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Apologies if this question has been answered elsewhere, but before I commit to getting my guitars set-up, I was wondering if anyone has had any trouble using 9–42 tuned down a half-step (I currently use 10's tuned down a half-step). I have a light-touch and have noticed that some players prefer lighter strings (at least on the high-end, like Yngwie).

If it helps, the specific guitars are a Gibson Les Paul Custom and an ESP USA Eclipse.

A more general question is as follows: is there a rule/guideline on how low strings can go? Obviously, tuning 9's down to B would not be optimal, but how low can/should they go?

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    Very much personal choice. There can be no absolute answer. I have .008s in standard tuning - have for decades - and no-one who's played my guitars like them. Go as far as you like, but no further.
    – Tim
    Nov 9, 2020 at 18:07
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    … until they go "thu-bubbidibubedeh-bub" against the fretboard, or "Clop" against a pickup magnet.. (sorry;)
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 9, 2020 at 18:56

3 Answers 3

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There are two limiting factors:

  • the lower string tension the more likely they are to buzz on the frets. You can:
    • raise action
    • play lighter, using a softer pick
    • ignore/tolerate it
  • the lower the string tension the more intonation problems due to fretting and plucking there are. You can:
    • play lighter, using a softer pick
    • fret lightly and lower the action (see the contradiction?)
    • use Evertune bridge (that's expensive option, and you may want to think twice before installing it in expensive Gibson)
    • ignore/tolerate it

There is no hard limit, and it depends much on your preferences. 9s are quite thin already, and Gibson scale length is short so the issues may appear already when you tune a whole step down. I can't give you a better advice than to try it by yourself.

Also note that baritone and extended range guitars typically have longer scale for a reason. Use string tension calculators (there are plenty in the web) to get an idea what string gauges and scale length you may need.

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Eddie Van Halen used 9s tuned down a half-step on guitars with a 25 1/2" scale length. Your Les Paul has a 24 3/4" scale length so they'd be slightly less tight than what Eddie was playing, but it may work okay if you have a light enough touch that your picking doesn't make your chords go sharp.

As has been said, it is all personal preference. Rick Beato (a YouTube teacher) plays 8s on all his guitars (including Les Paul scale length guitars) and it works for him. See what you like.

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Dude, to tune down really low B, C, you would definitely need to go to a thicker gauge string, 10's(heavy), 11's even. I play 9-46 on my ESP guitars and the lowest tuning I'd go down to is open D tuning, any lower and the strings get flimsy and I get a lot of buzzing too, when I fret a note. If I was to tune down to B or C, I'd have to change the whole setup on my guitar, probably a truss rod adjustment, intonation adjustment, string height adjustment, and maybe some filing on the nut to accomadate thicker strings. There's a lot to changing string gauge on a guitar, a lot of adjustment to reduce noise, buzzing frets, and neck relief. If you know how to adjust your guitar for thicker strings, more power to ya, but if you don't, take it in to your local music store, have a tech look at it, he/she can tell you what you would need to do to adjust string gauges. I wish I could look at your guitars, give you a more thorough analysis. Good luck!!

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