How to choose the perfect guitar string gauge

Your guitar string gauge makes a HUGE difference to the way your guitar plays. 

Every guitarist is as unique as the guitar they play, so you should explore different guitar string gauges to find a set that works best for YOU.

Today, we’re going to explore string gauges across both electric and acoustic guitars to help you narrow down what might work best for you, no matter what kind of guitar you play.

In this free guide, you will learn:

  • The benefits and drawbacks of each string gauge.
  • How guitar string gauges are measured.
  • What styles of music benefit from different string gauges.
  • How to find the perfect string gauge for you and your playing.

Disclaimer: We encourage everyone to experiment with different sets of strings to find the perfect match, but be warned – switching guitar string gauges can take a toll on the neck of your guitar. 

Be sure to get your guitar set up by a professional guitar tech (usually found at your local music store) in order to ensure the safety and playability of your instrument. (Don’t worry, this is a simple and relatively cheap piece of standard guitar maintenance.)

This free guitar guide was brought to you in collaboration with our friends at D’Addario.

D’Addario XL Nickel Plated Steel for electric guitar are the “Player’s Choice,” known for delivering a universally appealing and versatile tone, no matter your playing style.

What Are Guitar String Gauges? 

The ‘gauge’ of a guitar string refers to its overall thickness and diameter (measured in 1/1000th of an inch).

The higher the numbers, the thicker the strings. 

  • We typically refer to a string pack by its high E (or thinnest) string (ex. “A set of 10’s”).
  • Guitar string gauges can also tell you a lot about how the string will play and feel. 
  • Heavier strings will typically have more resistance to them (requiring more hand and finger strength), and lighter strings will have less. 
  • As we move up in gauge, the tone of our strings will begin to change as well.

Generally speaking, lighter strings will be snappier and more flexible while heavier strings will offer more volume and sustain.

guitar string gauge

Whether it’s the material, the construction or even the guitar string gauges themselves, strings are all uniquely different.

What does this mean for you? It means that you’re going to have to do some experimenting to find what works best for you (with a little help from us, of course).

So, what should we be looking out for when choosing the right guitar string gauges? Let’s find out.

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What Should You Consider When Choosing Guitar String Gauges?

Here are a few points to consider before selecting your ideal string gauge:

  • The length of the neck of your guitar (referred to as the “scale length”)
  • The style and genres of music you play most often on that guitar
  • The intensity of your picking (eg. are you strumming chords like Bob Dylan or downpicking like James Hetfield in Metallica?)
  • The level of string tension that feels the most comfortable on your hands

All of these factors contribute to finding the perfect set of strings for your favorite instrument, but let’s dive down deeper and explore the different options you have for electric and acoustic guitars more specifically. 

Take a look at this guitar string gauges chart from D’Addario below:

guitar string gauge chart

Pro Tip: The classifications of guitar string gauges below are classed by their weight, but just remember: an “extra-light” gauge string for an electric guitar won’t be the same as an extra-light on an acoustic guitar. They do, however, fall into the same category regardless.

Let’s expand on that concept below:

guitar string gauge chart

 

Guitar String Gauges: 0.008’s (Extra Super Light Electric)

08-gauge strings come with a myriad of benefits for many players (and a wealth of surprises for others).

Guitar string gauges in this range start at 08-38 for guitarists, but we’ll only typically find this gauge available for electric guitars. This is because electric guitars tend to use lighter gauge strings than acoustic guitars.

This string gauge typically provides an easier overall playing experience with less pressure on the fingers.

This leaves room for beginners who might be struggling with applying the right pressure to their fretboard to focus more on playing (and less on the burning sensation in their fingertips).

Your strings will have a lighter tone than some heavier guitar string gauges.

You will also experience less volume than what a heavier string might offer; so while these strings will be easiest to play, they might prove to be too light for some.

 

Who should play 08 gauge strings?

