String gauge vs tension


#1

Hi all,

I recently purchased an electric tenor guitar for my son (as a present for doing well in school this year). It is a 23" scale instrument and he keeps it tuned in octave mandolin tuning (G D A E). However, this guitar is usually tuned C G D A (up a perfect fourth from octave mandolin tuning). As you might imagine, the strings are quite loose and a bit rattley.

So I found this site http://stringtensionpro.com/ that allows you to set the scale length of the instrument and how you would like to tune the open strings to determine what strings would have what tension on the neck (which affects playability and tone). So I put together a few sets of strings for his tenor that I think will have a good (balanced) feel and quality tone (based on gauge of string vs tension).

Now to the 6 string guitar…

I realize that most folks just purchase strings off the shelf for their 6 string guitar and do not make custom sets for themselves (I generally just buy what I find that I like). However, when looking at the gauges I use and the string tensions across the strings, I have found that rare few sets are actually matched for string tension. For example, a set of D’Addario 80/20 mediums looks something like this:

1st E .013 27.4 lbs
2nd B .017 26.3 lbs
3rd G .026 34.3 lbs
4th D .035 34.8 lbs
5th A .045 32.8 lbs
6th E .056 27.9 lbs

The last column shows the tension of the strings in pounds.

If you are more into the bluegrass gauge (like me), it looks more like this:

1st E .012 23.3 lbs
2nd B .016 23.3 lbs
3rd G .025 31.9 lbs
4th D .035 34.8 lbs
5th A .045 32.8 lbs
6th E .056 27.9 lbs

There is more than a 10 pound difference in tension between the 1st string and the 4th string!

It seems to me, (please understand that I am not always that bright :wink: ), that you would want each string to be of similar tension so that the feel of playing is similar string to string. Certainly, the difference of 10 pounds of tension in one set of strings would be, at least, noticeable. Certainly, my D string feels tighter than the other strings around it.

So this brings a few questions to my feeble mind. Should I put together a set of custom gauge strings that have similar tension across the strings? Would the similarity in tension also yield a set of strings that have a more balanced tone/volume string to string? To my mind, a set that has slightly less tension in the higher strings would possibly be a good feel. Something like:

1st E .012 23.3 lbs
2nd B .016 23.3 lbs
3rd G .022 24.7 lbs
4th D .030 25.9 lbs
5th A .042 27.5 lbs
6th E .056 27.9 lbs

Has any one created a custom set like I have listed above or am I just wasting time trying to find a comfortable, balanced set?


#2

— Begin quote from “drguitar”

Has any one created a custom set like I have listed above or am I just wasting time trying to find a comfortable, balanced set?

— End quote

A while back (maybe even a couple years ago) we had a discussion very similar to this. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to look for it in our posts.

I don’t think you’re wasting your time as Newtone makes a set exactly as you described. Here’s a description from their website: newtonestrings.com/acoustic_page.htm

HERITAGE SERIES

Heritage Packet
NHS-010 .010 .013 .017w .023 .032 .043
15lbs 16lbs 16lbs 15lbs 16lbs 16lbs Total=94 lbs

NHS-011 .011 .015 .019w .026 .036 .047
19lbs 19lbs 19lbs 19lbs 20lbs 19lbs Total=114 lbs

NHS-012 .012 .016 .020w .028 .038 .051
22lbs 22lbs 21lbs 22lbs 22lbs 22lbs Total=131 lbs

NHS-013 .013 .017 .022 .031 .042 .055
26lbs 25lbs 26lbs 26lbs 26lbs 26lbs Total=155lbs

Now also available for DADGAD tuning:
NHS-DADGAD .013 .017 .020 .027 .036 .059
20lbs 20lbs 21lbs 20lbs 20lbs 20lbs Total=122lbs

These strings are a completely new range which are designed to have a reduced and virtually equal tension on each string. They are made on Round cores with unique core-to-wrap ratios, so the gauges which match up with some of our standard sets are not the same at all!

