Tips On How to Choose A String Gauge For Acoustic Guitar

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Tips On How to Choose A String Gauge For Acoustic Guitar 

By Billy Cokes 

Choosing the best gauged strings for your guitar can be a challenge. With acoustic guitars it’s somewhat dependent on the size of the body. Smaller parlor size or single O guitars are braced lightly which helps the small top to vibrate more freely for better sound. I would suggest only using extra light strings if you want to keep the guitar in one piece. Putting lights or mediums on them could possibly in time put a bow in the neck, pull the top and lift the bridge which can be very expensive to repair. When you get to the OO, OM and OOO size acoustic bodies, it’s very safe if the guitar is structurally sound to use extra light, custom light and light gauge strings. When in doubt about using mediums on those size guitars contact the manufacture for guidance. Many high-end guitars in good shape can take the tension of medium gauge strings even on OM and 000 size bodies. Dreadnaught size acoustics can take anything from extra light to mediums. Bluegrass players typically will use mediums on their dreadnaughts for increased volume and also for picking stability while of hitting the strings hard when soloing.

Playability is a main factor when choosing gauges. Here are my suggestions to save you time and money as it has worked for me. The following tips can apply to even electric guitars. Playing guitar should be a joy each and every time you pick it up. I’m a string geek, I'll try various brands and gauges on different guitars to find out which gauge works best on each guitar. The best way for me to keep track of what I’m doing is the following: starting out, I will get the cheapest brand I can find and order a a set of extra light, custom light and lights. I never go to mediums as my hands just cannot handle the tension. Sure, mediums sound great but after one night of playing mediums I ripped them off the next day. Sometimes mediums just choke the sound on certain guitars, the guitar top just does not vibrate clear and free enough to sound it's best.

My go to method that keeps me straight is to staple a post it note on each pack of strings. I make notes on the post it after I installed the strings. I'll write down the guitar model and how I like them such as the feel, bendability, tone, sustain, tunability, longevity. I keep the package with my notes handy so the next time I order strings I can look at the old packs and decide to order them again or to ditch that gauge. Once I find the right gauge for a particular guitar, I will then seek out the best sounding brand in the gauge that works best.

The main take away or goal I have in deciding the gauge that I decide to stick with is how well I can play with them. Can I do quick chord changes, can I hit the licks easily and overall do I feel like I can learn new chords and runs without fighting the guitar. It matters not to me what brand or gauge my favorite player uses. We all are unique and your guitar playing experience should be about your pleasure and happiness while playing a guitar that feels absolutely great in your hands. 

Happy Picking! 

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  • Billy Cokes on

    Thanks Kip! I’m glad I could shed some light on the subject! Take Care

  • Kip Marchetti on

    Really good idea keeping post it notes with the string package. I’m gonna start doing that. Playing a d18 for the last 30 years I’ve always used medium strings. Now I’ve worked a 00017 into the rotation and I haven’t been happy with the results so I believe I will start the process of using extra light and light strings of different brands and see where it takes me. Thanks for the blog.


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