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I just got a new Fender Strat Mini. I have super weak fingers. Is it possible to replace the strings with some lighter-weight while retaining a good sound for blues?

What repercussions does using super light strings have?

Really I just miss the feel of nylon classical guitar strings, which I'm used to. Can I get some strings for the electric that have nylon inside or feel like nylon?

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There are "silent" nylon-string guitars like Yamaha SLG, you may want to check one of those. Just another option. They use piezo pickups. –  n.m. Dec 31 '13 at 16:21

11 Answers 11

ZZ Top's guitarist Billy Gibbons uses .007 strings, so it's certainly possible to get a good blues tone from light strings. Because lighter strings mean less energy going into the pickups, you'll need to boost the signal a bit with a pedal before going into any kind of distortion/overdrive effects.

The main problem with very light strings is that because they're so responsive, it's easy to bend them accidentally. You need a very precise technique to play an accurate chord with light strings. When playing chords, most beginner -> intermediate players will find themselves nudging one string enough to stray badly from the note they want, resulting in some pretty horrible sounds.

That responsiveness, of course, is also an advantage in the hands of a master. With practice, you can keep the pitch under control, and have precise control over bends which will make the guitar sing.

The lightest strings are so responsive that they even increase audibly in pitch if you push hard into the fretboard. Fingering such that the string touches the fret gets the right note. Pushing until the string touches the fretboard stretches the string a bit more and raises the pitch.

For these reasons, I would recommend beginners not go as light as possible. A .009 set is as light as I would recommend (and is likely to be what you have). If you intend to become a bend master, then by all means go lighter when you feel in good control of 0.009s.

Even with very weak fingers, it should not be difficult to fret notes. I wonder whether your guitar's action is too high. This is the distance between the string and the fretboard when not being touched. It should be just high enough that a plucked string won't hit the frets as it vibrates. If it's too high, fingering, especially near the nut, is too difficult. Action can be adjusted by a guitar tech. A high action can really hold you back, so get it fixed.

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I'm not sure "responsive" is the word you're looking for. Perhaps "flexible" is a better term to describe a light string's tendency to bend easily when fretted. –  the Tin Man Nov 7 at 23:14

I've never heard of nylon core strings except on classical guitars. I don't know if the G, B and high E strings can be made from anything other then metal (for the pickups to work). I encourage to use whichever gauge you feel comfortable with. The lightest gauge that is widely available in stores is 0.008 (for the high E string) which isn't that lighter than the standard 0.009. If you're worried about tone, usually thinner strings sustain less and sound brighter but it's nothing you can't override with some eq, filtering and effects. If you still find those a bit too stiff, you can lower your tuning a little or even make a custom set out of single strings. For example d'Addario goes all the way down to 0.007. Here's a listing of their plain steel string gauges: http://daddario.com/DADProductDetail.Page?ActiveID=3769&productid=46&productname=Plain_Steel_Singles

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Just to add to @Anthony's answer, from my experience, lighter strings are easier to play (usually they are more solo-ist strings).

I have super weak fingers.

This is not an issue. I don't think every single one that starts playing guitar has super strong fingers. They get stronger with practice. I can understand that you've gotten used to nylon classical strings, most likely because you've been playing classical guitar for some time.

The same will happen with the strings of the electric guitar you got. At first your fingers will hurt but eventually you'll get used to them. Just keep practicing.

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To add to your addition, Even Steve Vai uses light gague strings when he's not played in a while, then as his fingers get closer to coping he'll up the gague to improve the tone. It's like the reeds on a sax, you start with easier to play and work your way up –  Alexander Troup May 6 at 10:54

The coiled pickups of any kind will not work with non magnetic (nylon, etc) strings. This is already not about music, this is about physics. Some other types like piezoelectric may work.

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Piezo will work because they pick up the vibration of the wood top or bridge, but that's an entirely different sound than a metal string inducing a current in a standard pickup. –  the Tin Man Dec 17 '13 at 4:36

Bear in mind, too, that unwound steel strings respond far better to bending than nylon strings - i.e. you get more of a pitch change for a certain amount of stretching. This is pretty important for blues. I guess I'm saying, it goes with the territory so it would be good to get used to it. I'd say yes, go with super light to start and maybe try a .009/.011/... once your fingers get used to it.

[ The difference in response to bending (between nylon and steel, or between different strings in the same set) has to do with how much a string is stretched to bring it into tune - the more it's stretched already, the less relative effect additional stretching has on tension, and thus on the note.]