There are several advantages of using these strings. Vintage guitars, light braced guitars and people who have problems fretting due to arthritis or tendonitis can use these strings without worrying about twisting or uneven pulling on the bridge. Low tensions also mean ease of fretting.

Gordon Giltrap has given us his first impressions of the strings:
"Anyone who has spent time playing the acoustic guitar will testify to the fact that string gauge and action can make all the difference in the world to how an instrument can respond. I have spent most of my playing life trying to get my guitars to play as easy as possible, and have spent many hours experimenting with different string gauges and coming to the conclusion that it really is a play off between tonality and playability, but at long last here is string that gives the player the best of both worlds.

I have never been a ‘muscular’ player with the strength that some players are naturally born with, so for me these superb low tension strings are a God send, giving a great sound with a wonderful ease of playing. Enjoy the feel of an electric on your chosen acoustic and experience the difference."

My thoughts on this (and I may be way off): Does the string tension on a “normal” set of 12’s or 13’s also make up the “normal” sound that we’re so accustomed to? In other words, will lower tension on particular strings give a different tone? I think it would be worth a try. They’re a little pricey though (13.99 a set at juststrings.com). You can go to mandolin café and click directly to the “just strings” site or here’s a direct link: juststrings.com/acousticguitar.html

I was going to try these myself but never got around to it. Now that you’ve brought it up, my interest is rekindled. I always like trying different strings, so I may just order a set myself.

BTW, thanks for all your valuable, informative posts,


#3

I could well be wrong, but I think for my preferences the sonic balance is going to be negatively affected by going for perfection in feel balance. With that said, I don’t bend much. If I did, I suspect I might feel quite different. I have made my own sets (most often for mandolin) in order to get the sonic string to string balance I desired. The other thing I run into is that I have my action pretty close to the limit on buzzing, and if I go just a bit lighter tension, I end up needing to adjust something to compensate. The newtone strings look like an easy way to try out a feel matched set. It would be worth a shot.

I have found the following string tension calculator handy. One can adjust the gauge on individual strings and see the results on the expected tension:
mcdonaldstrings.com/stringxxiii.html


#4

Thank you Dr I appreciate it . Mike I appreciate the link. I just got the tension of my custom liights flex core . very interesting as I like the way these feel and sound.


#5

J.W., thanks for the link; those sets look interesting. I might try out one of the 13-55 sets. Since posting this yesterday, I discovered that Richard Hoover at Santa Cruz is working on developing string sets that are more balanced tension-wise. I believe that the concept includes changing the core wire gauge ratio to the wrap wire to achieve more balanced tension between the strings. Since the combination or mass, composition, flexibility and tension all are part of producing a pitch/tone, changing how the string reaches its mass (core wire mass vs wrap wire mass) would also allow a change in tension.

Mike, you may be correct about the change in balance of tone/volume when changing string tension, especially by nearly 1/3! However, I may find that I like the change after my ears get used to it. Some folks hate Monels at first only to swear by them after their ear gets used to them. I am not a big bender on acoustic, however I have noticed that the D string feels stiffer than the other strings (I’ve noticed that for many years). I really didn’t think much about it till I started to do some research into string tensions for my son’s tenor electric and acoustic guitars. When I saw that the string tension was about 10 pounds higher than other strings in the same set, I realized that my hands were not lying. I think my greatest concern about a more balanced tension set of strings is that the D and G strings may sound shallow or too bright compared to the other wound strings. However, my dread has a big sound so this may not be a problem. I’ll let you know what I find out when I put the set together on my guitar.

Welder, I also liked the flex-core Martin strings. I have not put them on my guitars, but I have put them on a couple of other guitars that required more “flexible”, lower tension strings. The string tension calculator at http://stringtensionpro.com/ does not have the ability to calculate the tension for silk and steel strings. If I were a guessing man, I would guess that those strings are a bit lower tension than your basic 80/20 brass or phosphor bronze strings.

