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  1. #1

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    Just wondering if anyone's experienced getting a better tone using LIGHTER strings. I have a laminate top guitar (Epi Joe Pass), and have been using rather heavy TI GB114s. But now I'm considering going down, to maybe 12's. I've always preferred heavier stings (strong fingers I guess), and went by the rule to use the heaviest I can stand for the best tone. This rule definitely served me well on solid body electrics and flat top acoustics, and to some extent nylons. Also, I read about the old masters using 14, 15 and they sound great... but then again they were probably using more resonant guitars.

    On my guitar, I'm starting to really hear the percussive pop and plunk when I play and I'm not liking it. I'm wondering if these strings are just too heavy and choking the guitar. (Is that even possible?) The unwound trebles, especially, are giving me hardly any pleasant twang but instead sound like a piano wire being plucked with a piece of plastic. Seems like all I hear is the pick or nail and no string! I'm thinking the zing I'm after is either only possible on a solid top guitar, or I'm using the wrong string.

    I know, this is really going to require me to just change the strings and see for myself. Figured I see what you guys had to say on the subject before blowing $20 only to find the sound worse. Are 12's going to be too tinny? (That was my experience on flat tops).

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  3. #2

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    I think every guitar has a string gauge that suits it best.

  4. #3

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    I think every player has a tension level that suites them best. The string gauge should be selected to accomplish that tension level given the design of the guitar.

  5. #4

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    There was a time when I put 14s on my old Epiphone Howard Roberts and swapped the two top strings, ending up with a 16 for an E.

    The sound was fabulous and I liked them on that guitar.

    Now move ahead some 35 years and my fingers don't like heavy string at all. My right hand picking has gotten very light, I have an arch top with 11s on it that I haven't played for any significant time for a year. Instead I use a semi hollow thin body with 10s on it for everything I play.

    I like the sound a lot, I get no ping from picking because I don't pick hard...never particularly cared for the muffled "jazz" tone anyway, so once again, it's all individual taste, since we can't define "better" tone.

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hoji
    Seems like all I hear is the pick or nail and no string! I'm thinking the zing I'm after is either only possible on a solid top guitar, or I'm using the wrong string.
    Indeed. So of course, the answer to your question is simply: "No." There is nothing better or magical about heavy strings. It's just one of the variables in the equation.

    There are a great many quantifiable and not-so-quantifiable elements to guitar tone. But a very big part of it is the interface between fingers and strings. Notice I said fingers, because they either use a plectrum of some kind or they do the plucking themselves. But let's stick to picks for the moment. Here are the basic variables in the interface:

    Strings: Gauge, material
    Plectrum: Thickness, material, shape
    Attack: Strength, angle

    If you use a heavy string, you give the other side of the interface a harder, less flexible thing to hit. In order to get it to make sound, you must either use a correspondingly heavy pick OR a stronger attack. Otherwise, you will get more pick attack in your tone as the pick strikes the string. That's the "plink" you refer to.

    You can use a thinner pick, but in order to preserve tone and reduce the pick sound, you must lessen your attack strength, or in some cases vary your picking angle to reduce the deflection element.

    Note that all of these combinations are "good" in the right hands.

    If you use lighter strings, you can still use a heavy pick, but you must strike the strings more gently or it gets sloppy and loses dynamic range. If you use a lighter pick with lighter strings, you gain dynamics because you can have a wider range of attack and still get tone from the strings.

    The point I'm trying to make is that the elements of tone are interactive, and strings are only one of the parts. Therefore, "heavier strings are not always better tone." I would never even have asked that question.

    For the record, I use 12-53 roundwound strings on all of my archtops (some bronze, some nickel), and a Dunlop Tortex pick in either .73 or .88mm thickness (quite thin by jazz standards).

  7. #6

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    Some of it is the player and what they are used to playing. I know when I'm playing a lot daily I move to heavier strings I like the sound of them. Also its what the guitar itself responds to. I recently moved to 13's on my archtop and felt good, but sound just wasn't quite the same. After a few months I changed back down to 12's and the guitar just woke up sound wise.

    Like everything there is no absolute answer there are lots variable in the equation and you have to experiment.

  8. #7

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    Yeah it does depend quite a lot on how hard you hit/pluck the strings

    I hit hard , and my right hand is clumsey , so I do the faster stuff with
    Left hand legato techniques to compensate, I can't alternate pick for sh1t ..

