Top 6 Benefits of Heavy Gauge Guitar Strings

In Defense of Heavy Guitar Strings

Are heavy strings right for you? Maybe. Maybe not. There are always tradeoffs with lighter or heavier guitar string gauges, and no gauge is right for every instrument or every player. But here are just a few of the things we like best about heavy guitar strings…

Here at Stringjoy, we try to be pretty gauge agnostic when it comes to guitar strings. We like eights, we like nines, we like thirteens, we even like seventeens. At the end of the day, all we really care about is that you are playing a set of strings that works perfectly for how you play the guitar.

That said, in the past we’ve talked about the benefits of using super light guitar strings, and it seemed like it was probably about time to give heavy gauge strings the same treatment. So today we’re talking about the top 6 advantages of heavy gauge guitar strings—in our book anyway.

1. Tuning Stability

So first up and probably the most talked about is better tuning stability.

It’s not too odd of a concept really. When you tune a guitar, you probably want it to stay in tune. Nobody likes spending time tuning their strings instead of playing their strings. Playing is why you probably have a guitar. So the less time you have to spend fiddling with knobs and things, the better.

So generally speaking, if all other factors are the same in terms of how the strings are made, how they were stored, how long they’ve been on your guitar, how heavily they’ve been played—all that sort of stuff—heavier gauge strings are going to hold their tune a little bit better than lighter gauge strings.

2. More Output

The next best thing about heavy gauge guitar strings is that in general, they give you more output.

Again, all other things being equal—you’re using the same wrap alloy, same brand, all that sort of stuff—a heavier gauge set of guitar strings is going to have a little bit more output than a lighter gauge set of guitar strings. And who doesn’t really like being louder?

Why is this? Well, the magnetic field of your pickups is going to be displaced and engaged more by higher mass guitar strings, and that’s going to lead to more output when you plug your guitar into an amplifier. Even on acoustic guitars, when you play heavier gauge strings, you’re going to drive the top more, which is going to lead to more volume output in the room when you’re playing. So pretty much regardless of whether you’re looking at an electric or an acoustic guitar, you’re going to get more output out of your guitar with heavier gauge strings.

3. More Tension

The next best thing about heavy gauge guitar strings is that they give you more tension.

Now a lot of guitar players see tension as something that is to be avoided. And if you’re trying to do two-step bends and not break all of your knuckles, it is. But there are advantages of high tension as well, such as having better pitch stability. When you fret a string with really thin guitar strings, you can end up kind of pulling the string sharp, whereas when you have heavier gauge guitar strings, that tension creates resistance in the string that stops you from fretting it down too hard and pulling it sharp.

This added tension especially comes into play for slide players. A lot of slide players that work with us, such as Reverend Peyton or Ariel Posen or Joey Landreth use really, really heavy guitar strings, because when you are playing with a glass or metal or ceramic slide, even with higher action, if you have low tension on your strings, it becomes really easy to push those strings down with the weight of the slide, and you end up knocking a fret or creating buzz, all that sort of bad stuff. So especially for slide, having really high tension helps to kind of fight against that slide and keep everything sounding really clean.

4. Faster Attack

Another big advantage I don’t think gets talked about quite enough is that you are able to get faster and better attack out of your guitar when you use heavier gauge guitar strings.

When you play thinner strings, it takes longer for a plucked string to rebound than when you play strings at a higher tension—which is, you know, something that happens when you have heavier gauge guitar strings. So if you’re playing metal styles or really any sort of part where you want to pick really fast and be able to trill easily, heavier gauge strings are going to make that process a lot easier on you.

I do think this should get talked about a little bit more. I think everyone thinks that metal players play heavy gauge strings just because of the higher output or because they’re tuning down. But the improved attack of heavier strings is one of the biggest benefit these players draw from heavier gauge strings. If you tune down to Drop C and you’re using a 46 on the bottom, you’re going to have almost no attack. And for metalcore, djent, and other similar genres, you really need faster attack so you can play more complex rhythmic structures without your strings flopping around like a wet noodle.

5. Driving the Top of an Acoustic Guitar

Now, if you’re playing an acoustic guitar, there’s actually a whole other sort of angle to this that we touched on a little bit earlier, but I think kind of deserves its own section here. Because of the physics of how acoustic guitars work, you need a certain amount of tension on your strings in order to drive the top and get the proper resonance out of the guitar.

When you take something like nines or eights and put them on an acoustic, you don’t end up with enough tension to drive the top of the guitar and you don’t end up with a nice full sound. So just know that in general with acoustics you really want something like elevens, twelves or thirteens to get the proper resonance out of the guitar and get it to do what it should be doing.

6. Bragging Rights, DUH

Now of course, we all know the real reason to play heavy gauge guitar strings: bragging rights. Would anybody talk about Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar playing if he played nines? (I’m just kidding. They definitely would. Stevie Ray is one of the best players ever, whether he played thirteens or nines.)

