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String Gauges vs Tone

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I suspect that what a string is made out of is going to affect tone more than gauge in and of itself. But there definitely is a difference in tone based on string gauge alone....although I did wonder if they adjusted the neck and intonation between string changes, as string action also affects tone.

I've played .011s since I started playing electric guitar; before that on acoustic guitars the strings were even heavier of course. 11s are comfortable to me; I tend to overpower thinner strings. I never thought of changing my string gauge until seeing this video a couple days ago, especially as I usually practice unplugged...and heavier strings sound better acoustically.

But plugged in and distorted, thinner can sound great. I haven't tried it yet, but I imagine that the range you can bend 8s or 9s will be more than 11s. And super light strings require very light technique, which might be a good thing to start trying to incorporate. Joe Satriani uses 9s and his guitars are set up with crazy low action - extremely light technique makes that all possible.

Anyways, I'm going to experiment with light strings and am going to try to really stick with it this time. Let's see if my playing style will adapt to the dynamics of much lower tension strings.

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3 hours ago, tobereeno said:

I imagine that the range you can bend 8s or 9s will be more than 11s. And super light strings require very light technique, which might be a good thing to start trying to incorporate. Joe Satriani uses 9s

That’s certainty true. Think Jimmy Page could pull off those 2+ step bends behind the nut on that Tele of his on the Heartbreaker lead with 9s or 10s? That’s what 8s will get you.

Satch used to use .008-.038. He’s moved up.

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I like Rick Beato.  His videos are pretty cool, and I know people who've worked with him that confirm he's actually the guy in the videos and great to work with.  Plus, I appreciate that Rick is a producer and studio owner, which means he was one of the areas of the music business that has just been gutted by the move to digital streaming and the death of the album.  Rather than having one of numerous YouTube channels still lamenting the late death of the old Recording Industry, he managed to find a new way to supplement his income by doing helpful stuff on YouTube and generally just being positive about music. 

Only differences I notice without really, really trying to dissect my sound with string gauges is that I play lead better with light strings but can't chug as well.  Since I play in a southern rock band and not a metal band, I tend to side on ease of soloing rather than needed to play Slayer.  I'm trying to move to .0095s on everything, thought I might get into something like those Dimebag DRs that ar 9-50.  I play Fender and Gibby scale guitars with Floyds and non-locking trems - both floating and dive only - and stop tails.  I hate setting up a floating trem every damn time I change string gauges, but I also hate having to worry about having more than one string gauge set for shows.  

Overall, I heard some differences - actually the lower the gauge got the more boomy it got on those recordings for sure because they were clipping the lower mids on my speakers in the living room.   I can see several possibly confounding variables that may have been involved, but that objectively happened. But then, as they mentioned, you change your attack somewhat when you pick up strings that feel like your going to snap.  The 11s were definitely the darkest. 

But overall, it was pretty negligible to be honest, particularly for someone like me who is playing live far more than recording these days.  The chances of it sounding that much different to the drunks in a 300 capacity bar through god knows what PA is pretty thin.   At the end of the day, I still more into trying to split the difference between wanting and easier time playing lead and needing that resistance on the lower end because I can play fast, palm muted riffs easier on them.  With such minute variations in tone, feel just matters way more to me.  Sonically, there was nothing there I couldn't have dialed in or out with a slight tweak to volume or tone controls.  In fact, I'd argue the acoustics of the rooms I play in make a bigger difference from room to room than the difference between those strings. 

What's funny to me is that so many guitarists will spend hours arguing about string gauge and bottom end, tone woods, tubes, and pickups but then buy a cabinet almost as an afterthought.  This guy is a metal producer, but I think the genre really doesn't matter as far as the point.   Plus, the beauty of reamping is such that you get a much more controlled experiment than you do where you need someone to play the exact same way over and over.   End analysis, your cabinet matters A LOT.

I guess at the end of the day, sure strings make a difference, but whatever role they play in creating, amplifying, and then converting electrons into sound pressure waves is argued about way more than a lot of other aspects of that process that actually make a much bigger difference. 

 

 

Edited by LucSulla
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4 hours ago, LucSulla said:

What's funny to me is that so many guitarists will spend hours arguing about string gauge and bottom end, tone woods, tubes, and pickups but then buy a cabinet almost as an afterthought.  This guy is a metal producer, but I think the genre really doesn't matter as far as the point.   Plus, the beauty of reamping is such that you get a much more controlled experiment than you do where you need someone to play the exact same way over and over.   End analysis, your cabinet matters A LOT.

I guess at the end of the day, sure strings make a difference, but whatever role they play in creating, amplifying, and then converting electrons into sound pressure waves is argued about way more than a lot of other aspects of that process that actually make a much bigger difference. 

 

We were talking about strings, so I didn't think about other critical links in the chain (cabs, cables, microphones, etc.).  I'm not willing to ignore what works best, if it's a relatively minor brick in the wall.  Strings matter!

