An article seeking to help decide on the string gauge that works best for you

Not many beginning guitar players realize how much consideration and technicality goes into selecting the right guitar strings. Choosing a string gauge can greatly affect the sound and tone of the music produced — while also affecting the instrument’s overall playability. Certain gauges also have corresponding genres and music styles that they best apply to. Knowing these things will help you make a more informed choice with your music.

Basic Principles

The basic thing that anyone needs to know about string gauges is that the “gauge” refers to the thickness of the string in question. Guitar strings are made to the thousandth of an inch and different sizes produce differing tones. The lightest string is usually around 0.10 while the heaviest is typically around 0.59. Acoustic guitar gauges are usually made with light to medium string gauges which can also be termed as size 11, 12, or 13 strings.

The structure of the guitar also has an effect on what type of string gauge it can accommodate. For instance, a guitar made for nylon strings, like most classical guitars, cannot structurally support the tension of heavy steel strings. Note that each of the materials used to make the strings produce their own distinct sounds too. A nylon string and a brass string will likely produce very different tones even if they share the same thickness.

Has a rule of thumb, keep the following in mind:

Lighter guitar strings are:

* easier to play
* produce less volume but allow for the bending of notes and fretting
* break easier
* exert less tension and are more ideal for older guitars or beginning players

Heavy guitar strings are:

* needs more finger pressure to play, bend notes, and frett
* produce more volume and sustains
* exerts more tension on the guitar neck

Acoustic Guitars

Acoustic guitar strings are usually classified anywhere between extra light to heavy. As the strings get thicker and thicker, they require more finger pressure to play but produce richer, deeper, and more sustained tones. The following are the dimensions of the string gauges:

* EXTRA LIGHT: .010/.014/.023/.030/.039/.047
* CUSTOM LIGHT: .011/.015/.023/.032/.042/.052
* LIGHT: .012/.016/.025/.032/.042/.054
* MEDIUM: .013/.017/.026/.035/.045/.056
* HEAVY: .014/.018/.027/.039/.049/.059

On top of being aware of the different sizes of guitar strings, it’s important to know the difference that the material the string is made of makes on the overall tone of the guitar:

* BRONZE: These have a clearer, more classical tone but tends to age quite quickly.
* ALUMINUM-BRONZE: Pronounced bass and crisp high with greater clarity.
* PHOSPHOR BRONZE: Warmer and darker than bronze.
* BRASS: They have a bright and often metallic character.
* POLYMER-COATED: These can come in different colors for aesthetics and the polymer-coating extends the life of the metal core.
* 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.

Selecting the right one will depend on the kind of musical notes you wish to reach and how often you want to replace your strings after they’re corroded and rusted.

Classical Guitars

Most classical guitars are made with nylon strings. They produce a softer and mellower tone which lends itself greatly to jazz and country kinds of music. Determining the gauge of the strings will be more of a matter of tension.

* LOWER OR LIGHT TENSION – easier to play but causes less volume or projection.
* NORMAL OR REGULAR TENSION – is a balance between the two tensions.
* HIGH OR STRONG TENSION – difficult to play but produces more volume and reverberation.

Despite seeming to be so simple, most would be surprised to know that there are also different types of strings for classical guitar. Mainly:


Electric Guitars

For electric guitars, identifying exact gauges can be tricky. It really differs from manufacturer to manufacturer but below are the main basis that most brands seem to adhere to:


Extra Super Light – .008 – .010 – .015 – .021 – .030 – .038

Super Light – .009 – .011 – .016 – .024 – .032 – .042

Light – .010 – .013 – .017 – .026 – .036 – .046

Medium – .011 – .015 – .018 – .026 – .036 – .050

Heavy – .012 – .016 – .020 – .032 – .042 – .054

With regards to the materials used in the making of the strings, because the strings of an electric guitar produce sound electrically, this is not as important as the other types of guitars.


And those were the main considerations to make when deciding on the string gauge of your guitar. Of course, none of the rules laid out here is fixed and many experienced guitarists try mixing and matching string types, gauges, and tensions to achieve the sound they personally want. Now that you know what gauges do for the guitar, you can go on to actually playing it and deciding what works for you.

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