The Guitar Tone String Size Myth

Brandon Drury —  June 1, 2010

If you followed my idiotic public displays at all, you may know I bought my 1992 Paul Reed Smith Custom 24 (a guitar I’ve wanted for as long as I could remember) about a month ago. You see all about it here on my Girlfriend video.

I rolled the ol’ dice and bought the guitar on Ebay without playing, touching, or seeing it in person. I had no idea what to expect, but I’ve grown to have faith in the Ebay feedback system. When the guitar came in, it was exactly as was described and all went well. One thing that was rather different, was the string size. I have been playing .10-.52s as long as I can remember and so my perspective was a bit off. I ended up liking the new string size quite a bit, but had no idea what size they were. When I asked the seller about the string size, he said they were 8s. Eights???? Really?????

I was shocked that I could go from .10-.52s to 8s without actually going into shock. More importantly, I was turbo shocked to find out that I liked it. I actually enjoy playing the 8s! I’m sticking with ‘em.

String / Tone Business

More importantly, I told a guitar-tone-loving buddy about them and he asked, “Did you tone go to hell?”. I said, “No way!”. (Granted, I’ve not tried my .10-.52s on my PRS so I’ve not done an A/B comparison.) I love the way the way the guitar sounds. Correction, I LOOOOOOOOOOVE the way the guitar sounds. I’m 100% content and see no need to take the guitar to the shop to get setup. It’s absolutely perfect, as is. In fact, I’m afraid that by switching back to the big ol’ .10-.52s I’ll actually lose something. When palm muting, even the B string (the little bitty guy by the high E) is percussive and chunky. I’ve never gotten that from any other guitar or string combo. I’m convinced I have stumbled onto something here. (Or rather, the previous owner stumbled onto something and I’m stealing it!)

This whole issue of huge string gauges being required for monster tone is complete rubbish in my opinion (at least for my own tonal tastes). The strings do affect the player and the player is obviously THE generator of tone, but to say that big strings equals big tone doesn’t seem to hold up in my case. The fact that I can get little 8s to sound like they do is strong enough evidence to reject this idea that I need 12s or whatever to sound like Stevie Ray Vaughn or whoever. (Whatever SRV had, I definitely do not have. I sound more like a really drunk, less talented Van Halen when I’m sober.)

If you’ve heard a billion times than that 10s sound better than 9s and 11s sound better than 10s, do yourself a favor and try the extreme. Go with 8s for a few weeks. Force yourself to play in tune. (You SHOULD be doing that anyway!) I’m not saying you’ll keep the 8s on your guitar, but I think many of you high gain guys may feel like you’ve been duped by the huge string myth.

Update: I just tried out 8.5s. The “b string chunk” is gone. The overall percussiveness of the guitar is gone. I’ll be switching back to 8s immediately.


Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.

57 responses to The Guitar Tone String Size Myth

  1. There is definitely a difference in sound but you are correct that the popular myth of “thicker is better” is a only a myth. I have done all the extremes. Everything from bass strings an a guitar to wild string gauges and tuning my guitar more like a cello. This is what I learned. String thickness is absolutely related to tuning. If you are tuning your guitar down 3 semitones from standard 8′s might be an issue. For rhythm thinner strings usually sound HEAVIER then thicker. It is the same principle as tuning down to sound heavier some of it is the string tension.

    I have seen it time and time again where someone tries out a low tuning and loves it with their 9′s or 10′s so they decide they will “go with” this new tuning. They get thicker strings, set their intonation and all the balls are gone from their tone. There is greater sustain to a point with thicker strings and thicker strings tend to be louder. You will really notice this on acoustic. I use 11′s on acoustic, 10′s on electric usually and 40′s on bass.

  2. If you play with a relatively clean guitar tone, then string gauge makes a BIG difference. The lighter the gauge, the sooner the sustain dies off, and the thinner the tone. Slide guitar players avoid ultra light gauges like the plague for this very reason. So I just can’t agree with the statement that gauge effecting tone is “complete rubbish”. It really depends on one’s playing style and sound (-for example, how much gain/distortion one uses). Personally for me, I often want a string to fight back when I give it a bluesy bend rather than give in like butter to a hot knife; the tension comes across more expressive I think.

    And for playing live, an ultra light gauge, such as 8′s, may get you bogged down with retuning (and possibly fixing broken strings) between each song… although how hard you play is obviously a factor here. Not every guitar player can afford a roadie to hand over a freshly tuned guitar between songs! So that’s another thing that should be taken into consideration.

    What I want to say is that switching to an ultra light gauge is not necessarily beneficial to every player.

  3. As a hard rock/metal guitar player, I find that it lies more in the tension than the actual gauge. I tried going with the thicker stuff and ended up back with ultra thin stuff. Just the way I find it.

