Choosing String Gauge

“What string gauge should I use for Drop F on a baritone seven string?”

“Hey guys I want to tune to C Standard on my Les Paul and I’m not sure which strings I should use.”

“Can I tune my six string like an eight?”

“How to djent?”

These are questions asked on our forum, in music stores, and to that one friend who passed Calculus III literally every day. String gauge questions are so eminent that they’ve become a running joke in guitarist communities. I understand why it’s frequently asked, though. While a good guitarist should be able to adapt to different guitars and strings, having proper tension is hugely important to both the feel and tone of an instrument. As part of a proper setup, string gauge can make or break a guitarist’s playing experience. These are some quick ways to figure out what tuning will work for you!

What Gauge Do You Like In Standard?

A great benchmark is what gauge you like to use in standard at 25.5” scale length, because this is common on many guitars. Most people prefer 9s or 10s. Common gauges for 9s, for example are 9-42 and 9-46. If you want a more balanced feel, a low 42 is a good idea, and if you ever use Drop D or simply play a lot of heavy rhythms, 9-46 is a good choice. The idea is that you want to maintain the feel of the strings you like in standard tuning. So you increase gauge when tuning down, or when shortening the scale length. If you use 9-42 on a Stratocaster, consider 10-46 on a Les Paul.

Tension calculators are a fantastic tool as well. For example, you can see that on a normal set of D’addario strings, a high .009” E draws 13.14 lbs of tension on a 25.5” scale guitar. You can then choose what note you want to tune to, and adjust your gauge accordingly. For example, if you want to tune to Drop B and like 9s in standard, you can see that a 12 pulls 13.88 lbs of tension, so a good place to start would be looking for sets with a high .012”.

Let me give you a breakdown of my thought process for an example. I like to use 9-46 in standard at 25.5” because I like easy bends and sometimes play in Drop D. So for Eb/Drop Db I use 10-52. Drop C is a bit iffy for me because I find 10-52 to be a bit light, and 11-56 to be a bit heavy on the top end. So I like to use 10.5s at 25.5”, 10s at 26.5” (Like Ibanez RGDs for example), and 11s at 25” (like on a PRS).

How Low Can You Go?

The short version is, as low as you want to! It’s important to remember that we talk about what is “optimal,” not what is possible. Some of the greatest metal albums of all time have been recorded on stock Les Pauls tuned down to B, such as Carcass’ classic, Heartwork. We are the equivalent of grease monkeys talking about their mufflers (I think that’s a car part?). We literally do not care at all, but for a technician, it is a really important thing to consider.

Scale length has a huge effect on tone, and I won’t get into that here, but I will go into brief detail on some of the common pitfalls of tuning down without a baritone scale length. As you begin to use larger strings, you begin to occupy a different sonic landscape. The short version is that heavier strings (especially the low strings) not only begin to take on a very odd midrange quality, but also vibrate differently which can inhibit clarity. These things are generally considered undesirable, and just don’t sound very much like a guitar anymore (one of the many reasons a guitar sounds different from a bass). The reason baritones are useful for downtuning is that they gain additional clarity from the extra scale length which offsets the effect of heavier strings, and also allows you to downtune without using strings that are too heavy. However, it is also personal preference at the end of the day. This “odd” sound can be thick sounding and great for doom and sludge metal! Conversely, tuning very low with light gauge strings can have interesting results as well, if you’re willing to constantly retune.

What’s a Progressive Tension Set?

Progressive Tension is how we like to describe StringDrop.

StringDrop is a project that we’ve spent the last year meticulously designing and working to create a superior guitar string and I can say in the most humble way possible, that we are extremely satisfied with the results.

Here, let’s break down the benefits of our progressive tension strings:

-Lower strings are tighter, and don’t behave like spaghetti.

-You don’t have to worry about low strings going out of tune when you get aggressive with your playing.

-Higher strings are easier to bend.

-They feel more ergonomic by replicating the effects of fanned frets/multiscale guitars.  The strings you’re using right now likely have a tighter D or A string than the low E, which makes no sense unless you’re a massive corporation churning out strings and only being concerned about profits.

As you can see, progressive tension solves the age old dilemma of having to choose between easy bending or lower strings that don’t feel like spaghetti.  Woohoo!

If you are ready to being your journey to superior guitar tone and better tension, head over to the StringDrop page and get started!

We have a lot more articles you can find here if you’d like to check them out! We are also authorized dealers for some of the biggest and best brands and can get you a good deal on guitars great for whatever tuning or genre you play!

This article was written by Kyle Karich, our editor located in Florida.

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