Acoustic Guitar / new strings / F Chord

Hi everyone,

I have a question and once again I hope there’s someone here who can help me.

Here’s my situation in general:
I’ve got an acoustic guitar (Fender CD 60-S) and I’m currently - technically - on the last module of Grade 1. However, I’m always someone who also looks ahead and as the F chord will be on my plate soon, I’ve already had a look at Justin’s video for that. I guess it doesn’t surprise anyone that I’m struggling with it.

I have no idea which strings are currently on my guitar. Online i found this information: Fender® Dura-Tone® 880L Coated 80/20 (.012-.052 Gauges), PN 0730880303
As it was a gift from a friend who bought the guitar in Estonia, I’m not sure though.

I now have the opportunity to get new strings for free next week as a guitar shop has a cool promotion going on - and Fender guitars are eligible. The new strings I can get will also be Fender strings, so there’s a limitation on what kinds of options I have.

So long story and here’s my question: Do you know if different kind of strings would be helpful for me to get the F chord sooner? As money really is an issue for me, I can neither afford non-Fender-strings nor an electric guitar (although I really want one…).

I’m also a bit scared that with different strings, the guitar will “feel” different for me. I catch myself playing with closed eyes from time to time, with my hand simply moving by feel/muscle memory. I honestly have no idea if that’s a good thing but it puts less strain on my neck and shoulder compared to when I’m looking at the fretting hand.

Basically, I’m hoping for thoughts on what would be most beneficial - different strings (if available) with the risk of a new-ish feeling to my guitar or the same kind of strings with the usual struggle to get that chord right.

Thank you all in advance!


PS: Maybe it also helps to say that with the F chord, my first finger’s side is getting quite sore very soon thanks to the strings being quite thin already. I don’t miss the finger pain from the beginning and I kind of think, I’ll have to work through this new kind of finger pain regardless… Hopefully it’ll get better, too.


Lighter strings will make playing easier, but will reduce the volume and change the sound of the guitar.

12’s (a .012 thinnest string) is a pretty standard size for acoustics to come with.

I’d recommend you consider 11’s, or maybe even 10’s. I put 11’s on my acoustic when learning F and it made a HUGE difference. The reduce string tension made fretting way easier.

On your PS - the side of your finger getting sore - that’s normal. It will happen with any strings. Remember how it hurt when you started playing until you formed calluses on your fingertips? For the F you now need to do the same for your barre.

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I’m an advocate for the lightest strings possible, so that would be .010’s on an acoustic. The advantages of lower tension outweigh any changes in tone or volume, in my opinion.

For me, the two things you can do to make your acoustic guitar more playable are: 1) make sure the action is set low enough and 2) use very light gauge strings.

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Personally, I would use whatever strings you want to use when actually playing your guitar outside of practice. Yes, lighter strings will make fretting easier. However, I personally don’t see the point in practising differently than you plan to play, particularly when it’s based around the hope of learning a single chord a bit more quickly. What’s the point in being able to play F on your ultra-thin strings if you’re incapable of playing it on that old acoustic your mates dig out at a BBQ?

It’s like doing all your practice sitting down when you plan to perform standing up. You should practice the way you want to actually play, rather than hampering yourself by making things easier and then wasting time transitioning/re-learning later on.

My humble opinion.


As Goffik says

“train the way you fight, fight the way you train”.

… I would just add that putting lighter gauge strings on an acoustic will change the ‘feel’ a lot less than on an electric, as the string tension is relatively tighter on the acoustic.

If you are struggling for cash, consider string breakage in your choice too, I’ve broken quite a few light high E strings, especially once you get onto string bending …

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Always down to choices. Lighter strings reduce tension, but feel more like the razor that you are already noticing. I dislike 11 and 10s on my guitars, even my electrics (which I don’t play anyway). I would use 13s if I could, but too beefy for me.

That said, you will get past the painful stage of barre cords as previously mentioned.

If the sharpness bothers you, stick with 12s, otherwise go with 11s. They are easier to play.

The 80/20 are probably good and trying something more esoteric when you don’t feel you can afford to change them if you don’t like them may not be worth it.

Another option while learning is to tune down a half or whole step. That loosens the tension as well. If you loosen 1/2 step and put a capo at fret 1, you will stay in standard tuning with lower tension and still be able to play along with the app or backing tracks.

Are you in the USA? I would be happy to send you a set of Straight up Strings 12s. Those are lower tension and nice strings. I have an extra set they sent me for free because the maker is super cool and kind and I have an issue with one set (turned out to be user error, of course). For future reference if you liked them, they are average cost strings and last reasonably long.

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Sarah @Estel
When I had my acoustic set up recently I changed from 12’s to 11’s which is easier but not significantly different. However what is more important is the guitar set up correctly if you don’t know get it checked.

