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William Nelson

Lighter Strings for Acoustic?

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In a recent Live Lesson, Steve mentioned he uses Elixir 10’s on his Gibson J45.   I know lighter strings and tone is purely subjective.    But I was wondering if using very light strings would require any changes in setup.    I use 13s on my Bourgeois dreadnaught, mainly because that’s what comes from the factory.   If I were to drop to 10s would that require me to lower the action or could it negatively impact intonation?      

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Posted (edited)

10's on my Martin, no problems with intonation. Very stable tuning actually. I already had a low set.

Greg

Edited by gotto

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I attended one of Greg Voros' two-day workshops several years ago. When it was time to re-string my acoustic, I wanted to use 11's (which is what I had been using). Greg chided me and said that I would be losing too much tone. I have been using 12's ever since (except on guitars that use a pyramid bridge - where I use 11's).

I would think that going from 13's to 10's would require a truss rod adjustment.

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Thanks for the feedback folks.     I have always gravitated to heavier strings on acoustics for the perceived tone benefits.    Will probably stick with the heavier strings on my Bourgeois but I may experiment on my “beater”.     Nothing to lose but time and I certainly have plenty of that these days.   

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I should qualify my string choice. I have had four thumb surgeries which have created some degree of difficulty in my ability to fret with heavier strings. Hence my choice of lighter strings , lower sets in general. The PRS seems to accommodate my disability better than the acoustics.When I play out with my acoustic, it is amplified and the “ loss of tone” is negligible to my ear. Ideally, heavier strings do give a fuller sound without amplification but I have had to make other choices.

Greg

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Thanks Greg.    I understand     I struggle with hand strength and can have trouble with barre chords when playing them for an extended period.  When I heard Steve mention he used 10s I thought it was an idea worth pursuing.   After all, when Steve speaks , people listen.     

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You don’t “have” to do a set up, but your action will likely change. How much?  Give it a try, change ‘em back if you don’t like it. I have a J-45 and 11s are fine, 10s we’re too slinky, for me. Give it a whirl....

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Posted (edited)

Thinner strings will "oscillate" more as far as I understand so you might need to raise the action if your get fret buzz as a result.

I play a lot of barre chords. Higher gauge strings are my preference as they allow me to set the action lower, making it easier to fret.

The only benefit of thinner strings in my experience is that bends and vibrato get a lot easier on the hand.

Edited by Magnit
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Looking at restringing with extra light strings from light  to medium, well , intonation issues is the first thing to come to mind.
On electric guitars, it is not to difficult to adjust the intonation since most (repeat! MOST) bridges are adjustable and have a decent amount of travel to accommodate string gauge changes. Say, from .11 to .09. If you wanted to go to .11 to .08, then you'd really be pushing the limits on the bridge adjustment.

On acoustics, the only thing you can EASILY adjust (Easily being the relative term here), is the saddle. It can be moved up and down, which usually does NOT affect intonation.  You can stay at the same same string gauge and just have the saddle ( the bone or plastic piece that the strings actually sit on) lowered and it will make playing barre chords easier.  Yes, you will lose some tone and a little volume. You may also get a little bit of buzz on the bass strings. But only if you really lower the action  a LOT.

I found this out 20 years ago when I got a new acoustic nd asked the store to go from .12 to .10 strings.  (.12-.52  and .10-.46)

When they did,  the guy running the store used an electric tuner to make sure it was in tune, played a few open chords and that was it. I got it home and tried playing barre chords and they were horribly out of tune.  Reason?  Trying to go to such an extreme change.

The intonation issue arises when you go to a much lighter string. When you tune the guitar with a tuner, all strings open, it will sound OK.  Then , you go to play "open" chords, or in the first position, they may sound OK. As you go up the neck, then the barre chords will sound out of tune.  If you try to tweak each string so the barre chords sound OK, then the open (first position chords) will sound out of tune.  Intonating an acoustic guitar is far more difficult than an electric. It can be done, but really needs to be done by a luthier or a very good guitar tech.

Many times, each guitar has shims under the saddle. If you have not tried to change gauges yet, try going down just one size and remove ALL the strings, carefully lift the saddle and see if there are shims under it. If there are, remove a couple and then tune up and see how it plays. If it is easier and tuning UP AND DOWN the neck is ok, you're golden.  If tuning is ok, but it's still too high, loosen all the strings and try to slide the saddle out again and remove another shim. Tune up and try it again.

There are some good videos on line on line showing how to do this, so watch a couple, then carefully try it. It really isn't difficult.   If you don't feel comfortable doing it yourself, check out a local Guitar repair person or a luthier.Tell them what you want is the action lowered to enable easier barre chords.  They should be able to do the job in less than a day (unless they are busy) and it shouldn't cost very much at all.

Good Luck!

Andy
 

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First, thanks to everyone that commented on this thread.   It's always great to get advice from guitarists that know more than I do (which is probably most of you).     By way of winding up this thread, I wanted to correct my original assumption that Steve uses 10s on his J45.    I must have misunderstood his comment, leading me to believe he used lighter strings.     During a recent lesson with Steve (more on that later), I was able to confirm that he uses Elixir 12s on his J45.     10s on his electrics.     So on the one hand, I'm sorry if my misunderstanding caused any confusion, but on the other hand we were able to share a lot of great information, and for that I am thankful.

Now - if you've never signed up for a personal lesson with Steve, you're missing out!   If you are struggling with any guitar related topic, it's a fantastic investment!

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