As asked in the question, also a bonus question; how does the gauge of a guitar affect the tension of the strings?

  • Where did you read that distinction? If it was in a guitar's specs it probably only describes the factory string set and has nothing to do with the actual guitar. Though changing string gauge can mean that you'd have to set it up from scratch, so maybe it's not completely irrelevant.
    – user13400
    Sep 17, 2014 at 16:55

3 Answers 3


Strings gauged at 0.011 and 0.012 differ in diameter by 0.001 inches.

Strings for guitar are usually sold in sets and named after the lightest string in the set, so the implication is that, in a set of "elevens", all the strings will be thinner than the corresponding strings in a set of "twelves". Different manufacturers have different combinations with names such as slinky, light, medium, heavy, etc. The gauges of the other strings will differ from one brand to another.

Gauge and tension have no relationship until you bring frequency into the picture. Assuming scale length and material (nickel-plated steel, for example) are constant, a string of heavier gauge at the same tension as a string of lighter gauge will produce a lower frequency. So, all other things being equal, if you use a set of heavier strings, you will put more tension on your guitar to bring it to standard tuning.

You may find this article interesting: http://www.daddario.com/DAstringtensionguide.Page

  • Slight addition: Flatwound strings will need even more tension than halfround or roundwound strings of the same gauge. Their unit weight is higher, thus the tension to achieve a certain pitch must be higher.
    – user13400
    Sep 17, 2014 at 17:01

In 'guitarist' rather than 'physics' terms & assuming the same guitar/string type/tuning in each case...

A set of 11s is easier to play than a set of 12s, but not by much. The extremes of 8s up to 14s would really show you the difference in playability & how easy it is to bend a note. By the time you're up to 14s, you are really in 'Do I have the strength to hold this chord down?' territory.

8s or 9s would lend themselves to 'fast-fingers & heavy styles, as you would need a high gain amp to make them sound any good at all.

By the time you're getting up to 11s, the top end is going to start sounding good with less gain/distortion - & as a personal preference I use 'Skinny Top Heavy Bottom' which start at 10, but then increasingly over-emphasises the gauges of the lower strings to keep them tight & crisp too, the low E being a 52 rather than the standard 46.

Ultimately, no-one can tell you what gauge to use, you have to try them & see - but one important thing to bear in mind is that if you swap string gauge, increasing or reducing overall tension on the neck, the neck itself will need adjustment to keep it straight; not a job for a beginner.


I can only guess that you mean .011 and .012 gauge strings, as often found as the top E on guitars.The numbers refer to the diameter in thousandths of an inch - 11 thou and 12 thou. For the same speaking length, and same material, .012 string will be tighter, making it slightly harder to press down or bend. The sound will be a little richer, as it's moving a bit more air, or presenting a bigger magnetic field in the case of guitars with pick ups.An estimate would be about 10% tighter.

  • Will this change the pitch of the E note? Meaning to say, will a tighter gauge make the E more sharp than flat? @tim
    – Nick
    Sep 17, 2014 at 16:44
  • 2
    Any string (within reason) can be tuned to that E note. I use .008, others use .014. The string is tuned to make exactly the note E, with whatever tension is needed produced by tightening the machine head till it plays an E. That's why light gauge strings (like my .008) are not as tight as, say, your .012.
    – Tim
    Sep 17, 2014 at 16:49
  • I feel like Mr. Mottola describes the relation between pitch, tension and unit weight (and therefore also gauge) quite well. Just if you'd like some further reading.
    – user13400
    Sep 17, 2014 at 16:51
  • @tim I'm sorry but I still do not get what you're trying to bring across
    – Nick
    Sep 17, 2014 at 16:52
  • @Nick - in simple terms, to tune a string that is not as thick to the same note that a thicker one is tuned to, you don't need to wind it up with as much tension. This is why, as you go from top string to the B, the B string is thicker, so it won't be too floppy or as loose as it would if you put a top string in its place. There is no such thing as a TIGHTER gauge of string.
    – Tim
    Sep 17, 2014 at 17:25

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