What Determines the Size of Guitar Strings

The guitar is a popular, versatile instrument, commonly used in musical genres such as jazz, funk, blues, rock, and classical. The professional guitarist or casual player alike must understand the type and thickness of strings to use with the guitar, as the strings are an important component in the acoustics of the instrument.

The technical term for guitar string thickness is "gauge." Gauge is the string diameter measured in inches, though because strings are just a fraction of an inch, they are usually written in thousands (for example, .032 inches.) A standard string set ranges between .009 inches for the high E string and .042 inches for the low E string.

Lower-gauge strings are easier to handle and pluck, but they produce a weaker tone. Higher-gauge strings are more of a challenge to play. It is harder to press down and manipulate thicker strings. However, their tone is clearer, brighter and stronger.

Certain genres are better suited for certain string sizes. Jazz tends to use thicker-gauge strings for their stronger sound. Rock and blues musicians, in contrast, favor smaller-gauge strings. Musicians looking for greater versatility sometimes string their guitars with "hybrids" that balance low- and high-gauge measurements.

Another string measurement related to size is string tension. String tension is a product of scale length (the length along which the string vibrates), unit weight (measures in pounds per linear inch) and pitch (the frequency of wavelengths as measured in Hertz.)

Approved by Jesse Anderson