  4. Yeah, I just switched from 8s to 8.5s. The chunk in the little bitty B string is GONE. I hate it! I’ll be going back to 8s immediately.


  5. Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons, Brian May, Yngwie J; whoever said that any of THEM had good tone.

  6. I’ve always used 9 to 46 with great results on all my guitars. I like the feel of the larger gauge bottom strings but of course it’s all up to the player. I have arthritis in my hands so the lighter gauge really helps. With the right guitar and amp there is NO problem with tone.

    Can someone tell me what manufacturer makes 8s or 8.5s?

  7. Well I got sucked into that heavy vs light and finally went back to believing my ears instead of what I read. The result, 8′s on my Epi LP and American Strat. 10′s on my electrics setup for strictly slide, the tone really isn’t different to me, it just keeps me off the frets since I use a really heavy brass slide. For my acoustics I ended up with 10′s and on my steel bodied resonators too. On a lot of reso forums, there are plenty of guys who advocate 16′s for a resonator, and this on a guitar your supposed to be able to fret normally! Now back in the 40′s and 50′s people used heavier gauges, mainly because they didn’t have the choice, you always read about some of those guyse going to banjo strings trying to get a lighter set, and Dunlop just came out with a signature Billy Gibbons string set…………..the high E is a 7!!! And the Rev Willy has been known to come up with a beefy tone or two. Hell, he even said he tunes down to C with 8′s. So there you go, whatever works for your sound.

  8. Thank you! I’ve been trying to tell people this for years. A lot of people love my tones and they are flabbergasted when they find my top three are 008/011/014. They do NOT break or go out of tune more often than any other string on a GOOD guitar (I play a PRS Custom 24) and I play it hard. I also think these are way more expressive than heavier gauges when I can bend two full notes and get a soft to wild vibrato. I can do shimmering clean to metal on my strings. I’ve tried heavier strings and their not better, just different. And that really is the issue, finding what you like and working with it to get the sound you want.

  9. I am in agreement with the Rook.
    I have been playing 40+ years.
    If your sound is massive waves of distortion where the sound of the string is buried, it makes no difference.
    If you play clean tones, it makes a huge difference.
    The vibrating string is the signal source.
    If an .008 and a .011 string are of the same length, tuned to the same pitch and plucked with the same force, the harmonic content, overtones and decay envelope will be completely different.
    It’s like saying heavier springs in my car don’t affect the ride.

    Physics: It’s the law!

  10. If “this whole issue of string gauges affecting tone is complete rubbish” then why switch to 8s at all? You say when you went back to a thicker gauge “the chunk in the little bitty B string is GONE.” Sounds like maybe you do believe gauge affects tone. Or am I just reading this incorrectly. Really not trying to argue – just confused.

  11. I must respectfully disagree with Brandon. I think string gauge is a big deal, especially regarding the tone and stability of the instrument. It is also very much a feel thing depending on your style, your pick, and your desired tension. I play .11-.49 on both my 25.5″ and 24.75″ scale instruments. The .11s feel like .10s on my Gibson as a result. This is not to say that you can’t get a great tone with .08s. You definitely can. Especially when you’re playing anything that says “Paul Reed Smith” on the headstock.

  12. Depends on the tone you want. I prefer 10-52s. Go figure. I am not a physicist, but, I imagine the greater mass of thicker strings results in greater natural sustain, and by my own experience this tends to be the case. It also seems obvious that thinner strings will be more susceptible to acoustic feedback, as they have less mass to influence. Obviously once you go beyond a certain gain point it becomes a moot point. Probably more important on an electric is the mass of the string and it’s relational effect on the magnetic field around the pickups. In visual terms I see it as the different between brushes, some capable of fine detail, some best for daubing huge great gobs of paint everywhere, and many shades in between :-D

  13. If your sound is massive waves of distortion where the sound of the string is buried, it makes no difference.

    I don’t agree. I think all the same rules apply regardless of gain.

  14. If “this whole issue of string gauges affecting tone is complete rubbish” then why switch to 8s at all?

    I guess I should have worded my quick rant a little better. The convention wisdom/myth that I was referring to as rubbish is the idea that bigger is always better. I know guys who force themselves to play 13s and even 14s with bent necks and such because they “know” it sounds better. Never in my life have I heard anyone make the claim that a small string could actually sound better. This is obviously highly subjective, but I think the possibility should at least be entertained and that was my intention with this post.


  15. don’t you think it’s a bit naive and premature, to write a op-ed piece about string gauge while at the same time admitting that you haven’t even bothered to test the difference?
    there are others out here, that care more about it than you do, and HAVE done the testing.

    please consider re-writing the piece with an honest assessment.

