3

I recently bought a classic series '50s Fender Telecaster. Beautiful guitar with 2 peculiar vintage-style pickups and vintage-style machine heads. It's best when I play classic rock songs, with clean channel tube amp.

I'm wondering if the choice of the strings on this guitar could have a very significant impact on its sound and playability. Which factors have to be considered in the choice of the strings?

  • 2
    I've discussed the question of how different string affect playability in my answer below. The question about which strings would be best for your guitar seems like both a gear search question and largely a matter of opinion (or at least personal taste, which is another word for opinion I would think). I suggest you edit out your last question and leave the overall question about how strings affect playability. – Todd Wilcox Mar 10 '16 at 14:10
  • 1
    In the interest of keeping this question open, I've tweaked it as Todd suggests. I would recommend that you try out a bunch of different strings and see what works best for you. – Matthew Read Mar 10 '16 at 19:29
8

I'm wondering if the choice of the strings on this guitar could have a very significant impact on its sound and playability.

Yes, definitely. Well, I suppose it might depend on what you consider "significant". In terms of the sound, the change between string gauges can be subtle, but I notice it right away on my guitars - perhaps because I'm so familiar with how they sound. I might not notice as easily if someone else changed guages on their guitar.

But there's no question that string guage affects playability. That and the setup of the guitar (neck relief, neck angle, saddle height, nut slot depth, etc.) are pretty much the only things that can be changed that affect the playability. Neck geometry and bridge and body design are the only other factors I can think of, but they can't be changed without changing major parts of the guitar.

Lighter guage strings require less finger pressure to fret or bend, and tend to have a thinner, brighter sound. The ease of bending lighter strings has a downside in that it's easier to accidentally bend them which can worsen intonation.

Heavier strings require more force to fret and bend and can be harder to play, and they usually have a fatter sound that might be slightly less bright. They can actually be a bit easier to play in some ways in that you have better tactile feedback and better intonation.

Personally I find that I like heavier guages, even for playability, because it seems like heavier guages tend to have a smaller maximum displacement when vibrating, possibly because they have to be under higher tension. That means that I can have a lower setup with less neck relief without fret buzz. By having a flatter setup and using the minimal pressure necessary and optimum finger placement, I can play more cleanly with better intonation and I find the guitar feels better.

The point of the last paragraph is to say that one shouldn't assume that it's a simple equation of "thinner is easier to play and thicker sounds better". There are lots of different interactions with string guage, sound, and playability, and the setup of the guitar is affected by the guage and affects playability, so there are many variables at work.

  • 1
    +1. Back in the early 1950s a Telecaster would be strung with very heavy 0.013 - gauge strings. These days a Telecaster will come from the factory with the popular, easy-to-play 0.009 - gauge strings. If you want to go with heavier strings, pay a guitar technician for a full setup for your instrument. This should calibrate the guitar to make it much easier to play and with better intonation. – user1044 Mar 10 '16 at 16:54
  • @WheatWilliams Even acoustics are shipping with 12s these days. I've had 12s with a solid G string on my Les Paul before and it was great. Sadly my fingers are not in shape for that right now, nor is the Les Paul. – Todd Wilcox Mar 10 '16 at 16:56
  • 1
    I used to have 13s on an archtop, but if I didn't practice on it every day, my hand and fingers didn't maintain enough strength and callus and I had to fight the instrument. Since I'm a casual guitarist I switched to a hard-tail Stratocaster with 10s and it's no struggle. But I certainly liked the tone and the tuning stability and intonation of the 13s. It was just too much effort for me. – user1044 Mar 10 '16 at 17:03
  • I've always like the 'best of both worlds', light top, heavy bottom [I actually use Ernie Ball 'skinny top, heavy bottom, which go 10 - 52 but no doubt lots of makers do them] I came to 6-string from bass & found that with standard 10s I would just squeeze them out of tune all the time. I tried heavier standard gauges but my fingers didn't like the plain strings, so I ended up with that compromise. – Tetsujin Mar 11 '16 at 9:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.