Ottawa's guitar repair shop


String Gauges

Article Index

Talkin’ About Strings

Often in discussion with my customers they ask me about string gauges and what are the best strings on the market. Opinions vary, of course, on which manufacturer produces the best strings. But let me approach this subject with you in a generic way. There is a lot of physics involved, and I go over that later in the article, but here are some key points to remember when choosing your string sets:

• Not all strings are created equal. There are only a handful of string brands I recommend because of their quality and reliability: D'Addario, Elixir, Ernie Ball and GHS. For bass strings, the same three are still on the list, plus Smith and LaBella. Lower quality strings have inconsistent vibration patterns, which cause buzzing, and have inconsistent windings and cores, which cause poor intonation. Avoid hand made strings; they are never precise enough to intonate correctly.

• Choice of string gauges affects: action, output, harmonics, intonation, sustain, and picking speed.

• Choosing the proper string gauge for your instrument’s scale length, tuning, picking style and musical genre is a significant factor in your sound. Ensure you have the correct string gauge for your needs.

• What style of music do you play? Blues, light rock, jazz, metal, folk, bluegrass, flamenco…require different gauges for different stages. For electric guitars, most players use a set of 10-46 or 11-49.

• Heavier gauge strings actually produce a bigger sound and more neck tension (see section on Hooke’s Law and how physics explains this phenomenon). In Short, the bigger the strings, the smaller the amplitude for a same attack, and therefore, lower action is achievable. Hooke’s Law: The Physics of Guitar Strings This law will help you understand how string tension and setup go together. In mechanics, and physics, Hooke's law of elasticity is an approximation that states that the extension of a spring is in direct proportion with the load applied to it. Many materials obey this law as long as the load does not exceed the material's elastic limit. Materials for which Hooke's law is a useful approximation are known as linear-elastic or Hookean materials. Hooke's law in simple terms says that strain is directly proportional to stress.