  16. Dude, good is such a relative word. Rubbish, not so much, but definately no one is going to live or die if you play 9′s, or 8′s or 12′s for that matter. It will just be your sound, and it’s got to be your own sound anyway right. Thinner strings give you less bottom end and sustain because they have less mass, but if you play loud the sustain comes back from the feedback effect. If you detune, you’ve got to have thicker strings because you need the vibrations to have enough intertia to prevent the magnets in the pickups from affecting the strings sound (and sustain). Whatever you do, if it works for you then it’s your sound and you rock.

    That being said, I think that not only the guage but the type and manufacturer of the strings can make a ginormous difference when you are playing through vintage gear. Not good or bad, but different. Tiny nuances are the reason why some folks can tell the difference between guitar manufacturers, pickups, etc… and they do matter. But not because one is bad or good, but because they are unique.

    It must be said if you are using modeling (i.e. Line 6, Amplitube, etc…) and your whining about string guage you really need to get a life. They are models and most of the time apply a sound snapshot taken by some other dudes guitar and apply it to yours. So sting guage with a modeling amplifier is COMPLETE RUBBISH.

    I’ve been playing guitar for 25 years (ouch), and played every style immaginable (and some that you cant get your mind around for good and bad reasons). It’s all about YOUR sound. If folks wanted to listen to Stevie Ray, they would buy HIS CD, not yours. Experiment with amps, strings, guitars, pipe wrenches, pitchforks, or whatever it takes to find YOUR sound. Forget about the string nonesense like Brandon said, but do be aware that it IS different.

  17. I agree with the fact that it’s a myth that larger strings automatically sound better, but I disagree where you said that string guage does not affect guitar tone. Larger strings oscillate differently than smaller strings and considering they are tuned to the same note (A/B comparison) the pickups will see a different picture. There is definitely more fundamental with larger strings, whereas smaller strings give better harmonic range. I use low downtunings and I’ve been using larger and larger strings for the longest time. I always battled muddy, warm low end and I attributed it to gear or the room. Recently, I went down a guage or two and the muddy low end is gone and my chords have much more punch. Spread the word Brandon.

  18. I’ve adjusted a few sentences. The point of the article wasn’t to say that big strings blow or string gauge doesn’t matter. The point was to say that I’ve been told my entire life that I’m SUPPOSED to use to giant strings for my high gain stuff and it appears I’ve stumbled on a gold mine with the 8s.


  19. Brandon, let me add my penny to the discussion.

    The thinner the strings – the more HARMONIC OVERTONES you get – that gives you that “punch” from the B-string (that I’m also a huge fan of).
    With thicker strings (as well as with thicker picks) you get less overtones, but thicker “body” of the tone.

    It is best examplified by Paganini, who had two violins – one Gvarneri with extremely thick strings (which sounded “like a cannon shot”, according to his own words) and a Stradivari, on which he experimented with thin strings. He would go all the way from thick cello strings to thinnest strings available (which was exactly the cause why he used to break 3 of 4 strings during the concert – due to his experiments, and not his enemies’ work).
    In general it’s good to have the best of both worlds – like two instruments with different setup for different tone.

    Also there is another string issue – the wrong caliber of most guitar string sets. It is best described in the article below:

    I tried his own strings and I will never ever touch any other string set in my life than his.

  20. @ Paul999 & Rook: You stated the opposite… I’m confused.
    Does thicker gauge sound thicker or not?

  21. The EXACT same thing happened to me.

    I was told, “Dude, you wat heavy bottom strings and lighter top strings!”

    So yeah, I was using Zakk Wylde 60′s and 50′s. Then 10-52 Ernie Balls when I went back to E tuning.

    Then one day… I went to a friends and picked up his Ibanez RG. Tuned to E.

    MAN THIS THING IS A DREAM TO PLAY!!! everything was easier. WAYYYYY easier. It just felt better.

    I have good high quality instruments. So it wasn’t that I wasnt used to nice guitars.

    “What strings are on this?” I asked him.

    “You like em dont you?” he asked.

    I looked at him kind of oddly.

    He then asked 3-4 more questions before telling me they were Ernie Ball 8′s. He wanted to get my honest opinion before he told me. As he too encounters people all the time nay-saying on the lighter strings.

    All I know is that guitar almost played itself…

    How much harder have I been making this whole guitar business on myself all these years!?!?!?!?!?!?!

    Everything I own has 8′s on it now. And there are a dozen packs on my closet shelf waiting for restringing.

  22. Same thing goes with the conventional wisdom that you have to put medium strings on a dreadnaught Martin to make it sound its best. I tried way too many different mics and preamps on my Martin trying to get rid of a boxy predominant frequency for over a year. Finally switched from mediums to light gauge and there was the great balanced tone I remembered the guitar having. Something about medium gauge strings on that particular guitar just doesn’t work, even though the luthier who had overhauled it and several guitar store guys with more experience and way better chops than me swore that guitar needed medium gauge strings to “wake it up”.

  23. I am glad that you made your comments about the 8′s. I have felt guilty for playing 9′s lately and have been thinking about going back to 10′s. Why? Because I keep reading and hearing that thicker strings are better. Now I fell better about sticking with my 9′s.

  24. Yes, it’s true that lighter strings sound better. I noticed long ago that tuning down a whole step made my guitar sound much more lively and interesting. You get more string gronk when you pick, your bends are more expressive, the whole thing just sounds looser, stringier, chewier, more vowel-y. And guess what — you can get that same sound at concert pitch by using lighter strings. The formula is lighter strings = lower string tension = better tone. Yes, it’s true that lighter strings don’t sustain as much, but who cares? Sustain doesn’t matter. And sustain trades off against tone, which does matter. So I’m definitely on board with the lighter gauge strings thing.

  25. Michael, your understanding of modeling amps is mistaken. They don’t just trigger a snapshot of some other guy playing. It’s far more complex than that and yields a far more realistic result. They use a process called convolution that’s based on finding the impulse response of an acoustical/electrical system (like an amp or guitar). The impulse response is almost like acoustical DNA: once you know it, you can mathematically represent the total system response. Stimulate that response with a signal and you get a sound uncannily similar to the thing you’re modeling. Convolution modeling has a realism that is lightyears beyond the old algorithmic modeling techniques. It’s like the difference in a line drawing and a hologram. Anyway, the upshot of all this is that modern modelers are certainly sophisticated enough to be responsive to things like string gauge.

  26. fHumble fHingaz June 3, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    I can see I’m wading into murky waters here… As was mentioned above, Brian May, Billy Gibbons et al are known for getting awesome guitar tones out of 8′s – Personally, I’ve tested the theory of big strings = better tone & proved it to a degree… BUT (& this is a big BUT) only insofar as the difference between 9′s & 10′s. Why no further? I simply haven’t got the strength in my hands to cope with 11′s or 12′s – It affects my guitar playing so detrimentally that any advantage in tone is far outweighed by the fact that I start sounding like I have 10 thumbs & no ears. I have tried 8′s as well, & though I can zoom around the fretboard like the long-lost son of Yngwie, I tend play everything sharp due to my neanderthal string attack. In other words, don’t have ANY preconceptions, don’t take any opinion as gospel – I guess what I’m saying is: you’ve got to experiment & find what’s right for YOU.

  27. I’m old enough to remember when guitars were sold with 008s fitted. When we heard SRV used 013+ or whatever it was tempting to try the idea. I guess everyone forgot the quantity of music recorded on 008s.

    I switched to 009s with a heavy bottom, which I liked since I could bend fine (with MY fingers), and stayed in tune a little easier (I was new to electric), yet the bottom strings bounced nicely with the 3mm picks I use. Hey I was the odd guy out not using 008s. But it sounded fine to me

    Nowadays when I tell someone in a guitar store that I use 009s with a heavy bottom, they act as if I were telling my Doctor that I eat a lot of fried chicken. This is silly.

    I too agree that there is no correct string gauge. It varies for each style, player, and guitar. Maybe I’ll put some 008s on one of mine. I tried tape wound 014s once, that was very different. That’s a real adventure in tone. I needed to make some serious truss rod adjustments though

  28. Playability will affect the sound a lot more than a gauge. I was always getting better sounds with more playable strings than 12s and up. Agree with fHumble fHingaz and 10 thumb concept. There is also a masculin ego issue, ever seen a proud face of a wannabe guitar hero orderin 13s in a guitar shop?

    Frank Zappa ocassionally used 7s, there are 8s on every early Van Halen album

  29. I have small hands, so it’s hard to bend on 10′s, but I find that with anything lower, when I play, the strings detune too easily, either by my pick pushing down too hard, or by my palm muting pushing down to hard. I play metal, so that’s probably why I push so hard.

  30. I assume you are talking exclusive about electric guitars, not acoustic. This isn’t mentioned explicitly anywhere in this thread. Anyway, the same observations definitely don’t apply to acoustic guitars, which are very tone sensitive to string tension.

  31. David Robinson June 4, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Hmmmmm – PRS. Worth every last penny. I bought a second-hand CE24 12 years ago and it’s way the best guitar I have. Almost plays itself, great tone and stays in tune even on gigs with big temperature extremes.

    Have you tried the 8′s on any other guitars ?

