Monday, October 19, 2009

Guitar String Tension Charts

All calculations are based on D'Addario nickel wound [NW] and plain steel [PL] strings. Custom sets can be put together using single strings. D'Addario and Ernie Ball are two string manufacturers offering singles.

I put together my own set because I was tired of the sloppy B and low E strings in a regular 9-42 set (a common trend in all standard sets), as well as the sloppy B-string on a 7-string guitar. For the sake of good tone, consistency and feel, electric guitar strings should gradually rise in tension as the diameter increases. To some of us, this is known as an "optimized" or "progressive tension" set. Currently there are no string manufacturers offering optimized sets except for Alex at Zachary Custom Guitars. If you wish to experiment, these charts will hopefully be useful to you.

Source : Dee @ The Guitar Matrix - http://guitarmatrix.proboards.com


The charts for the custom sets are based on my suggested gauges, but of course, they are also based on simple science. I have made these suggestions with the intention of putting minimal extra strain on the neck, hopefully meaning no truss rod adjustments are needed at all because they do not drastically deviate in tension from the standard sets they are "correcting". Usually, minor adjustments to the tremolo spring claw will be required if you have a floating bridge equipped guitar.

There has been a lot of debate about the issue of optimized string sets, and my intention is not to fuel the fire. This post is to help anyone who is interested in getting the best out of their instrument. If you are happy with your regular sets, by all means carry on using them!



6-STRING GUITAR

STANDARD TUNING, 25.5" SCALE
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Gauge: 8-38 Standard Set
Scale: 25.5"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .008" [PL] = 10.38 pounds
B: .010" [PL] = 09.10 pounds
G: .015" [PL] = 12.90 pounds
D: .021" [NW] = 12.05 pounds
A: .030" [NW] = 14.05 pounds
E: .040" [NW] = 12.11 pounds

Total Tension = 70.59 pounds



*NOTE: This is a standard 8-38 set. The B, D, and low E strings are particularly low in tension.

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Gauge: 8-42 Custom Set
Scale: 25.5"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .008" [PL] = 10.38 pounds
B: .011" [PL] = 11.01 pounds
G: .015" [PL] = 12.90 pounds
D: .022" [NW] = 13.34 pounds
A: .030" [NW] = 14.05 pounds
E: .042" [NW] = 14.77 pounds

Total Tension = 76.45 pounds



*NOTE: A slightly heavier alternative to the standard 8-40 set. Replacing the B, D, and low E strings with a gauge higher makes this into a well-balanced set.

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Gauge: 9-42 Standard Set
Scale: 25.5"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .009" [PL] = 13.13 pounds
B: .011" [PL] = 11.01 pounds
G: .016" [PL] = 14.68 pounds
D: .024" [NW] = 15.77 pounds
A: .032" [NW] = 15.77 pounds
E: .042" [NW] = 14.77 pounds

Total Tension = 85.13 pounds



*NOTE: 9-42 is the most common set. It is usually fitted to most new electric guitars. Notice that the low E and B strings are lacking tension which can lead to a slightly mushy tone and sloppy feel.

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Gauge: 9-44 Custom Set
Scale: 25.5"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .009" [PL] = 13.13 pounds
B: .012" [PL] = 13.11 pounds
G: .016" [PL] = 14.68 pounds
D: .024" [NW] = 15.77 pounds
A: .032" [NW] = 15.77 pounds
E: .044" [NW] = 16.10 pounds

Total Tension = 88.56 pounds



*NOTE: This is the custom set I use on my 6-strings (various Ibanez RG models). I noticed an improvement in tone and feel after switching from being a 9-42 user for 20 years. With the custom set, string to string balance is better, picked runs feel smoother and easier to pick, chords sound slightly fuller and more resonant because of the heavier E string. It's a small enough difference so you don't feel the need to re-adapt to your guitar, but large enough to be noticeable. I only wish this was the standard 9 set.

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Gauge: 10-46 Standard Set
Scale: 25.5"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .010" [PL] = 16.21 pounds
B: .013" [PL] = 15.38 pounds
G: .017" [PL] = 16.57 pounds
D: .026" [NW] = 18.41 pounds
A: .036" [NW] = 19.54 pounds
E: .046" [NW] = 17.48 pounds

Total Tension = 103.59 pounds



*NOTE: Same problem as the 9-42 set, where the B and Low E strings can suffer slightly due to lower tension than ideal.

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Gauge: 9.5-49 Custom Set
Scale: 25.5"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .009.5" [PL] = 14.63 pounds
B: .013" [PL] = 15.38 pounds
G: .017" [PL] = 16.57 pounds
D: .026" [NW] = 18.41 pounds
A: .036" [NW] = 19.54 pounds
E: .049" [NW] = 19.68 pounds

Total Tension = 104.21 pounds



*NOTE: An alternative to a standard 10-46 set? This is close, only it switches the high E string for a .009.5" instead of the .010". In a regular 10-46 set there is almost as much tension on the high E string as there is on the G. For the sake of better string-to-string balance, my suggestion is to try a 9.5 (available from D'Addario as a single). There is still plenty of tension on a .009.5" to feel and sound good.

