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  • A Guide To Choosing Guitar Strings
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General Interest
Lighter gauge strings:

are generally easier to play allow easier bending of notes and fretting break more easily produce less volume and sustain are prone to cause fret buzzing, especially on guitars with low action exert less tension on the guitar neck and are a safe choice for vintage guitars

Heavier gauge strings:

are generally harder to play require more finger pressure to fret and bend notes produce more volume and sustain exert more tension on the guitar neck

Acoustic Guitar Steel String Gauges

In deciding what string gauges to use, consider the following factors:

Body Style: A general rule of thumb is to string smaller-bodied acoustics with lighter gauges, larger bodied instruments with heavier gauges. A big dreadnought or jumbo will generally sound better with medium-gauge strings that take fuller advantage of their relatively larger sound chambers. Smaller grand auditorium and parlor guitars will sound better with lighter gauges.

Playing Style: Fingerpicking styles are much easier to play with lighter-gauge strings. If most of your playing involves hard strumming, medium-gauge strings will likely be a better choice, though they may prove a little more challenging to new players’ fingers. If your playing is a mix of strumming and fingerpicking, a light-medium string set may be a good choice. These sets have heavier gauges on the bottom three strings, lighter gauges on the top three.

Desired Tone: As you’ve probably figured out by now, heavier-gauge strings will accentuate your guitar’s bass register producing the deep and strong tones that dreadnoughts are prized for. On the other hand, lighter gauges will provide more emphasis to treble notes and can help bring out subtle picking and strumming techniques.

Instrument Age and Condition: Vintage guitars are often frail, and the greater tension of heavier strings can cause necks to bow and shift and bridges to lift. If you’re not sure how heavy a gauge is safe for your guitar, consult the manufacturer, or in the case of vintage instruments, talk to a trusted guitar tech or luthier.

Acoustic Guitar String Construction Materials

Here are the sound characteristics of the most popular string types:

Bronze: They have clear, ringing and bright tone, but age quickly due to bronze's tendency to oxidize. Phosphor Bronze: Warmer and darker than bronze, their sound is still quite crisp and the phosphor in the alloy extends their life. Brass: They have a bright, jangling, metallic character. Polymer-coated: Less sustain and brightness than equivalent uncoated strings with good presence and warmth; corrosion-resistant. Some include colorants for visual appeal. Silk and Steel: These steel core strings have silk, nylon, or copper wrap wire on the lower strings producing a softer touch and delicate tone. Popular with folk guitarists and fingerstyle players.

BASS GUITAR STRINGS:

Every subtle variation in texture, tone and tension you feel with different types of guitar strings is magnified by the larger gauge of bass strings. Choosing the wrong set of strings on either instrument is frustrating, but on a bass you’re reminded of the bad choice with every pluck.

Certain types of strings can literally make your bass feel like a different instrument. For beginning players or those switching from guitar to bass, the number of string options can be overwhelming. This guide breaks it down to the four things you should consider to ensure your set will best fit with your instrument and style of playing.

Gauge The gauge or thickness of your strings makes a huge difference in tone and in playability. Thicker strings might have a more robust tone, but they are also harder to fret. Expect hand fatigue for awhile if you haven’t played with them before.

There’s no hard rule for choosing the right gauge. Even manufacturers don’t have a set formula for which gauges should go together in a set. At the end of the day, it all boils down to the sound you’re trying to achieve and what feels most inspiring to your hands when playing.

A good starting point is a standard medium set of strings - generally .045 to .105 for four strings (referring to thousandths of an inch). This is what most factories use when shipping out brand new instruments. Inoffensive, but not optimized for certain styles.

If medium gauge strings feel too arduous to play because you have smaller fingers or like to play a lot of fast “lead bass” or walking bass lines, you might want to go with a lighter gauge, at least for your highest strings. In general, country and funk (slapping techniques) work well with lighter gauges.

If medium gauge strings lack the fatness and meat you’re looking for or you tune down from standard, you know to go for something heavier. Doom, metal and stoner rock bassists are known to set new precedents with the ultra heavy gauge and slackness of their strings.

Using four string sets as a baseline, here’s a reference for bass string gauges:

Light - .040 to .100
Medium - .045 to .105
Heavy - .050 to .110
Extra Heavy - .055 to .115