How does a guitarist choose a particular string gauge or brand? Why do some choose custom string sets rather than picking from the plethora of pre-made sets available on the market?
After many years of giving no thought to which string gauge, brand, or tuning I used on my guitars I finally decided to figure it out the best I could.
Turns out there is no “right” string gauge for any particular tuning because it’s all a matter of preference.
The following string sets are what I personally believe to be the optimal gauges in terms of tone, tuning stability, and comfort for both dropped and standard tunings on electric guitar.Click here for more details
All string sets were tested using an ESP Ltd electric 6-string guitar with a 24.75 inch scale neck, the common scale length of Gibson guitars.
If your guitar has a 25.5 inch or Fender style scale length the strings gauges would be comparable to the 24.75 scale but with extra tension.
If you’re using a baritone scale guitar (26.5 inch+) however, the tension would be dramatically increased, so much lighter gauges may be desired.
I’ve also listed a few bands known to play in each tuning so that there’s a tonal reference. This doesn’t mean the listed bands use these particular gauges or brands, just that tuning.
Many bands switch up their tunings or even create custom tunings for their songs, so this guide is the best I could do at categorizing them.
All notes with a period or hashtag next to them represent Sharp notes.
For instance “C.” or “C#” are to be read as C Sharp
Got it? Good.
It’s worth noting that some guitarists find hybrid string gauges more comfortable to play with. This is typically where the lower strings are much thicker gauges in comparison to the higher strings.
This arrangement allows you to have a nice thick tone for power chords and/or aggressive playing while maintaining lighter strings for soloing, individual note picking, and bending which can now be performed with very little strain.
The following set is just one example of many of the hybrid string packs available on the market.
I tried to select string gauges for this guide that have widespread availability at most music retailers.
I was also looking for consistent product quality and variety. Anytime I bought a new set of strings the first thing I did was measure the gauges using a micrometer. More often than not, I found that many brands out there have measurements that are inconsistent. For example a .56 gauge string measuring at only .55 and so forth.
The brands listed seem to be accurate and consistent with the product description and aren’t overpriced.Click here to view important note
Adjustments to the truss rod, nut, bridge, or saddles may be required when changing guitar strings and tunings.
Thus, for thicker gauge strings (.58 and higher) the tuning peg holes may need to be stretched using a square file.
These gauges are what I believe to be the best you can do with pre-existing string sets. When it comes to the much lower tunings custom string gauges would probably be best.
Those with a lighter touch may want to use the previous recommended gauge for each individual tuning. For example using the C# gauge for C and vice versa.
Many variables contribute to the tuning stability of your guitar.
These variables include: scale length, string gauge, string action, neck relief, bridge height, nut height, nut slot depth, pick gauge, pick attack, etc.
Finding the “right” string gauge is a personal quest. Hopefully this guide will help give you some perspective and serve as a point of reference in the process.
Over the course of a year I accumulated this data in a “trial and error” log to further my understanding of string gauges in relation to different tunings.
Probably spending around $200 in the process. I compared many different brands and tried just about every tuning from E to A standard, to drop D to F. Consequently, the result of all this madness was a chart listing the string sets that I found to be best for every individual tuning on a standard scale guitar.
Of course this OCD driven chart is completely subjective as there are many variables to take into account.
Be sure to check out the String Tension Pro calculator that D’Addario recently put out. This should help further your understanding of how much the tension changes by going up or down a gauge.
Everybody has their own preferences…but maybe this guide will serve as a useful reference point for the lost and the curious.