I think one way you can lower a string tension but still have a full tone (on the wrapped strings) is to use a thinner core wire with a thicker wrap wire to bring the string up to the mass needed to produce a full low pitch. Certainly, a string with an extremely low tension will not have the volume output capacity or a string with higher tension. My guess is that a low tension string will produce a more compressed sound when played hard when compared to a higher tension string. That said, if that logic is correct, then a set of string that is more closely balanced in tension string to string should produce a more balanced volume string to string.

I’m sure I am missing some very important info here that makes my logic completely wrong. :open_mouth:

I’m moving in the next couple of weeks, so this experiment will probably need to wait till after the move.


#6

[attachment=0]2015-06-14_155106.jpg[/attachment]I did not read all but I just typed in 24.5in and went with the string set on the flex core came up with a total of 122 lbs and I noticed the third string is a real stinker it is by far the most tension producing string. If that is true I can see or understand why some people complain about breaking a third string. I have never broken a string on any guitar by playing it . the 122 lbs may be a bogus number then .


#7

Welder, my guess is that the flexible core Martins are even lower tension than the website states since that site is designed for standard core strings (steel core).

As to the Newtone tension balanced strings, I have a few concerns with all the strings being exactly the same as opposed to close to the same. In my mind, you would want the 1st and 2nd strings to be slightly lower tension for a couple of reasons:

[ul]Less mass will allow them to vibrate less wide of an amplitude (less likely to fret buzz when playing hard)[/ul]
[ul]Skinnier strings will feel more harsh on the fingers at a high tension (ever play a .014 1st string tuned up to pitch?)[/ul]

That is why I thought the 1st and 2nd string should match in tension with a slight increase in tension while moving to heavier (more massive) strings (all things being equal, ie. composition, string core diameter, tension…etc.). To my mind, more massive strings will have a wider amplitude (the width of the vibration path of the string) when plucked hard than less massive strings. You can prove this by looking at your strings vibrating width by plucking one string at a time. Pluck each sting one at a time and look at the string near the 12th fret (halfway point).For the most part, the 6th string has a wider vibrating width when compared to the 1st and other strings. So that was the idea of slightly increasing the tension of the string as it gets more massive (heavier). The heavier string can tolerate slightly more tension (pull on the string) which “may” in turn help keep those strings from fretting out when plucked harder.

Another guitar player sent me to a site where my thought process was affirmed. This self proclaimed genius (http://www.zacharyguitars.com/Strings_Idiots.htm) builds and sells string sets exactly like this. This fellow tends to be pretty offensive, but if you take his comments as humorous bluster, then finding the logic in his message is much easier.


#8

I just read a bit of Zachary’s site. It’s nice to know that I am an idiot :smiley: I’ll read into it more when I have some time to fully appreciate how misguided I have been.

Good luck with the move. Are you going far? Keep us updated on what you find as you play with the tension. Maybe there’s a whole world of difference to be had and I never even gave it a thought.


#9

— Begin quote from “mreisz”

I just read a bit of Zachary’s site. It’s nice to know that I am an idiot :smiley: I’ll read into it more when I have some time to fully appreciate how misguided I have been.

Good luck with the move. Are you going far? Keep us updated on what you find as you play with the tension. Maybe there’s a whole world of difference to be had and I never even gave it a thought.

— End quote

Yep. It has been my experience that folks who spend extensive amounts of time telling everyone else that they are idiots, just may have a few self-esteem problems. :astonished: He may be bright, and maybe even a genius (who knows), but he definitely lacks in people skills. And this is from a person who scores high on the autistic scale. :laughing:

About the move, we will not be moving far. There have been extensive layoffs over the last 10 years where my wife and I work. We have held on this long, but I was just laid off and she will be laid off at the end of next year. So we will be moving back to our own home (much nicer than any place we lived on the school campus). So it is a time of change and growth.


