Is there a reason you can have different tensions strings with the same gauge on a classic guitar but electric strings only ever seem to differ on gauge?

It would seem an interesting proposal to have slinky strings with a higher than normal tension on an electric. I wonder if there is some physical restriction that prevents it. I cannot think that string manufacterers would not have done it yet if possible.

  • Acoustic nylon strings are generally measured by tension but acoustic steel strings (or bronze etc.j are measured in gauges like electric strings. Dec 26, 2021 at 23:00

2 Answers 2


Is there a reason you can have different tensions strings with the same gauge on a classic guitar but electric strings only ever seem to differ on gauge?

I'm not sure this is true. E.g. D'Addario provides string gauges for nylon strings.

Most classical guitars have more standardized scale length, and use of E-standard tuning very much dominates for classical guitars. Electric guitars vary more both in scale length (even the two traditional standards: Gibson and Fender vary in length), and electric guitarists more often use other tunings.

Mersenne laws state that string tension is proportional to squares of frequency and string length. Changing the tuning or scale changes tension. Gauges are therefore more informative for electrical guitar strings.

Note also that strings of the same gauge from various manufacturers may slightly differ in density, so their tensions would vary a bit as well.

Other than that various manufacturers follow their own traditions and marketing strategies.


If you hold tuning and scale length constant, then the string's tension is determined by the weight of the string. You can change the weight of the string by changing the thickness (gauge), construction (roundwound, flatwound, plain wire), or material. This is true on both acoustic and electric guitar, so the premise of the question is not quite right- we could have roundwound and flatwound electric guitar strings which both have the same gauge but different tension. You could also have a set of nickel wound strings and steel wound strings with the same construction, but again have different tensions, because the nickel strings will be heavier.

Acoustic guitar strings can have more difference in tension within the same gauge, however, because there are more materials which a string could be made out of. Electric guitar strings have to be made out of ferromagnetic metal (or else they won't work with electric pickups). Acoustic guitars can use nylon or gut, which is far lighter than steel or nickel.

So, why are electric guitar strings sold by gauge? It would make sense to sell strings by tension, but tension depends on the end user's tuning and scale length. And actually, these strings are sold by tension, in a way- nearly every set will say "light", "medium", or something similar on the packaging. But these are just the manufacturer's opinions, so guitarists look for gauge instead.

Overall, gauge is a fairly good indicator of an electric guitar string's tension. They're all made out of ferromagnetic metals, and they are generally roundwound for large strings and plain for small strings. Because of this. the variance of tension between two sets of 48's will be fairly small, and the guitarists that care about this difference will just try a few sets of strings and find their favorite.

And lastly, we have to ask, why do we want "slinky" strings with higher tension? The easiest way to get higher tension is to use a thicker, heavier string. There are some guitarists that hate the feel of a thick string under their fingers, but the easiest solution is just for them to get used to it, rather than engineering a string that feels like something it's not. The other, more important issue is that thicker strings are generally stiffer, which is generally bad for a few reasons (mostly, it sounds a bit worse). This is a problem that engineers do work on- that's the whole reason we have wound strings in the first place! If stiffness wasn't a concern, we'd have every string be a plain string.

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