    Ed Bickert seems to pick really lightly with light strings and has
    superb control over his chord balance and lines etc

    You got to experiment a bit to find a working solution for you
    when I found big flat wound stings it was a revelation for me
    and everything just fell into place so much better

    but that was just me

  9. #8
    I replaced the top two strings (14 and 18) with a 12 and a 16. The guitar is a lot livlier, and definitely easier to play. My playing is actually better now - faster, smoother. Almost too twangy, though. I miss the depth. Will try 13/17 next....

  10. #9

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    You can hear the difference that string gauges make when you listen to the extremes. For the extreme example of thin string gauge, listen to John Mclaughlin's early work on Extrapolation. Here you'll notice that the tone is a bit thinner IMO and the intonation is further off than traditional players using more traditional gauges.

    On the other extreme, take a listen to Pat Martino, who is noted for using piano wire on his guitar. IMO his tone is thick, but slightly dead.

    Also keep in mind that a long scale guitar (25.5) will require lighter strings than a short scale guitar (24.75) to achieve the same tension. As a result, you'll typically find heavier strings short scale guitars.

  11. #10

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    What are you calling "better tone"? Billy Gibbons uses 7's. A good carved Archtop needs enough pressure on the top to transmit tone, 12's are generally thought to be a good starting point. Laminate top? Depends on how thick the top & how the bracing was constructed. Guidelines are guidlines. Experiment til you get your sound.

  12. #11

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    I use 11s or 12s on both my Guild and my Ibanez and I like flatwounds. I use a lot of barre or semi-barre chords, no capos, move around the fretboard a bit, and I just need a light action and I like it set low. I use both medium or heavy picks and there is a difference in sound with the picks. I think a heavy pick produces a fatter, thicker sound, but I'm not used to the feel of the heavy pick entirely. If I don't grip it too tight, it seems to work better for me.

    Anyway, the lighter gauges sound fine on these two guitars, which I virtually always play through an amp.

  13. #12

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    Not necessarily. I use 11s on all my electric guitars and 13s on my acoustic. I wouldn't use anything 10 or below - too thin for me. However: 11s are still thinner than 12s and 13s and they still sound great.

  14. #13

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    I forgot to add: you might want to adjust the height of your pickups when you go to a lighter gauge esp. on the top two or three strings. It'll depend on the guitar, amp, your ears, etc......goes without saying!

    I hope you find what you like.

  15. #14

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  16. #15

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    Many factors, but one is the thickness of your guitar body and how hard you play. You want to get the top of an acoustic guitar vibrating and the strings do that. So the heavier the guitar construction the bigger the string gauge all things being equal. A big part of it for me is feel and how much tension I want on my strings. That is a function of the string angle at the nut and bridge on your guitar. So I tend to have different string gauges on different guitars, that feel and sound good to me. Experiment until you find what you like.

  17. #16
    An ideal string would be heavy in the low register and thin in the high register. Pat Martino plays a lot in the low register, so he sounds good with heavy strings - so did SRV. If you listen to what the strings sound like on the very top fret, thinner is always better - 08s sound great up there, while fat strings have no sustain and the overtones are way out of tune. There is an "ideal" length/thickness ratio and it changes with the position on the fretboard.

  18. #17

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    I am getting very satisfying results from GB 12 strings.

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Klatu
    You can hear the difference that string gauges make when you listen to the extremes.

    Also keep in mind that a long scale guitar (25.5) will require lighter strings than a short scale guitar (24.75) to achieve the same tension. As a result, you'll typically find heavier strings short scale guitars.
    This scale length - learning experience for me - came up at my last time string change - setup. My luthier also pointed this out to me.

    So - here's where I am now. I have this long-scale L-7 parallel braced acoustic only archtop. I started with Chromes 12's ( 'lifeless ' ) and went to 1/2 rounds -- also 12/52's and they're a lot better.

    So would going up to a heavier gauge w/ lesser tension ( TI's) help / change the sound any, and if so how ?


    Thanks !

  20. #19
    destinytot Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by Greentone
    I am getting very satisfying results from GB 12 strings.
    I've got GB 14s on my big archtop, but I think GB 12s may be better for my little Ibanez.

  21. #20

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    Heavier is not always better, my Tal lost a bit of its thunk with JS113, went back to JS112 an never looked back

  22. #21

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    > An ideal string would be heavy in the low register and thin in the high register.

