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Fat Strings Are Better = Urban Myth?




SRV is said to have used some REALLY fat strings and legend has it that those fat strings contributed to the tone he got out of his guitar. Zakk Wylde signature strings are so fat that they are practically bass guitar strings and the nut of the guitar needs to be re-cut so that they will fit. (been there, done that.) Dave Mustaine, Alex Skolnick... the list goes on; the names of guys who are said to be playing some REALLY fat strings on their electric guitars.


But are the benefits of fat strings simply an urban myth? Over and over lately I have been running across video interviews where Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top has been telling and re-telling the story of how he met BB King who asked him, something like, "Man, why are you working so hard?" implying that those really fat strings make the guitar player work much harder than he should have to. So, Billy Gibbons took that advise to heart and begun to install thinner and thinner strings on his guitars. Right now he is down to 7's on his guitars. I've seen many recent performances by Billy Gibbons and I would have never guessed that he had such thin strings on his guitars.


So my question to myself now is, Do I dare go to thinner strings on my guitar? Will people question my manliness if I were to install 9's on my big fat Heritage H157? Or 8's on my big beefy Les Paul? Would it be cheating to have a guitar that plays even more effortless than it already does now? If I ever do interviews for Guitar Player magazine, do I have to tell everyone if I am using teeny-tiny strings or do I just tell them that I've got a really big fat E string when in fact I really have a little tiny e string? Oh the humanity! Decisions, decisions! What to do!?



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I put 9s' on my 25.5" scale guitars, and 10s' on 24.75 & 25" scale guitars. I've tried 8s' (Extra Slinkys) but just don't like the feel. As far as tone is concerned, I have never found that larger gauge strings have a distinguishable effect on tone. YMMV

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Give it a try, and you just might like it. And if so, who the crap cares what string gauge you play?! If you and the Mrs. are confident in your manhood, that's all that matters!!!!!!

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I think you will find you're getting fatter tone with fatter strings.


Billy Gibbons has a specialist that runs all these rack effects and processors backstage. He gets his telecaster to sound like a 150. They can make everyone of his guitars sound exactly the same with these electronics.


Another point to consider: we're all getting older. With using super fat strings, do you really want to put that much strain on your fingers? Whatever you overuse, you usually get arthritis in when older. As a musician, we ought to protect our fingers.


Plus, we've got things now called the TS9, equalizers, etc., rolling off your tone pot - all these things will fatten your sound. Just put a stomp on it, or switch to a mini bucker. In the end, nobody cares about your tone, but you. What matters are the lines you're producing.


The Buddha said: Moderation in all things.

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If nothing else, it's a cheap experiment to go buy several gauges of the same string and see if you can hear a difference. I'd say it'd be best to record the demos and be able to some how blind shuffle them (and have us vote!) on which one sounds the best. Although, I'm thinking the tiny difference may be tough to discern with a recording.


I will say in regards to SRV (and Jimi's) sound that drop tuning makes a bigger difference in sound than changing the gauge of strings, imho.

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"I put 9s' on my 25.5" scale guitars, and 10s' on 24.75 & 25" scale guitars."




Lighter strings break more easily, so that would be a benefit for heavier ones.


Carlos uses 9.5s.

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I think I once had .12's on a Carvin Bolt with 25.5" scale length when I was 15 years and heard Kurt Cobain used heavy gauge strings (I was 14 or 15 ok). Big mistake.


It felt like the neck got all out of whack and the action was just off. Probably could have been fixed with someone that knew more about setting up guitars; I did tweak my truss rod as much as I was confident doing but it still wasn't right. On shorter scale guitars though like my Les Paul it wasn't so much of a problem. But maybe it was all in my head.


Now I keep it simple and use .10 on all my guitars. I will say though that if you are doing lots of dropped tunings like Zakk Wylde heavy gauges might be better. When ever I play around with dropped tunnings my strings get pretty 'floppy'.


Related: Has anyone heard of using the same gauge for A and E? I thought I read John Petrucci had custom Ernie Ball's like that.

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I like 10's on my electrics (except my two banjocasters which use 9's) , 12's on acoustics, 12 or 13's on resos (if it will work without the cone rattling I use 12's). I play so much that anything heavier hurts my hands.

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I have a friend who wears 15 EEE's. He was in an elevator at Nordstom's and a beautiful woman got in. She was staring at his shoes and looked up at him and he said, "It's true."

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SRV used some big strings but also tuned down a tad. It is amazing how much tension is removed when tuning down a half step.


My son grew up playing with 11's because of Stevie but at the age of 35 he has changed to 10's. His hands are very strong and he is enjoying the change.


I hope to bring him along with me this year to psp.





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I use 12s on my acoustic guitars and 10s on the electrics wether they are 24 3/4 or 25 1/5 inch scale.

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Ive seen/heard people with great ability and musicality get awesome sounds out of guitars and amps using thin strings and die hard guitar lovers with out a skerrick of ability get the worst possible sound out of great sounding guitars and amps using heavy gauge strings.

I have also noted that people with ability and musicality can also get amazing sounds using heavy gauge strings and people that lack any ability can sound quite bad with thin strings.

The conclusion of these observations is obvious. Its obviously the pickups, nuts and stoptails, caps and pots, that are the real tone generators not the string gauge.

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I think the science behind it is not necessarily the thickness of the strings but how much tension is there, Freddie Green was said to have the action about an inch from the fretboard to get all the volume he could. However, the last time I saw Marty Grosz play he had light strings on a 1938 16" (obviously) L5, plus a really thin pick and he just blew me away. So there are obviously more factors to consider, but strings seem to be a necessarily element.

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I've recently bought a H535 that came with 9's.

While I'm in the thicker string = thicker tone club (member since '81), I'm leaving them on until they break. The last six months have seen more typing, less guitar playing and my hands reflect years of abuse.

Maybe using a thick pick and light strings will force me to relax.

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It really is a balance of things. I like very, very low action. I mean... 'not many people can play it but me' low. With this, you have some choices to make. How much neck relief do you want? For me, I want no relief or as close as possible. I want the nut cut and bridge dropped as low as it can go. Beyond that, I have to experiment with string size. The bigger the string, the less wobble it gets for to make a note relative to a smaller string. With the less wobble, the lower I can get the strings to a flat neck.

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