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String Gauges - Intonation

Intonation: Intonation in guitars and basses is what refer to as the instrument being in tune along the length of all its strings. This being said, all strings have elestic properties. They stretch when brought up to pitch, but their vibration also stretches them. The best was to demonstrate stretching through vibration is by doing the following exercise: Tune your low E string down to D. Only pluck it lightly and use your tuner. Once you've reached D, keep your tuner plugged in and pluck that string with a lot more force. What did the needle of your tuner do? It went sharp didn't it?

Because of the low tension in the string, there is more available elesticity. And the mass of the string vibrating from one side to the other taps into that elesticity and stretches the string, increasing its pitch and making it sharp.

So, the increased tension in heavier gauge strings helps work against this phenomenon (even though it is physicaly impossible to eliminate it). A string with low tension will also bend between the frets when your finger presses it down, also increasing it's pitch. Heavier gauge strings, therefore, will reduce the variation in pitch when picking the string and when you are fretting it.

- Sustain: In practice, this point is easy to prove. if you use two identical Gibson Les Paul's as an example, and one is setup with 10-46 strings and the other with 11-52's, the one with the heavy strings will have more sustain. But why? Back to Hooke's law. Because the heavier strings have more stored energy (F) they have more energy available for release, i.e. sustain.

- Picking speed: Picking on heavier strings takes some getting used to when you've been on light strings for a while. But since the strings don't move around as much, skipping from one string to the next is swifter and easyier to control.