095-.044 now. It took a while to get used to them though.
 

kuch

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I note with a touch of irony that acoustic guitars tend to weigh a lot less than electric guitars, but they are usually played with heavier gauge strings (I run .012 - .054, usually). But electrics seem to ship with .009 - .042 (at least that's what came on my new Tele) and they're usually heavier (solid wood versus hollow body).

So, I've found that if I follow in the footsteps of some of my guitar heroes, I put 12's (sometimes even 13's) on my electric, I have better control over my playing. I've heard Hendrix did this. I know that Robin Trower does. Trower usually tunes down a half or whole step so he can still get the bends, but I find that I cannot go into a guitar store and comfortably play a floor model because of my "idiosyncrasy."
1st off, what does the weight of acoustic vs electric guitars have to do with string gauge??
People use heavier gauge strings on acoustics because the sound is "acoustic", not magnified by a pickup.

2nd, do you use a tuner when you play a guitar in a shop. I never have and I think people assume that the guitar is tuned to key, which I think most times it isn't. This makes any guitar "feel" different no matter what gauge of strings are on it.

Strings are definitely personal preference.

10's for me. I use that s*** on everything.... electric that is ;)
 

11 Gauge

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I started out with 8s or 9s and played them until I was in my mid-twenties, because that's what I thought all or most of the rock stars were using, at the time (mainly in the 80's). My guitarist buddies and I probably didn't even really give it much thought beyond that.

In the mid-90's, a long-time guitarist friend of mine let me play some of his guitars, which were now strung with 11s, just with an unwound 3rd. He was going to Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University and learning the 'full proper way' to play, so he must have gotten exposed to even heavier sets, with the wound 3rd and all...

...Anyway, that was the point/impetus that had me switching from 8s/9s all the way up to 11s. It wasn't (for me, anyway) any sort of 90's 'be like SRV or the blues gods' reason to go significantly higher - I just liked how the strings felt under my fingers. I'm left-handed but play right-handed, and especially loved just how substantial the heavier gauge felt to my fretting hand.

11s also seemed to go really nicely with fat Fender necks, which I started to get hooked on in the 90's, too.

It's now probably been roughly a decade since I switched to a standard 10 set, maybe with just a few exceptions (I've got a parts build Esquire with 11s that's tuned to D standard). It's partly because I'm trying to avoid tendonitis, and partly because it's just plain easier to find bulk packs of 10s for a good price. I also no longer bend strings like I used to, so 10s actually feel substantial enough now.

The other big plus with using 10s is that it's really rare that I have to widen nut slots for the 5th and 6th strings. I typically had to do that when playing 11s.

I bought a few packs of Hybrid Slinkys last year, IIRC, that are a little lighter on the unwound strings, vs. a standard set of 10s. I plan on eventually trying them out on a guitar or two of mine with 25.5" scale.
 

Linkslover

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big box guitar stores hardly (if at all) set their guitars up. and factory setup is usually with pretty high action and the nut cut too high. that’s a recipe for crappy intonation.

the problem isn’t really 9s, it’s that the home depots of guitar leave their inventory unplayable and don’t care, and factories leave them high because it’s less labor/time and no chance of buzzing/fretting out.

i’m used to 11s or 12s but do t really have trouble playing properly set up guitars at mom n pop stores who throw 10s on, or my friends’ guitars. but i also play classical so i’m used to adjusting to different guitars i guess. you should be playing with the lightest touch possible to fret the note, otherwise you’re going to tire or injure yourself.
Not trying to hijack the thread, but your point about playing with the lightest possible touch hit home.

Unfortunately it was in a bad way. For my first 20+ years of playing, it was in a poorly set up acoustic. So I "learned" to crush the strings. Now I have guitars with great action and I still find myself crushing the neck.

How do I learn to stop?
 

trandy9850

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Camdenton, MO.
I just started playing my new Tele (see my NGD post here) and just like every other electric guitar I own and play, the default strings are just way too light for me.

Now, I don't have meathooks for hands. In fact, I have small hands and narrow fingers. But perhaps because I've been playing acoustic guitar for decades longer than I have been playing electric guitar, I tend to "crush" the strings, which results in a lot of out-of-tune sounding chords and inadvertent bends when soloing.

I note with a touch of irony that acoustic guitars tend to weigh a lot less than electric guitars, but they are usually played with heavier gauge strings (I run .012 - .054, usually). But electrics seem to ship with .009 - .042 (at least that's what came on my new Tele) and they're usually heavier (solid wood versus hollow body).

So, I've found that if I follow in the footsteps of some of my guitar heroes, I put 12's (sometimes even 13's) on my electric, I have better control over my playing. I've heard Hendrix did this. I know that Robin Trower does. Trower usually tunes down a half or whole step so he can still get the bends, but I find that I cannot go into a guitar store and comfortably play a floor model because of my "idiosyncrasy."

This certainly has to be my issue. Otherwise, more electric guitars would ship with heavier gauge strings. What's your issue with strings?
Jimi used Fender .10's to .38's on his guitars...and he did tune down to Eb.

FWIW....all Collings electric's come with .011's on them.
 

dlew919

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How do I learn to stop?
Same way you get to Carnegie hall. Practice, man practice.

But focus your practice. Work out how lightly you need to touch. Start with your normal grip. Then lighten it till there’s no sound (or the click or buzz. You know when). Then fret somwehere else. But try to get it as light from the get go. Then play a scale with the lightest touch you can. After some time you’ll have reprogrammed your hands. But it will take time.
 
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