12 (String) Gauge Shredder

Dear Dude,

I’ve been playing guitar for 5 years now and I love thrash, death, speed, and black metal! My band plays in drop C tuning just like yours and I have been trying to find out what string gauge is best for that tuning? Does it even matter? I just buy whatever size is cheapest right now. It would be really awesome if you could answer this question I have always wanted to ask a touring guitarist.

Thanks,
12 (String) Gauge Shredder!

Dear 12 (String) Gauge Shredder,

Finding the right string gauge for me started the day I picked up my first guitar. I will never forget the strings were dirty feeling and seemed so tight I couldn’t imagine being able to move them the way I had seen Angus Young and other sick guitarists move theirs. String gauge can affect the way a guitar plays and feels in a big way. If I picked up a guitar that has some light 09 – 44 strings on it, I can’t keep it in tune. And if you cant keep a guitar in tune it doesn’t matter how fast or sick you can shred cause it will pretty much always sound like shit. So what’s the right gauge for Drop C.? I don’t think the answer is that cut and dry but I can tell you one metal heads journey.

The first guitar I played actually had something like 09 – 46 gauge strings on it. It never stayed in tune and played pretty terrible (although I also had a lot to do that). When I finally got good enough to even know what the hell string gauges were I bought my first pack, Ernie Ball 10 – 46. I went heavier because I could already tell the thinner strings sounded thinner and didn’t have as much balls as the heavier, thicker ones. Later as my playing progressed and as I experimented with other strings and sizes I came to love the Ernie Ball Light Top Heavy Bottoms (10 – 52). I had been playing in drop C for a few years before they came out with these and it changed my life. Before them I had to buy individual strings to get sets that had thicker bottom strings and thinner high ones. I like the thick bottom end but wanted to be able to push around the thinner strings real easy.

A few years later I stumbled onto the idea of using a wound G (or in our case F) string. It’s a bitch to solo on but it really does make the guitar stay in tune better. The wound string adds more tension and allows the guitar to hold the tuning just slightly better. Recently the dudes in Senses Fail turned me onto Ernie Ball 11 – 54 Beefy Slinky strings. It actually says “Optimal for Detuning” right on the pack now! These are the strings to use if you want your guitar to hold that tuning in drop C. They’re not that glamorous and it takes some work to move that old wound F string around but like I said it will sound golden.

Now there are many, many other brands of string makers than Ernie Ball. I have also used and love: Blue Steel Strings, Di’addario Strings, and SIT Strings to mention a few. At one point you will get a chance to use them all. I suggest you bring a good amount on tour if you go. You don’t want to end up in some random ass town and realize you’re out of strings and have to play with some mismatch of sizes. Right now, live, I’m actually using SIT strings. They play the same way to me as the Ernie Ball’s but I find they have a bit nicer tone. Another interesting thing is that live I don’t use the .11 – .54 strings like I suggested. I actually use .10 – .52’s I don’t like the way a guitar plays with a wound F string, so live I still use the standard three wound, three regular set.

There you have it my advice and then a whole paragraph about how I don’t even follow it! Why? Because in the end its about two things: environment and feel. If I’m in the studio tracking some rhythm guitars I will probably use 11 – 54 gauge strings with the old wound F string. If I’m tracking some leads or solos I will use the same gauge set as I do live (.10 –52’s) with no wound F string. As with most things involving the guitar a lot of these choices come down to personal preference. Just take it from a dude, try them all, once you find that gauge that feels good under your hands you’ll know it.

The Dude

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