String Gauge, Hand Strength, Tone, and Playability

On my full scale dreadnaught I just accidentally switched (due to the dense music store clerk telling me all Martins are factory strung with Lights) to light gauge strings from mediums. It’s an interesting tradeoff where I notice a LOT easier playability being able to barre chords better, get in some funky low string bends, etc. but slightly worse tone with less punch and bottom end. I also get a bit of string buzz when I really strum hard. I would say the tonal sacrifice is less noticeable than the playability gain. I’m actually surprised how well the guitar took the light strings. Of all my guitars it’s still the heaviest strung one. For those of you who I haven’t interacted with yet I’m still a beginner, maybe 3 years back into my guitar journey.

Do you accept sacrificing tone for playability especially when it comes to being able to barre easier? As a beginner is it good to feel the burn a bit and keep building hand strength or does that matter at all?



Its always a tradeoff.

But its best to land on what suits you best overall. People say thick strings for blues but BB was using 8’s for his huge bends

Lighter strings mean lower tension, this can affect your necks relief so may need a tweak to that.

I think it matters less on electric than acoustic where you have amplification and compression to make up for thinner strings.

If you get buzz, then @RobDickinson is probably right that you need to adjust the relief a touch with lower tension strings.

Also, work on adjusting your pressure. You may be used to mashing the heavier strings and that may be a bit too much for the lighter set.

Yep, when I changed my Taylor from 12s to 10s, it needed a truss rod tweak. That would explain the fret buzz.

Few months ago I thought to try liter strings on my Casino. Mostly because of soar left index (too much barre F chord practice too soon…). Went from standard gage 10 to 9. My left hand loved it. Felt like in a small sports car :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: BUT I hate the sound . Lost the « Casino sound » for witch I bought a Casino​:roll_eyes:… I tought maybe I would fin a way to compensate with the right hand playing or with the pedals (overdrive, etc). Nothing worked for me and I came back to the standard gage and got back to the sound I missed​:crazy_face::smiling_face_with_three_hearts::partying_face:

You’ve been playing a lot longer than me, so keep that in mind…

I rate playability over tone, all day, every day. But if you can get both, go for it.

I’m not sure what sizes medium or light are. It might vary by manufacturer? On my cheapo Yamaha acoustic, I swapped out 12s for 11s, and it made playing a LOT easier. Yes it did sacrifice some volume but 100% worth it.

When I got my good acoustic, a Maton, it’s set up right from the factory with a very low action and is very, very playable. So easy to play. It has 12s on it, and is easier to play than the Yamaha with 11s, and sounds loads better too. Because it’s a better guitar.

When my niece started playing guitar I strung up her secondhand cheap Yamaha acoustic (oh they’re such good beginner guitars) with 10s. because she has much smaller teenage girl hands, with fingers half the width of mine. 12s on that would have been brutal for her, she wouldn’t have been able to play.

Electrics are a different story, I think depends how you play and the light touch thing applies. I found I was pressing too hard on 9s (standard on Fenders), so went to 10s, but had a luthier recommend a hybrid set, of 10s for the thick strings and 9s for the thin strings so bending is easier. That’s working for me now. Although for electrics, the tone is in the amp. But I know you’re talking about acoustics :wink:

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Thanks guys for your replies.

I’m not concerned about the buzzing. It’s very minor and only happens if I really strum way harder than my normal loud strum.

I’m mainly concerned about: 1. Not building hand strength as well with the lighter gauge strings. Is this even an issue? 2. Very slightly (to my ears) loss of bottom end and punchiness in my tone.

Any thoughts on the hand strength thing?


There is no denying that lighter strings are easier to play, but going between electric and acoustic, i find its more about technique than outright strength.
As lighter strings are easier to fret, they let you away with slightly sloppy technique like fretting a bit too far back from the fret. Swap to heavier strings, and those little finger positional things get shown up.

However, as you develop as a player, you’ll become far more aware of these things, and learn to adapt more quickly.

I’d probably suggest leaving the lights on for just now, as it’ll let you experience that little bit difference, plus as you’ve already noted, they can’t be strummed quite as hard, so use them to develop a bit more about not strumming as hard.
You can always swap back to mediums at the next string change.

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