Lighter gauge strings and picking?

I’ve been playing with 10’s for years on Strats and 11’s on Gibsons and was wanting to maybe experiment with lighter strings to make it a little less hard on myself. It’s difficult to bend anything past a whole step on my Flying V with the 11’s :confused: The question though is it easier to alternate pick with lighter strings over heavy ones? I know Shawn Lane used 8’s :flushed: and I think Yngwie and Paul Gilbert do too. I wouldn’t go that light, I would just put 9’s on my Strat and 10 on my Flying V. @Troy You have a preference, or is there no difference in the difficulty with fast alternate picking with string gauge? Thanks for the input.

I think the biggest difference is with fretting. Lighter gauge strings require less force for the fretting hand to fret notes cleanly, so I think it would follow that it should be easier to achieve synchronization between the picking and fretting hand with lighter gauge strings. In theory, because lighter gauge strings have less tension at a given tuning than higher gauge strings, there could be a point where “looseness” of the strings became a limiting factor on picking speed, but using 9s tuned to Eb on a 25.5" with either a Strat bridge or Floyd Rose (bridges with springs will feel more loose than a fixed bridge), I can pick as fast as I’d ever want to, even near the neck pickup, where the amount of “play” in the string is greater.

So the lighter gauge doesn’t make it easier to push through the strings? I wonder why some of those players I mentioned go so light? It’s not like they’re blues players that are stretching strings all over the place. :thinking:

I’ve typically used 10’s or 11’s (or 12’s tuned down a whole step back in my metal band days).

I got spammed by this video one day

I like Rick and think he generally gives interesting advice. The comments in the video raise a good question of why he didn’t do the test on a clean channel. But still, I thought the extra brightness was neat. After all, we can always easily go just a little muddier with our tone knobs. Plus I figured…why work so hard on the heavy strings? :slight_smile: He’s got a point about SRV syndrome. Just cuz some awesome player does something doesn’t mean we should.

So I picked up a set of 9’s…it’s probably just about what I’m used to, but I can play faster on the guitar that I’ve strung with 10’s. The 9’s feel so light that I think my pick pushes through them too easily and messes up my sync. I’ll bet if I give it more practice it will normalize. But yeah I was thinking of asking the same question, so thanks @Regotheamigo! Curious what others think about string gauge and speed.

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When I was playing more rhythm, I used to play 10-48 Dunlop Heavy Core on 25.5 because I wanted a tighter feel when palm-muting. It’s the plain strings of a 10-46 set with with wound strings of a 11-48 set. It felt like the string was responding to aggressive downpicking a bit more, and it remained fairly playable for bending or vibrato. It’s also more balanced in tension than a 10-52 set, making it easier to adjust on a Floyd Rose equipped guitar. Quite frankly, I didn’t like at all most sets thinner than 10-46 due to how they responded to my pick attack.

Then I became weak, stopped playing rhythm as much (and stopped playing as much altogether) and went a full gauge down to 9-46 to make the instrument a bit easier to play for the left hand and brighter sounding, but I don’t think it had a lot of impact on my right hand… mostly because I haven’t been playing fast rhythm as much as I used to. Playing more lead parts changed a bit my preferences regarding playability. I do think the Rick Beato video posted above also had an impact on me.

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Very interesting video! yeah I like Rick too. it’s pretty shocking the differences to me are very minor maybe 1 to 5 % I could hear a little bit more roundness on the tone with the 11s but it’s very subtle so if I could get by with 9’s instead of 10’s on my Strat to make Bending notes easier and overall playing easier I’m going for it! :+1:

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Used 56 - 11 on my drop C guitar (before I sold it).
Not much difference compared to my current guitar (slinky strings)

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I begrudgingly started using .008’s after years of using .010’s (and sometimes .011’s). I was also a Les Paul guy. The heavier gauges just “feel” better to me on those guitars. Anyway, hand troubles forced me to lighten the gauge and much to my surprise, I quite like the tone. It’s a little clearer and brighter. It’s been good for me and I’m not angry about it anymore LOL

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I’m taking my Flying V down today to have them set it up with 10’s from 11’s that are on there now. If I dig how it sounds and feels I’ll take down the Fenders. Hope it works out. :grimacing::pray:

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This is all probability not going to go as you expected, it’s going to be iterative, there is no one way. Let me try to explain. It’ll will fundamentally change your guitar setup and you will be presented with new choices. The action you settle on will determine tone and feel.

