Tech Tip:What Strings Should I Use?

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Eddie Davenport; Baltimore, MD


Q: I got a new Ibanez guitar about eight months ago and I just broke a string and want to change the entire set to get a fresh sound. Can you tell me what are the advantages and disadvantages of using light- and heavy-gauge strings? I have been checking and the most popular sets start with a first string thickness of .008, .009, .010 and .011; the rest of the strings in each set seem to be heavier as the first string gets heavier. Do I need a certain gauge string for my guitar?


You have been doing your homework. The string gauges you found are the most popular. The thickness of your strings will have a big effect on your guitar and sound.


Most guitars come stocked with .009 gauge strings from the factory; this is probably the most popular string gauge. When you change the gauge of your strings you most likely will have to make some adjustments to your guitar. Because your strings create tension on your guitar neck, the heavier the gauge the more powerful pull the string will generate. There is a metal rod that runs through your guitar neck called a truss rod. This allows you to adjust your neck to endure more or less tension from the strings. So if you go from a .009 gauge to a .011 you'll have to adjust the truss rod to be able to handle that much more tension or your neck will start to bend like a pretzel. Adjusting your neck is something that you should have a guitar repair person do.


Two other things that will be affected by the gauge of string are sound and feel.


Thicker strings have a rich tone that works great for jazz and most clean tone amp settings, while light-gauge strings tend to have a thin, biting sound.


Most lead guitarist love to have a lot of control of the strings while doing bends and vibratos. A lighter-gauge string gives you a bit more flexibility, control, and definitely makes bending easier. Since you have not had much chance to try different gauge strings you should use .009s until you find a real need to change. As you progress you may find that you want more tone or more flexibility, or maybe that .009 gauge is perfect.



Hope this helps,
Yours in Music
John McCarthy
Rock House