  32. You could probably string a shoelace or a necktie on a PRS Custom and it would sound awesome. I don’t know how they do it but theres definitely something going on with those pickups.
    I’ve been playing a PRS and I’ve never managed to be tempted away by any thing else.
    I’ve never gone heavier than a 10 but it’s possible that theres something about the pickups that compensates a relative lack of mass in strings, making them sound fuller or as if they were bigger so to speak.

  33. I’m with Brandon on going against this myth.

    My friend is a huge David Gilmour fan and wanted me to try out electric strings on my Taylor as he’d seen in a concert once. The idea sounded retarded to me, but gave it a try as I had no performances or anything coming up. I keep 12s on my acoustic, feel weird even putting 11s on it, and here I was playing with electric 9s! I didn’t like it cuz they took away from tuning perfection of my chords, but these strings were definitely loud and defined. Bending and soloing on these opened up a whole new world, which reminded me of something I’d heard a while ago about how lighter gauge strings are louder but can lend to buzz more easily. I figure this experiment on a crappier acoustic wouldn’t give even half the results, ie, you need a good instrument. Trying lighter gauge strings on a beginner set Squier electric or Carlio Robelli acoustic will get you believing in the myth.

    Anyway, I’ve tried thick Dean Markley strings that came with a soundhole pickup I bought once, and although I was ready for the challenge of thicker strings on my fingers, they weren’t louder how I expected them to be, nor any bit more sustained. If it wasn’t going to give me the sound I expected, I didn’t need it. I’m not thrilled with super light gauges either, so I’ve found my comfort zone these days of 12s (or 11s if nothing else is around) on acoustic and 9s on electric. Everyone finds their comfort zone after some years of experimenting, based on their preconceptions or the preconceptions of others. Smartest thing to do: believe both sides of the story before trying things out.

  34. I have played 9-42 for years. At one point I moved up to 10′s, didn’t really notice a difference. Went back to 9′s. Someone told me they only use 12′s nothing below due to tone issues so I decided to move up again but I couldn’t see myself jumping to 12′s so I went 2 up instead. I now have 11′s on all my guitars and I have noticed 3 things:
    1. Bending is ALOT harder but I’ll build up strength eventually!
    2. My guitars stays in tune better
    3. The tone is indeed bigger sounding

    My theory is going up one size is maybe too little of a change to really notice? When I had 9′s some friends that played my guitars they thought I had 10′s on them. When I was using 10′s some thought I was using 9′s. Another theory, it’s all in our heads. I have an electronic drum kit and if I assign a bass drum to the snare I could swear the head got loosened somehow… impossible, it’s all in my head. Either way I do feel 11′s gave me a bigger tone whether they really did or not. I have never A/B compared it so who knows. I do like the feel of a thicker string, not so uncomfortable going to my acoustic any more.

  35. Comment for you younger guys out there:
    I’ve been playing 46 years. I used to use heavier gauge strings but over time I began developing arthritis and wrist issues. I really believe the heavier gauge strings and crappy guitars that I had when I first started out caused me some damage in later life. If for any other reason, the lighter gauge strings will place less pressure on your hands and fingers, especially when doing lateral motion and fingering. If your lucky to live until you get older, you’ll appreciate the less damage you cause your fingers and wrist.

  36. i really believe it all depends on the style and player. i use 11′s with 3rd string wound, and a nylon .88 pick. im not against using smaller strings, but i have a hard time finding third string wound on lighter gauge strings and i tend to break strings quite often. yes, i play very hard. there is a huge tonal difference in a set of 11′s with third string wound and without. i have always found for me that not using a wound third string makes whatever i play not aggressive. it just sounds wimpy. i do not do a lot of soloing but i do a lot of riff type guitar. for me i cant go without a wound third.
    i have no problem doing bends, hammer-ons, etc., but i have been using this same setup for years. it is easier in a dropped tuning, but i prefer to play it in E standard as it has more string tension.
    also ive noticed a lot of jazz guitarists use heavier strings. i have tried 13′s with a wound third when i was in a bind (before the internet) and i did not care for them. for me they where just too big, but im sure if i played with them enough i could find what i wanted.

    one thing i do notice though, is when using heavier strings i need to change them more often as they get duller sounding faster, they lose their brightness.

    my other guitar player uses 8′s and loves them and he has a good sound, but his playing style is very different from mine, but i notice he is always trying to get more bottom end, his bass knob does not go to 11…

    i think it just really depends on how you play, what you play, and what you want out of your guitar, that is exactly why they make so many differnt guitars, pickups, strings, amps, speakers, etc.

  37. I experienced the same thing when I recently purchased a Tele that was strung with .9′s. The sound is exactly what I have wanted out of my other guitars – and couldn’t get with 12′s. I won’t be going back!

  38. I personally believe the statement as rubbish.

    Some of the best guitar work I’ve recorded was on a heavy set of strings and high distortion – thick chunky and solid. My hands hurt a bit so I’ve been going down in gauges and I discovered that from 12s to 10s there is really not that much difference but some of the sustain, especially on solos was lost. Some of these distortion sounds also got thinner on the A string where I play a few songs with huge skips (think Kreator). In the end I do believe that thicker gaune = better tone for the most part. Squeals are definitely easier to get on pair of 10s than 12s.
    I’ve decided to compromise and now I play Ernie Ball Skinny Top/Heavy bottom sets of 9s to 11s and they work really well for my purpose. String size is simple physics – the more material you have, the higher the content that the pickups grab.

  39. What Brandon has stumbled on has been a closely guarded trade secret. I’ve known about this since high school(been playing for 35+ years). The moral of the story is “Don’t beLIEve everything you read.(This also applies to non-musical persuits.

  40. I have used 008-036, 009-042 and now on 011-049. I broke quite a few from the 008s, far less with the 009s and to this day (from 2000) none of the 011s. I went to 011 when I joined a band that uses low tunings. When I got out and back into coverbands it was a bit hard but now I’m used to it, I don’t know. Maybey I’ll switch back to 009 someday, but never to 008. They are simply not reliable or stable enough for my playing. I think I miss the harmonics of 009 sometime. So I guess it’s personal.

  41. I think it is definitely personal. No doubt about it, the 008s I used had dramatically more harmonics on my Custom 24 than the 0085s I’m using now. I guess it’s different for everyone.

  42. I use nothing but 008s and I rarely break strings–maybe twice a year and not necessarily the 008. I play hard, gig often and change strings every 3-4 weeks. There is more to string reliability than gauge. The brand of strings (I use only Curt Mangan strings which I think are the best out there), the nut, the bridge, and even guitar itself seems to make a difference. I think the gauge itself is the least important factor. I do a lot of punishing bends, including combined bends with the left and right fingers (2+ full tones with standard tuning) and I just don’t break strings.

  43. The statement that string gauge does not equate to tone is dead wrong. When you have a bunch of distortion covering things there maybe some…SOME truth to the statement, but I doubt it. String gauge does affect tone by the tension of the string. Thinner string less=tension=less tone. This is my 23cents…

  44. Sorry Butch but that’s bullshit. There is no such equation on a good guitar. The tone may be different but not less or worse or bad and I am talking zero distortion. Most of the tone is in the fingers, not the strings.

  45. guage size does matter.large strings have more surface area thus requiring more effort to move. The larger the string=more wieght also.Thinner strings are more purcussive because of the mass and the speed they move. I also find thinner strings do not go as flat for as long when tuning after the strike. I have also found that larger guages are better for slower moving music. And those death metal guys playing as fast as they can, really benifit from thinner, faster strings. I notice a brilliance difference in string size and composition of strings. So I say that if your ears and fingers are happy, that’s what matters. But do not be afraid of trying something new. It might be the next big hit.

  46. In one of my actual bands, we experienced some trouble with the sound of a PRS guitar which reminded me of some issues with my Gibson SG which I want to describe here. It will show that decreasing performance with increasing string gauge is likely to indicate a faulty instrument.
    I bought my SG once used as a newbie, and soon I was wondering why its sound simply didn’t cut through when I played simultaneously with the other guitarist of my band that time who used a Fender Stratocaster. I wasn’t able to hear my play at moderate levels, and in any recording mix I either had to pull up the SG’s level both clean and distorted, or to apply severe EQing and compression. Swapping the amps for comparison made the problem even more intense. No matter what I did, the sound appeared to be mushy and muddy, and often it was smearing the bass guitar performance, too. The bigger the string gauge, the more obtrusive and blurred was the sound. Unfortunately I dislike the smallest string gauges available.
    Later, no other of the guitars I meanwhile had purchased (and still own) had such trouble, and I played the SG very seldom. In addition, all other guitars performed better with heavier string gauges.

    Once there came the day when I performed electrical measurements which led to the result that the Gibson 496 R and 500 T stock SG pickups (and several replacements I had tried in vain before) were loaded down severely by too small pot resistance values which were stock, too. I equipped some of my instruments that time with pots and all of them with caps with more appropriate values.

    After this mod the SG really came to life. Now the sound was fresh, distinctive, with real attack and rich harmonics, and showing a twang I never had associated with the SG before. I just couldn’t and still can’t figure out how Gibson came to apply components that appeared to be so adverse to the performance of the instrument.