If you raise your action from where you’'re used to having it; you’ll get a warmer tone and reduced change in tension. Vice versa.

Depending on your guitar, frets and playing style you will have to do a lot of experimenting to find you’re sweet spot, including pickup height. This is almost impossible to do cause you have no point of reference for lighter gauge strings as yet.

And the truth is this is not something you can try for a day or two and make a decision. it can take 6 months to get used to a radically different setup, there is no way you’re going to like it immediately, your fretting hand might but your picking hand won’t!

What will help is having a specific goal or a point of reference, in my case it was Malmsteen, it took a while but I got there, had to even get the right plectrums and the correct custom string gauge sets, and it still didn’t make entire sense till I got the right OD, amp and cab, till then I was just guessing.

This is very much like getting a custom suit made, you can’t just get the jacket, well it’s one way of looking at it. I’m sorry if I’m sounding discouraging, I’m really trying to set your expectations to reality.

It’s a huge commitment, trying light gauge strings without deciding to stick with it for a few months would be a wasted exercise. My apologies for the OCD soaked response, but this is serious business no !? :slight_smile: :thinking:

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Not Troy, but I’ve done a lot of experimentation over the years, from all the way down to 7s on my Strat, to running 11-68s on a seven string for a couple years. I’ll allude to the Rick Beato video @joebegly posted as well here.

There are a LOT of factors in what drives a guitar tone, and the “feel” and response of a guitar. Strings are definitely one of the big ones, but only one. From an alternate picking perspective, I think the biggest difference you’re going to feel is how easy it is to move the pick through the strings. Lighter strings will deflect a little bit more, so yeah, there may be slightly less resistance to the pick on lighter strings that heavier strings, all else equal. But, you may not find that a good thing, I mention this becase if you do drop down a guage for easier bends, it might also be worth trying a slightly lighter pick, while you’re at it. At the time I was usiong 11-68s, I was using Dunlop “Stubby” Jazz-sized 3.0s, and when I dropped down I had to start looking for lighter picks because I could audibly knock the string sharp on the initial attack with my pickstroke (though actually as I write this I think I first switched to Jazz IIIs, after trying and going back to heavier strings in college due to the pitch instability, and it was only then as bending 11s in the first few frets was increasingly a battle that I started trying lighter picks. Now I’m down to 1.0 tortex flow pics).

The other major side of it, and I think what Beato is getting at, is that lighter strings tend to sound more uncompressed and have a more pronounced attack than heavier strings. Again, you can compensate somewhat with a lighter pick, but a lot of whether or not that works is going to depend on the rest of your signal chain. SRV famously swore by 12s, sometimes 13s, for tone. That makes perfet sense - he played a Strat through various Fender amps clean but turned up to the point of breakup. That’s a pretty open, uncompressed sound. I remember when I experimented with 7s and 8s, I absolutely loved the sounds I was getting… Out of a Fender Strat, plugged into a Mesa Rocket-44, a pretty dark, spongy, naturally compressed amp. Bright guitar, bright strings, dark amp actually was a pretty good tonal combination. It just didn’t work from a “feel” standpoint.