#10

Sorry to hear about the layoff. It’s a tough transition even if you know it is coming. I don’t know why I think so, but I suspect this will set you up for something much better. I’ll being praying that is exactly what happens for you both.


#11

Zachary summed up = Narcissist… Seems we see more and more of that and yes any time one has to tear someone else down they have a problem. I could not care less about his strings or his ideas . Sorry to hear of the lay-off, been through that as well but I looked at it as a new start and maybe a better life . it is up to each one how they handle life. I ask that God bless you with a better life .


#12

Now Doc has gotten me paranoid about my D and G strings. I was playing today and thought “Yeah, these puppies are really tight.”

On the extreme other end of the spectrum, I was at a practice the other night and we had a new electric guy. I was showing him a couple of parts on his guitar and every string felt like it was a rubber band.


#13

Zach needs a course in PR . Yes I did that to I also noticed the third string even on the XF flex core it seemed tighter that the rest side ways push on each string and it was the only one that was tighter than the rest. I have people complain about breaking the third string a lot . I have never broken a string so I do not understand how they do that . Maybe they are kinking the string and setting another spot for the bend . Maybe I have been blessed with good guitars and they were made right and no burs to break a string.


#14

— Begin quote from “welder4”

Zach needs a course in PR .

— End quote

No argument there. His ego seems to have it’s own zip code.

— Begin quote from “welder4”

Yes I did that to I also noticed the third string even on the XF flex core it seemed tighter that the rest side ways push on each string and it was the only one that was tighter than the rest. I have people complain about breaking the third string a lot . I have never broken a string so I do not understand how they do that . Maybe they are kinking the string and setting another spot for the bend . Maybe I have been blessed with good guitars and they were made right and no burs to break a string.

— End quote

It doesn’t take much for a string to break. Classical guitar D strings are known to break without you even being in the same room (truly). The core of a common G string is quite thin. Add to that the higher tension and you have a string that is going to be prone to breakage.

I didn’t break a string for nearly 30 years until I started to try to play with a more powerful right hand stroke (for bluegrass). I actually broke a medium A string about a year ago while playing hard! That was my wake up call that I should probably tone down the heavy right hand a bit. :open_mouth:


#15

— Begin quote from “drguitar”

I didn’t break a string for nearly 30 years until I started to try to play with a more powerful right hand stroke (for bluegrass). I actually broke a medium A string about a year ago while playing hard! That was my wake up call that I should probably tone down the heavy right hand a bit. :open_mouth:

— End quote

That’s pretty impressive. An A string is pretty chunky.

I also started breaking strings (typically G) after moving to bluegrass. Part of it for me was playing close to the saddle. The closer you are the more likely it seems it is to pop one. I started getting rid of saddle wear at string changes and also got my hand a bit away from the saddle when I wasn’t flat picking and it has been greatly helped.

It’s a good thing it improved as I got so bad I was popping strings in about 50% of the time I played out. I started keeping a spare guitar on hand when playing out. That’s kind of a pain as you have to keep two guitars ready to go. Now I am back to carrying one guitar (except when I need a radically alternate tuning or something similar).


#16

It’s been quite a few months since the last post in this topic, however I put a set of graduated balanced strings on my adirondack/mahogany dread.

The original set were Elixir light/Medium 80/20 strings (my usual set). The string gauges and tension were as follows:

1st E - .012 – 23.36 lbs
2nd B - .016 – 23.31lbs
3rd G - .024 – 29.24 lbs
4th D - .035 – 34 lbs
5th A - .045 – 31.61 lbs
6th E - .056 – 26.74 lbs

As you can see, the G, D and A strings are wildly tighter than the other strings with a jump in 6 pounds from the B to the G and another nearly 5 pound jump from the G to the D string. The D is, in fact, more than 10 pounds tighter than the E and B strings!

