I've talked to a few clients recently about
string gauges, and there seems to be some
confusion. How is it that "Medium" acoustic
guitar strings are actually the heaviest gauge
normally used? And "Light" gauge strings
are actually the second heaviest? Confusing?
Yes, it sure is. The only sure-fire way to understand
string gauge is to look into the numbers. Strings
are measured by their diameter, and this is generally
expressed in inches, more specifically in decimals.
The gauges are most often referenced by the
measurement of the thin E string (1st string) gauge.
First-string gauges for acoustic steel-string guitars
ordinarily go from the heaviest, 0.013" to the
lightest 0.009". Electric guitar strings range
from 0.013" all the way down to the wispy 0.008"
gauge. To simplify,we say these numbers as 013
(oh-thirteen), or 009 (oh-oh-nine), and so on.
Most string manufacturers consider 012 acoustic
strings to be "light". This is somewhat odd, since
the 012 set is the second-from-the-heaviest
gauge. To add to the confusion, 013 gauge is usually
described as being "medium gauge" even though
you'll be hard pressed to find anything heavier
available. The same quirk is present with electric
guitar strings as well.
Here's a general guide to which gauge string is
given which name. Of course there are ALWAYS
013 acoustic, Medium
012 acoustic, Light
011 acoustic, Custom Light
010 acoustic, Extra Light
009 acoustic, Ultra Light
Electric strings seem to carry an even greater
variety of names, however convention generally
011 electric, Medium
010 electric, Light
009 electric, Extra Light
008 electric, Super Light
Just when you start to get a grasp of this, you'll
see that there are sets made with in-between
gauges (0.0095 or 0.0105) and there are also sets
which have lighter strings on the trebles, and
heavier strings on the bass side; these are (sometimes)
called Hybrid sets.
Then there's Nickel wound, Steel wound, Phosphor
bronze, 80/20 bronze, Vintage bronze? Coated strings,
not coated strings...Strings in all colors of
the rainbow? Flatwound, roundwound, compression
wound, the list goes on and on....
And how about Nylon strings, which gauges are
commonly given names like "Normal Tension"
and "Hard Tension".
Isn't being a guitarist fun???