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You enter a guitar shop and want some new strings. Now should you go for brand "we made the best strings" or brand "we are better then the rest" or even brand "we have special different strings that no one else can make"?

When you have made that difficult choice you are still left with many options like thinner or thicker strings. They are usually referred to as 0.08, 0.09, 0.10, 0.11 or 0.12 for electric guitar. For acoustic guitar usually 0.10, 0.11 , 0.12 or 0.13. These numbers refer to the first (thinnest) string.

So now which should you choose? Well it gets even more complicated. Most string manufacturers use maybe the same number (thickness) for the first string but they don't always use the same for other strings of the set. And to complicate things even more they sometimes even themselves sell different sets of 0.09 for example, but with different other strings in the set. So if you don't know what to look for you might end up with strings that are not so useful or great for what you need them. Of course there is a reason for all those different sets of strings.

What is the importance of a string's gauge?

For instance, some strings sound different when they are thicker or heavier. Or they play smoother when they are thinner. Or sometimes they just might sound or play better on a certain guitar.

Guitar Sound and Strings

For sound and stability of the tones and chords thicker strings can give a full balanced stable tone and can give some excellent results. Usually the stability of the tone has not only something to do with the thickness of the string but also with your finger pressing down the string. When you push down a string you apply pressure on it. If you press harder you might notice the pitch get higher. When you play just one note and put your finger close to the fret this effect is usually not that pronounced. It gets more pronounced when you play in the middle (between the frets) on the string. So what happens if you play a thin string with low tension? Right, this effects becomes more noticeable because you might press down the string further. With a thicker string this effect is much less noticeable.

Now when you play single notes close to the frets and try to press not too hard this effect is not so much a problem. But if you play chords you can't always play with all your fingers close to the frets on the strings and the effect gets more pronounced.

On the other hand some very thin strings can give some really nice jingly sounds on clean guitars, so try to find out what works best for a certain part.

Acoustic Guitar

On acoustic guitars finding a balance between a full warm tone and playability almost always becomes a problem. Usually when playing open chords very thick strings usually work very well. But as soon as you have to move up and down the strings more this can influence your playing very much. So you have to make a choice between a better tone and the influence it has on your playing.

On guitars which you mainly use with open chords 0.12 or 0.13 sets work very well. On a guitar which you use for chords and solos you might want to try the 0.10 or 0.11 string sets.

With most sets the difference between the thicker wounded strings can be really big. What you might want to try is using a set with very thick unwounded strings and one with very thin wounded strings. This way you can find out which gives the best sound balance on you acoustic guitar so the relative volume of the wounded strings is right compared to the thinner strings.

Electric Guitar

What strings to put on an electric guitar? Well just like playing acoustic guitar you can play only chords or both chords and solo. Usually 0.09 is preferred by most guitar players that also play some guitar solos. For more open chords and heavy rock heavier strings sometimes work better.

Slide Guitar

When playing slide guitar you have don't have to press the string down to much, at least not down to the fret. When using "light" strings you probably get a higher pitch but this doesn't really matter when you can simply use your slide to adjust the pitch to the right one. The only thing to watch out for is pressing to hard and touching the frets. The best strings, when only playing slide and not fretted notes, are the thickest strings (in my opinion).

Guitar techniques

Bends on acoustic and electric guitar

When you are playing solos on acoustic and electric guitar using thinner strings usually is a lot easier to play. The bend technique on its own is difficult enough to keep guitarists busy and practicing for years to get it right.

For bend techniques the 0.08 and 0.09 work great. You can of course always try heavier sets, but you'd better put your fingers through a weightlifting program first.When you are having trouble making bends start practicing with a very light set and move on up gradually.

Vibrato and strings

Just the same as with bends, string vibrato can be greatly influenced by the string. Vibrato can sound very different on thinner strings compared to thicker ones. You want more exaggerated vibrato and "feel", try the 0.08. You want more solid less exaggerated vibrato try the thicker gauges.

Vibrato and bends

As you might have guessed doing both a bend and a vibrato at once is one of the most difficult techniques on the guitar. For this you need much control of your hand and strength in you fingers. The thinner string gauges are much more easier to play with these kind of techniques and your best bet are the 0.08 and 0.09 type strings on electric guitars or 0.10 on acoustic guitars.

String sets and customizing

As mentioned earlier not all string sets are the same, even when they start out with the same string. So what you need to do is look at each string on each own and looks what works best for you. The strings that can make the most difference are the E, G and low E string. For example the high E string can easily sound to thin or soft compared to the other strings and a heavier gauge might be better. The G string can give some problems because the tension is too low or it high which makes bends kind of difficult.

One thing that works very well when choosing your own strings individual when you want to both do solo and some riffs is choosing heavier strings for the bottom.