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Hi Estel,

I’m a beginner too, in the middle of grade 2, which means I’ve been making friends with F for some time now. I have 10s on my acoustic guitar specifically because they are easier (for me) to play. Justin often makes comments during lessons about being patient as a beginner, for example not using too-thick picks, not trying to mute the low E with your thumb until later in the journey. I put string gauge in that same category. For me, lighter strings allow me to make progress faster, and that makes me happy! FWIW - I’m actually using the barre F in several songs now, and hit my changes about half the time. :smiley:

Starting out on thinner strings may make the process easier. Down the road, it’s an easy choice to use heavier strings. Anything to help make it easier is worth a try. I went for a wider nut on my guitar as a beginner, an experienced friend said it would help and he was certainly right. I asked if it would mean I couldn’t play the someone else’s acoustic (your BBQ scenario) and he said once I get better it won’t matter much. And he was right. :slight_smile:

Hi Estel,
I have a Fender CD 60 SCE which was delivered with 12’s. I had some hard weeks at the beginning and changed strings down to 10 as the first change was necessary. The tone of the guitar is less powerful now. But it made a huge difference for fretting. Especially the first fret was very hard to play, I always had deep furrows in my fingers that really hurt. After changing down, it was playable with less effort. I could start with the F Chord on electric but there’s no problem to play it on accoustic too. Maybe, further down the road, I’ll change back to 11s or 12s. I think, it could be worth a try.

Hi Sarah, I don’t think you should go to anything lighter than 11’s but I also have another suggestion, do you have a Capo?
If you do put it in the 1st fret position (as near to the fret as possible) and try it again, if that works it’s likely that the nut isn’t cut quite right.
If you don’t have a capo, you can make one with a round pencil and thick rubber band.
You cut the length of the pencil to give about 10mm overhang either side of the fingerboard and cut a small notch around each end about 3-4mm in from each end. Then you place the pencil on the fingerboard and look how much you need to remove from the middle so it would touch the fingerboard, then gently remove wood from the middle outwards in a curve to match the fretboard radius. This takes care and patience! Finally you try it over the strings and hold it in place using the thick rubber band looped around each end and apply enough pressure on the strings to get them to ring out by looping more than once if needed; you may need to use some thin rubber between the pencil and strings for this to work consistently.
Same thing applies as before, if you find it easier than without the capo the nut may not be cut correctly.
If this is the case it is possible to do it yourself if you are prepared to have a go - a nut is not expensive to replace if you get it wrong or there is a way it can be fixed if you remove too much of the nut during adjusting the slot.
Phew! Hope that helps!

Interestingly I came across this video

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Justin’s recommendation:

“I suggest that all beginners use super light or light strings (we’d say ‘9’s’ for electric and ‘11’s’ for acoustic) or one step up if you feel tough enough! Thicker strings do have a better fuller sound but they’re a LOT harder work.”

I stuck with one step up. Yes it’s slightly harder work at the start but it gets easier over time with practice.

But I think it really comes down to personal preference what gauge you use and what strings you use.

I use 10s on my Taylor. I had intended to go from 12s to 11s, but my guitar store didn’t have any in stock that particular day, so I took the bigger plunge and went with the 10s.

They recommended a tweak of the truss rod with a change of two gauges (my guitar came with lifetime setups, so they weren’t just trying to make a few bucks off of me.) I’m very happy with 10s and have no intention of going back to heavier strings. Your mileage may vary.

Depends on the guitar and the action. My cheapie Yamaha F310 was very hard to play with 12s and still is. So I use 11s on it.

My Maton is easy to play with 12s, easier than the Yamaha with 11s. But the guitar was 10x the price.

For beginners with cheap guitars - which are not going to be well set up - thinner strings have less tension and are easier to fret. That’s what I found through trial and error with a few different strings.

James @Socio
Interesting article, as I said above I have recently changed from 12’s to 11’s on my acoustic, could I tell the difference, well possibly, but I am only just started on grade 2 and barely started ear training.
This article was based on using a mic to pick up the sound, I wonder if there is any difference if it was plugged into an amp. I don’t have one at home but I plugged my guitar briefly recently into somebody’s at the guitar club just to see if it worked. Where we meet the hall as a proper set up with a mixing desk, I think you would call it, and this week I was persuaded plug in and to play a few chords. Wow what a difference, the volume and overall sound, I was concentrating on not making a fool of myself to take too much notice of the sound other than to think it sounded less ‘harsh’ not really a musical term, of course something could have been going on at the mixing desk.
I think the point I am making and stating the obvious, is that with a standalone guitar then the sound will depend on the string gauge, but when plugged in it can all be changed.

If that’s what someone wants to do then that’s up to them… we’re all free to choose what we do and how we do it. But I do not agree with that method, for the reasons I gave previously. Any choice is “easy” to change later on… you can choose to play piano instead of guitar if you like. But suddenly fretting difficult chords on heavy strings when your finger strength and callouses are used to thin strings is not going to happen overnight.

Hence I do not see the point in making things “easy” just to speed them up initially, when you will have to waste time transitioning later on. I’ve always practised as I mean to go on, and it’s what I will always advise others to do if asked.

Some time ago, I diligently watch the Rick Beato video posted by @Socio . I listened carefully through excellent headphones (although they were Bluetooth).

