The Effects of String Gauge On Guitar Tone – Part 1

One hot topic since the dawn of internet forums is the effect of different string gauges on a guitars overall tone. From what I’ve experienced there are three different groups most guitarists fall into.

#1 – Thin String Slingers – Those who live for thinner strings often playing 9’s, 8’s (Yngwie Malmsteen) and occasionally 7’s (Billy Gibbons, Frank Zappa). They are happy to live with a thinner sound full of treble and bite that drives amps in a unique way. Whilst they often acknowledge the advantages of thicker strings the joys of bending 2 1/2 steps with relative ease keeps them satisfied. A major downside of thin strings is the light touch required as chords can easily be pulled out of tune.

#2 – Think Strings are ‘Macho’ – This is born out of the mindset brought about by the tone of blues virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughn. The benefits are a fatter, warmer tone with an almost piano-like sustain. Some members of this camp measure the ability of a player by the thickness of strings they use. Bring on the 18 gauge.

#3 – Ignorance is Bliss – “What do you mean they come in different sizes” and “I’ve the same brand and size for 20 years”.

Up until about April 2013, I belonged to group #3. I had used the standard set of D’Addario 10’s with relatively low action for the last 5 years without giving it a second though. Then due to serious time spent rehearsing and teaching I developed a painful case of tendonitis in my left hand. This lead me to rethink many elements of my playing technique and equipment.

Combined with a set of proper finger stretching warm-ups, I decided to drop down to a set of 9’s. Luckily this tactic released my tendonitis without taking a break from playing.

Much to my surprise I prefered the slinky feel when bending but initially missed the size when playing hybrid and fingerstyle. After a month of so I adjusted to the feel of 9’s and enjoyed the increased control of vibrato. These days I have remained on a set of 9’s but not before I fully explored the changes different gauges could bring.

Continue on to Part 2 . . . . .

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