Guitar repair – Strings: Which ones are the best for me?

And, we return to that eternal question!

I have dwelt upon this before (in the very early days of this blog) but since I have to explain to (almost) every customer which string would suit their style (and guitar) the best, I thought that I would put my thoughts down again for the benefit of the larger audience.

If you care to read the earlier post on strings, you can do so here:

Which strings to use; how often to change

So, which strings you use is dictated by a few things: the guitar you play (its construction), your playing style, whether those strings will be played under amplification or unplugged, and whether your guitar has a neck or a belly problem. Let’s go over each of these in a bit more detail but with the following thoughts in mind, that these are a) my thoughts, and b) there are exceptions to every rule.


The Guitar

The size and shape of the guitar is the primary factor while choosing strings, for the bigger the size of the guitar, bigger should be the strings that go on it; and vice versa holds true too.

Consider a Dreadnought model from any brand. The model got its name from the World War I battleship ‘HMS Dreadnought’, introduced in 1906 and was all-guns, huge and the most modern at that time. Modern guitar pioneers CF Martin and Co have the credit for the design of the guitar they named ‘Dreadnought’ which they introduced in the markets in 1916.

So, if you are holding a guitar that is built like a battleship, and put on size 10 strings (.010″) on it, you are asking a tiger to purr!!!!!!!!!

If you have a dreadnought guitar and all other factors are under control, I prescribe size 12 (.012″) strings for it, for the guitar is built to take the strain of 12s. If it is a Martin, Taylor or a Guild, I might hazard suggesting that you use size 13 (.013″), because, generally speaking, these guitar brands are head and shoulders above the rest. Yes, those are big strings, but while playing those, you will only feel the ‘B’ string bite, for it is the single, thickest steel string. Yes, there is greater strain on the neck of the guitar, but once you get used to the bang you get out of 13s, I doubt you will ever be able to go any lower.

If it is a jumbo guitar (think Gibson/Epiphone SJ200), 13s it is, most certainly.

A parlour guitar/OM model, on the other hand, I would not hazard going above size 11 (.011″).

And size 10 would be perfect for it because it is not a performance guitar but more of a personal instrument that you’re supposed to sit in a parlour and play. Even if you play a parlour guitar  on stage, I would still go with 10s, but with amplification. It all boils down to how the guitar is constructed and how much strain it can take.


Playing style

Often, I’ve had customers tell me that they play lead and so they prefer 10s (or even 9s), or that they are comfortable playing those gauges. What such people fail to understand is that they are getting just 50% out of a dreadnought instrument by playing those gauges.

Playing styles (finger style or plectrum player) don’t dictate string gauges, but most certainly how the instrument is set-up. The string gauge is decided by the size and construction of the guitar.

However, if you are a finger-style player only, a lighter gauge string will help.



The exception to the above rules are 12-string guitars. Even if it is a Super Jumbo you’re playing, the tension of the 12 strings acting on the neck and top of your guitar will exert so much pressure that if you wish your guitar to live and serve you long, you better not go over Size 10 strings.


A guitar with problems

If you have an instrument that has either a belly bulge or a neck that has risen over time, you would be well served to have lower gauge strings on it. However, first, get the problem tackled. If you have an instrument that you love very much, or, is a big name guitar, get that neck reset or belly bulge corrected, expensive though it may be.

Thereafter, if the manufacturer prescribes that you use 12s on your guitar, go a string gauge down, to keep the problem in check.

Talking about manufacturers, follow the string specifications prescribed for your guitar in the instrument brochure. However, you can comfortably go up or down one gauge.



For any problem that you are facing with your guitar (set-up, belly, neck issues), feel free to get in touch with me here, or phone (70804 75556) and WhatsApp.

Amit Newton

An experienced guitar tech with over 10 years of experience working on acoustic Gibsons and Martins in the Gulf region. There is nothing that cannot be repaired; the only consideration is the price at which it comes. And yet, if there is sentiment attached, no price is too high! WhatsApp/Call me: 7080475556 email me:

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