I have been playing acoustic guitars exclusively for many years now. I generally use 12s for strings. I have been considering trying my hand at electric and was wondering if most guitarists use the same gauge for both their electric and acoustic playing? Thanks!
All of the answers so far are good and factual. I would like to add my answer from the perspective of someone who plays mostly acoustic but occasionally an electric. Below you will find some as yet unmentioned information that might be helpful for anyone who is going from acoustic to electric guitar.
In general, electric guitars lend themselves to a different playing style than acoustics. It goes far beyond the simple ability to amplify the sound (you can put a pickup in your acoustic these days). Electric guitar playing techniques have evolved over the course of the past 50 years as guitarist have discovered the versatility and invented new ways to mold their sound and created new techniques such as tapping, bending, etc. that don't work so well (or simply can't be done) on acoustic.
The type strings you may want to use on your electric guitar will depend on what type and style of playing you intend to do with your electric guitar. If you want to play music in a style similar to what you play on your acoustic and plan to play using basically the same techniques, you might want to go with the same gauge in order to more closely replicate the feel of your acoustic.
A few things to note about electric vs. acoustic guitar strings. Since many (if not most) electric guitarist tend to use their guitar to play lead solos (at least occasionally), and therefore will want to bend the strings as part of their playing style, electric guitar string sets not only tend to range lighter, but also the three thinnest strings (in standard tuning the e, b, and g string) are usually unwound (plain steel). This is because the unwound strings are easier to bend and most of the bending is done on the three highest strings.
However, you can get electric sets with a wound G string if you want your electric guitar to feel more like your acoustic. But you CANNOT use acoustic strings on your electric guitar.
The reason acoustic strings won't work on an electric guitar, is because of the material the strings are made of. Your electric guitar uses magnetic pickups to detect the vibration of the strings as they interact with the magnetic poles inside the pickup. Acoustic strings are typically wound with either bronze or phosphor bronze or sometime brass. That is because those materials tend to resonate better acoustically (unamplified). However those materials do not respond well to magnetics (they are virtually non - magnetic) so your pickups on your electric guitar will only pick up the inner steel core and the volume will be very low compared to using electric strings which are nickel wound. Nickel is very sensitive to the magnets and work will with magnetic pickups but don't sound as good acoustically - which is not an issue with an electric guitar which is not meant to be played without an amplifier.
If you want to use your electric guitar to play a different style than what you use your acoustic for (say for playing lead guitar with solos) you may want to go with lighter strings which will be easier to bend.
No matter what type strings you put on your electric, it won't feel the same as an acoustic guitar due to the ergonomics and the way electric guitars are designed. The bridge and saddle is different, there is no sound hole, the body shape and size are dramatically different, the weight is dramatically different, there are nobs on the body that you might hit with your strumming hand if you play it like you play your acoustic.
But one of the most important differences that may effect the feel while you play - is the fret wire. Electrics tend to have taller (often jumbo) frets than acoustics to make it easier to bend the strings. This means you have to get used to using a lighter touch because if you press down too hard (especially using lighter strings) you will find that you are "bending the strings" out of tune just by pressing straight down on the fret. You can get electric guitars with more acoustic like frets, but these are the exception - and on many electrics can only be achieved with an expensive re-fret using acoustic frets.
Bottom line, I would expect that most guitarist use acoustics and electrics for completely different purposes and therefore probably don't use the same gauge strings on each. But if you are just starting to play electric and will play it similar to the way you play acoustic, you might want to consider starting with an electric set that more closely matches what you are used to on acoustic - perhaps with the wound G string.
Lighter guages on electric guitar have the following characteristics:
- Easier to fret and bend
- More difficult to maintain proper intonation (i.e., the bend so easily they can be accidentally bent)
- Brighter, thinner tone
- Shorter lifespan (normally you should change strings before this is a factor on any guage)
Heavier guage strings are pretty much the opposite, as you might expect:
- Harder to fret and bend
- Better intonation
- Fatter, darker tone
- Longer lifespan
The question of which has longer sustain is more complicated. Lighter guages will couple more poorly at the bridge and therefore lose less energy into the body of the guitar, but heavier guages will have more momentum for the same displacement (playing intensity). Sustain has so many other factors that I don't feel like I can evaluate whether guage has a noticable effect on sustain or not.
Another subtle factor is in "ease" of play. I find a guage can be so light (8s and 9s for me), that it's actually harder to play because there's so little resistance to fretting and picking that I'm not getting the physical feedback from the instrument that I need. It's like the difference between a driving video game and actual driving - the forces we feel help us connect with what we are doing. This may be more of a factor for people coming from acoustic or bass guitar playing.
