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string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby onesecondglance » Thu Jul 17, 2008 9:42 am

just something i was musing on the other night... i listen to a lot of different styles of music, and recently i've been playing a lot of more metal-style stuff. anyway, i noticed that my palm muted alternate-picking wasn't very... metronomic, for want of a better word. fine for short bursts, but anything over four or five notes and it was becoming very uneven. the longer the burst and the worse it got... e.g. Whiplash by 'tallica was a total mess.

now, my first thought is - i'm out of practice. i'll happily admit that i don't play as much as i should. but then the possibility that i was being handicapped by my setup occurred to me... i use 12-54 gauge in standard tuning, see, so i wondered if i'm making life harder for myself - hence why i can't get the notes even?

i've been using 12-54 for a while and it hasn't affected the speed of my lead playing, and i love the big tone you get, but i see a lot of shredders playing on 8s or 9s and i wonder if that's not just because it makes lead playing easier, it makes even rhythms more practical too...

i'm rambling now, better stop. would be interested to hear others thoughts on this though.
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby Dale Campbell » Thu Jul 17, 2008 1:58 pm

String gauge will affect your playing, the response of the string will be different, you may have to push harder, it will feel different when plucking or strumming.
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby Adji » Thu Jul 17, 2008 3:12 pm

The thicker the string, the greaster the natural sustain and fullness of the tone, however, the harder they are to bend and play, this didnt stop SRV though!
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby HissingSid » Thu Jul 17, 2008 3:37 pm

When I used to play in a Metallica tribute duet, my mandolin player always used to be very fussy about his string guages. He had 5 mandolins and had them strung up with different guages. He would never play the "Nothing Else Matters" mando for "Enter Sandman". Etc, etc. He was excellent. The way he played really complemented my trombone playing. We eventually had to go our separate ways though, he kept giving me those wistful, longing looks and my wife really wasn't very happy about it.

But yes gauge really does matter. A change of gauge can really bring an instrument to life.
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby The Korff » Fri Jun 03, 2011 1:56 pm

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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby Wossname » Fri Jun 03, 2011 5:10 pm

HissingSid wrote:We eventually had to go our separate ways though, he kept giving me those wistful, longing looks and my wife really wasn't very happy about it.

He probably just wanted to blow your horn.
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby shufflebeat » Fri Jun 03, 2011 9:47 pm

Apart from what's already been said it's also true that the fact they sound different means you will play differently in response.

I've had an old archtop jazz guitar with brake cables and a Jap Strat with spider's web and felt that rather than having a favourite I saw they were tools for different jobs.

I have found every half decent instrument I've owned has a certain combination which sparks off the particular character of the instrument and I've got to work within that.

Of course it could be just me, someone else would pick up my ancient Takamine with DD EJ17s on and feel it's all wrong.
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby Magic Matt » Wed Nov 14, 2012 11:43 pm

For me, even two guitars that only have a difference in colour, with identical setups, will cause me to play differently... so yes, having anything that feels different will make your attitude towards the instrument change and consequently your playing.
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby DC-Choppah » Thu Nov 15, 2012 2:50 am

Pick angle is key. Keep your pick at a 45 degree angle to the string in order to be able to move the least distance to pick. These means you are more efficient - doing less work. It's easier to be steady when you only move back and forth a little bit.

A pointy pick also minimizes distance traveled and is better for playing fast.

Watch how little the pick hand moves in the hands of some of these guys.

I learned from Frank Gambale


String gauge? A thinner string also requires less distance. So that helps too for fast picking. But picking technique is where most folks struggle.

You also need good muscle tone to play fast and steady. Do some exercises for your arms and hands. Look how buff those metal guys are.
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby TheChorltonWheelie » Thu Nov 15, 2012 7:26 am

Adji wrote:this didnt stop SRV though!

No, because he had a ridiculously high action with scalloped frets.
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby James Watson » Thu Nov 15, 2012 9:19 am

TheChorltonWheelie wrote:
Adji wrote:this didnt stop SRV though!

No, because he had a ridiculously high action with scalloped frets.

And he tuned down. A lot.
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby Random Guitarist » Thu Nov 15, 2012 10:16 pm

wossname? wrote:
HissingSid wrote:We eventually had to go our separate ways though, he kept giving me those wistful, longing looks and my wife really wasn't very happy about it.

He probably just wanted to blow your horn.

This reminds reminds me of a time when I was playing an outdoor thing and a very christian lady told me her huband would 'blow the shofar, and then the music will start' Unworthy soul that I am, my mind was instantly filled with replies like "that's nice, we came on the bus", it all went a bit down hill from there really.
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby chew_rocket » Tue Nov 20, 2012 12:17 pm

Definitely. One of the reasons a jazz player might choose thicker strings is that they are harder to bend... not much bending in jazz and theres less chance of accidentally bending it out of tune when doing mad finger twisting chords. Orrrrrr you could just learn how to play better.....

I had to buy thicker strings
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby onesecondglance » Thu Nov 22, 2012 9:46 am

still using 12-54, and i'm better thanks to lots of practice...
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby Dan Bo » Thu Nov 22, 2012 4:10 pm

James Watson wrote:
TheChorltonWheelie wrote:
Adji wrote:this didnt stop SRV though!

No, because he had a ridiculously high action with scalloped frets.

And he tuned down. A lot.

He didn't use a scalloped neck, ( I don't know what scalloped frets are) he had a high action and he used thick/high jumbo frets. Most of his Strats had been refretted with proper jumbo fret wire (#1 had been done so many times the radius actually became more of a compound 7.5 to 9 radius due to wear and tear)

He didn't tune down ALOT, he tuned to Eb which is the LEAST amount you can tune down. He did this "more often than not" if that's what you mean

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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby matt keen » Thu Nov 22, 2012 4:17 pm

onesecondglance wrote:still using 12-54, and i'm better thanks to lots of practice...

I couldnt possibly use that gauge - too heavy for me

009 or 010's occasionally here

Billy Gibbons uses 007's !!!!!
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby awjoe » Thu Nov 22, 2012 4:30 pm

I tried 12-54's for a long time, tuned down a half step, and in the end I gave up and went to 11-50's. Songs full of barre chords - just too much like hanging on for dear life. I'd go even lighter, but I don't like the sound of lighter gauge strings as much.
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby Ant Gamble » Thu Nov 22, 2012 4:45 pm

I play in drop C in a metal band. Although there's a definate 'funk' style to my playing (slap/pop) there's a good blend of 'straight metal'. When my guitarist is chugging fast muted power chords I have to keep up.

As I play with my fingers I tap the strings onto the fret board. It's the only way to do it to maintain speed and get the notes out cleanly. I play a 4 string bass - 'C' is usually 115 gauge.

Lighter strings are to floppy and don't have the tension for this playing style. Also, I find I get less fret buzz - as the string is less flexible it doesn't 'bend around' the fret, causing it to catch others.

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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby Folderol » Thu Nov 22, 2012 10:48 pm

Has to be 9s for me. I'm still too much of an occasional novice player and if I try anything heavier not only do I rapidly get sore pinkies but the guitar buzzes like a hornets nest
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby RancorBeast » Fri Nov 23, 2012 7:33 am

I like thicker strings on Gibson 24.75" scale and lighter on fender 25.5". I use 14s on my Gibson, 11s on my Fender and 9s on my old Ibanez shredder. I play the 14s most often. I like the substantial feel of 14s.
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby 4TrackMadman » Sat Nov 24, 2012 9:45 pm

When I played more of a rhythm guitar and less lead I did use 11s and the low end stuff was definitely better but it did require bigger picks which then changed a bit of my whole overall technique. For standard tuning 12s are really overkill and probably unnecessary stress on the guitar neck. I'd suggest going to standard 10s or if you still like to keep the low end a bit more controlled/chunky go with the hybrid sets from Ernie Ball, or even the Hybrid Slinky set that is 9s on the bottom and 46 on the top (I think a hybrid between a 9 and an 11 set of strings). Picks also make a huge difference, it is possible you're not using the right pick for the job or just you need more practice.
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby Magic Matt » Fri Dec 14, 2012 11:55 am

I tried a set of 8's today... I normally play 11's... they lasted about 10 minutes before I'd broken the silly piece of cotton that passes for the top E string. Yuk!
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby 4TrackMadman » Tue Dec 18, 2012 8:19 pm

8s are great for soloing, that's why I keep them on two of my guitars but I don't use them for rhythm.
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Re: string gauges - do they affect playing as well as tone?

Postby Magic Matt » Sat Dec 22, 2012 10:12 pm

4TrackMadman wrote:8s are great for soloing, that's why I keep them on two of my guitars but I don't use them for rhythm.

How do you not snap them?!?!
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