Tips on choosing a string gauge for your instrument
We recommend that every player should try out a few different string gauges to find the right gauge for their instrument. There are many variables to consider including scale length, body size and depth, wood species type, and each player’s preferred style and sound. Nobody can judge this better than the player, in spite of what anyone else is saying about it.
Avoid the controversy about string gauges
by experiencing the strings for yourself. (These concepts are valid for all stringed instruments not just guitars). Consider the general ideas behind string gauges:
The sizes can be confusing. There is usually no “heavy” gauge set available for most instruments. Typically you’ll find medium, light and extra light, but there is no standard. Each manufacturer interprets their string set parameters differently. But consider light is usually in the middle, with extra light and medium the lightest and heaviest, respectively.
Always consider the manufacturer’s recommendations. Certain builders have a string gauge in mind which considers the particular tone and construction of their banjos. Goodtime banjos by Deering recommend using light strings on all Goodtime series banjos. The set contains 10, 11, 13, 21 10 gauge strings. Staying close to this gauge is recommended for these particular banjos, no matter what brand you choose.
Heavier gauges are harder to fret, bend and choke, so if you’re experiencing sore fingers you might like to use a lighter string. For a child, sometimes it’s necessary to use a special set of nylon strings made for a standard guitar. We carry these for this reason as they are the easiest to fret of all the types of strings. But as a rule, heavier strings will take more picking/ strumming power to work, too.. so they are considered generally more difficult to play., but they are also considered to be superior to very light strings for tone and power.
Even though lighter strings are definitely easier to play because they fret, bend and choke more easily and are easier on the fingertips, They don’t retain tone well or stay in tune as well, especially if played hard. They have a greater tendency to give you “fret buzz” because their vibration amplitude is so great. This means they vibrate in a larger path (With “more swing to the string” they can bump into frets). To take advantage of their benefits, most new players begin with a light or extra light gauge set until their strength and skill level improves, and upgrade to a heavier string set later. The tone of a very light set will be best when not played too hard.
Shorter scale lengths such as a 12th fret neck joint guitar vs. a 14th fret joint guitar will naturally need less tension to tune, so will bend and choke more easily, This can enable you to use a little heavier string. This is an advantage to a shorter scale length instrument. However a longer one has more frets, a definite range advantage. You can attain the same tension as a shorter necked instrument with lighter strings and the advantages and disadvantages of this as explained above.
Another trait of heavier strings is they have more mass so can vibrate the instrument more, resulting in a louder sound. If you want to play loud try heavier strings.
Lighter strings have less mass and are usually preferred for softer playing as they are not capable of the volume a heavier string produces.
younger players and ladies who might not have very strong hands will often benefit from a lighter gauge string set, they are easier to fret.
Tone tone tone.. every guage just sounds a little different. You have to try them to know what you like. Many casual or intermediate players stick with light gauge as these sets compromise, and share the advantages of both lighter and heavier strings.
If it all seems too confusing, get a light and a medium guage set and try them out. For new players, standard (light) strings work well in most situations.