Guitar String Bravado

I’ve been playing guitar for 30 years but this week had something of an epiphany. (warning dull short post about guitar strings).

In the first few years I played .9 gauge strings. But then had a long period without playing. When I started again I started with .10 strings and that’s what I’ve played for nearly 15 years. No issues I thought.

I recently watched a couple of videos suggesting that some of our thoughts are wrong. That heavier gauge aren’t necessarily better sounding. We often think thicker strings = thicker sound. I was sceptical, but I thought I’d give it a go.

I put a set of .9 on one of my guitars. And it was a revelation. The sound was clearer, much more note definition but no loss of power. Also I noticed an immediate effect on my playing – better bent note vibrato, faster smoother playing.

And perhaps more important for this old geezer, none of the usual aches and pains from playing for a long time. Over the last two days I’ve restrung all of my guitars with .9 strings. And I’ve enjoyed playing more than I have for some time.

I understand this won’t work for everyone. But I do know – especially among male guitarists – there’s some bravado about playing heavier strings. Combine how “hard” you think you are with the wrong belief that thicker strings = thicker sound and you may be holding yourself back.

This is possibly a modern thing. Page, Iommi, Gibbons, BB King play .8 gauge strings. Does their playing lack power? Van Halen and Hetfield play .9 gauge. Yes there are some famous users of massive strings – Stevie Ray Vaughn for example.

But some of the biggest sounds ever in rock music, some of the most iconic and powerful guitar statements, were played on strings you think are “for wimps”. Give it a go. Let the music guide you, not your masculinity. It might work for you, it might not. Here endeth the lesson.

One more thing. I got a PRS SE 245 a few months ago and it didn’t quite gel with me. Something was lacking. With .9 strings on it has completely come alive. I think sometimes you also need to find the right strings for the right guitar.

And one more more thing. Even now I didn’t go as far as trying .8 gauge. I’ve never tried those. And there was still a bit of prejudice about going that light. But maybe next time I change a set, I’ll give it a go. If it’s good enough for Iommi.

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