These days, I use 10s, a variety of guitars but generally with a fondness for pickups with pretty open attacks, into a Mesa Mark V which is on the darker and spongier side but I also don’t play with a ton of gain for a rock/“shred” guy. I think I’d probably sound better with 9s than the 10s I use, but I’ve tried to drop down to 9s and I don’t think I phrase as well on the lighter strings, something about having a little bit of resistance to balance against really seems to work for me, so I’ve adjusted around that, gravitating to pickups with really clear attacks (singlecoils, humbuckers with really open response in the neck position), probably my fondness for slightly lower gain lead sounds is a factor, lighter picks than I used to use with 11s but whenever I try to go below 1.0 to 0.88 or 0.73 I end up going back up over a couple weeks, etc… strings really do influence the attack of your pickstroke, but there’s a lot of other things you can do to influence that so thinking about how you balance one part of your signalchain against another makes sense here.

All that said - have you tried using the same gauge on your Gibsons as your Fenders? I’d think 10s on the V would make the step-and-a-half bends a lot easier, and wouldn’t feel THAT different from your Fenders.

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Thank you for your insight on this topic. I’ve never tried to play with 10’s on my fenders and 10’s on my Gibson’s but maybe that’s the way I’ll go. that’s a good idea. It’s being set up over at Carter Vintage Guitars in Nashville and I should be getting it back in the next day or two so I’ll keep everyone posted if it’s life-changing. :grimacing::pray:

Well, I just tried out the lighter gage strings which would be 9’s from 10’s and OMG!! I fu*$king HATE them!!! The tone sucks, and I feel like I’m playing on thin needles that don’t feel round under my fingers. It reminds me of picking up a toy guitar from Toys R Us or something. :slightly_frowning_face: I’m going to try and get use to them, but don’t see it sticking. :man_shrugging:

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Much stronger words then my initial reaction of the same switch that I noted above haha

I haven’t yet gotten the motivation to play the guitar with the 9’s on it yet lol. I should get back to it. I think any time something feels/sounds drastically different than what we’re used to our initial reaction could be negative. Gotta way the options I guess. I was thinking I’d like the tone better as it would be brighter (it is) and I wouldn’t have to work so hard on bends and vibrato.

Thanks for sharing your progress though. Good to know I’m not alone in preferring the thicker strings on an initial switch!

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One of the biggest reasons for me wanting to switch was hoping that alternate picking would become easier with the lighter gauge strings. After all Shawn Lane, Yngwie, Paul Gilbert play with thin strings so maybe that’s why?? It made zero difference. :neutral_face: The only thing that’s easier is bending the strings, but it’s not like it’s night and day. I’ll keep plugging away for a while to see what happens.

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LMAO, I warned you guys.

If you want this to work you gotta commit. It’s as simple as that, and to do that you gotta have the fanboy in you at full bloom, else you’re doomed :sweat_smile: :joy:

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Haha yeah you did lol! In our defense, I had already tried this a month or so ago and I think @Regotheamigo may have already had his setup booked post warning. Good call though. It’s weird how something that seems so trivial can make such a difference.

All the guys in that Rick Beato vid I linked were strumming power chords…big difference from what we’re all going for

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It’s certainly a massive shift in string tension.

As you guys now know it’s not as straightforward as it may seem.

Let me sum up the reasons’ I think the lighter gauge works for some legends.

  1. Tone - Bass is your enemy.
    • Can add bottom but can’t remove mud.
    • Can remove treble but can’t add in higher frequencies.
  2. Lighter Guage Strings last longer.
  3. Picking Efficiency.
    *Once you adjust, it takes a lot less effort to pick and bend.
    *Hammer ons and pull offs are more nuanced.

Things to do to make it work:

  • Higher Action
    • Adjust saddle heights
    • Adjust truss rod relief
    • Brings back the bold tones
    • Higher action will also bring some of the string tension back
  • Commit and stick with it for a few months:
    • one day it’ll click and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it earlier.
    • if you wanna play SRV on the lighter gauges, you can, but all your picking actions, rakes etc need to be scaled down.

I could go on but that’s my 2 cents, you rally gotta commit; it’s a shock initially as you guys now know. But it gets better; and after a point the only way.

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