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33 minutes ago, The Shark said:

We were talking about strings, so I didn't think about other critical links in the chain (cabs, cables, microphones, etc.).  I'm not willing to ignore what works best, if it's a relatively minor brick in the wall.  Strings matter!

I wasn't talking about people here as much as the string debate in general.  I can remember the SRV 13s thing going all the way back to when I first started buying guitar magazines in 1993.  In general, many guitarists for as long as I can remember will agonize and argue about tone vis a vis string gauge and then go buy a cab for no other reason than the logo on the front.  It's a funny little example of how weird humans are to me. 

 And it's not that I don't think strings don't make a difference; they do.  But to me, feel matters way more than tone when it comes to them.  I used to only play Ernie Ball Rock n Roll 10s because the cool local guitar players told me that pure nickel wrap was best and because guitar lore told me 9s were for pussies.  I remember going on up to 11s at some point because I had been playing x number of years, and real guitarists played heavier strings.  I'd tell younger guitarists all about how I only used pure nickel strings.  

The first part of that equation feel apart when I started playing some stuff where I needed to tune the E down to B.  I got into using Heavy Bottom Slinkys to keep things from getting floppy and noticed they really didn't sound all that different for what I was doing.   Regular Slinkys were cheaper than RnRs, so I quit worrying about the nickel thing.  Then at some point in 2014, I ended up with a bunch of Fender 9s.  I can't remember how, but I was unemployed when I first moved back to Austin, and they were free.  I subsequently realized that my leads pretty much sounded the same, and bending was a lot easier.  Gradually, I moved over to 9s.  

On a side note,  now that we've talked about this,  I actually noticed the bottom end thing whilst playing in a country band.  I moved up from 10s to 11s on the tele I had at the time thinking I'd get more twang out of the guitar, but actually noticed it got more muddy.  When I put 10s back on, the twang was more pronounced.  I hadn't thought of that in years, but it absolutely happened.  I've never gone over 10s since in anything that needed to sound chicken-picked. 

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Rhett goes back to his shop and experiments with more sounds (though with less direct A/B comparison):

Maybe it's my shot ears or maybe it's these tiny Dell speakers here at work, but I didn't hear enough difference to matter, especially playing live.

Beato's video was especially timely for me as I was contemplating lightening up as I put the partscaster together.  I'm not playing regularly, so the lighter strings might be better for me these days.  I'll give it another listen at home with better speakers and see if I can tell more difference.

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Looking back, I'm glad I started playing in an area where there wasn't a significant band scene and before there was internet.  I didn't have all these stories of anyone using this gauge or that, I just played what I played without ever really thinking I should look outside my head for suggestions.  By the time I became aware of all the "thicker strings = better tone" stories I'd settled on my preferences.

Edited by cynic
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This has probably been mentioned already as this is a long thread, but whatever, I'm bored:

If you're a bender, play plain strings of the highest gauge that allows you to bend in tune with just enough effort to get there (up a whole step) but not fall short or cause muscle pain or fatigue. "Tone" don't mean shit if your playing is out of tune.

If you're not a bender, play the highest string gauge that doesn't cause debilitating pain in your fingertips.

Everything else is dick-swinging, SRV-wannabe bullshit that makes for marginally entertaining online forum/YouTube video fodder.

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If they played the four string sets in random order in a blindfold test, I don't think I could tell which was which.

 

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I remember back in the early 80s when SRV came to prominence, and there was all kinds of stuff in the magazines about his using 13s.   However, another interview I read with KK Downing and Glenn Tipton, one had 8s and the other a custom 7 set.  At that point, I determined the whole "better tone with bigger strings" was hokum.  They all had great tone (I think Screaming for Vengeance was Priest's latest at that time), though different, so at that point, I just went with 9s because they were most common and least expensive for a teenager spending money.  

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With that much gain in the video, string gauge doesn't matter. When playing heavier strings clean or on an acoustic guitar the tone sounds fuller/louder to me, and heavier strings produce more jangle/twang factor. Feel wise, I like the strings to fight back when I pick'em. I pick aggressively, and that can pull light strings out of tune on the attack. 

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59 minutes ago, jwhitcomb3 said:

When playing heavier strings clean or on an acoustic guitar the tone sounds fuller/louder

+1

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A fuller, fatter tone may not be desirable within a band context.  To be heard, or to cut as they say, requires you fit within a narrow band of the equalization spectrum.   This is often why bedroom tones do not work live.  

 

Edit to add:

 

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Edited by Studio Custom
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34 minutes ago, Studio Custom said:

A fuller, fatter tone may not be desirable within a band context.

I don't think anyone @jwhitcomb3 was talking about just playing in a band, but that said, a thinner, skinnier tone may not be desirable either. It's not a one size fits all issue. Depends on your own situation, your band, what genre is being played, the bands dynamics, and what you want to hear. Irrespective of that clean electric guitar and acoustics sounds better with bigger strings, I think that is universally agreed upon, whether you're playing in a band or not.