    Conventional wisdom, but I don't buy it. Ideally, I think, every string should be as similar as possible in terms of tone and feel. The strings get thicker as required by physics, you make the string thicker so that it can play its appropriate range of notes with a tension level similar to its neighbor. You never hear of piano players, for example, putting heavy gauge strings from another set on their pianos for "tone."

    I think that you first decide flats vs. wound, plain G vs. wound G, and then pick a string and gauge that is low tension without being uncomfortably floppy. I wouldn't play light gauge labella tapes on a bydland, or heavy chromes on a long scale guitar. I definitely would not pick a brand or gauge of string that was uncomfortable to play in order to get a particular "tone."

  23. #22

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    In a word, "no." When I switched recently from TI JS113 to TI GB112 I believe I got slightly better tone from my carved body archtops. (Full disclosure: one of them already had GB112 strings on it.) I had been using JS113 strings on the other, and really loved the results. The only difference between the two sets is that the three treble-side strings in the Jazz Swing set are gauged .13 .17 .21W, while those in the Benson set are .12 .16 .20W. The two plain strings are steel while the wrapped strings are nickel.

    On my guitars, at least, things seemed livelier, zingier, and presented leading tones with a purer alto/tenor voice than with the slightly heavier set. Too bad. The GB set is about $10 more expensive per set.

  24. #23

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    Ok, so now I am more confused than I thought I was......

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by Staffan William-Olsson
    An ideal string would be heavy in the low register and thin in the high register. Pat Martino plays a lot in the low register, so he sounds good with heavy strings - so did SRV. If you listen to what the strings sound like on the very top fret, thinner is always better - 08s sound great up there, while fat strings have no sustain and the overtones are way out of tune. There is an "ideal" length/thickness ratio and it changes with the position on the fretboard.
    It is a myth that Pat Martino uses heavy gauge strings. His lower four wound strings are those from a 12-52 set. Pat Martino uses heavy gauge plain steel strings.

    Pat Martino’s personal string preference: Flat wound .016, .018, .026, .032, .042, .052 or .015, .017, .024, .032, .042, .052
    Last edited by Jabberwocky; 05-12-2016 at 02:59 PM.

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by Headshot
    Ok, so now I am more confused than I thought I was......
    Don't be. 12-52 works for almost everybody and every jazzbox.

    The T-I Jazz Swing JS113 have essentially the lower four strings of a D'Addario 12-52 set. Most guitar manufacturers ship their guitars with D'Addarios so it some sort of standard string brand.

    Plain steel strings are cheap and few will argue that they are different, from brand to brand. Buy generics in bulk from Just Strings, $2.90 a dozen.
    Last edited by Jabberwocky; 05-12-2016 at 03:11 PM.

  27. #26

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    I think that- with archtop guitars- if the strings are too heavy they exert too much downforce on the top plate through the break angle at the bridge. That can "choke" the sound of the guitar. Older guitars (say mid-40s and earlier) were intended for use with heavier strings because the instruments were used acoustically. As pickups became the norm lighter strings became more popular. Of course the glaring exception to that is the Selmer-Maccaferri which used very light steel strings (but a much longer scale) early on- lightly built guitars, light strings and lots of volume.

  28. #27

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    Every guitar is different. My Gretsch G400 Synchromatic sounds best with 12s or 13s, however on my Godin 5th Avenue I like to swap the top two strings from the 13 set to a 14 and 18. That works that particular guitar. I tried it on the Gretsch but it changed the tone (dulled it) in a way I didn't really like. The Gretsch has just the right level of 'thunk'.

  29. #28

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    A more general simple answer is that thicker strings will give you thicker tone. So if your guitar is thin or bright sounding, such as a Tele, it will benefit from thicker strings. If you are after a thicker tone as the tone of Pat Martino, Wes or George Benson, thicker strings can deliver. If you want to play fast twangy stuff as with chicken pickin, then thick strings will make it very difficult to do.

  30. #29

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    What kind of strings are you using on the Buscarino?
    Russell Malone: Flatwounds. I have a 14 on the high E, on the B string it's an 18, then 26, 36, 46 and 56.

  31. #30

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    I use D'addario 11's on everything except my gypsy guitar, for which I use Martin Bronze 10's -- shocking I know

  32. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jabberwocky
    What kind of strings are you using on the Buscarino?
    Russell Malone: Flatwounds. I have a 14 on the high E, on the B string it's an 18, then 26, 36, 46 and 56.
    My teacher, Jeff Caldwell, sets up his guitar this way in order to achieve very low action without buzzing. Although the strings are very heavy, his guitar is remarkably easy to play.

    Sent from my XT1064 using Tapatalk

  33. #32

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    I just put 12's pure nickel on my new Baja 60's telecaster and have been getting use to the increased tension and less Bounce the guitar seemed to have. Not sure they'll stay ?

  34. #33

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    When it comes to archtops I seem to be equating heavier strings with a louder acoustic punch at the expense of longer sustain. I really believe some experimentation for the guitar and playing style is in order.

  35. #34

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    I think there's an "arc" in there somewhere, and it's different for every guitar...up to a certain point, volume and sustain both increase with string gauge, until you reach a point where only volume does, and then only difficulty of play does

  36. #35

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    Another consideration is that of playing style. In my experience, fingerpicking is easier with lighter strings and becomes slightly more difficult when the gauge reaches 13. My playing is a combination of pick style and fingerstyle, so I've opted for 12 gauge strings on most of my guitars. I find that the 12s are thick enough to drive the tops of my acoustic archtops and thin enough to allow for quality fingerpicked tones.

  37. #36

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    By 12s, we do mean 12-52 or 12--53, not the T-I 12-50, don't we?

  38. #37

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    I have a Joe Pass also, unmodified with the exception of a rosegood :-) bridge. It wears 12 round wound and it and I love them.

    My fingers / hands are also not happy with heavy strings, never were but as it happens most of my archtops (especially the JP) really project with lighter strings. But I admit I have heavier flats on two of my Ibanez because they play like butter and just sound great.

    I think every git has a personality and finding a string that best meets your sonic wants and physical needs may be a trial and error experiment.

  39. #38

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jabberwocky
    By 12s, we do mean 12-52 or 12--53, not the T-I 12-50, don't we?
    You've got it. I consider 12-52/53 and 13-56 to be the standard sets.

  40. #39

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    I'm an older guy with 53+ years of playing in the rear-view. I started fingerstyle in emulation of John Fahey (when the Resurrection album came out I worked on 'Brenda's Blues') and Geoff Muldaur. Jody Stecher taught me about string-boiling (I don't).

    I own several instruments and string them all differently. I'm discussing my Yamaha Martin Taylor (AEX1500) with hum/piezo:

    I always liked the better sound/noise ratio of the heavy-guage strings. Those sets always come with a wound G, which deteriorates pretty damn fast - it would sound dead in a week - and I never could afford to buy new strings that fast. Using Tomastik strings, even more so...

    First, I'd order an extra G, but that wasn't always possible (I like to support local stores but most don't carry TIs). Then I'd buy an unwound G string. Also logistically iffy.

    But that turned me on to figuring out the "string-pull", effort it takes to fret strings. Guitar String Calculator

    Currently, I order single GHS strings as follows:
    RM32 Big Core Nickel Rockers Singles
    RM42 Big Core Nickel Rockers Singles
    RM56 Big Core Nickel Rockers Singles
    024 Plain Steel Singles
    018 Plain Steel Singles
    013.5 Plain Steel Singles

    I feel they last a month or two, and give me an fairly even 32 lb. resistance across the neck. Really good for bending the G at the second fret...

    Not shilling for GHS - they're the only place I could get all the weights above. But that changes all the time. Just Strings has SIT singles but only .13 or .14 plain...

    (By the way; Ken parker builds his archies for .12s

    Thoughts?
    Last edited by Marko47; 01-14-2017 at 04:34 PM.

  41. #40

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    In my experience I found that the use of different picks brings more changing in tone than the use of different sting gauges. And cost less.

  42. #41

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    As you see from my post above, I went a different direction:

    "Action is my speciality. I’m obsessed with action and playability. I understand that all of us are constructed differently, and I have devoted a big chunk of my worklife to facilitate the guitarist’s healthy and long - term interaction with the instrument. I can get an electric guitar to play perfectly at 1mm bass, .75 mm treble @ the 12th, but for expressive purposes, this action is too low to get a desirable dynamic range from an acoustic guitar. I normally build the guitar for D’Addario EXP (coated)Phosphor Bronze strings “012” - .053”. As a builder, I believe these strings to be superior to all others....

    "I’ve been at this repair/building thing for 35 years, and have worked for many guitarists who have had soft tissue problems that spoiled their ability to play. The sad part is that everything is fine until it isn’t, and then there’s no going back and doing it differently. In my opinion, based on this experience, 13s are too much for many of us, and it’s kinder on the body to consider the organism’s limitations. What a tragedy to be unable to play or practice the way you would like! I believe that the curves of humans and guitars cross at 12s, and have designed the guitars to respond optimally to the tension of this set. In my experience, shifting to 11s cuts the output greatly, but so does shifting to 13s! The greater force applied to the top seems to clamp it so hard that it’s no longer as sensitive, and tends to bark more than ring. “Clamped Shut” is what the guitars sound like to me when they see too much downpressure.

    "The guitar, unlike a bowed instrument, has to be very efficient to have any useful dynamic range. The difference between the most powerful guitar and a “normal” good guitar isn’t a huge difference. In order to offer the player a useful dynamic range, it’s necessary to build a powerful instrument that also sounds great at low volume, and is easy to “start” at low volume. This condition I think of as efficiency, and it has a lot to do with the relationship of the strength of the body relative to the downbearing force of the strings."



  43. #42

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    What Russell Malone said. Personally, I hear a deeper tone with heavier strings, which I immediately noticed when I first used them. I never went back to 12's after that. And I much prefer the feel of heavier strings, the grip, especially for fingerstyle. Generally I use TI 14's, but occasionally I'll use TI 13's, like on my Epi Premium and the L4CES. 13's feel noticeably lighter to me. All my 17" and 18" guitars have TI14's and a few Labella 15's.

  44. #43

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    Does Ken Parker have a default scale length ? Does he speak about this at all ?

    Sorry if I missed the reference.

    Thx.

  45. #44

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    When I was a kid, maybe high school or college, I put 16s on my Epiphone Broadway. I don't recall what the entire set was, but I had to special order them. The music store guy thought I was crazy. I wanted to achieve better tone and build up my chops. It lasted about three string sets changes. And it always takes me months between sets, so I probably played 16s for just about a year. Never again though. I was so happy to get back to 13s and then 12s. I didn't feel that the heavier gauge, or not THAT heavy, gave me better tone. But honestly I don't think I would've known good tone if it had **&^% my %&** then anyway. We're talking 1974 probably. Vox tube and then Ampeg solid state amps. Not a lot of tone shaping knowledge in those days for me.

  46. #45

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    I confess. I used to play Ernie Ball 9s a lot. I did turn my nose up on 8s as being wimpy.

    Years later I moved to 11s for jazz. One day a very good jazz played shamed me and said I should at least use 12s to drive the sound board. So I did.

    Now I use 12s up to 16s.

    Thanks to COVID-19 I've been able to watch a lot of youtube. Here is the case for very light strings- if you're a rock player.



  47. #46

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    We found out what set of strings has the most pleasing djent. We learned nothing about the string choice for the other 99.99% of the less caveman like applications.

  48. #47

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    Whatever they heard, I couldn't hear on my computer speakers.

  49. #48

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    Roger:
    What you didn't hear is that lighter strings are brighter and janglier.
    Shocker!

  50. #49

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    I spent a couple of years working in a guitar store being paid in merchandise at full tick by minimum wage ($3.50 at that time). This was in addition to my full-time job and gigging on weekends. So in one year, I "spent" more than $350 on strings trying every conceivable combination of gauges to find the perfectly balanced set for my then-#one ES-345. After that time I concluded that if 10-46s were good enough for Eric Clapton, they were good enough for me.
    Inspired by Pat Martino, my '69 Bigsby-equipped Les Paul Custom Fretless Wonder wore a set of my devising: 0.015 - 0.019 - 0.024P - 0.040w -0.050w - 0.060w. Plugged into my Sunn Concert Lead, and a Traynor Bass Mate 6-10" cabinet, it was Three Hundred Watts of joy, clean and meanin' it. Onstage those 15-60s felt like 10s.

    What I have learned through years of gigging is that tone is contextual. Your tone, on which you have lavished hundreds of hours and wads of cash, is affected by your drummer's selection of cymbals as much as anything. Once they start riding that rivet-riddled sizzle cymbal, you're going to need more highs.
    Last edited by citizenk74; 04-07-2020 at 06:52 PM. Reason: punk2ation, spelling

  51. #50

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hammertone
    Roger:
    What you didn't hear is that lighter strings are brighter and janglier.
    Shocker!
    There are two issues I have with very light strings. One, is they're easy to bend out of tune. The other is that the upper registers of the high E string can be plinky. Their test didn't address those issues.
    Last edited by rpjazzguitar; 04-07-2020 at 05:33 AM.