One of the most important things to a guitarist is, of course, their strings! When it comes to strings, like guitars, they are a very personal thing and many people will stick to the brands they know and love and have most likely used for an eternity! However, you may find it tough to decide what to go for if you’re perhaps new to the guitar or you are just looking to switch up your strings! We’ve put together for you a crash course in strings, to help you choose the right string for you!
So, let’s start with the most obvious and possibly most important thing to think about, string gauges. The 3 most common gauges you will see when it comes to guitars and strings, in general, will be 9’s, 10’s and 11’s, this number refers to the thickness of the high E string, so a set of 10’s will have a high E thickness of 0.010 inches, with the rest of the strings increasing in thickness to a certain point depending on the set you have chosen.
Now, why is this important? Strings have a few varying factors, dependent on the gauge, ranging from playability to tuning stability. With a thinner set of strings, i.e. 9’s, the strings will have less tension, generally will be a lot easier to play and will have a lot more ability to bend notes, so will be much more suited to someone doing a lot of lead playing, but with the lack of tension comes issues with tuning stability, which can indeed be frustrating! The factors are then contrasted when using a thicker set; more tension, less ease of play and bending ability, increased tuning stability, so this may be more suited to someone who is playing rhythm guitar or who just wants to strum some big chords. Other things to think about are things like scale length (distance between the nut and bridge) on your guitar. If a guitar has a shorter scale length the strings will be under a lot less tension than a guitar with a much longer scale length. Some players may also choose a thicker set to produce a much more robust tone and are also good for heavy strumming, although when there is an amplifier involved, tonal differences from the strings are minuscule. String gauges can also be very misleading with set names such as medium, light, super light. Mediums do not refer to a “standard” string gauge whereas super light’s do not refer to the strings perhaps being designed for beginners, it’s just the names of their respective sizes!
So next, the most important thing to think about, use what YOU think is best for your playing. The info mentioned above is a good place to start when thinking about your strings, but don’t forget to keep in mind your preferences. An example from the professional world of music is artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, he played extremely fast blues with lots of bends while using gauge 13 strings, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, Jimmy Page and Billy Gibbons both use gauge 8 strings! It is also highly recommended to have your guitar freshly setup when changing gauges of string, for example, 10’s to 11’s, as intonation and neck tension will be affected when you make the change!
To conclude, much like guitars, strings can be very personal to a player. By using the info mentioned as a starting point and keeping the factors mentioned in mind, finding the set of strings to suit you should hopefully be narrowed down quite a bit! It Is also highly recommended to try a range of brands, and find the ones that suit you! We here at Waterloo Music are always here to help if you have any questions or queries about choosing some new strings!