But we all know that guy who plays twelves and tells you that just because you play nines or tens that you’re somehow less of a guitarist than he is because he plays heavier gauge strings. That’s stupid. There is no gauge of strings that is better or worse. In general, string gauges are all about finding a set of strings that is going to react and play the way that you want it to. Whether you want the attack from a heavier gauge set of guitar strings or you want the flexibility of a lighter gauge set of strings, or you want more of the output of a heavier gauge set of strings, whatever it is, it’s up to you as a player to find the string gauges that are going to work best for you.

So whether you like playing sevens or you like playing seventeens, we here at Stringjoy support your right to be you and be individual.

If you have any questions about what sort of gauges you think you should be playing, maybe you want to try a set that’s a little bit heavier than what you’re using right now, or maybe you want to go lighter—whatever it is, we are here for you and we’re happy to help any way we can. Just shoot us a message at [email protected] and we’ll be happy to advise you on any gauge specific questions, any general tone geekery, or any other questions that you have.

24 Responses

  1. Hello. I have a 6120 Duane Eddy Gretsch, and have been experimenting for 2 years from 12-52; 11-49, to 10-46’s. The 46’s give more of a twang on the bottom end because of longer vibration, but I don’t know if I’m missing the feel of the 11-50’s. Because of using the higher gauges over the years, I have a strong grip while barre chording, but at 72, I’m wondering which way I should go in the long run. I agree with your assessment, and I’m about to have it set up one more time. Do you think I should go back to the 11-50’s for tone? I don’t do much bending, but just can’t seem to settle on which gauge to go with. Hope you can help. thanks, Joe

  2. Many players would benefit from the intonation stability of heavier strings. Light gauge strings are easier to inadvertently stretch to one side or the other when making a chord. Light strings take a gentler more accurate touch.

    I prefer light strings (I play 8-46) because it is easier for me to add tremelo and stretching. Whatever, keep playing.

  3. I’ve been playing heavy gauge strings for a lot of years. Essentially all the reasons you explained are exactly why I love them. Tension, tuning, attack, and of course… bragging rights!

  4. Have a 1980 J 45 Custom Acoustic Gibson ; Play R&R, Folk, Country , picking melodies. Now using light phosphorous strings, tiny sounds on 2&3 strings Would
    heavier gage strings or mixing different gages together work better. I’m trying to achieve a strong rhythmic sound. What would you recommend for string gages.

    1. Thanks for reaching out Patrick! I’d recommend a custom set of strings to offset the tinniness. A custom set like this should do a good job: .012 – .015 – .025w – .032 – .042 – .054

  5. Good article, and I also thought the Beato video was great, and eye-opening for many, but I don’t believe it dealt with the fact that you can EQ your way into or out of any mix you want. Heavy strings won’t get you lost in the mix any faster than light strings will make sure you DON’T get lost in the mix. Heavy OR light will need to be EQd in a way that suits the player, the song, the room, the band. Pretty obvious, but I think a glaring omission in the spate of “use lighter gauge” videos popping up.

  6. Been using 9’s GHS Boomers since I bought my 1st Guitar in 1981 . Completely disagree about loudness and attack both of thos come from the players left and right hands . Why no mention how restrictive heavier strings can be . I could play fine with 10’s but I want to shred and need the best of what 9’s give me that its a personal thing don’t listen to these guys experiment strings arent $20 bucks a pack like when I started !!

  7. Another great video Scott
    I realize now after buying a mixed set of strings from you guys for my Taylor 412, I may have gone a little too light. Especially on the Dstring I purchased an un wound. It definitely didn’t work. I will take your advice and move on up to a stringent set of 11s. Love to hear you talk you know your stuff keep pumping out the good news

  8. I think you missed another benefit of heavier gauge strings…… Tuning you guitar down a step or 10.

    On my 8 and 9 string guitars, they have extended scale lengths and I have them tuned down a full step from standard tuning…. as if standard tuning exists for a 9 string.

    Anyway, suppose that you want to have about 18 pounds of tension on each string, you want to have 46-10’s for standard tuning. If you tune it down to DGCFAD, 52-11.5’s work. If you do, BEADF#B, 60-13.5’s do the job.

  9. Well all and good but after 65 years of using my hands that have been “rebuilt” once after a intense mandolin jones 15 years ago-I forgo the excellent advantages of heavier strings. For longevity, tone, dynamics and eventual arthritis, I’d suggest going light and learning to play at the bottom of your sound quietly so that when you take flight…….

    Also, some of my instruments can’t take the extra tension-being 80+ years old. When in doubt, go lighter.

    But if you’re young and invincible, by all means go as heavy as your rig and you can handle. You can also buy a smaller amp that is not so heavy to carry.

  10. Did you see Rick Beato’s YouTube video in which he did comparisons of the sound of various gauges on the same guitar?

  11. I use 11’s on my electric. They are of course, Stringjoy’s, (Broadways). I also have high action. No buzzing! Very clean, articulate, bell like notes. Use what you like, and remember, “there are no wrong notes”, (Miles Davis).

  12. #4. Yes! Metal rhythm guitarist here. Wish I had realized the benefit of heavy gauge strings earlier in my playing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *