To Sting Or Not To Sting?

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade October 2001

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Choosing a string gauge for your guitar to accommodates your needs can be very difficult. In Guitar World Acoustic magazine, Larry Sandberg gives a few simple pointers to help you decide on what you want out of your strings. Sandberg mentions, "The desire to make you guitar easier to play is a lousy reason to change string gauge." I agree, there are many factors to think about besides the "feel" your new set will provide. When installing new strings to a guitar, you should focus on all the factors that come into place before deciding on the right gauge.

Sandberg first mentions that a "lighter" set of strings will give you an easier feel on the neck, with much less tension of what "heavier" strings have to offer. So this means that if there is a concern about the guitar neck getting warped one should choose a lighter set. Sandberg adds, "Light gauge strings tug on the bridge of a typical-sized guitar with about 125 pounds worth of tension."

This could also add up to more or less pressure depending on you gauge. So as you decide on the right gauge, it is wise to consider how much tension your guitar can handle, still you have to consider on how this will affect your sound.

The sound of a guitar is deeply altered by the strings that it wears. Sandberg adds by mentioning that a thicker set of strings will be harder to pluck, but because of their thickness and extra energy needed to produce their sound, they ring out on the guitar longer and with a fuller sound. In other words, you will achieve a higher amount of tone and resonance from a thicker set. This is why many people agree that the tone and sound of a thicker set is better than the one acquired from a lighter set.

In the case of a guitar with a smaller body, a thicker set of strings will not be necessary to produce sound, this is because it takes less energy from the strings to get the smaller body vibrating. Once you've considered the vibration of the body, you should consider how both light and heavy strings act when they are plucked on. A heavier set will tend to have a reduced range of motion, the lighter sets will ring out and vibrate in a larger range. According to Sandberg, "This means that lighter string are more likely to buzz or slap against the fret, which cuts down on sustain." Sandberg gives us even more to consider about the way different strings feel. The feel of the strings will be different as you pluck them, a lighter set of strings is normally the best choice for those who prefer to finger-pick, and a medium set allows you to use a pick and to receive a good response from the strings with our the pick getting caught in between the strings. So this means that a thicker set may be too tight for you to finger or for the pick to pluck.

Tension, playability, tone, sound, behavior, and feel, are all factors that you should take into consideration. I agree with Sandberg, if you want to have a guitar that is easier to play, you must first think about all you options. If you like a thicker tone, be sure for the challenge of playing strings under a considerable amount of tension, and if you like to play with ease, be ready to sacrifice some of your time in exchange. you should be willing to experiment with the different gauges and brands until you find the happy medium between tone and feel. Many people who have played for a long time will tell you that to find the right set might be a struggle that takes time and patience. In the end you should go with what you feel is right for you, because no two players have the same needs, and again keep in mind that, "The desire to make your guitar easier to play is a lousy reason to change strings."