So after lot of hard work, dedication and practice almost a year down the line you are almost there, You got yourself a decent Axe.. the tunings perfect.. a decent rig.
So you are in with the cool musicians lot of them talking about gear and sound.
“I use 9s mostly and 10s sometimes when I need that raw sound, what do you use?”
Then there is this new curve ball hitting you from nowhere when people start talking about string gauges, Don’t go back home and beat yourself up… spend ten minutes to read through this article and you will have your head clear of all the clutter.
What does string gauge actually mean?
If you’re new to the guitar scene you may be confused by people saying things like ‘I always use nines or 10s’. Guitar string gauges are usually described by their thickness in thou’ (thousands of an inch). When guitarists talk about ‘nines’ or ‘eights’ etc they are referring to a standard set of guitar strings with the first string being nine thou’ or eight thou’ thick. The tone of a string depends greatly on its weight, and, therefore, on its diameter or so-called Gauge. The larger the diameter, the heavier the string.
Demystifying the Lingo, you would hear 9ones and10ones and so on so forth. The numbers simply mean one thousands of an Inch, In terms of the diameter.
Simplifying it further:
Higher number = thicker string
Thicker string = tougher to play
The Steve ray Vaughn, Hendrix kinda bluesy raw sound with some crazy sustains this come from a thicker gauge of strings.
Lighter strings are easy to play on & one can bend them easily.
As a rule, heavier strings give a fuller guitar sound, but are harder on the fingers for beginners and are more difficult to bend when playing lead. Lighter guitar strings are easier to fret, better for expressive bends, slides and vibrato effects… but they give a slightly thinner sound, less sustain and break more easily. If you want to play some chunky music on your Fender strat, then you can settle with some light gauge strings on your guitar which would suit this style of music.
Heavier gauge strings give excellent sustain and tonal quality and take longer to disperse as compared to lighter gauge strings. It is similar to a big bell which will ring longer as compared to a small bell. Heavier strings require more tension for the same pitch and are, as a consequence, harder to press down to the fingerboard. If you aspire to playing heavier gauge guitar strings we would recommend that you start with medium (or “regular”) gauge and gradually work your way up over many months of practicing.
It is necessary to shift to heavier gauge strings eventually to get the raw, bluezy, heavy sustain like Steve Ray Vaughan in your playing style. Most major string brands have a range that allows you to match the top and bottom strings to suit your style… so if you like to easily bend your high strings when playing lead but pound the bottom strings when playing rhythm then you can chose a suitable combination.
If a fretted instrument is restrung with different string gauges, it may be necessary to adjust string height above the frets, (the “action“) to make the instrument easier to play or keep the strings from buzzing against the frets. The action height of fretless instruments is also adjusted to suit the string gauge or material, as well as the intended playing style. You might find that modifications to your guitar’s nut is needed if you put on thicker strings – typically highlighted by tuning difficulties as the strings get stuck in nut slots that are too narrow. Using graphite or specialist guitar nut lubrication products can help to some degree, but as you increase string gauge you might find that you need to have the slots filed out a little. This is a 5-minute job for a guitar technician and costs very little.
Now that you know about String gauges, you can easily judge which type of gauge is best suited for your playing. Rock On!!
Don’t be under any pressure to try a million different gauges the moment you start, take your time work your way up and see where is your comfort zone,
The sound rules but be fair to your fingers and wrists.