Strings 101 - The Differences Between Electric Guitar String Gauges
Posted by Rothko and Frost on June 02, 2014
Strings are hugely important for your sound as choosing the right string can help sculpt your tone and make your playing experience far more rewarding. Strings come in a wide variety of thicknesses and each thickness (gauge) set offers its own advantages and disadvantages.
The term gauge refers specifically to the thickness of the highest and thinnest E string (omitting the decimal places), with the other five strings each slightly thicker than the last.
Heavier (thicker) gauged strings tend to be harder to play due to the greater amount of force that is required to fret them as well as the fact that they need a higher action to avoid fret buzz. However, they generate a fuller sound and richer tone than thinner gauged strings, as well as producing more volume and sustain.
Higher gauged strings are also more suited to guitars that need to be downtuned (lowered in pitch) as they still retain tension and prevent fret buzz under such conditions.
Lighter gauge strings, in contrast, are much easier to play and fret but are more prone to snap under certain playing conditions, as well as not being suitable for downtuning due to the likelihood of fret buzz. Beginners and intermediate players tend to play super light gauge strings due to their ease of use.
Medium and mixed gauge strings (such as hybrids or thin topped, heavy bottomed strings) are a nice middle ground between heavy and light gauge strings and offer a great ratio of tone to playability. One aspect to note is that some thicknesses of strings can vary marginally between string brands (see string brands link).
Typical gauges for string sets are as follows:
Extra super light gauge strings (8s): .008 (E); .010 (B); .015 (G); .021 (D); .030 (A); .038 (E)
Super light gauge strings (9s): .009 (E); .011 (B); .016 (G); .024 (D); .032 (A); .042 (E)
Light gauge strings (10s): .010 (E); .013 (B); .017 (G); .026 (D); .036 (A); .046 (E)
Medium gauge strings (11s): .011 (E); .014 (B); .018 (G); .028 (D); .038 (A); .049 (E)
Heavy gauge strings (12s): .012 (E); .016 (B); .020 (G); .032 (D); .042 (A); .054 (E)