Welcome to strings 101! He we start at the very beginning, with info to help you get to know your way around the world of guitar strings. Let’s dive in!
When looking at a pack of strings, there will be a collection of numbers that relate to the gauge (size / thickness) of each string in the pack. If we start with our featherlight electric set as a reference, the numbers 09-42 are short hand, referring to the lightest string in the pack (09), then the lowest (42).
Your pickups / acoustic wood determine the character of your sound, with the strings, a compromise between tone & playability is presented.
The 6 in the lower portion of the pack references the total amount of strings, so in a featherlight 6 set, the lightest string (09) will be the guitar's 1st string (high E) and the 42 will be the thickest 6th string (low E). The numbers surrounding the 6, show every string in the packet, running from the 1st string at the top, counter-clockwise in order, through the entire set. The 'w' after the lowest 3 strings in the packet signify that these strings are wound, which in short, is a certain material (nickel in this case) wrapped around wire to create thicker strings, producing our lower range notes.
Say you’re talking to another guitarist, you ask “what strings do you use?” they reply with, “I like them light, I use 9’s”, this is another short hand where using the lightest string in the pack as an abbreviation, quickly describes which standardised set is being used.
For beginners, lighter strings are generally more forgiving.
If you’re starting out, a featherlight set is probably the best bet, be it for electric guitar, acoustic or bass. The strings are light & flexible, which are easier on fingers when applying pressure to fret/create notes on your instrument. Assuming that the instrument is tuned to E standard, a featherlight set will have a loose tension when tuned to pitch. This lighter tension also means when executing bends and/or adding inflection (vibrato), it's easier to obtain with a more malleable string.
If you're more focused on chord work or learning styles that don't lean towards a ton of string bends, it's a good choice to look into a heavier set. The thicker the strings are, the bigger boost in natural tone.That's not to say you need to go too extreme, moving to the 10-46 gauge, which would be considered a step up from featherlight, has been the new standard for a while. It's a great middle ground for any contemporary style, it's also a good starting point to develop your calluses (tough skin on your fingertips) which will ease your overall playing!
In summary, the best place for novice players to start is generally with lighter strings, however, If you find a particular set suits you, no matter which, run with it! Don't overthink if you're having fun & getting somewhere with your playing! It's good to know the info but it doesn't need to bog you down!
Our first in our lesson series runs through the technique Economy Picking, providing some starting insight and exercises into a technique that's beneficial for any guitarist.