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I like light strings and I cannot lie!!!

We’ve all been there, picked up somebody else’s guitar and wondered just what strings they’ve put on there.  They’re either too light, too heavy, too tight, too loose…whatever the situation, they just don’t feel right!  More often than not, when people pick up my guitar the strings are too light for their liking.

Guitar playing can be a lot like going to the gym.  Hear me out!

The guitar world can be quite ego driven.  Let’s face it, it’s nice to flex those muscles sometimes, lift heavier than the next guy, play faster than the next player and string gauge can fall into that category for some people too.  There can be a misconception that better players should play heavier gauge strings….so the heavier the strings I use, the better I am at guitar, right!? We’ve all heard the infamous story about Stevie Ray Vaughan and his 13 gauge strings (I also read recently that at one point he’d opted for a set of 18-72 gauge….what a nutter!), my eyes are watering just typing those numbers. The scientific information is all there too. The more steel there is in the string, the greater the mass and the more magnetic pull there is from the pickups giving more output, thus a better tone. All evidence suggests we should be striving to use those 13-60 gauge strings.  The truth is, I probably couldn’t even bend that 13 gauge a whole step without breaking into a sweat.  I’m more of a 9-gauge kind of guy and not ashamed to say so.  Rest assured, I’m under no illusion that playing heavier gauge strings can offer more projection of tone, more bottom end and all the trimmings that go with them.  If I liked using them then I most certainly would, but alas, they’re just not for me. There’s something nice and comforting in the knowledge that I can make the bends I need to without worrying if my blues gurn will turn from “I’m absolutely lovin’ this man!” to “I want my mummy!”   There’re so many other things that make guitar playing hard, there shouldn’t be a reason to add to the challenge for me!

"I’m more of a 9-gauge kind of guy and not ashamed to say so."

In the past, I’ve felt a bit “Arnie-like” and ventured into using “big boys” strings.   In fact, I could feel my balls getting bigger just stringing them up.   However, I soon came to realise, I actually find a heavy gauge strings bloody tough work. I’m not a big guy, and wasn’t blessed with Hendrix’ shovel sized hands.  But more so than anything, playing the guitar for me is pleasurable.  It’s supposed to be fun and when I’ve experimented with heavier gauge strings in the past, at times, it really took its toll on my hands and some of the joy out of playing. Ahhh diddums! Enough about that…. what we all really care about is “was your tone better Lee?” Surely that’s all that matters right?! Well, perhaps I did achieve a bit more oomph, but in reality I think my technique suffered as a result.  I can put peoples’ ears on edge with my playing at the best of times, let alone without making life more difficult for myself.  For me, better technique should trump your ego every time! In fact, some of the world’s most famous players have used light gauge strings; Yngwie Malmsteen, Albert Lee, James Burton, Santana, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, & Tony Iommi

Let me just throw a spanner in the works that might twist your melon a little!

Back in the early days of ZZ Top, Billy Gibbons played heavier gauge strings.  That was until he had a backstage conversation with BB King after picking up Lucille and discovering BB strung her up with light gauge strings.  BB King asked Billy Gibbons why he felt the need to play such heavy strings and said; “Why you workin’ so hard?” [caption id="attachment_575" align="alignleft" width="323"]RWN0738 Jim Dunlop Rev Willys's Billy Gibbons 07-38 Set[/caption] Nowadays, Billy Gibbons plays 07-38 gauge strings…yep you read right! His signature Dunlop Reverend Willy’s strings are used on many of his guitars and believe it or not contribute to those thick gritty ZZ Top riffs.  You try telling Billy that he’s got a weedy tone! Perhaps there’s another argument here for the old adage, “it’s all in the fingers”, but that’s for another time. So you can see the players who use (or have used) lighter strings span a whole spectrum of musical styles.  So why did they use light strings?  Because it worked for them!  Don’t worry about anybody else.  If your band mates start piping up about worrying about what gauge strings you use, you probably need new band mates! Please don’t mistake this for a blog post championing super light gauge strings.  It’s really not.  More so it’s a post just saying, be yourself.   Yes, there are factors which may dictate the gauge of string you choose (scale length, dropped tuning, how hard you hit the strings etc), however, putting those things aside, use what makes guitar playing fun for you and only you.  That’s the key here.  If you love a heavy gauge string and it brings you great joy chugging those low-end riffs out, then knock your socks off.  Hit those strings hard and with “Pride & Joy”! But if you’re like me and light gauge strings make you smile that little bit more whilst playing guitar….go for it!  That smile will feed into your playing and I’m sure you’ll enjoy making and playing music far far more. Lee - Strings Direct 28/09/2017

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