Guitar won’t stay in tune? Difficult to play? Strings & fretboard are sticky?
Change your strings and clean your guitar!! Strings have a lifetime and it’s not long depending on how you play.
“What strings should I get?”
Three general factors are string type, gauge, & brand. I will be mainly discussing string GAUGE(thickness). Personal style will determine your choices.
Most guitars will use a round wound string made of either steel, nickel, bronze, and/or brass. All have varying degrees of brightness/warmth. This will depend on personal taste.
Other types are flatwounds and nylon(both have less aggressive or metallic tones).
Nylons are best on classical or flamenco guitars, and ukuleles(instruments designed for these strings). There may be exceptions.
Personal favorites are D’Addario XL Nickel Wound(electric) and Elixir Nanoweb(electric, acoustic) but there are many other quality brands.
Gauge(style & tunings)
This is where it can become overwhelming. The first thing you should do is decide what you like or dislike about your current guitar setup. If you feel it plays perfectly, then you want to replace those strings with the same exact gauge.
If you feel it’s hard to play, then take your guitar to a local shop and pay the money to have them set it up(tell them your style of playing).
THIS IS SO IMPORTANT.
A proper setup is fundamental to sounding good & playing effortlessly in tune. Make the investment. No questions.
In standard tuning, a heavy handed rhythm player may use 11s or 12s. A technical lead player may prefer 9s. If you strum hard or pick hard, thinner gauges like 9-42 or 8-38 have less resistance; potentially causing you to push the strings sharp momentarily and sound out of tune. It will also feel funny and change the way you play.
If you like to shred and play tons of bends and legato, your fretting hand may appreciate the smaller amount of resistance from 8s or 9s. If you practice for hours at a time, then you may prevent injury by using thinner gauges. **Beware of bad fretting technique which causes drag and intonation issues.**
If your guitar is setup for 9s and you replace your strings with 11s, the string tension will pull much tighter on the neck and the string height(action) will become much more difficult to play(unless you’re a slide player). This will change the intonation and your guitar will not play in tune above the 3rd fret.
Heavy slide players should use 11s and up with higher action.
Every time you change string gauges, do a complete setup.
This all comes down to personal needs, so you have to experiment and decide what you like. Unfortunately, that can become costly if you have to do a setup every time you want to try a different thickness.
1) Ask the staff if you can play several guitars with different gauges at the shop to get a feel, so you can tell the tech what you want(depending what store you go to, this may not work out). If you are local to North Dallas, you will be in good hands at Frisco Music Center, Tone Shop Guitars Addison, & The Guitar Sanctuary.
2) Learn to do your own setup. Do a quick google search of “Guitar setup.” There are endless articles and videos with good information.
3) Ask your guitar teacher about this when you are coming in for a lesson.
4) My ballpark suggestions for standard tuning.
- Mostly rhythm player or lead player that doesn’t bend much. [10-46,10-52,11-49]
- **All purpose player** [D’Addario 9.5-44]
- Ultimate bendy shredder. [9-42. 8-38]
- Shredder thats plays lots of rhythm or drop D. [9-46, 10-52]
Thicker gauges allow for lower action(strings closer to fretboard)
Every time you drastically change tunings, get a setup; or at least check the intonation.
Exceptions may be when only one or two strings change for one or two songs. Like EADGBE to DADGBE or DADGAD. You have to use your ear. When you go up the neck, does it go out of tune? If so, decide if you need to dedicate a guitar to this tuning. (Or get a small screw driver and learn to adjust the saddle to intonate a specific string) ***In the studio this is important.***
If you have a tremolo bridge(whammy bar, Floyd Rose) you will encounter stability issues when changing tunings. Ideally, if possible you would keep tremolo guitars in one tuning for its lifetime to avoid constantly paying a good tech for setups.
If you tune down ½ step(EbAbDbGbBbEb or D#G#C#F#A#D#) from 9-42, you would want to roughly use 9.5-44 or 10-46 for a similar feel. It won’t be the same, but similar tension.
Tuning down a whole step(DGCFAD), try 10-46, 10-52, or 11-49.
Drop D a whole step down is CGCFAD. Try D’adarrio 11-56 for more stability on the big string(6th)
***Guitar SCALE LENGTH heavily determines string tension and tone.***
- Fender is 25.5” from bridge saddles to nut.
- Gibson. 24.75”
- Paul Reed Smith. 25”
10s on a Gibson will roughly feel similar to 9.5s on a fender at the same string height.
Measure or look up your scale length, so you are aware of that. If you play 10s on a Fender and you start playing a Gibson with 10s, you will notice a difference. If you discover it is bad for your playing, then you may want 10.5s or 11s on your Gibson.
The subject can go deep, so be sure to talk to your local guitar shop staff, your teacher, & friends to ask what they use. You can also google search your guitar heroes’ preferences or ask them directly on Instagram when they post pictures of their guitars.
Feel free to bring your guitar by our facility, if you want some advice on your setup and needs! Give us a call or email anytime.
Happy to help make sure your instrument is playing like a dream!!