Guitar String Gauges

Boy wearing black jacket tuning an electric guitar

As any guitarist unfortunately comes to know, guitar strings are among the most maintenance heavy strings ever. They snap, they start sounding different, and can even start feeling worse to play. I tend to change my strings between once a month and once every two months. This, of course, leads to the question of what strings to use.

When buying strings, there are two main factors to consider; brand and gauge. Different brands of strings have different characteristics, but I won’t really go into detail on that. The focus of this post is string gauges. The gauge of a string is the description of how thick it is in thousandths of an inch. For example, a 10 gauge high E string is 0.010” thick, and a 9 gauge string is 0.009” thick. When describing sets, they’re typically named either after the thickness of the high E string or, for the sake of specificity, after the thickness of the lowest and highest strings. For example, I use 10 gauge strings. On a 6 string guitar, those 10 gauge strings would be 10-46 gauge, but on a 7 string, they would be 10-56.

The three most common string gauges are 9-42, 10-46, and 11-48. Thicker strings have more tension, making them stay in tune better and handle down tuning better at the cost of making them harder to bend. In addition, thicker strings have a bit more resistance to being played, which some people like. Thinner strings are the opposite. They have less tension, so they don't go out of tune more quickly and don' handle down tuning as well, but they are easier to bend and respond to playing easier.

This is just a quick summary of what string gauge is all about. What gauge strings should you use? That’s really a matter of personal preference, so I encourage you to try out some different gauges and see what you like. If you are annoyed that you have to tune your guitar frequently mid-practice, maybe try some heavier string gauges. If you’re struggling with bends, maybe try a lighter gauge and see if that feels better. Try mixing gauges to get a heavy low end and an easy-bending high end. Or reverse that and use a heavier gauge on just the high end to help your strings stay in tune better through heavy bending. Try it. You might surprise yourself with what you like.

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