Besides beginner players looking for a bit of extra relief, this guitar string gauge can be a lot of fun for country-style twangers and indie rockers who want that extra bit of brightness in their tone. 

Just make sure your guitar is set up correctly so that your guitar stays in tune without any fret buzz!

Extra-light guitar string gauges will most likely be too thin for guitarists with a harder and more aggressive picking style, however. 

Pro Tip: If you’re an experienced player, you might find that you need to adjust your playing to accommodate these strings. You might also be pleasantly surprised at how much clarity you end up with – even with distortion!

Want to try out a set of 08’s on your favorite electric guitar?

Our friends at D’Addario have got you covered with a wide array of options. 

Here are two of our favorites electric guitar strings from D’Addario:

 

guitar string gauge guide

 

Guitar String Gauges: 0.009’s (Super Light Electric/Super Light Acoustic)

09’s will add a bit more “body” to the sound of your guitar with a slightly thicker diameter than their extra-super-light cousins. 

“Super Light” guitar string gauges typically start:

  • Around the 09-42 range for electric guitars
  • Around the  09-45 for acoustic guitars (referred to as “Light” gauge for acoustic players)

As we move up in weight class, we’ll want to pay attention to two factors:

  1. How the guitar sounds from one class of gauge to the next
  2. How it feels compared to other gauges

Sound and feel are the two things we care about most! 😎

Who should play 9 gauge strings?

While still on the thin side, this guitar string gauge is perfect for players who don’t need as much “fight” from their instrument, but still want to enjoy a well-rounded playing experience. 

  • If you’re looking for more resistance from your guitar string gauges compared to 08’s, you’ll be quite well-off with a set of 09’s on your electric guitar.
  • For acoustic players, this is as light as it gets. With a bright and clear sound with little resistance, these strings may be great for beginners. You may find however that your guitar will lack the tonal depth and presence that could be found on a thicker string. 

Want to try out a set of 09’s for yourself?

Check out some of our favorite sets from D’Addario below:

D’Addario String-Finder Tool

D’Addario have a cool string-finder tool on their website, click the link below to check it out:

Click here to use D’Addario’s online String Finder Tool and find YOUR perfect guitar string gauge

guitar string gauges for beginners

Guitar String Gauges: 0.010’s (Regular Light Electric/Extra Light Acoustic)

Starting at 10-46 with a variety of configurations, this guitar string gauge will provide you with more room to dig in and play hard on your favorite guitar.

  • These are the most popular guitar string gauges for electric guitars, and are what most electric guitars are typically set up for.
  • Classed as “extra lights” for acoustic guitars however, a set of 10-47 strings will give you plenty of room to strum or fingerpick without worrying too much about tension against your fingers. 

Who should play 10 gauge strings?

Electric guitarists will find that they can lean into their playing more easily on a set of 10s, leaving room for expression and a bit more “bite” from the pick and strings together.

Acoustic guitarists who want to enjoy a straightforward strumming or fingerpicking experience will want to try this guitar string gauge. These strings are thin enough to sit nicely in the hand for acoustic fingerpicking, but also play wonderfully over chords with a pick.

Want to try a set of 10’s for yourself?

Check out our top picks from D’Addario’s XL Nickel and Phosphor Bronze lines:

Pro Tip: Don’t forget that in order to really “feel out” a particular set of strings on your instrument, it should be set up properly for that string set – either by you or a professional guitar tech.

You will find as we move up in guitar string gauges that the feel of your instrument begins to change.

It’s important to pay attention to what you like about the feel of the guitar with each gauge that you try. Remember that comfort is the most important factor. You should never feel overwhelmed with your string gauge.

guitar neck electric

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Guitar String Gauges: 0.011’s (Medium Electric/Custom Light Acoustic)

This is where things start to feel significantly different than what we’re used to so far on both instruments.

  • Acoustic guitarists will find that a set of 11-52s will play comfortably and provide enough projection, while still being easier to bend. While still lighter than average, these acoustic guitar strings will be ideal for early strummers who want a bit less resistance but still want to lean into their playing with a bit more strength.
  • Electric guitarists will have a different experience with a set of 11-49s, as these strings will add a bit more pressure but also deliver a fuller bottom-end sound. You might have to work on strengthening your picking hand, but it will be worth it for the workout you’ll get from these electric guitar string gauges.

Who should play 11 gauge strings?

11 gauge strings will serve heavier pickers quite nicely, as they bend a little less easily under the weight of the plectrum.

This leaves a lot more room for digging in, drop-tuning, downpicking and articulating heavier rhythmic sections on electric guitar

Fingerpicking and jazz enthusiasts on both electric and acoustic guitars will also benefit from the more full and increased presence of the lower strings, leaving plenty of room for accentuating bass note movement in chord melodies. 

This guitar string gauge is useful in a lot of different circumstances, but 11’s can tend to put a lot more strain on the neck and truss rod of your electric guitar.

Due to 11’s being heavier than average for electric players, you should have your guitar set up to avoid any issues.

Check out our top picks in this gauge range from D’Addario below:

guitar string gauge advice

Guitar String Gauges: 0.012’s (Heavy/Extra Heavy Electric/Light Acoustic)

For acoustic guitar players, 12’s are the standard, but for electric players this guitar string gauge is where things get heavy. Acoustic guitarists will feel very much at home with a set of 12-53s.

You will find that the boom and resonance from your acoustic is noticeable as you step up from 11s. Try these out with any fingerpicking exercise and feel how full of a grip you have with these guitar string gauges.

Chances are that you’ve already played a set of 12’s however, as this is the gauge that comes standard with most acoustic guitars.

Electric guitarists will have a different experience with 12’s, but an amazing one nevertheless.

It’s worth noting that the overall heftiness of 12’s is what makes them a great choice for more specialized circumstances on the electric guitar. This guitar string gauge isn’t for everybody, but it’s PERFECT for some people.

  • Beginner electric guitarists won’t typically have a use for string gauges of this weight, but electric players that are seeking more resistance from their strings will make fantastic use of them.
  • With that being said, they do take a fair amount of getting used to the first time around (especially if you’re used to playing 10’s, like most electric guitarists).

 

Who should play 12 gauge strings?

Acoustic guitarists of any calibre and skill level can enjoy a comfortable playing experience in this string range. 12’s provide a balance of playability, resistance and full tone that most players come to expect from an acoustic guitar. This is truly the “built-for-everybody” acoustic string gauge.

On the electric side, this guitar string gauge is ideal for players with a more aggressive picking style, and those who enjoy drop-tunings far below Drop D (such as Drop C and Drop B). These strings also serve well for jazz players who want to dig in on voice-leading and walking bass movement on their guitar.

Fun Fact: These guitar strings are interesting because they are classed as either “Heavy,” “Extra Heavy,” or “Jazz Light” depending on the weight of the low E string

Electric guitarists will find that they might have to make some adjustments to their playing in order to accommodate strings of this weight, but will also find that they develop extremely durable hands for guitar playing much quicker.

Check out our top picks for these gauges from D’Addario below:

Pro Tip: If you’re looking to experiment with different guitar string gauges over time, we suggest trying to develop a good relationship with one specific guitar technician local to you.

This person will get to know you and your instruments over time, and it will lead to a more trusting relationship that ensures your guitars get the quality treatment they deserve every time.

what's the best guitar string gauge?

What guitar string gauge is perfect for YOUR guitar?

Click here to try out D’Addario’s handy ‘String Finder’ tool

Guitar String Gauges: 0.013’s (Jazz Medium Electric/Medium Acoustic)

Acoustic guitarists of any genre looking for increased resonance and a fuller sound than what 12’s can offer need look no further – 13’s are the way to go. 