At the low end there is a .049". The standard 10-46 set has a low E string that's several pounds lighter in tension than the A, which seems slightly backwards. Using a .049" corrects this, having slightly more tension than the A, as it should.

Dislikes: The almost 2 pounds difference between the D and G. This cannot be avoided because no-one makes .025" gauge strings, to my knowledge, so the best compromise might be to keep the D and G from the original 10-46 set. I think this would be better than fattening up the G, as not only would it upset the balance of the B string, it may possibly disrupt Saturn's orbital path.


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Gauge: 10-49 Custom Set
Scale: 25.5"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .010" [PL] = 16.21 pounds
B: .014" [PL] = 17.84 pounds
G: .018" [PL] = 18.58 pounds
D: .026" [NW] = 18.41 pounds
A: .036" [NW] = 19.54 pounds
E: .049" [NW] = 19.68 pounds

Total Tension = 110.25 pounds



*NOTE: A slightly heavier alternative to the standard 10-46 set, only better balanced from string to string. It isn't perfect, but this is as close as you'll get.

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Gauge: 11-49 Standard Set
Scale: 25.5"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .011" [PL] = 19.62 pounds
B: .014" [PL] = 17.84 pounds
G: .018" [PL] = 18.58 pounds
D: .028" [NW] = 21.30 pounds
A: .038" [NW] = 21.58 pounds
E: .049" [NW] = 19.68 pounds

Total Tension = 118.6 pounds



*NOTE: See the trend here? In all of standard sets there are random dips and rises in tension between strings, the low E and B strings of the 11-49 set following the same pattern as the previous sets, only this time the high E is even heavier than the G. There is an almost 3 pound leap in tension from the G to D. Balance is all over the place.

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Gauge: 11-52 Custom Set
Scale: 25.5"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .011" [PL] = 19.62 pounds
B: .015" [PL] = 20.48 pounds
G: .019" [PL] = 20.70 pounds
D: .028" [NW] = 21.30 pounds
A: .038" [NW] = 21.58 pounds
E: .052" [NW] = 22.01 pounds

Total Tension = 125.69 pounds



*NOTE: A heavier alternative to the standard 11-49 set, once again, creating a better balanced set overall.

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Gauge: 12-54 Standard Set
Scale: 25.5"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .012" [PL] = 23.35 pounds
B: .016" [PL] = 23.30 pounds
G: .020" [PL] = 22.93 pounds
D: .032" [NW] = 28.10 pounds
A: .042" [NW] = 26.31 pounds
E: .054" [NW] = 24.18 pounds

Total Tension = 148.18 pounds



*NOTE: This is a standard 12-54 set, and yet again, tension is all over the place. An almost 6 pounds jump in tension from the G to D strings? Atrocious.

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Gauge: 12-56 Custom Set
Scale: 25.5"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .012" [PL] = 23.35 pounds
B: .016" [PL] = 23.30 pounds
G: .020" [PL] = 22.93 pounds
D: .030" [NW] = 25.04 pounds
A: .042" [NW] = 26.31 pounds
E: .056" [NW] = 26.35 pounds

Total Tension = 147.29 pounds




*NOTE: It's not perfect, but this custom set should address some of the problems with the 12-54 set. Using a thinner D string and a heavier low E, this set is actually very slightly lighter overall. No adjustments to the truss rod should be needed.


7-STRING GUITAR

STANDARD TUNING, 25.5" SCALE
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Gauge: 9-54 Standard Set
Scale: 25.5"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .009" [PL] = 13.13 pounds
B: .011" [PL] = 11.01 pounds
G: .016" [PL] = 14.68 pounds
D: .024" [NW] = 15.77 pounds
A: .032" [NW] = 15.77 pounds
E: .042" [NW] = 14.77 pounds
B: .054" [NW] = 13.57 pounds

Total Tension = 98.70 pounds



*NOTE: The standard D'Addario 7-string set, EXL120-7. The low-B string tension is, frankly, absurd. It is barely higher in tension than the high-E string! So who comes up with these gauges... a monkey? :lol: The tension on the thickest string here is very low. This is exactly what you don't need on your 7-string guitar. It can only lead to flabby tone, sloppy, unbalanced feel, bad breath and low sex appeal.

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Gauge: 9-59 Custom Set
Scale: 25.5"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .009" [PL] = 13.13 pounds
B: .012" [PL] = 13.11 pounds
G: .016" [PL] = 14.68 pounds
D: .024" [NW] = 15.77 pounds
A: .032" [NW] = 15.77 pounds
E: .044" [NW] = 16.10 pounds
B: .059 [NW] = 16.48 pounds

Total Tension = 105.04 pounds



*NOTE: Aaaah, that's better. This is the corrected 9's set, and what D'Addario and any self-respecting string manufacturers should be offering, in my opinion. The improvement in tone and feel is obvious if you've spent any time with the standard set. The extra three pounds on the low-B string make a good difference here.

