Posted by: worshipguitarguy | September 8, 2006

All Strung Out… the DL on Guitar Strings

strings.jpgThere’s nothing more fun than buying guitar strings.

(Note my sarcasm…) 

If you’re a regular at your local music store, you’ll know there’s a whole 10’x20′ wall devoted to nothing but guitar strings… It looks just like the cereal aisle at your grocery store… you have so much to choose from, but how do you know what is what? Coated strings… uncoated… nickel… bronze… 9’s, 10’s, 11’s, 13’s… it can be so confusing

So what’s the story behind the huge selection of guitar strings?  If you want answers, read on…

First of all, the imposing string wall is probably divided into string packs for acoustic, electric, and bass.  Each instrument has it’s own type of strings.  When you’re looking at options, make sure you’re checking for the right type.  (Also, there may be different packs available for 6,7, and 12 string guitars…)

If you’ve ever wondered what guitarists mean when they walk in and ask for 9’s or 10’s, you’re not alone.  Early on I wondered the same thing too.   

I later learned that it was a slang term for the gauge or size of the strings.

Strings are measured by their diameter in thousands of an inch, (or diameter in millimeters for our friends across the pond.)  When someone refers to 9’s or 10’s, they’re referring to the size of the high E string in the pack.  The following chart shows you the common string sizes available at most stores:



Extra super light (8-38/20-97)







Super light (9-42/23-107)







Regular light (10-46/25-117)







Extra light w/heavy bass (9-46/23-117)







Medium (11-49/28-124)







Heavy (12-54/30-137)







Extra heavy (13-62/33-157)







Generally, lighter strings are easier to push down on the frets… letting you play hammer-on’s and pull-off’s much easier.  Many “shredding” style guitarists use lighter gauge strings for this reason.  The downside is lighter strings break easier, and do not have the sustain of a heavier gauge string.  Also, players tend to use slightly lighter gauge strings on electrics than they do on acoustics.  (I use 10/25’s on my electrics and 13/33’s on my acoustics)

String Composition: 
The strings to modern acoustic (not classical though), and electric guitars are composed of steel.  They are usually wound with materials like bronze, copper, and chrome. 

One unique difference between the six strings in a pack is some of them are solid steel and some are wound, (meaning the strings are composed of smaller, wrapped threads that combine to make the finished string.)  Usually the low E, A, and D are wound, while the high B and E are solid.  The G string can go either way, although wrapped G strings (no pun intended… 😉  ) tend to break much more easily. 

String Coating:
The W.L. Gore company made a huge splash in the guitar community in the mid 1990’s when they came out with their line of Elixir coated guitar strings.  The concept driving Elixirs was to place a microscopic protective tube coating around them to keep the steel from corroding from finger oils, sweat, and dead skin particles.  Their concept worked and Gore introduced a string that cost about twice as much as normal strings, but lasts five times longer. (According to their marketing info…)   



  1. I LOVE buying guitar strings. I HATE stringing the guitar.

    Good article.

  2. In my opinion, strings are strings! It’s as simple as that. The only thing i ever worry about is gauge, and if the string is flat or round-wound. Other than that, I normally just go to GC and pick out the cheapest set. (Although, I did pick up some blue bass strings over the weekend, which look amazing I might add. lol)

    Well, I’m done Rambling…

  3. I love to buy Elixir strings, I play bass guitar now mostly, but whenever I get new strings for my guitars, I go with them. They seem to have a brighter sound.

    I do have a question though. Does the gauge of the string affect the intenation of the guitar. Like it seems that a thicker string on a certian guitar might play sharp as you go up the neck, rather than a lighter string. I may be wrong in this though but it seems logical.

  4. Hey Rob, thanks for stopping by!

    I’m not an expert on this, so maybe some other guys here can chime in… but when changing gauges of strings, I would definitely check my intonation. I’ve noticed significant changes with floating bridge guitars like a Strat, because the increased tension pulls on the bridge more. (In cases of major gauge changes, I’ve heard guitar techs recommend adding springs to the bridge to counter the increased tension.)

  5. I really like your blog – great info.

    I like heavier guage strings – 11s on electric, and 13s on my acoustic. However, on my Tacoma Jumbo acoustic, I found that with 13s, the tension was too great for the structure of the guitar and the sound board started to distort. I checked their website and their advice was that their guitars are designed for 12s. So, any of you who like to look after their acoustic guitars, check the manufacturers specs and recommendations before you buy. The guitar is back to normal now I’ve had 12s on for a year.

  6. Great point Mark, and I think that holds true for electrics too.

    I once heard a story that said Stevie Ray Vaughn would put 18’s or 19’s? on his electrics… I couldn’t imagine what that would do to the guitar over time!

  7. Rob-

    Yep; changing gauge will have an impact on intonation. Heavier or lighter gauge will impact the neck tension, which will mess w/ intonation.

    It’ll also impact the string action – the heavier the gauge, the more the neck bows, the higher the action, and vice versa. You can adjust this by tweaking the truss rod… but, best to leave truss rod adjustments to qualified techs – too much tweaking on the truss rod can do damage to the neck.

  8. I, too, love buying guitar strings AND I, too, hate stringing … although I’ve gotten my stringing technique down to a science – have someone else do it for you =)

  9. I’ve also found that if you have difficulties with your G string staying in tune of the intonation being off, that a wound 3rd (G) string might solve that. I know you lead players may be ready to flog me for suggesting that, but there’s really not much difference in feel from an unwound 3rd. If you’re primarily a rhythm player, like me, I highly suggest it.

  10. Hey Gerry,
    Thanks for the informative post!

    At Strings and Beyond we have developed an online Sound Room to allow customers to listen to different guitar strings to compare the difference in sound qualities. This is a good way for customers to really hear some of the differences between different types of guitar strings. Let me know what you think about it.

    Also, we have a coupon that we hand out to Christian brothers to receive an additional 5% off.. “jesus_christ”

    thanks for the informative blog!

    yours in Chris,

  11. No prob Mike, hey I’ll add your link to my links page.

  12. Hey any idea what Gauge I need for a C G C G tuning?

  13. I found that has pretty good products at great prices. Everything is their own brand, but I took a chance on their electric strings and have been satisfied. Haven’t tried any of their acoustic or bass strings yet. Anything over $12 gets free shipping.

  14. you all need stringtreat , you can be a guitar god. forget 30 minutes, if you buy some stringtreat, guitar godisum will be instantaineous.

  15. Hey there, I found your blog by way of Yahoo as well when hunting for a comparable subject, your web site got here upward, seems like to be superior. I included with the favourites features and functions|included in the bookmarks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: