General Question

tranquilsea's avatar

How to tell what weight of strings are on a guitar?

Asked by tranquilsea (17226 points ) March 24th, 2011

We have 4 guitars in our house and I just broke a string on my daughter’s. The problem I’m having is that every replacement set of strings are different weights and my daughter can’t remember which set are hers.

Is there any way of figuring out which weight of strings are on her guitar so I can match up a corresponding replacement string set?

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15 Answers

YoBob's avatar

Well, it’s pretty hard just by looking.

I recommend you just replace the whole set, especially if you have a guitar with steel strings. You can get a brand new box of strings for less than $10 and all of the strings will have the same amount of wear and age on them. Steel strings generally start sounding dead after a couple of months no matter how little use they get and need regular replacement anyway. While classical guitar nylon strings don’t need to be replaced as often, it is still nice for them all to match.

You don’t necessarily have to replace them with the same weight that was on previously. However, if your neck was set up for ultra light strings with really low action and you move to extra heavy ones you might get some buzz on the frets. But for the most part this isn’t a problem. I’d err on the side of caution and get a lighter string. Or you can take it into the local guitar store and they should be able to give you a good idea of how heavy the original strings were.

tranquilsea's avatar

That’s what I thought. Well it looks as though she’s going to get a lot of practise changing strings lol. She’s left it up to me thus far.

Thanks for your answer. I suspected there was no way to tell.

Axemusica's avatar

What kind of guitar is it?

tranquilsea's avatar

It’s a small acoustic one. She has steel strings on it. I’m pretty sure they are light strings. I stupidly handed the replacement string package to her when I replaced a string for her and asked her to store it.

YoBob's avatar

If you don’t already have one, invest a couple of extra bucks in a string winder. It will make the string replacement job much easier.

Axemusica's avatar

Are the strings silver (in color) or goldish bronze? Silver are steel the latter is bronze.

Regardless though, a small acoustic with what you would say are light strings could probably be a .046 – .010 scale. Usually on many bigger acoustics (normal ones like Gibson, Ovation, ect..) can range from .011 up to .013. Usually when you buy strings you tell the guy the smallest size string. That being the high E string. A good rule of thumb when gauging string size is this way. Look at the G string (No pun intended), is it a wound string like the E A & D? If so the size could be .011 or higher. If not it’s .010 and lower. I highly doubt it’s lower than a .010 on a Acoustic, but I have seen some acoustics (like Fender acoustics) with .090’s on them. I wouldn’t recommend putting .080 on either acoustic or electric unless you just have feather light hands with no strength.

Axemusica's avatar

Sorry @YoBob but I have to disagree with you there. I would not recommend a string winder and I’ll tell you why. See the strings are constantly under tension and they fluctuate during play. If the string is not neatly tightly coiled around the tuner keys, during play it could (and will if you do quite a bit of bends) slip. This causes the string to go out of tune.

Yes, it might wrench on your wrist when restringing a guitar, but it’s less head ache in the end. I recommend 2–3 wraps on an electric, 3–4 on an acoustic- and as little as 1 for locking tuners. These of course being the wound strings. The string that aren’t wound are going to slip for a good while before properly stretched to seat well enough to hold the current tuning. So if you try to only get like 2 wraps on the unwound string you’ll probably still end up getting around like 4 due to them having no grip with the smooth surface.

tranquilsea's avatar

She has bronze strings and the G string is bronze as well (wrapped like the E, A and D). I have an unopened Custom Light Phosphor Bronze 1st – .011. I guess I could open that package and see if the G string is the same diameter.

Rarebear's avatar

Agree with @YoBob Just replace the whole set.

Axemusica's avatar

This is how I wind mine.. I wouldn’t recommend doing it this way if you don’t change your strings as often as I do. Someone who’s not familiar with the experience of string slip might want a couple more winds, but this way will stay in tune better each time played as opposed to having a bunched up mess of potential slippage.

@Rarebear agreed. I wouldn’t recommend 1 string replacement unless you’re in the middle of a set are able to quickly get one back on, as per se, an emergency situation. Always change every string when replacing strings. Less head ache and better sounding.

Rarebear's avatar

But the question is actually a good one, as light strings feel very different than medium strings. I used to use light strings on my banjo because it was easier to play. But I started getting buzzing so I switched to mediums, which sound better and last longer, but took some time getting used to.

So if you don’t know anything about strings and want to replace them with the same kind, really the only way to tell is to take it to someone who is used to playing guitars and ask them to play a little. Otherwise, you’re probably OK with medium-light or medium strings.

YoBob's avatar

@Axemusica – actually, this is exactly why I recommend a string winder. Personally I find it easier to get nice smooth symmetrical winds with a winder than by hand.

Here is the procedure I use:

After removing the old string position the hole in the machine head so that it runs parallel to the neck. Insert the string (and peg if your particular bridge uses one) in the bridge end. Insert the loose end of the string in the hole and pull until the slack is out of the string. Ok, here is the “art” part. Using the thumb of your left hand capture the string and slide it down the fret board using the fret board as a guide to know exactly how much string you want to wind on the machine. For thinner strings like the 1st. slide down around two frets. For fatter strings like the 6th slide down around one (this distance will vary depending on your particular instrument, but it only takes a couple of times to find the sweet spot. Now, while you keep the string captured between your thumb and the neck, start to wind with the speed winder. This will cause the string to kind of bulge out at the point where it enters the machine head. Make sure this bulge goes under the other strings that are already strung up, this will keep it from popping up. When the machine has turned a full half turn, stick the first finger of your left hand under the loose part of the string you have been holding back with your thumb and rotate your hand to put a crimp in the string where it enters the machine head. Hold that tension and continue cranking with the right hand. As the loose end of the string comes around make sure the loose end goes over the loop that is winding around the peg. When it cranks around another half turn where the crimp in the string is, make sure the string goes under that crimp. From this point, as long as you keep the tension it will usually wind on in a perfect concentric twist around the peg. Tighten it up and snip of the excess (I like to snip mine just a tad long in case there is some slippage while the settle in.)

As for acoustic strings, I prefer Martin Marquee Phosphor Bronze Lights.

Your mileage may vary… ;)

YoBob's avatar

“I wouldn’t recommend 1 string replacement unless you’re in the middle of a set are able to quickly get one back on”

Aw common @Axemusica, you don’t know true joy until you finish the set complete with screaming lead while missing both your E and G strings. (dang, those were the days!)

Axemusica's avatar

Different strokes I guess @YoBob.
Ever since I started using locking tuners I’ve long since lost the the urge to wind up on the keys. I also play very much, so my strings get mileage quickly & are dead with a few weeks.

Although I do know what it’s like to get finished and be missing a few strings and I did not have the feeling of joy when it was over. It was more like raging fury that I had to bottle up before I smashed that guitar. This is probably why I play Hex Core .010 – .046’s now, so bright and very dependable. I don’t own that guitar anymore, lol. & good riddance.

Axemusica's avatar

Just to further help with your restringing @tranquilsea

This would be ideal if you have these type of tuners on your guitar: Link
This is how I do it, since most of mine are locking tuners: Link
I consider this overly done: Link

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