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Well keep in mind that when you press a light gauge string down really hard, it actually stretches, creating a higher pitch. So you have to press ultra light!

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I have not tried these, but I heard that silk and steel guitar strings are like nylon. Take a look for yourself though. Look at some reviews to see if it is what you are looking for. Your guitar might also need a truss rod adjustment if you are taking a big string gauge change.

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Personally, I find nylon strings painful after having played steel-string acoustic and electric for years. I think it's what we're used to, and that we can get used to pretty much anything if we want to bad enough.

As for alternative strings for an electric guitar, any string that can disturb the magnetic field generated by the pickup's magnet, and induce a current in the windings could be used, however the question at that point is whether the string and pickup combination would sound anything like you expect.

As another answer says, Billy Gibbons uses .007, but he also has a bank of graphic equalizers and frequency analyzers which let him adjust the tonal response of his pickups and strings to push them back towards a beefier sound. If you watch him play, he has a wide range of guitars available to him, from Telecasters to Les Pauls, but they all sound very much alike, which is impossible normally, since their bodies, necks and pickups are so different, but the electronics adjust their output to match his famous "Pearly Gates" Les Paul sound. It's a very high-tech solution that most of us can't afford, though a decent 10-band equalizer can help. (You'd really need one for each guitar you use to do it right.) In Gibbons' situation, this solution works nicely; I saw him playing live a couple years ago, and he's got an amazing sound.

Players like Stevie Ray Vaughn, opt for heavy gauge strings, because the more metal moving through the magnetic field of the pickup, the fatter and more powerful the guitar signal. Various blends of nickel and iron in the metal of the string affects the overall sound output too, but it's the gauge that makes the bigger difference, so the lower the gauge, the less metal and the less output which translates to a thinner sound.

I switched all my guitars to .010s after having used .009s for years. The first couple weeks were weird feeling, but now, after a couple months, they feel pretty normal. My fingers look all gnarly with the giant muscles they now sport... nah... not really... my finger tips were a little sore for a couple days, but everything feels fine and I like the added "beef" I get in the sound of my pickups.

So, to reiterate:

  • Nylon is out because it's not magnetic.
  • I doubt you'll find an acceptable sound from any sort of "silk and steel" strings because they're not going to disturb the magnetic field that much.
  • The lighter the gauge, the less output and subsequently, your guitar will have reduced bass and mids.

It's physics you can counter using some electronics, but I'd really recommend sticking on .009s and let your fingers adjust.

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Since you are missing the nylon Strings, I suspect your major problem is pain on your finger tips, rather than lack of Strength, or experiencing finger muscle fatigue. Maybe changing to a lighter gauge should not be the first thing you try.

It's quite normal to feel pain on your finger tips, when you are switching from nylon to Steel Strings. They are metallic and narrower than the nylon equivalent, so you'll feel them 'cutting' into your finger tips. If this is the case, you should give your fingers some time to adapt

Also, make sure to

  1. Setup your guitar properly. Make sure you have the right action, no buzzing etc
  2. Use a new set of strings. Old rusty Strings will hurt more !
  3. Your technique is right. You moved to a narrower neck, narrower Strings, maybe playing with a pick for the first time etc. Is your hand/finger positions right ?

Of course moving to lighter gauge strings is something you should do, if that's what makes you feel comfortable. Theoretically, you can make your sound and compensate the lighter gauge, by adjusting your playing style, using a heavier pick, messing with your amp and effects etc. But the sound cannot always be measured objectively and many people will disagree on that last sentence. But even if this is the case, you could learn with a light gauge, then move up to a heavier one, when you're ready.

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Can I get some strings for the electric that have nylon inside or feel like nylon?

You could try coated strings like Elixir or DR.

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Not sure how many commentators use ultra lights, but tone, playability, etc. are not diminished by ultra lights. Both Hendrix and Page used rubber band light gauge and their tone is second to who?

I always recommend the lightest gauge because strength is not achieved by string gauge, its achieved by lengthening the time your finger is fretting the string. For example, playing scales real slow lengthens the fret time and builds strength. Recall when you first fretted bar chords, was it painful? A chord requires more time flexing your finger muscle and viola, muscle building in the digits.

Its probably wise to start at around 9's but if love ultra lights DO NOT forego your desires based on myth.

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