Useful Stuff to Know » article » Guitar String Gauges for Lowered Tunings » Feb 26, 03:11 AM

Guitar String Gauges for Lowered Tunings

Here’s a rough guide for what gauges you need for various lowered tunings:

E flat standard (1/2 step down) – 10 through 52

D standard (1 step down) – 10 through 54

C sharp standard (1 1/2 steps down) – 11 through 56

C standard (2 steps down) – 11/12 through 56

B standard (2 1/2 steps down) – 12 through 56

A standard – 13 through 58 or 60

The above ranges are chosen so that the plain strings are bendable without being so loose that you get intonation problems when fretting them, and that the wound strings are heavy enough to avoid fret buzzing.

You can use a 52 gauge all the way down to C sharp, though that’s getting a little floppy. It’s best in the E flat to D range. The advantage of having a 52 instead of 54 is that you get sharper attack. The 54, in being fatter, takes longer for the pick to travel over it, thus it has a more rounded tone. You get more low end, but sacrifice top end, and the crisp attack is actually what makes a metal chug sound heavy, thus for C sharp, sometimes a 52 is better than a 54, though it may require higher action to avoid fret buzz.

A 10 gauge will go down to D before becoming too loose, while 12 gauge is slightly stiff at C standard and an 11 may be preferred there for easier bending.

For D and lower, I recommend using a wound 3rd (“G”) string instead of plain. Reason being that a plain string in the 20+ gauge range is like a stiff metallic rod that emits a bad “howl” effect, sounds like vibrato but it’s internal disharmony from longitudinal vibrations within the string. Wound 3rd eliminates that problem. Since wound is more flexible than same gauge plain, go up 2-3 gauges with the wound. So if a set calls for 18p, then a 20w or 21w will work well in that position, and 22p is well replaced with a 24w. Power chords involving the 3rd string will sound a LOT better with it being wound.

Tips:

Ernie Ball makes Light Gauge (2208) and Medium Gauge (2206) sets that come with wound 3rds. This is the most convenient and economical option for D to C tunings.

GHS makes an odd-gauge set 11-53 (GB-LOW) which is great for the D/C# range. Needs wound 3rd, though.

D’Addario’s Light Top Heavy Bottom (EXL140) are excellent for E flat standard. The 17p string is just thin enough to pass, although a 19w is better.

D’Addario’s light Jazz strings (EJ21) are good for C#/C but need the 52 gauge replaced by a 54. They come with wound 3rds.

You can buy D’Addario and Ernie Ball single gauge strings by the pack. Ernie Balls come in 3-packs for 3-4 dollars, D’Addario in 5 packs for 7-8 dollars.

As for Ernie Ball vs D’Addario, Ernie Balls are brighter and cheaper but go dead sooner, but they have a better selection of gauges. D’Addario seems like a higher quality string, but the E or G string usually tends to need customization with a different gauge.

DR strings are among the greatest, but the roundwounds (Tite-Fit) will unravel if you don’t bend the wire just past the tuners, per instructions shown inside the packaging, meaning you can’t take them off and put them back on the guitar.

For bass, I think DR strings are the best (50-110s will handle C to E flat). The DR lo-riders are great for metal. They have a piano-like ringing tone to them and there is good balance between the strings. If you just want a boomy rounded bass without any treble or ringing or harmonics, then try for some flatwounds.