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Gauge: 10-59 Standard Set
Scale: 25.5"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .010" [PL] = 16.21 pounds
B: .013" [PL] = 15.38 pounds
G: .017" [PL] = 16.57 pounds
D: .026" [NW] = 18.41 pounds
A: .036" [NW] = 19.54 pounds
E: .046" [NW] = 17.48 pounds
B: .059" [NW] = 16.48 pounds

Total Tension = 120.08 pounds



*NOTE: The standard D'Addario 7-string set, EXL110-7.

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Gauge: 9.5-66 Custom Set
Scale: 25.5"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .009.5" [PL] = 14.63 pounds
B: .013" [PL] = 15.38 pounds
G: .017" [PL] = 16.57 pounds
D: .026" [NW] = 18.41 pounds
A: .036" [NW] = 19.54 pounds
E: .050" [NW] = 20.46 pounds
B: .066" [NW] = 20.51 pounds

Total Tension = 125.5 pounds



*Note: As an alternative to the standard 10's set, this could be a good one. It replaces the high E string with a 9.5, so it's slightly lighter and easier on bends, but there's still plenty of tension. For a heavier alternative, see below.

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Gauge: 10-68 Custom Set
Scale: 25.5"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .010" [PL] = 16.21 pounds
B: .014" [PL] = 17.84 pounds
G: .018" [PL] = 18.58 pounds
D: .026" [NW] = 18.41 pounds
A: .036" [NW] = 19.54 pounds
E: .050" [NW] = 20.46 pounds
B: .068" [NW] = 21.73 pounds

Total Tension = 132.76 pounds



*Note: A heavier alternative to the standard 10's set.


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STANDARD TUNING, 27" SCALE
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Gauge: 9-59 Custom Set
Scale: 27"
Tuning: Standard


Code:
E: .009" [PL] = 14.72 pounds
B: .012" [PL] = 14.69 pounds
G: .016" [PL] = 16.46 pounds
D: .024" [NW] = 17.68 pounds
A: .032" [NW] = 17.68 pounds
E: .044" [NW] = 18.05 pounds
B: .059 [NW] = 18.48 pounds

Total Tension = 117.76 pounds



*Note: This should work well for a 27" scale 7-string.




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ALTERNATE TUNINGS
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Gauge: 12-54 Standard Set
Scale: 25.0"
Tuning: CGCFAD


Code:
D: .012" [PL] = 17.82 pounds
A: .016" [PL] = 17.77 pounds
F: .020" [PL] = 17.5 pounds
C: .032" [NW] = 21.44 pounds
G: .042" [NW] = 20.07 pounds
C: .054" [NW] = 14.64 pounds

Total Tension = 109.24 pounds



*NOTE: A regular 12-54 set tuned to CGCFAD. As you can see, it's not such a great idea -- the heaviest string is 3 pounds lower in tension than the thinnest string. On a 24.75" (Gibson) scale length it might feel pretty bad!

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Gauge: 11-58 Custom Set
Scale: 25.0"
Tuning: CGCFAD


Code:
D: .011" [PL] = 14.97 pounds
A: .015" [PL] = 15.62 pounds
F: .019" [PL] = 15.79 pounds
C: .028" [NW] = 16.25 pounds
G: .038" [NW] = 16.46 pounds
C: .058" [NW] = 17.17 pounds

Total Tension = 96.27 pounds



*NOTE: This was originally suggested to Dag at Jemsite forums for his PRS 25" scale guitar. This might be a nicely balanced set for CGCFAD tuning.

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Thanks for reading. As stated at the beginning, if you are happy with your usual strings, by all means carry on using them. I would appreciate if people refrain from arguing about my findings here. These charts are based on science and logic, not random numbers and tradition. Many of us guitarists are quite stubborn and reluctant when it comes to change, even when it means a better end result, but hopefully you will see why this all makes sense. If more people put together custom sets, discuss this article with others and explain why standard sets are illogical and detrimental to tone and feel, we may eventually get the string manufacturers to change their ways. What does it take to hammer this point home? We shouldn't even be questioning it. I think the manufacturers are foolish for not jumping on the progressive tension set idea. If these were available on the shop shelf and maybe endorsed by well-known players, I feel they would sell.

I hope this article has been helpful to someone. Happy experimentation.

Source : Dee @ The Guitar Matrix - http://guitarmatrix.proboards.com

1 comment:

DougDavis said...

Would you mind posting something similar for 24.75 scale guitars?

I've thought about doing the same thing with my guitars. Where are you getting these calculations from?