These acoustic guitar strings are often favored by bluegrass players and heavier flatpickers for their bigger sound and increased loudness. Once you get past the added string tension, you’re left with an acoustic string gauge that’s bold and bassy, yet clear on the ears.

Electric guitarists that want to play heavier (or tune much lower) can also benefit from this guitar string gauge. From blues to metal and beyond, there are plenty of musical applications for electric guitarists where 13’s can enhance your playing.

Who should play 13 gauge strings?

While 13’s are a great choice for most acoustic guitarists, they aren’t necessarily the best fit for every electric guitarist because of their extreme weight.

Regardless, this guitar string gauge can be useful in a variety of circumstances such as:

  • Heavier, distorted music that requires a lot of downpicking (and less bending)
  • Extreme low tunings (beyond Drop C) (13’s will handle these quite often better than 12’s will)
  • Blues-style music where you want more thickness from your guitar tone (electric & acoustic guitar)
  • Fingerpicking tunes with a lot of bass-note movement (electric & acoustic guitar)
  • Jazz music with tight chord movement and an emphasis on the lower string movement  (electric & acoustic guitar)

Be especially careful with these strings, as putting them on your guitar without proper assistance from a guitar tech can bow the neck of your guitar, or even raise your bridge significantly if you play a Fender-style guitar.

13’s sound and play great, provided they are properly fixed to the instrument. 

Once again, make sure to make friends with a guitar technician that can help you out on your guitar string journey – you’ll thank us later! 

Check out our top picks for these gauges from D’Addario:

how to choose guitar string gauge

Wait! There’s some special string types we also need to cover…

The guitar string gauges discussed above are a great starting point for finding the perfect set of strings, but the rabbit hole goes even deeper.

Here are a few other styles of string that you can look out for that might be beneficial to you (with links for where to find them):

Balanced Tension Strings

A newer offering in the world of guitar string gauges, ‘balanced tension’ strings provide the same level of tension across all strings on the instrument (rather than the varying tensions on regular guitar strings).

This style of guitar string provides a smoother playing experience from one string to the next, resulting in a more even volume and tone across every string.

Light Top/Heavy Bottom Strings

Metalheads and drop-tuning fanatics rejoice – these strings were made with you in mind.

This string set provides a hearty low-end response while allowing us to maintain the clarity of our higher strings. This means your chords will be brighter and your chugs will be heavier.

These strings come in a variety of other configurations, such as medium top/heavy bottom and medium top/extra-heavy bottom.

guitar effects on the ground

Flatwound Strings

Ready for a set of guitar strings that feel as different as they sound?

Flatwound strings are a great option for players looking for a smoother-feeling string with a warm & mellow sound.

  • Due to the lack of grooves in the strings, there is no room for dirt and grime to accumulate the way it would normally – this means longer string life and less tone loss over time compared to other guitar strings.
  • These strings will create less friction against the fingers, meaning you can glide across them more easily without having to dig in as hard in your fret hand.
  • We highly suggest that electric fingerstyle guitarists, blues & country stringers and jazz enthusiasts alike all give these strings a go at least once.

Guitarists who play with an abundance of distortion might find their tone to be a bit muddy with flat-wound strings, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try them anyway! Maybe you’ll find a sound that’s all your own.

Want to try a set of flat-wound strings?

Wound Third Strings

The wound third string set contains a 3rd string (G) that is slightly thicker than one you would find in a regular pack.

The wound 3rd intonates better than a regular 3rd string would, and provides better tuning stability. 

For guitars that experience tuning issues with their 3rd string, a string pack with a wound 3rd could be a great option to consider.

 

guitar string gauge

Where to go next

Want to get started exploring guitar string gauges for yourself? 

Here are three steps you can take right now:

  1. Explore D’Addario’s wide selection of guitar strings on their website
  2. Use the String Finder Tool to find the perfect set of strings
  3. Video: Learn how to change your guitar strings

Recommended Resources

If you enjoyed this free guide on guitar string gauges, check out more of our free resources below:

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