I honestly felt that I clearly heard differences where they said they didn’t, so I disagree with their takeaway from their experiment.

Now, that by no means indicates that the difference is important or any sense of “better” or “worse”. Just different and I think of other reasons to choose string gauge, like feel.

I really dislike the feel of thinner strings. Maybe it is my “Princess and the Pea” moment, but I have tried and tried to like thinner strings because they are easier and my conundrum is that I also like lower tension.

So I am using Straight up Strings low tension 12s and now have a shorter scale acoustic and play nylon (thick and low tension, go figure🧐). I also have an even lower tension set of Newtone Heritage 12s to try. If I really feel wimpy I can tune down a half step since I am not playing with others, but I am afraid that that may be too much and the stings will buzz.

I do wonder if the main benefit to thicker strings, beyond feel, is for un-amplified acoustics and players who really dig in hard.


Oh wow. First of all, let me say that I’m blown away by all of your kind and helpful responses! I knew that this community is great, but I’m starting to believe that guitarists are some of the kindest people there are. Thank you so much, all of you!

Phew, this will be a task in itself to answer :smiley:

In general, I think the consent here is that it comes down to personal choice? :joy:

@jkahn I think I’ll ask if they have a guitar with 11’s on it, so I can try out the feeling before I decide on the strings for my guitar.
And yes, I keep thinking about January when two minutes with my fingers on the strings were hellish. It’s quite humbling, to be honest. I’m not someone who gets too confident when learning new things, but reliving the finger pain would fix that…

@jjw1 I had someone look at the guitar in summer (same shop as I’ll go to now) and they said that it was well set all in all. They even recommended only getting new strings at the end of the year even though they easily could’ve told me the strings needed to be changed right now. I wouldn’t have known better. But I’ll keep it in mind and ask what they think on that.

@Goffik That’s good advice - I learned some of it the hard way. Thanks to an injury in my shoulder I had to start practicing standing rather than sitting down. I now try to do both (as my shoulder could easily start hurting again), but I see what you mean. The thing is: I don’t have any mates with guitars around, so the BBQ scenario won’t happen, I guess. :sweat_smile: But I’ll keep it in mind!

@liaty That quote reminds me of my martial arts training :smiley: Thanks for the info on string breakage! The good thing is: Putting the strings on the guitar is included in this “free strings for your favourite guitar”-offer. So if they break them, it’s not my problem. However - when I get home and they break… That’s a different story. So thanks!
And… I hope it’s not too dumb a question: String bending on an acoustic guitar is a thing too? I only ever saw it on electric guitars.

@Jamolay I’m a bit speechless. That is such a kind offer, thank you :heart: I’m in Germany, however, so hold onto them for someone like me but who doesn’t live across the pond. I’ll keep that idea with the capo in mind - thank you!

@MAT1953 Thank you! I’ll have them re-check the guitar!

@judi Ah it’s good to see that succeeding with that chord is a possibility :smiley: Congrats! (I mean, of course it’s possible, but hearing it from another beginner… that makes me even more hopeful!) I “succeeded” in getting 5 out of 6 strings to ring out yesterday with the F chord. The B string is reluctant but I’ll someday convince it… hopefully :wink: I don’t know if 10’s would be too sharp for me, but I’ll see. Hopefully the guitar shop has some acoustics there with thinner strings to try out.

@tony So a wider nut is also a thing that might help with the F chord?

@Helen0609 Ah yes, starting the F chord on electric… that would be a dream. As I’m trying to get on my feet with my own business, money’s pretty tight (especially in this economy). So maybe the change in strings (11’s as from what I read here, the razor feeling of 10’s might be too much for me) would be the way to go. Or the capo option.

(I’m only allowed to tag 10 users in one reply, so I’ll post the second part in a minute. Hope that’s okay. I wanted to answer all of you!)


@DarrellW Wow. I do have a capo, but let me just say that I’m speechless how kind you are to help me out with this explanation! If I ever break my capo, I know what to do now - thank you so much! I’ll try that later and we’ll see what happens. Just to clarify: I put the capo close to the 1st fret coming from the side of the nut? But not directly on the fret, correct? (I truly feel like a beginner but well… no dumb questions, right? :sweat_smile: )

@Socio Thank you, I’ll have a look at that video! And also thank you for finding Justin’s recommendation. I’m starting to think 11’s might be a possibility (but I’ll see if I can try them out first).

@markr31 Thank you! If I change to thinner strings, I’ll ask them to also look if something additional needs to be done.

So I guess, when I’m in the shop on Wednesday, I’ll ask the people there if they have an acoustic guitar with lighter strings so I can try out how it feels. If that doesn’t “feel” right, I think I’ll stick to the ones I have. I might not have the most trained ear, but I do notice when something doesn’t quite sound as I think it should and I think a change in sound due to thinner strings might confuse me. And as I’m guite sensitive concerning touch… too thin might be not the best choice for me. So one step thinner or the same ones, I guess?

Phew. Thank you so much, everyone - you truly made my day with all of this!

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