    Years later we founded a new band with another guitarist who owned a Fender Stratocaster and a Paul Reed Smith 22 Custom Moon with set neck. The latter acted like my SG once had. My pal desperately cranked up his 100 W Marshall JCM 800 amp to hear his own playing, and putting the instrument into a recording mix was a struggle.
    That doesn’t mean that the PRS sounded bad at all. It was a nice guitar when played for itself, and in a lineup with no other instrument within the same range of fundamentals. We soon recognized it since our first bass player left us because he moved to another city. I was playing bass guitar in our trio lineup for one and a half years then, and the PRS made a pretty good lead guitar in this environment. There was not any trouble for our drummer’s and my voices to cut through, too.

    Finally we had the luck to find a new bass player, and he even had his own rehearsal room in a basement. It was acoustically optimized since it had been part of an audio recording studio in the past. The problems with the undistinctive sound of the PRS began again, and our pal played it less and less and finally used his Fender exclusively.
    Some day I told him about the trouble I once had with my SG. I offered him to check the electrical components of his PRS, and to substitute them with more suitable ones if this seemed to be useful. But he told us to our surprise that he already had traded his PRS silently, and that it had lost 45 % of its value. He once had dreamt of this guitar for years and now had ended up in disappointment. Later he had his Stratocaster equipped with Joe Barden pickups and controls to defeat the hum problems. What should I say, the Fender sounds very great with the Joe Barden’s and is free of hum since then.
    The very reason for the problems of his PRS will remain unknown to me I believe. However, it could have to do with improper electrical component values.
    By the way, I still own and play my SG, and I think this could be the case with my pal and his former PRS Custom 22, too.
    These are my 22 cents, one per fret…

  47. You’re ridiculous, you never even played with 10′s on the new guitar you ordered that came with eight so how the hell would you know whether the smaller string negatively affected your tone or not? This whole article is based upon a foundation of ignorance

  48. I guess you have a point. It’s possible that 10s are the secret and that 8s truly are inferior, but the “magic” of the PRS (which I don’t believe in, btw) makes the 8s somehow work and 10s would REALLY unlock the tone of the guitar.

    The problem is these “what ifs?” are infinite in every single part of the chain. A person would never actually get to play their guitar if they explored each and every single possibility. I guess if a person wanted to do a full blown scientific experiment on the subject, they would try every conceivable string size on their guitar. They could rule out the human factor of setting it up by requiring certain mathematical tolerances in the action and such. Of course, different brands of the same size string often have different string tensions (the Slinky “coated” strings threw my guitar all out of wack and it would have needed a new setup, but switching back to D’ Addario solved the problem) so a person would need to try all string brands.

    The article was not mean to be such a scientific experiment as that would be a TON of time and work and not enough benefit for everyone. (The KHR shootouts were MASSIVE work, so I do have experience with this.) This blog was simply me saying, “Hey! I’ve been told the bigger the string, the better but I’m loving the tone of my 008s. It’s a sound I’ve always wanted!”. That’s it. It wasn’t trying to make any across-the-board claims or trigger anyone else to make a change who was happy with their setup.

    I did try 009s on the PRS and thought it totally sucked. Again, it could be the brand, different tensions, etc but it lost all the balls and percussive qualities I get with the 008s. The .0085s sucked too, but not as bad as the 009s.

    I guess I could toss some new 10-52s on my Strat, record with it, and then switch to 008s, get it setup, and record with it to see if this sound is exclusive to the PRS….which it certainly could be.

    As always, YMMV.

    Good luck.

  49. Let me tell you something Brandon. I usually play metal. And i do use drop tuning from drop B to drop D.

    I read many times that it is better to use thicker strings for that. There are people that tell you to use 68′s for such tunings.

    I myself find the 46′s completely adequate.
    I love the sound of the looser strings, and especially the feeling while playing.

    Just more musical to me, and at least till now i dont feel like loosing any heaviness at all.

    The only thing i did not figure out yet, is if the lighter strings have a harder time to stay in tune, with drop tunings..

  50. here is an interesting video

    I don’t find it shocking that if you tune to C that 9s get floppy. Actually, I’m just complaining that I had to watch a John Pretrucci video. As a rule, I don’t want to be one of those people. Har har.

  51. After my previous post about being fine with using 46′s for drop B to drop D, i have an update.

    While i still prefer the feel of playing with light strings, i have found out, that especially the bottom string does simply not stay in tune, if i dont use thicker ones.

    For a low B 56 is the minimum to stay in proper tune.

