As a general rule, If you are playing electric guitar, you are most likely playing with extra light or light string set gauges (either 10’s or 11’s). If you are on an acoustic guitar, you are most likely playing with light string set gauges (12’s).
One of the guitar strings’ main elements is their thickness/diameter (also known as the gauge).
The gauge is measured in 1/1000th of an inch. It ranges from .010 on the high E string to .059 on the low E string.
Most companies and players will define their set by the high E’s thickness, with the most common and popular being 10’s, 12’s, and 13’s (Super Light, Light, and Medium).
Are you wondering why there are so many different options? Well, each gauge will produce a different sound and change the playability of the guitar.
Players will opt for different gauges depending on their style and genre of music.
Many touring musicians will have multiple guitars, all strung with different gauges to suit different songs.
Below is a table summarising the commonly available string sets.
|Super Extra Light (also known as the set of 10’s)
|Super Light (also known as the set of 11’s)
|Light (also known as the set of 12’s)
|Medium (also known as the set of 13’s)
|Heavy (also known as the set of 14’s)
As you can see, the smallest number (on the left) represents the first string, or high E, and progresses through to the sixth and thickest string.
What Is The Difference Between Heavy And Light Gauge Guitar Strings?
The gauge of a guitar string is simply referring to the string thickness. All guitar gauges offer different qualities, so players must assess their needs before choosing the gauge that’s right for them.
Heavy string sets will emit a fuller or meatier tone. This is due to their increased mass, which can vibrate more and transmit more vibrations into the pickups or body.
However, heavy guitar strings decrease your playability significantly, as they require much more pressure to sound each note. Furthermore, string bends can become extremely difficult and painful.
This is why heavy strings tend to suit the heavy metal rhythm guitarist, as they are chugging open chords in a lower tuning. These strings also are better suited to jazz musicians, as they rarely bend or slide around the neck.
Light string gauge sets will emit a weaker tone compared to the heavy string gauges.
With these gauges, notes, chords, and bends become immensely easier to perform and allow for faster transitions and smoother soloing.
This is why you will see many blues artists opting for light or super-light strings, such as the legend BB. King, a singer renowned for using “eights.”
It is important to note that heavy gauged strings produce more tension on the guitar’s neck. Therefore the instrument will likely require a few truss rod adjustments to avoid any long-term damage.
Pros & Cons of Light String Gauge
|Increased playability allowing effortless playing style
|Lower tension on the guitar
|Lower overall volume output
Pros & Cons of Heavy String Gauge
|Higher overall volume output
|Higher tension on the guitar
|Harder to play
What Gauge Guitar Strings Should A Beginner Use?
As a beginner, the most important thing is to select a set of strings that will be easy to play notes and chords.
As a general rule, I would recommend opting for strings between extra-light and light for those just starting to play the guitar. The lighter the gauge, the less pressure is required to sound individual notes and chords, making it much easier to learn the basics and develop your skills.
If your guitar is strung with heavy, hard-to-play strings, it will limit your musical progression, hindering the love you will develop for playing this beautiful instrument.
What Gauge Strings Are Best for Blues?
When it comes to blues music, the guitar is all about individual expression and feel, with string bends and vibrato playing a significant role in this. Therefore I recommend using the Super-Light (9-42) or light (10-46) string sets.
As mentioned previously, the lighter the gauge, the easier bending the strings will become, making blues improvising that little bit easier.
Do Heavier Guitar Strings Stay in Tune Better?
There are many aspects of a guitar that affect its intonation and ability to stay in tune. This may be the type of strings, the strength used for strumming, the type of tuner used, to mention a few.
While the string gauge’s effect on the guitar’s ability to stay tuned is minimal, heavier strings do hold their tuning for longer. This is because heavier strings have a higher tension taking longer to fall out of tune as they do not stretch as easily as the lighter gauges.
What Is The Best Gauge For Acoustic Guitar Strings?
This will depend on your playing style, Heavy strummers, for example, will require a heavier gauge, while finger pickers will use strings on the lighter side.
As a general rule, the best gauge for acoustic guitar strings will be the 12’s (.012, .016, .025, .032, .042, .054).
If you consistently get sore fingers check our article “What Are The Best Acoustic Guitar Strings For Sore Fingers”
There is however, a myriad of other factors that should determine which strings you opt for:
1. Body Style Of Your Guitar
Certain body styles of guitars may require a different string gauge.
Dreadnought guitars, for example, often require medium to heavy strings as they have a larger body and emit louder and more sustained tones.
As they are physically the largest type of acoustic guitar, the neck can withstand the increased tension from heavier strings.
Parlour guitars (famously used by Ed Sheeran) are much smaller in size than the dreadnought guitar. They, therefore, require lighter gauges such as 11s and 12s at a push.
Stringing these guitar types with heavier gauges can seriously damage and warp the neck due to the increased tension.
While thinner strings on this body type will produce a tinnier sound that resonates less than its larger counterparts, it definitely suits certain styles.
2. Age Of Your Guitar
If you are lucky enough to own a vintage guitar, you must be extremely careful as they are much more susceptible to warping and body damage.
I would recommend getting a professional to look at your guitar before selecting which gauge to use but opting for lighter strings is always the safest option.
3. Desired Tone
If you’re looking for a guitar that is loud with beautiful chord progressions, and resonate around the entire room, the medium to heavy gauge is your best option. However, if you want to emphasize subtle notes with the softest touch, you should be using lighter strings.
4. Playing Style
Last, but certainly not least, is your individual playing style.
As mentioned previously, heavy strumming techniques require ticker strings than softer, finger-picking techniques.
It may take a while to settle on your favorite string gauge. So why not try different gauges. It can be fun to experiment and hear the different tones.
What Is The Thinnest Guitar String Called?
As a whole, the thinnest guitar string is the high E or the 1st string (E A D G B E). This string is located at the bottom of the neck and has the highest-pitched. The lightest gauge this string can reach is .010, which is referred to as “super extra-light.”
What Gauge Strings Do Famous Guitarists Use?
Many guitarists, especially beginners, tend to mimic their favorite musicians.
While it is good to develop your own unique style, replicating your favorites musicians’ gear can help you find the exact tone you want to play with.
Here is a list of a few famous guitar legends and the string gauge they use.
1. Stevie Ray Vaughn Used 13s String Gauges
One of the many blues legends, Stevie Ray Vaughn, broke the norm of using light string gauge sets. Instead, he would often use heavy (13’s) or super-heavy (14’s) string gage sets.
His ton went unmatched in the blues community. His heavy gauge would emit meaty tones while somehow pulling off incredible bends with these thicker strings.
As with most professional guitarists, Stevie would have custom-made gauges. Using lighter strings on the top and slightly heavier on the bottom.
.013 – .015 – .019 – .028 – .038 – .058
2. Slash used 11’s String Gauge
Slash is a Rock & Roll icon with a gift for writing incredible melodies and lightning-fast solos.
He also uses relatively heavy strings (still a lot lighter than SRV), as he is usually always in Eb Standard tuning with an aggressive playstyle.
The heavier gauge compensates for, the lower tension of the tuning that he regularly sits in
Often Slache’s string set were made of .011 – .014 – .018 – .028 – .038 – .048.
3. Jimmy Page Played With A Mixture Of 8s And 9s
You would be pushed to find a list of the best guitarists in the world that failed to mention Jimmy Page.
His extraordinary skill on the guitar allowed him to play just at the edge of complete chaos to create utter masterpieces.
It is every guitarist’s dream to try and emulate his performance of Stairway to Heaven, and quite rightly so!
Jimmy was known for his use of very light strings, regularly using both .8s and .9s, which would have helped him craft beautiful solos with lightening speed and huge bends.
Often his string set were made of .008 – .011 – .014 – .022 – .030 – .038.
4. Jimi Hendrix played with a mixture of 10s, and 11s
Both Jimi and his personal guitar tech, Roger Mayer, were notorious for their guitars’ innovation and originality.
Everything about Hendrix’s setup was built to allow him to bend the realms of possibility on his instrument – and this included his string gauge.
Some claim that his unique string gauge was to accommodate playing on a right-handed guitar, despite being left-handed. Others claim that his unique string gauge was simply to suit his erratic style of bends and half notes.
The truth is no one knows. What we do know is that Jimi often played with a string set made of .010 – .013 – .015 – .026 – .032 – .038, and that his music always sounded fantastic!
Strings play a significant role in the sound, tone, and playability of your guitar.
String gauge is the word used to describe the thickness of the strings. The gauge strings come in sets of 10’s, 11’s, 12’s, 13’s, and 14’s.
Identifying the gauge of strings in your guitar is not possible unless you use the aid of a caliper or micrometer.
However, as a general rule, if you are playing on an electric guitar, the string gauge is most likely to be either 9’s or 10’s. If you are playing on an acoustic guitar, the string gauges to strum will likely be on the 12s.
If you have never experimented with different gauges before, I highly recommend doing so. You never know; by giving all gauge of strings a chance, you may find a new setup that perfectly suits your playing style.
Just remember that new strings take some time to settle, check our article “How Long Do New Guitar Strings Take To Settle” for more information on this.
The main thing to remember is that strings with a lighter gauge are easier to play, yet they lack certain tone aspects. In contrast, heavy strings will punch out meaty sounds but will drastically affect playability.
It is important to remember that beginners should be using strings with a light gauge. This is because heavier strings will be less forgiven, potentially setting you back considerably.
The main thing to take away from this article is that there is definitely no correct answer when it comes to “which gauge is best!”
It is all subjective and will come down to your personal preference and playing style.