If you're only just starting out on the guitar, you may never have needed to buy new strings just yet let alone come across the term "gauge", so it's easy to be a little confused when you first hear the word.
Basically, guitar string gauges are usually described by their thickness to a thousandth of an inch. The majority of guitarists use either 9's or 10's. What these means is, the thin E string on their guitar is either 9 thousandths or 10 thousandths of an inch thick.
If you're a beginner then you might be best to use 9's to start with, a good set of these are the Ernie Ball Regular Slinky or Rotosound Yellows.
Generally, heavier strings give a richer and more full sound, however are also harder on the fingers and can be quite difficult to play when trying to bend notes. Lighter strings, such as 9's are easier on the fingers, especially when bending or sliding notes, however they do sometimes break a little easier.
Some packs of strings even mix and match gauges. Most major string brands have a range that allows you to match the top and bottom strings to suit your style … so if you like to easily bend your high strings when playing lead but pound the bottom strings when playing rhythm then you can chose a suitable combination.
Just for reference here is a list of all the string gauges offered by Ernie Ball (probably the most well known string company)
2215 – Skinny Top Heavy Bottom 10, 13, 17, 30, 42, 52
2220 – Power Slinky 11, 14, 18p, 28, 38, 48
2221 – Regular Slinky 10, 13, 17, 26, 36, 46
2222 – Hybrid Slinky 09, 11, 16, 26, 36, 46
2223 – Super Slinky 09, 11, 16, 24w, 32, 42 – Recommended for beginners
2225 – Extra Slinky 08, 11, 14, 22w, 30, 38
2626 – Not Even Slinky 12, 16, 24p, 32, 44, 56
2627 – Beefy Slinky 11, 15, 22p, 30, 42, 54
You may wonder what the "w" and "p" mean on some of the above string gauges.
"P" stands for plain, which means the string is basically just a straight piece of wire. Whereas, "W" are strings which are wound, which means there is a thin bit of wire in the middle tightly wound with a wrapping of even thinner wire to make up the total thickness of the string.
In most cases the first and second strings with be "plain", whereas the 3rd to 6th strings will be "wound". Whenever this is not the case, then it is stated by adding either a "p" or "w" after the string gauge.
How often you change your strings basically depends on how often you play and what type of strings you use.
If you are new the guitar and find yourself playing quite a bit each day then it might be best to change your strings once every 4 – 6 weeks. The reason for this is that overtime when playing the guitar the strings become greasy and dirty which makes them lose their tone, and can sometimes go rusty and snap.
There are a few basic ways in which you can extend the life of your strings. This is as simple as:
* Washing your hands before you play the guitar
* Wipe your strings with a cloth or string cleaning product after playing to remove any sweat or grease. GHS Fast Fret String Cleaner is a great product to use on your strings and will keep them clean and sounding crisp for longer.
What Are The Signs That I Need To Change My Strings?
* Sound – When you play a guitar with new strings you will hear a very bright and crisp sound, even when the guitar is not amplified. Overtime, this will begin to fade and the strings can sound very dull. If you like that initial crispness when you play new strings then you might consider replacing them.
* Dirt and Grease – When you begin to feel a build up on the strings when you play them it's a definite sign that need changing. From frequent playing, the strings with gather sweat and oil from your fingers. If you don't clean the strings then this will build up and will make the strings feel harsh on your fingers and also lose sound quality.
* Broken Strings – This might sound like a no brainer, but I'm not just talking about replacing the broken string. When you break a string, it's often because it is dirty or gotten a little rusty. If a string breaks for this reason then its most likely the other strings are in the same condition too. Rather than just replacing the one broken string it's a good idea to replace the entire set.