    So, if anyone prefers the lighter feeling, while still being able to stay in tune, this is about the minimum requirement for staying in tune for the bottom string, which is the most crucial in Drop-tunings:

    B 56
    C 54
    Cs 52
    D 48

  52. Alot of people like to tell you that there are no hard rules to getting a great tone and that you should do what sounds good to YOU (capitalizing ‘you’ is requisite). But following that notion that individuality is a thing of beauty I would like to be the first to blow your mind and suggest that maybe it doesn’t matter what you think. I mean who do you think you are? There are billions of people on this earth and are you really so arrogant as to believe that you’ve got the ideal guitar tone nailed down? Excuse me ‘Eddie Van-Lives-With-Mom’ but don’t we live in a democracy where the majority rules? How could you possibly be ‘right’ when you’re just one guy sitting in his wood-paneled-basement-converted-to-recording-studio in 12 year old bleach stained sweat pants and biting your plectrum while you operate the mouse when you’ve been scratching your crack all day and probably have traces of feces embedded in your finger nails. No sir, I don’t like your tone very much at all and chances are you are 100% wrong. Danke Schoen.

  53. Alot of people like to tell you that there are no hard rules to getting a great tone and that you should do what sounds good to YOU (capitalizing ‘you’ is requisite). But following that notion that individuality is a thing of beauty I would like to be the first to blow your mind and suggest that maybe it doesn’t matter what you think. I mean who do you think you are? There are billions of people on this earth and are you really so arrogant as to believe that you’ve got the ideal guitar tone nailed down? Excuse me ‘Eddie Van-Lives-With-Mom’ but don’t we live in a democracy where the majority rules? How could you possibly be ‘right’ when you’re just one guy sitting in his wood-paneled-basement-converted-to-recording-studio in 12 year old bleach stained sweat pants and biting your plectrum while you operate the mouse when you’ve been scratching your crack all day and probably have traces of feces embedded in your finger nails. No sir, I don’t like your tone very much at all and chances are you are 100% wrong. Danke Schoen.

    Ha! That’s one way of taking it. The problem is this isn’t a right / wrong argument. In fact, it’s not an argument at all.

    I’m simply speaking up and saying that after years and years and years of hearing EXCLUSIVELY that bigger strings equals better tone, I’ve be thrilled by what I’ve heard with my little bitty strings. The conventional wisdom has no applies for me….AGAIN. That’s all. Take it or leave it.

    It’s obviously subjective and a person who doesn’t get that is lacking in intellect. For anyone to get wound up that a person may like mustard or mayo when you don’t is ridiculous.

  54. I gave up on that crap about thicker strings years ago, when I also gave up on 12 string guitars (played them for 12 years) and when I went back to electrics, I play 8s on my Strat and I’ve got 10s on my Gibson SG, which is purely for slide, so I use flat-wound strings, with the rest of the set being even thicker. But that’s purely for the slide part of it. On my RESONATOR, which is ALSO for slide (different tuning yet again) … I’ve still got the original strings, but when I replace them, I’m gonna go ultra thin flat-wounds.

    I’m with Brandon, the tone thing is just bullshit. Now, flat-wounds versus non-flat-wounds, well, that DOES make a difference, when sliding a slide.

  55. King Kam-eha-me-ha March 1, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    I string my soprano Uke with bass guitar strings. At first it ripped the top completely off the Uke, so I had to come up with a way for the Uke to resist the extra tension. I had a stainless steel and titanium neck support and bridge stabilizer made. It hooks around the peghead on one end and runs into the sound hole on the other. Problem solved. Except that people in the crowd have lost an eye or had their ear sliced clean off when a string breaks – so I had to have a safety enclosure fabricated. Now I sit inside the enclosure (which is made from titanium and 1″ thick industrial lexan – it has a titanium mesh lid. There are microphones built into the lexan – not to pick up the sound of the uke, but so I can communicate over the sound of the file suppression equipment that was required. Overall, I’m pleased with the sound – even though I have to charter a military C-30 to move from one gig to another. Thanks.

  56. I asked a guitar tech at the shop to lower the action on my new Taylot, even though it could affect the tone a little, since I play a lot of modal stuff mixing open and high-fretted notes. I referred to it as an instrument. He seemed very pleased that I use the word “instrument”, and said that’s what most people don’t realise. I assume he meant that there is no absolute “correct” setup, just the one that lets you express yourself with your intended results.

    Since I am not a drone, and still use my brain, I also do other “wrong” things, and do not apply the same rule to everything – I have my strat actions raised from the standard height, using 9/46 sets, but I use high tension on my classical. I use noise cancelling SCNs and EMGs which some say “destroy the tone”. I can hear the notes and harmonics without the mains hum, but who cares about that?
    This means I don’t need to waste time wrecking the recorded tone to remove the hum.

    Dave Gilmour puts light strings on his Taylor. There is no doubt that what he plays on it would not be possible with big heavy strings, so he is therefore using it as an “instrument”

    Anyway I agree with an earlier poster, heavy repeated use of heavy strong gauges that could well accelerate RSI and joint damage.