I usually use the lightest gauge d'Addario's. And I've been thinking about trying out slinky 10 gauge strings on my guitar.

I understand the differences in sound and playability about installing thicker strings, and I've heard about heavier strings needing the guitar to be readjusted. Will this small difference in gauge force me to take the guitar to a workshop to get it adjusted to such strings or is the difference between 9's and 10's insignificant?

I would like to try out a thicker gauge without having to have a new guitar set up. Where I live it's really expensive, and the music shops are lousy, to be honest.

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Upgrading to a slightly heavier string gauge (as you have proposed) will not always necessitate a new set up. Upgrading to a much heaver gauge will increase the likelihood that adjustments will be needed.

There are two main things to look for when going to a heavier gauge string.

First, heavier strings will result in more tension on the neck and could cause the neck to bow a little more. If that were to happen, tightening the truss rod very slightly by turning it clockwise would compensate for the added string tension. You won't know how the new strings will affect the amount of relief (height of strings above frets in center of fretboard) until you have tuned the new strings to pitch. If you do decide to tighten the truss rod, loosen the strings a little before tightening. Most likely, going from .09s to .10's will not necessitate a truss rod adjustment (or only a tiny bit if at all).

Second, heavier strings have a larger diameter and may not seat properly in the string slots on the nut. Most guitars with factory nuts have the string slots cut fairly wide to accommodate a range of different string gauges, so most likely this will not be an issue. Again if you were to go significantly heavier, it might be necessary to enlarge the width of the string slots in your nut. That is a process that requires a special set of files and some expertise. If you get the slot too wide or make it deeper, it could have a negative impact on your tone or result in rattling or buzzing due to the string being loose in the slot. You probably won't have to worry about the string slot size to go from .09s to .10s.

If you had an adjustable bridge you could check the intonation after changing to heavier strings but that is a do it yourself adjustment. If you can change your own strings, you can adjust the intonation. The slight change you proposed should have a negligible effect on intonation so an adjustment will probably not be needed there either.

I think you will be just fine with no adjustments at all. Try it and see.

I expect the intonation will be a little off, which is easily fixed on hardtail electrics with patience, an electronic tuner and a screwdriver. You probably wouldn't notice it much and can go a while without doing so. And, trust someone who knows, don't adjust the bridge while the string is under tension. I can show you the scrapes in the metal on some of mine.

The other parts that would be involved with a setup, including bridge height and truss rod adjustment, should not be necessary. Most of it isn't too hard, and bigger manufacturers have documentation online on how to make the most of your instrument. While people make truss rod adjustment scarier than it really is, I would caution you to be patient when adjusting the truss rod, go slow, and if in doubt or at all uncomfortable, find a trusted guitar repair professional.

You may well be alright, leaving the set up as is. On all guitars, there can be minor changes, but they are the icing on the top. If there is a vibrato on the guitar, then it's a slightly different situation, where a change may be necessary.

  • Thanks for the speedy answer. I've got a gibriltar fixed bridge on my ibanez so I should be ok I guess – user3789596 Feb 7 '15 at 15:20
  • @user3789596 - sounds a good idea if you learnt how to set up for yourself. Slight changes here and there won't wreck your guitar, and it could save you a fortune - and your gtr playing mates might be grateful if... – Tim Feb 7 '15 at 16:23

I'd recommend an intonation adjustment, action for comfort and checking the neck bow after a couple of weeks. The changes might be subtle at first compared to the change of feel due to the gauge upgrade, but you still want to make sure you have a reality check.

I upgraded my Stratocasterfrom 9’s tp 10’s This guitar had the tremolo bridge lift up to high after I put the 10’s on. So I had to remove the back cover plate and adjust the spring tension screws until the tremolo bridge came back down within an eighth of an inch of the guitar body. I did not have to adjust the neck or the intonation.

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