What strings should you buy for your guitar?
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• How to buy strings
• Recommended Music Stores and Shops in Portland Oregon: Where musicians in the know buy their instruments, get them repaired, and have them customized
This is the “thickness” or diameter of the strings. Musicians refer to guitar strings by the gauge of the high E string. A “set of 10’s” is lighter (smaller in diameter) than “a set of 12’s.” String gauge varies widely. You need to consider your guitar’s scale length before you choose strings.
If you’re a geek, click here for more about scale length. Otherwise, it just basically means, length of the string, and you can read on.
Short scale guitars are easier to play. Use heavier strings for thicker tone.
Here are some short scale guitar manufacturers and models.
- Fender Duosonic
- Fender Jaguar, Mustang, etc
- Gibson basses
Long scale guitars are harder to play. Use lighter strings in general.
Here are some long scale guitar manufacturers and models. Remember, the long scale makes it more difficult to play, but also produces a different frequency and/or signal quality due to the extra length in scale. Why is this? Well, think about a ukulele, and then think about a guitar. Now think about a bass guitar. Now, think about a cello. Is a cello larger than a ukulele? Yes, it certainly is. Transitively, a bass guitar is larger than a guitar, and a guitar is larger than a cello.
A cello makes lower sounds than a ukulele or a guitar, right? Yes, that’s definitely true! So every time you think of “long scale,” think of a “longer neck” and “deeper sounding tones.” Bass frequencies oscillate at a much lower rate. This means that the waves are longer. Without getting too much into physics, I will leave it at this: longer scale guitars are harder to play, but often can produce deeper sounding tones with more clarity.
- Parker Fly
- Most Fender basse
- Fender Bass IV, a baritone instrument
- Most baritone guitars are long scale
Strings and tone
- Lighter strings = lighter tone (generally). Best for more finesse players.
- Heavy strings = bolder tone/harder to play (usually). Better for heavy hitters.
Don’t know? Ask your luthier or guitar shop. A reputable shop will know. Click here for Portland Oregon shops I recommend.
One of my favorite sites, frets.com, explains it as such, here:
© Frank Ford, 2/9/01; Photos by FF
The “scale length” or “scale” is a tricky bit to define. Generally, it’s understood to be the vibrating string length, from nut to saddle, measured like this:
As far as I can tell, most luthiers measure from the nut to the center of the 12th fret and double that measurement for the “scale length.” The only thing is that it doesn’t seem to fit a lot of manufacturers’ stated specifications if you do it that way. I like to measure to the 12th, double that distance, and call that the scale length, just to be consistent. Then, adding compensation for various strings, I’ll call each of those lengths “compensated scale length.” That way, at least I don’t go crazy right off.
Now, just to drive us all nuts, some builders shorten the distance between the nut and first fret to improve intonation in low positions. That, of course, messes with our ability to measure the scale length on a given instrument.
Precise measurements are critical in building an instrument, but for the practical purposes of comparing instruments as to their tone and performance, approximate measure is just fine. I don’t think 1/8″ one way or the other will have much effect.
How do I know?
I was trained in these matters by Chris Brandt, owner of the 12th Fret Custom Guitar Shop in Portland, when I worked there for about 3 years. Not only are they a great bunch of guys, but they are very knowledgeable luthiers, and kind individuals as well. They do everything from string changes, to refrets, to steaming apart necks of old Martin guitars and doing who-knows-what in there. Saul Koll of Koll Guitars, also used to work there and Saul is an amazing luthier as well (and a fabulous electric guitar player). The 12th Fret is a little shop who does repairs for the likes of Robert Cray, and Saul builds guitars for Sonic Youth. I think I was taught by the best (or close to it).
Since I didn’t know the scale length of Parker Fly guitars, I googled it. I found out that the scale of the parker fly has a 25.5″ scale. This is a long scale. So my student should use lighter strings. I have taught this particular student for quite a few years, and he’s more of a delicate technician than a heavy hitter. Light strings work best for players who are more finesse focused. Hard and heavy hitters, use heavy strings.
And remember, if you’re having issues with buzzing strings, make sure not to hit your guitar too hard! That “buzzing” sound comes from the string whacking against the frets. The force you use with your pick, as well as the angle of the pick, all comes into play. Before you take your guitar in to be repaired, take a lesson or two with a good instructor to verify your technique isn’t causing the problems.
Rock on and good luck!
Recommended Music Stores & Repair Shops In Portland
There are a lot of great shops, here are the shops run by my good friends (they also happen to be the best). 🙂
Trade Up Music
oodles of great, cheap, mostly used gear, with some new – guitars, amps, basses, synthesizers, pedals, ukuleles, PA systems, drum parts, drum kits, melodicas, harmonicas… friendly service, right next door to Stumptown Coffee. >>websiteTrade Up Music 4701 SE Division St., Portland, OR 97206 *503-236-8800* 11:00 am – 7:00 pm daily Google Map Trade Up Music 1834 NE Alberta St., Portland, OR 97211 *503-335-8800* 11:00 am – 7:00 pm daily Google Map
12th Fret Custom Guitar Shop
nationally renowned lutherie and repairs of stringed instruments of all sorts, serving the general public and prominent artists since 1979… friendly service, wonderful people who really go the extra mile. >>website12th Fret Custom Guitar Shop 2402 SE Belmont St., Portland, OR 97214 *503-231-1912* 11:00 am – 6:00 pm Tue-Fri and 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm Saturday Google Map
East Side Guitar Repair
Guitar repair, amplifier repair, custom instruments >>websiteEast Side Guitar Repair 3341 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, OR 97214 *503-232-0838* 11:00 am – 6:00 pm daily Google Map
Portland Custom Shop and Sour SoundGoogle Map Related Articles:• How to buy an inexpensive guitar
• How to buy a child a beginning guitar
• How to buy strings