Really it's a matter of personal preference, trial and error, and desire to build and maintain finger strength. I find the same comfort level and tonal balance with 12s on acoustic and 10s on electric. I've gone as high as 13s on acoustic and 12s on electric, the latter of which feels very thick and really too much. My finger strength goal is 13s and 11s, respectively, but right now I'm on 12s and 10s from not being in a steady band and not practicing like I should.
If you change string guages, the truss rod needs to be adjusted and with heavier guages you can sometimes get away with a lower action, so getting a setup when you change guages is a good idea. When I ask for a setup like this, I make it clear I'm changing guages: "It has 9s on it right now, can I get it set up with 10s?"
Simple answer: Playing with 12's on acoustic is roughly equivalent to 10's on electric guitars. Here is a link to a more detailed comparison of electric and acoustic gauges. They say the same.
The comparison is part art and part science, as we are talking about tension and feel. It is true as others suggest, that the feel and sound will not be exactly equivalent since the acoustic and electric have different playing, and construction factors and challenges.
Edit: @RockinCowboy has drawn this to my attention:
It is important to be clear that acoustic strings are ideally made of different materials than electric strings. One can not put acoustic strings on an electric guitar or vise versa, and expect ideal results. It can work in an "emergency". Expect such a mismatch to work about as good as the tiny spare tires that come with cars these days.
Different guitars call for different strings.
You will find that acoustic guitars generally call for a slightly higher gauge string, whereas electric guitars will often have a lower gauge string.
What you choose to use is up to you essentially.
Electric guitars are often run through effects, so the natural tone of the string may often not be as important as it would be with an acoustic guitar. For that reason, and playability, electrics will tend to use strings between 9-11 gauge.
Acoustic guitars will sound thin and weak with super light strings and become more full and warm (and less easy to play) as you increase the tension/gauge of string.
I use 11s on my acoustics because I bend a lot in my playing, but if I didn't need to then I would use 12s. I would almost always go for 9-10 gauge on my electrics.
Hope this helps.
It is also worth noting that with classical guitar strings you do not have have gauges but rather tensions. The thickness of the strings stays the same with nylon strings what changes is the tension. That is to say how tightly wound the strings have to be to get them in tune.
As to be more specific to your question I would think that electrics are much more keen to different gauges. Because you can get more pronounced bending on an electric you would want to be more specific in your gauges.
If you are doing crazy bends a semi tone up quickly and often then lighter gauges may make your bending easier. This takes some good technique as to not bend accidentally when the music does not call for it.
On the other side if you are more into music where you bend more gently and relaxed then thicker gauges may suit you better. It may be easier to control your dynamics.
There is also the issue of drop tuning. When you drop tune a lot you would just need thicker gauges to compensate for lower tension your strings have from being detuned so far.
As with many things with guitar playing it is hard to say what is correct. It is much more up to the individual and what he or she likes.
The scale length of any guitar will be one deciding factor. Another will be the desire for 'tone', as fatter strings will give a fatter sound. Against this is the bendability. This is very personal, as some players are happy with, say, .012s, whereas others will want .008s or .009s to facilitate bending, some bending up two tones - as heard in many Pink Floyd solos. Some say that lighter strings go out of tune more easily - I use .008s, and don't find it so. As it's more usual to bend the top 3 strings, the wound ones often stay as they would in a heavier gauge set while the top 3 are lighter. There is now, I think, a bottom heavy set available. The action is pivotal to all this, because with a heavy set on a badly set up guitar, it's not easy to play.
So, it'll depend on these factors, and the best way to establish what you like is to try various sets out, or try guitars similar, with differing strings, if available. It may take a long time to decide, depending on your playing style.
Most guitarists do NOT use the same gauge strings on electric and acoustic guitars.
Heavier strings give a fuller sound on an acoustic; lighter strings on an electric guitar provide easier string bending & easier vibrato.
But it can depend on the type of music you are playing and if you intend to tune the guitar to standard E or E flat.
If mainly playing chords then heavier will be OK. Some Jazz players use 12s.
Then there is tuning. SRV was said to use strings starting at around 12 maybe even 13 but then he tuned down to E flat which reduces string tension considerably, but with the heavier string gauge the strings wont be flapping around. However if you down-tune a guitar using 9-42 strings they will be pretty flappy. SRV was also shooting for more tone with the heavier strings.
Most electric guitarists use either: 9-42 , 9-46 or 10-46.
I believe Satriani and Vai use 9-42. Though Yngqie Malmsteem's strings start at 8s.
I found 9-42 work best for locking tremelos as the string height can be set lower than with 9-46 - this applies to Ibanez Jems at least.