Mar 29, 2018

Hey, Electric Guitar People! Can You Help Me with Something Real Quick?

Hi, guitar players. I've been trying to figure something out this week, so I thought I'd turn to some of the smartest, most awesome people I know - the ManMade readers. 

So here's the deal...      

 In the last year and a half, two new guitars have come into my life. One is a '62 American Vintage Reissue Jazzmaster, that I have wanted for decades and saved up for a few years so I'd be ready when the right one came along. (Pictured above). The other is a used Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar that I got for a total steal on Craigslist ($200) that I plan to use a basis for a project guitar.

Both are strung with 11-49 gauge strings. The wisdom has always been that these offset, surf-y style guitars need heavier gauge strings. I've had that in my head for years, and that's what the techs say to put on there, and that's what both guitars came with. But...

My question is: why 11s?

This matters because: I'm struggling with them. I've been playing the guitar for more than twenty years (strung with 10s), and all of sudden I feel all fumbly and awkward. It's actually not the fretting hand that bothers me: I like the thicker callouses they give me, and the additional hand strength I'm building is nice.

It's my right/picking hand that's giving me a hard time. I like to do a lot of arpeggiated, jangly chord stuff higher on the neck, and with the 11s, the strings aren't where I'm used to them being. I'm tripping over the additional thickness. So, more than two decades of muscle memory is now giving me fits. The Jaguar in particular is tough, because it also has the short scale neck, and so I feel like I'm learning an entirely new instrument.

My guess is that it's those annoying bridge that comes on this style of tremolo system: the string tension is the only thing holding it down, and the heavier strings stay in place better. Except! Neither of my guitars have the stock bridge anymore. I put a new Mastery bridge on the Jazzmaster when the tech set it up, and the Jaguar came with upgraded Mustang-style roller saddles. (Note: the stock bridge is pictured above. I took that shot with I first got the Jazzmaster and before the Mastery.)

So, I'm not dealing with the strings popping out, or buzzing. What are the other benefits of heavier strings here?  Tone? Sustain?

I don't mind the challenge of learning new techniques if it's worth it. But I feel like a worse musician now, and then I pick up one of my other instruments strung with 10s, and everything goes back to normal. 

So, help me out if you know - should I keep 11s on these instruments, or can I put 10s on there and stop feeling so crazy? Or, should I just suck it up and put 11s on all my guitars and retrain myself? Could it be something else that I'm not used to? The different fret board radius? Neck scale length?

I'd love your thoughts. Thanks, ManMakers!



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Chris on Jun 19, 2018:

@Eddie - That's a good point. The Jazzmaster has had a setup with 11s. I took it to one of the best known offset guitar shops in the US, and they put on the Mastery bridge and recommended the 11s. I haven't tried 10s on it yet, because I'm a little afraid of undoing their work, and since it's Seattle (I live in Portland), it's not a quick stop to get it fixed. But I should probably give them a call and see what they recommend.

Eddie Hill on Jun 17, 2018:

You may also benefit from having a luthier do a set up with the heavier gauges installed. Especially If the action feels off. Benefits of the heavier strings are feel and tone. I know the later is controversial, but there is more metal moving in a magnetic field... I actually keep lower gauge strings on my Les Paul and Jag then my Strat... Just seems to work better for me. But there's no right or wrong, experiment and see what you gravitate towards.

Travis Morrison on Apr 02, 2018:

Give a set of flat wounds a try....you might dig them. They have a bassier (it's a word), jazzy sound that I think would sound great with those P-90's. I used them on an ES-335 I used to have and now on my 339. You can get a really funky vibe with them.

Chris on Apr 02, 2018:

@Everyone - thanks so much for your thoughts here. I think the only thing to do is try a set of 10s (or maybe something like 10-52s) and see what happens!

Dylan on Apr 02, 2018:

Definitely for keeping intonation though there is some benefits in the sustain and tone. Like others have said those bridge styles are finicky. That said if you're using different bridges or even the stock ones and you're staying in tune I'd say keep your lighter strings. Everyone has their preferences for feel. I like 10.5s and my friend uses 13s. Just depends on what you're feeling.

Michael H on Mar 30, 2018:

I think it is due to problems keeping those guitars intonated. I say try going back to 10s and if you aren’t having intonation problems you are all set. If you are having problems then you can learn to love 11s.

Darren on Mar 30, 2018:

I think people recommend 11's because sometimes the bridges from the jazzmasters can be finicky and strings will sometimes hop out of their saddle. I think the heavier gauge might be to help prevent that? Not 100% sure, but that's what I've heard.

Till Pera on Mar 30, 2018:

Here is what i have learned in the last 7 years of being a active musician and guitar teacher:
You could give yourself some time to adjust to the new gauge. Sometimes it takes awhile and then i just clicks.

But generally speaking the strings dont matter nearly as much as advertised (or voodoo-ized).
I once read that Billy Gibbons plays 0.08s. But he has great tone right?! Slash played 0.09s a while. Has great tone, too.

Just put on there what suits you the best so you can play the best you are able to.
I am playing 0.10-0.52s. So thicker strings on the end. That gives me a lot more punch and tension but doesnt constrict me as much with those fourth bendings :D

Till :)

Eric L on Mar 29, 2018:

I don't know for sure, but I believe it is for tonal characteristics. The shorter the scale of the guitar, the less tension you have to have on the strings to get them up to pitch. So... you can go heavier (which most believe gives more sustain and a beefier tone) and it will still "feel" lighter. I'm not sure how much stock I put in it, Stevie played with 13's but Billy Gibbons plays with 9's and both sound awesome. I think hands have the most t do with tone. The other issue may be that your guitars have single coil pick-ups and some think the thicker strings may give better tone. Who knows, I say play what feels good.