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How Electric Guitar String Gauge Effects Tone: The quick, simple answer!

by vaughn skow November 02, 2020 3 min read

Howdy guitar gang.  Today's blog will be short & straight to the point (or at least I'll try my best ... really).  Last week I had an email come in from a pickup customer that basically said "an, your pickups sounded great on my guitar, but I switched from 9's to 7's and now the tone's really thin and almost ice-picky".  And all I could say was ... "duh"!!!  Okay, y'all know me, I had plenty more to say, and it went something like this:

Generally, I tell folks to play the gauge that works best with their style and desired feel, however, there ARE some general guidelines that must be applied here!

"7" gauge is soooooooooo tiny ... way below anything ever even thought up prior to the "Rev. Billy" set you have (except for the 5th string on banjos).  Strings THAT tiny will never sound great on an electric guitar unless you have a VERY specific playing style and unique techniques.

Here is the skinny on electric guitar:

8's - About the tiniest strings anyone ever considers, but too small for most to play without bending chords out of tune, and the tone definitely is a bit thin.
9's - the standard "extra light gauge", acceptable for players with a light touch, but still easy to pull out of tune, especially with big frets, and the tone does suffer a LITTLE compared to 10's.
10's - the standard "light gauge", probably the most commonly played electric guitar gauge across the world. often the best mid-way choice between awesome tone and just being to darn big for soft fingers and weak hands to comfortably play.
11's - the standard "medium gauge", Most Nashville Telecaster pros play 11's ... big, fat, beautiful tone, yet still not too much for a pro to handle.
12's - the "heavy" gauge strings, generally too much for most folks to play comfortably, and you'll need a guitar set up for such big strings, but the tone is HUGE!

Anything below or above these gauges is just plain experimental territory, enter at your own risk!

And one last note, YES, you can find some "non-standard" sets.  For instance, a "light top-heavy bottom" set that has the high strings of a light gauge set and the low (wound) strings of a medium or heavy set.  You can even find vice/versa with heavy tops and light bottoms, and let's not forget the in-between 9.5 or 10.5 sets.  All in all, I'd steer clear of these non-standard sets if for no other reason than they are just hard to find at a good cost, and sometimes ya can't find them at all!  Once you get REALLY used to a set, it's hard to get used to something else instantly.  With the "standard" gauged sets, you'll ALWAYS be able to find "your" gauge.  A while ago I had a friend who would ONLY play the Gretsch Chet Adkins pure nickle strings, 10-gauge with an unusual wound 3rd string.  Then they stopped making them. It took him years to get used to anything else.  Speaking of a wound third-string ... that sounds like a great blog topic ... but not for this blog.  See ya next week when we'll discuss the concept of wrapping your strings around the stop bar on a tun-o-matic style bridge.  Cool stuff!  

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