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Generally speaking is there a preferred string gauge for different styles of music?

E.g. Will the fingerpicking folk player choose one gauge and the rock lead guitarist another gauge, how about the blues rhythm guitarist?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Generally, certainly from my own experience, string gauge is up to a player's preference, using what they think gives either the best tone, or is easier to play. However, despite this, various trends and consistencies have emerged between string gauges and musical style. I've listed some examples of this below;

Rock: more often than not you will find that rockier guitarists that tend to solo a bit more favour either 9's or 10's; the strings are easier to manipulate and bend in solos. Beyond 10's strings require so much more work to bend fully. I have even known of people using 8's, which made for a ridiculously light playing experience, you could hardly feel the strings at all.

Metal/Heavy Metal: As Dr. Mayhem mentioned, usually metal players will utilise heavier gauges (12-13) in order to tune down to C or D while the strings still retain good playing tension. Lower tunings give a much darker sound, as well as the higher string gauge giving what players call a 'phatter' tone, which has the advantage of sounding a lot broader when overdriven.

Jazz: jazz guitarists tend to use, again, higher gauge strings, for the 'phatter' tone, that sounds smoother when played clean.

Blues: Particularly early blues acoustic guitarists usually used very heavy strings. An example of this was Leadbelly, 'the king of the 12 string guitar.' He loaded his guitar with a very heavy set of strings, a tuned down to either open C or D, which gave his guitar playing a very piano-like sound, with the guitar resonating so much some describe it as 'roaring.'

Despite these examples, some inconsistencies between genres occur. Johnny Marr and Peter Buck, both jangle-meisters and both Rickenbacker users, use very different strings. Marr uses D'addario 10's I think I read in an interview somewhere, and Buck famously uses a Dean Markly set of custom 13's (!).

Kurt Cobain also reputedly used piano strings on his guitar, for overdriven heaviness presumably.

But, again, strings are personal preferences, with a player often using whatever strings sound best and are easier to play to them.

Sidenote: there is a very interesting deleted scene to the documentary 'It Might Get Loud,' a film I recommend to everybody. It covers Jack White, Jimmy Page, and The Edge all discussing their string stories, as well as other influential guitarists habits.

Hope this helped!

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It's worth noting that there's the common idea that larger strings give a better sound, which is usually accepted without much questions. However Hendrix, BB King, Billy Gibbons, and many other famous guitarists with sought after sounds are known to play very light strings (below .09) –  STW Jun 19 at 20:08

There is a yes to this question and a no..

Many will say it is all personal preference, while that is partially true most musicians in specific genres have the same preference for strings.

Each different gauge of string can bring a completely different tonal quality to the music you play. Some gauges come with certain benefits for different music. You will see that many guitarists that play in drop tuning will often use a heavier gauge. Like my self, I have a guitar that is specifically for drop tuning and I use .012, .016, .024, .032, .044, and .056. The benefit that provides is not having the feeling of having loose strings.

To answer your question there is, but it mostly depends on the artist playing

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I think it has more to do with the type of guitar being played than the genre of music. Generally, acoustic steel-string guitars and hollow-bodied archtop electric guitars produce a stronger tone with heavier strings. With solid-body electric guitars, the difference in tone between heavy strings and light strings is not as pronounced, but it still makes a difference.

I would observe that, across different genres, electric guitarists who play strictly rhythm guitar tend to use heavier strings, whereas lighter strings are prefered by guitarists whose style includes melodic playing with a lot of string bending.

But you can find many exceptions to this rule among rhythm and lead guitar players because it is up to a player's individual preference and playing technique.

It is generally also accepted that heavier gauges of strings will enable a guitar to stay in tune better than lighter gauges, so again it comes down to playing style--do you need to do a lot of heavy strumming, or delicate and expressive melodic playing, and how often are you willing to put up with the need to retune on stage?

Acoustic guitarists who play unamplified need heavy strings to produce adequate volume. This was a more important issue before the 1980s when there was no practical way to use a pickup in an acoustic guitar, and an acoustic guitarist playing with an electric band on a concert stage could only hope to have a microphone in front of his acoustic guitar. Since that time, there are now many good acoustic guitars that come with various pickup systems already installed, and many acoustic guitarists have gone to lighter strings because they are easier to play and the on-board pickup and preamp system compensates for not having heavy gauge strings.

However, string gauge on any guitar has an impact on tone, so assuming that matters of acoustic volume and amplification are all equal, guitarists select a certain gauge based on the tone they want to create.

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As Dr. Mayhem points out, there is a wide variety. As he also points out, some blues player use 010s and 011s, and some tune down half a step, to get a certain sound. Apparently SRV used 013s (ref: String Myths Part 1, Premier Guitar, July 2010) and frequently tuned down half a step.

You might also find some country players prefer 009s, or perhaps even thinner, because of some of the extensive string bending they do. I thought Jerry Donahue was one of them, but according to his FAQ he uses a hybrid 010-set (source), which shows you that there's quite some variation going on.

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Not really- it all comes down to personal preference. That said, in some metal genres, downtuning is popular, either just the low string, or the whole guitar, so thicker guages do make this simpler.

Having a thicker gauge gives a stronger sound, in many cases, but may not be as fast - you see a lot of blues guitarists using 10s and 11s, whereas metal guitarists may be more on the 9s and 10s with a thick low E downtuned to a D or C.

Jazz seems to attract slightly thicker strings as well - providing a mellower, rounder sound - but agian, there is a wide variety.

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