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?