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I don`t play clean, so distortion tone is important to me. I try different strings and let the guitar, tone and feel speak to me. With that said, I have mostly settled on 9-42 strings on 25.5 scale guitars and 9.5-44 strings on 24.75 and 25 inch scale guitars. Mostly play D`Addario NYXL`s these days because I hate changing strings and they are bright enough. As far as tone goes, the strings matter, but I feel the pickup, amp and speakers are a bigger factor. That`s just my experience. I do have to say I wish I discovered 9.5-44 strings years ago and thank God they are popular now, many choices!!

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18 hours ago, Studio Custom said:

A fuller, fatter tone may not be desirable within a band context.  To be heard, or to cut as they say, requires you fit within a narrow band of the equalization spectrum.   This is often why bedroom tones do not work live.  

Well, sure, but we were discussing the effect of string gauge on the tone of a guitar, not how to fit a guitar tone into a mix. But if you want to talk about mixing, note that (1) it is generally easier to fit a clean guitar sound into a mix than a distorted guitar, and (2) it is always easier to start with a fat/full tone and thin it down to sit in a mix than it is to beef up a thin tone. And FWIW, I have never, ever, heard of a mix engineer/producer telling a guitarist to change string gauges to make his guitar fit better into a mix.

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Actually, that second video @velorush posted has the best ultimate point, in which Rhett notes that the tonal differences, even if they are there, are negligible enough to easily be EQ'd out and then goes on to say that, since the differences are so small, what really matters is what feels comfortable.   Fighting your string gauge for the sake of "tone" probably doesn't make much sense.  If 9s are comfy, play them.  If you like 11s, play them.   It makes more difference to your hands than anyone's ear.

He does play a lot of clean stuff in that video as well, for all of you Joe Passes on this thread. 

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Well, that was counterintuitive for me.  I heard the light gauge strings as louder and more defined.  When I heard some of the chuggy stuff on the lighter strings I could totally believe the Judas Priest guys used lighter gauge strings.  I would not have guessed that.

I've used 9's in the past but have been using 10-46 for probably 20 years now.  I'm prone to breaking strings, and even after moving to 10's I still break more than anyone I know.  I recently bought 3 sets of 11-49's for my Gretsch Malcolm Young trying to be more "authentic".  It's a pretty dark guitar anyway, so I thought when I restrung it with the 11's it would be brighter (new strings) and louder (bigger strings) but now I wonder.

Edited by tommy p
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Ok, I think the solution is that Joe @Studio Custom should string up two guitars, one a 22 fret, and the other a 24 fret guitar, each with 9-42, 10-46 and 11-49 sets, record a half dozen or so licks with each string set on each guitar using the neck pickup over backing tracks, comparing two at a time,  the challenge being for us to determine which strings are being played, and try to determine if they being played on the 22 or 24 fret guitar.

:ph34r:

Edited by gtrdaddy
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There is a story of BB King Asking Billy Gibbons what gauge strings he was using. Billy said 10’s (I think) BB looked at him and said “Son Your Working to Hard” so Billy switched to lighter gauge strings. They both sound pretty good to me!!

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13 minutes ago, Dutchman said:

There is a story of BB King Asking Billy Gibbons what gauge strings he was using. Billy said 10’s (I think) BB looked at him and said “Son Your Working to Hard” so Billy switched to lighter gauge strings. They both sound pretty good to me!!

True story.

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10s or 11s, dont be a wuss

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On 1/26/2020 at 12:08 PM, killerteddybear said:

Years ago I experimented with bass strings. I'd been a Rotosound Swing Bass fan for years - these are stainless steel and are quite bright sounding.
Anyway, I switched to nickel strings (forget the brand) and immediately noticed more fundamental and volume. Haven't used Rotosounds since.

 

Wait a minute - you can CHANGE bass strings? I thought you just had to buy a new bass lol.

I assembled a P-bass and installed a set of Steve Harris flatwounds - the low E is .110 and I swear you could pull a car with it.  He must have bionic hands to play those strings like he does.

I prefer worn strings that thud on a bass; I can always add a little treble EQ if I need a little edge.  My Stingray 5 is just about perfect for what I like to hear in a bass.

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Sheeee-iiitttt. Y'all are going about it all wrong. If yer guitar sounds shitty, change the guitar, then the amp, then the pedals and then the cables. Going to all that trouble changing strings to solve a problem that can be fixed with all new gear. FFS. Use yer heads.

Edited by diablo175
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" I'm trying to move to .0095s on everything, "

thats pretty much where I am now. My G&L ASAT feels a bit rubbery with them, but I'm getting used to them. Everything else feels just right. perfect cross between 9s and 10s.

"I do have to say I wish I discovered 9.5-44 strings years ago and thank God they are popular now, many choices!!"

I actually find the options fairly limited for these. Pretty much just D'Addario or EB. I guess PRS makes some? - but I'm not sure they're worth the price? anyone?

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