The set I put together were D’Addario 80/20 uncoated strings. The string gauges and tensions were as follows:

1st E - .012 – 23.36 lbs
2nd B - .016 – 23.31lbs
3rd G - .022 – 24.68 lbs
4th D - .030 – 25.92 lbs
5th A - .042 – 27.46 lbs
6th E - .056 – 26.74 lbs

With this set, there is no radical jump in tension between the strings, just a gradual increase until you get to the A string. The low E could have been higher tension, but I wanted to keep the strings within a common .012 to .056 gauge set up.

This is how it sounds and plays to my hears and hands. I found that immediately I could feel a difference in the lower tension while strumming; the strings felt like a lower resistance. When flatpicking, I could feel that the G and D (in particular) felt very similar to my right hand in the amount of resistance with a pick when compared to the other strings (rather than feeling stiffer as they usually do with the old set). I appreciated this since I am not the best flatpicker and I liked the similarity in feel while picking across strings. The lower tension also felt welcome to my left hand, however it was not as noticeable for me as the right hand differences. Fingerpicked, I really did not notice that much of a difference in the resistance of the string tension.

The difference in sound was not particularly noticeable when played acoustically. All of the strings seemed to ring relatively well balanced. I did need to loosen the truss rod slightly as the set of strings lowered the overall tension on the neck by nearly 20 pounds. Once done, I flatpicked and bit and did not notice any drop in volume with the slimmer G, D and A strings. While strumming however, I did notice a slight overall midrange drop which seemed to add clarity to the guitar tone. The midrange sounded less dense and in turn made for a slightly cleaner tone. This was particularly noticeable when I plugged the guitar in to an acoustic amplifier (Carvin AG100D). Normally, I would set the EQ on this amp at a slight “smiley” face setting; now I did not need to as the midrange density dropped enough that no additional EQ was needed; a welcome addition. When fingerpicked, the tone and volume of the strings seemed very balanced and not particularly different from the Elixir set.
I may or may not try this on my other guitars. I like the result, but purchasing strings as singles is a bit expensive (and I am cheap when it comes to spending money on myself). I may check out various manufacturers balanced sets.

Is this a good fit for your guitar? I like the feel and the tone, but YMMV.


#17

Thanks for the report Doc. The bad news for me is I have been playing mando for a couple weeks. To get the same feel on the guitar I might need 300 lbs of tension :smiley:

I wonder if one can buy small bulk strings at a reasonable price (maybe 20 per gauge that you like). I remember at a music store that stocked bulk strings (25 years ago), they had a really good margin on them as they got them relatively cheap.


#18

— Begin quote from “mreisz”

The bad news for me is I have been playing mando for a couple weeks. To get the same feel on the guitar I might need 300 lbs of tension :smiley:

— End quote

Get that baby set up properly!

My son’s mandolin (an old Aria solid wood F series) plays like a dream. Easy and fast to play with a decent voice (you can hear it acoustically in our videos). He tells me that he is spoiled by my set up since he has yet to play any other mandolin that feels as easy to play (extremely low action with a clean voice). The trick with mandolin set up is to do a good fret level and dress before setting up the action and intonation. Also, there is a point where lowering the action begins to cause the mandolin to lose volume and tone. I took it to that point and raised it just till it’s voice came back.

Take care,

Mike


#19

Thanks Mike,

Fortunately mine seem to be setup pretty nicely. I did have to level one instrument a bit, and the other came nicely dressed. I was just referring to the string tension you feel plucking through a course of 2 strings. A pick going through it feels like it is much higher tension than a guitar (and I like it for my picking hand). If I remember correctly, any given pair from a J74 set is from about 40 to 50 lbs. It’s pretty amazing that such a dainty looking instrument can handle that kind of tension.

Thanks again!


#20

Mandolins are an interesting beast. You have a very short scale string that inherently makes the string feel stiff to begin with. Then you have double courses of strings which increases the the already stiff feel. The resistance under the pick always feels high. I understand what you are saying about the high tension.

I’m just glad mandolins have frets instead of being fretless like a fiddle (the instrument it is most similar to). I’d never be able to play it in tune if it were fretless. :blush: