If you have experienced discomfort when playing your acoustic guitar, you are probably using the wrong string gauge.
String gauge in acoustic guitars not only affects the playability of the guitar but it also defines the sound produced by the guitar.
If you want to get your preferred guitar tone, finger comfort, and string durability, you need to understand the string gauge.
In this article, we explore the different acoustic guitar string gauges available, and offer some tips to help you determine which one is the best fit for you.
What Acoustic Guitar String Gauge Should I Use? (Quick answer)
The acoustic guitar strings gauge is the diameter of the strings. The string gauge determines the playability of the guitar and the sound produced. In most cases, acoustic guitars come in 12s or 13s. 12s are lighter than 13s. If you prefer a bright sound, go for 12s, if you like a fat sound, go for 13s.
Acoustic Guitar Gauges
Apart from the 12s and 13s, there are other acoustic guitar strings gauges including:
- Light strings: 10s, 11s, 12s
- Medium strings: 13s, 14s
Characteristics of Different Gauges of Acoustic Guitar Strings
It is essential to understand the characteristics of different gauges of acoustic guitar strings as this will guide you in choosing what suits you.
Extra Light Strings
These are the 10s and 11s gauge strings. These strings are also referred to as custom light strings and are characterized by being easy to play. The downside of extra light strings is their vulnerability to breaking.
This refers to the 12s gauge strings. They are pleasant and easy to play with while maintaining better durability and resistance to breaking compared to the extra light strings.
The 13s are medium gauge strings. These strings are not as easy to bend as the light gauge strings but are bendable. The strings are also more durable than the light strings
Light Gauge VS Heavy Gauge Acoustic Guitar Strings
The choice between acoustic guitar strings mainly has two sides. You are either lean towards light strings or heavy strings. This depends on your personal preferences including the sound you desire, and your playing style.
Below is a comparison between the light gauge strings and heavy gauge strings to help you weigh the two:
Light Gauge Strings
- They are easy to bend
- They are easy to play
- Give less muscle tension on the back and neck
- Have less sustain
- Prone to breakage
Heavy String Gauge
- Have incredible sustain
- They are durable
- Hard to play
- They need more finger pressure
What Are the Other Features of Acoustic Guitar Strings?
Acoustic guitar strings are made from different materials such as steel, bronze, phosphor bronze, and nylon. Bronze strings are popular on acoustic guitars and produce a bright sound while phosphor bronze strings are warm and sparkly.
Winding refers to the way the wire is wrapped on the string core. Some acoustic guitar strings are wound with a thin wire around the core to enhance their tone and sustain. Wound strings are either round wounds or flat wounds.
With round wound strings have a brighter tone and more sustain. On the other hand, flat-wound strings produce a mellower, less bright sound, perfect for music genres such as jazz.
There is another special type of winding known as a half-round string. These strings are in between the round wound and half wound. These strings are rare and expensive.
Guitar string coating is also important and plays a role in playability and durability. Some acoustic guitar strings feature a layer of polymer to extend their lifespan and prevent corrosion.
Coated strings tend to have a slightly muted tone and less sustain than uncoated strings. Also, on some occasions, coated strings feel slippery when playing compared to uncoated strings.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Acoustic Guitar Strings
When choosing acoustic guitar strings, you should weigh whether the features of the strings align with what you need. Below are the important things to consider:
This includes what sound you want to get from your acoustic guitar. If you want a bright sound, light gauge strings are the best. If you want a richer or fuller sound, heavy strings are incredible.
Also, when sound is concerned, the material of the strings matters. Bronze strings tend to be bright and clear, while phosphor bronze strings offer a full, warm sound.
If you are looking to keep your acoustic guitar strings for a while, go for heavier, coated strings as they have more longevity compared to light uncoated strings.
The finger-picking style will require you to go for light gauge strings while heavy strumming requires heavy gauge strings.
What string gauge do most acoustic guitarists use?
The common string gauge for acoustic guitar strings is 12s. 12s is the middle string gauge being lighter and 13s being heavier.
What acoustic guitar string gauge sounds best?
This depends on what sounds great to you. However, 12s produces a sweet bright tone that is pleasant.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are 10 gauge strings too light for acoustic guitar?
While it’s not unheard of to use 10 gauge strings on an acoustic guitar, generally it’s more common to use a medium-gauge string, typically measuring from 0.012-0.053. However, the suitability of 10 gauge strings may also depend upon the specifics of your instrument. Guitars with a smaller body or a shallower neck angle can compensate well with lighter-gauge strings such as 0.010-0.012. In my personal experience, I have found that this lighter gauge can result in a pliable and smooth playability, which works particularly well for certain styles, like fingerstyle blues.
How thick should my acoustic guitar strings be?
The thickness of your guitar strings, often referred to as the ‘gauge’, can greatly influence the tone and playability of your instrument. The standard gauge for acoustic guitars is ’12s’. These are popular due to their rich, resonant sound and the ease of playing they offer. However, if you are looking to try something different, ’13s’ might offer a fuller resonance, especially if you have a large body guitar like a dreadnought or a jumbo. Remember, different gauges will interact differently with your guitar’s body shape and size, with the larger sizes typically producing more volume and richer tone. I always recommend trying different gauges to see what feels and sounds best to you personally.
How do I know what gauge guitar strings to use?
Choosing the right gauge for your guitar strings ultimately depends on a few key factors – your guitar’s scale length, the tuning you intend to use, your pick strength, and your personal playing style. The type of music you play can also factor in, as some styles lend themselves better to different string gauges. A good starting point for most aspiring guitarists is to experiment with the standard gauges first – for acoustic, typically 12s – and then venture out into the world of differing gauges based on what feels and sounds best on your instrument. Over time, as you develop as a player, you’ll find your own preference.
What gauge strings do most guitarists use?
For guitarists, choosing a string gauge is very much a personal preference and the “most popular” gauge can vary quite widely. Nevertheless, if we’re talking strictly in terms of statistics, then it’s fair to say that for 6-string electric guitars, the .010–.046 string gauge set is quite frequently used. These gauges provide a good balance of tone and playability that works well for a wide variety of styles. In my years of playing, I’ve found this gauge to be particularly versatile, whether I’m playing blues, rock, pop, or jazz.