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Who told you string gauge makes no difference?

posted Jan 07, 2014 00:33:51 by stanton.kramer
So I'm watching these "gurus" on the internet that say that string gauge doesn't make much difference in the sound of a guitar. Well, that's what I thought... until last week.

I took my blue MIM Strat with Dimarzios to my guitar lesson. Teacher has a 75 Strat with Lindy Fralin pickups. Great sounding guitar. My Strat sounded ok, but the sound paled in comparison to his. I asked him to play my guitar thru his amp and asked him what he thought. He said the sound was a bit thin, and the sustain wasn't quite there as the action was probably a bit low and hard to get hold of for bending. He asked me what strings I had on there. "Ernie Ball hybrids" (9-46), I replied. He said he had Ernie Ball Heavy Top/Light bottom (10-52).

My MIM Strat was always a bit "quacky" and even more so after I put the Dimarzio pickups on. I tried calming the quackiness with 7-way switching, dual tone and .47UF capacitors. All helped a bit. But the most dramatic change came when I put the same Heavy Top/Light bottom strings on as my instructor had. WHAT A DIFFERENCE!!!! Up until then I thought I preferred my Squier Strat, but after the string change there is no contest. The clarity and pure crystalline sound that I get is EXACTLY what I was looking for. Still hate the color, but couldn't ask for a nicer Strat sound.

Just thought I'd share my experience.
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8 replies
MichaelWamback said Jan 07, 2014 07:13:04
String gauge makes no difference, but tone wood is everything - some people!

Let's think about it. An electric guitar produces sound when a metal string vibrates through a magnetic field created by the pickups. It generates electricity that is then sent via the controls to the amp. A thicker string gauge is going to have a different mass, be at a different tension and produce a different oscillation through the magnetic field. Do you think that might possibly do something to change the sound - not necessarily the tone but the volume of each string?

So yes, different strings will change the sound of your guitar. Even different brands of strings in the same gauge. Dunlop Heavy Core, for example, use a slightly stiffer core wire to wrap around, so they move a bit differently than other strings - so not surprisingly they sound a bit different.
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
VinceRadice said Jan 08, 2014 10:54:09
I play in dropD all the time. I use Ernie Ball 10-46, but with a 52 E string. this makes all the difference in the world to my sound. and it still feels easy to play, I tried 10-52, but the A and D strings were too clunky, and it slowed me down. Heavier Strings, Heavier Sound!
WayneJohnson said Jan 08, 2014 13:06:22
We tune a semi-tone below concert pitch.. I changed fron 10-46 and now use 11-48 it made a vast difference to the sound.. although sometimes I do get to the stage where my fingers miss lighter strings!

Everything will impact sound... its just that somethings will impact more than others. Basswood will resonate differently to mahogany.. the question is can most people really hear the difference? The answer is almost always no.
MichaelWamback said Jan 08, 2014 15:16:42
Basswood does have different density to Mahogany, and will resonate differently. You should be able to hear the difference acoustically. The question is, when is the last time you played your Les Paul acoustically? The issue isn't the sound of the wood, it's whether a non-microphonic pickup can hear the wood?
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
stanton.kramer said Jan 08, 2014 17:44:48
Though I understand your point and agree that tone woods do make a difference, in my opinion the wood makes the least amount of difference in tonal changes in an electric guitar, EXCEPT in the fingerboard material (i.e. rosewood vs maple).

If we were to accept the premise that the tonewoods are more important than the strings, then how do we explain the dramatic differences of sound by changing strings in acoustic guitars? Here I have a fair amount of experience.

I have an Alvarez Yairi DY-71 which appears to be extremely sensitive to strings. As an illustration, I put on some Elixer (regular) nanoweb strings to replace some dead polywebs (which I thought a bit too dark). To my amazement and chagrin the nanoweb strings had THREE different timbres with the D string bright to the point of stridency. I changed them for the nanoweb 80/20 bronze and that made all the difference in the world. I currently have Daddario strings on and not sure that I love them. [all strings are 12-53). Will go back to Elixer 80/20 or polyweb next time.... or try something else.

Now, one would not expect strings to make THAT much difference on the sound of an electric guitar, but I swear, the difference in just changing strings was as dramatic as changing pickups. Just saying. I don't have any recording gear to speak of except my iphone and webcam. I'll see if I can make a reasonable comparative recording.
MichaelWamback said Jan 09, 2014 01:51:39
You don't need to convince me, as I'm sure the size and construction of the string are going to have a huge impact on sound.

We are just going to agree to disagree on the wood issue. The vibrating string never touches the wood in the neck. All the vibration is between the fret or nut and the bridge - and that's all the string can hear in my opinion. I think everything else is just perception at work. I know I used to think it made a difference until someone convinced me logically that it couldn't. I tried to get rid of my preconceived ideas and listen to it again. Turns out that when I really tried to listen objectively, I had to admit that there really was no difference. It only sounded different to me because I thought it was going to. The mind is a very tricky thing. :)
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
SteveTebble said Jan 09, 2014 10:36:07
True, the vibrating string doesn't touch the wood, but the fret does. I think softer woods allow more of the string vibration to leak away through the fret than harder ones do, this is why maple sounds brighter than rosewood, for example. Whether the fingerboard is lacquered or not would also make a difference ... in my opinion anyway.

Apart from that, I prefer maple for the look and rosewood for the feel.
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MichaelWamback said Jan 09, 2014 15:09:32
I think some of the confusion comes from what people think of as "tone". To me, sustain is not a part of tone. I can see where a different neck material may possibly have some influence over sustain, as you suggest.
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
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